Bahasa Malaysia is Nuts about Coconut

Deeper understanding of bahasa Malaysia requires knowing quite a lot about coconut.

Coconut blesses a Malay firstborn.  Coconut flower welcomes humans, dispels devils. Coconut is food.  Coconut is so many things in Malay speaking society that it becomes an important thread of bahasa Malaysia :  you are as skinny as vein of coconut palm frond whereas your beautiful hair is as curly as coconut palm blossom.

Poor Bunga Manggar

Freshly fragrant coconut flowers are represented by artificial replicas nowadays.  I find this situation ridiculous in a country abundant in coconuts.  Sure, we need to eat the flowers, some people need to make coconut palm sugar for a living but there should be some left to beautify life here...instead, I see cheap shiny papers and stiff metalic UGLY UGLY man-made version everywhere I go.  The first and only time I saw fresh bunga manggar was in a wedding package offered by a hotel at extravagant price.

Sri Lanka man holding a bouquet of lovely fresh coconut blossom.

List of Coconut-Related Sayings

I made a random search to prove my "coconut very important in bahasa Malaysia" theory and was shocked by the long list it produced. The list below is not exhaustive.  I have omitted sayings of explicit sexual context.  ( Yes, coconut p0rn. )

" Lenggok- lenggang bagai cupak hanyut ", literally swaying from side to side like a drifting coconut-cup to describe a loose woman=slutty coconut?

"Nyiur dikukur, santan diambil, hampas dibuang", literally the coconut is rasped and the pulp taken, the residue is thrown away.  The wife is typified by the flower or the pulp of the coconut; The wife's mother, ill-treated by her son-in-law, is typified by  the residue. This is the situation of a bad son-in-law.

From palm blossoms to palm sugar, yums!

"Memerah nyiur, santan diambil, hampas dibuang".  A slightly different version where the coconut flesh is squeezed instead of rasped to denote being seduced and abandoned

"Nyiur mumbang dibuat pincut menghilangkan kelatnya", literally shrimp paste with sugar and spice makes a sour young coconut taste better.  Previously, this saying meant gracious words can turn away wrath ( Which makes a lot of sense to me ). NOwadays, this saying officially means a noble should not be asked to arrange the sitting arrangement of VIPs in a feast. ( ??????!!!!! )

"Menanam mumbang" or the full version " Cuba-cuba menanam mumbang, jikalau hidup turus negeri"

A mumbang is a coconut in its earliest stage of growth; if you plant it, it cannot become a palm. There are two applications: Firstly to denote a  situation where one just take the chance-lah.  Secondly, take a chance on planting an immature coconut!  If it should survive, it will be a pillar of the state.   Planting of a mumbang is usually a mere waste of time.  The saying is applied to one who carries through successfully an enterprise which others would regard as hopeless, and subsequently gains honour.

" Berebutkan kelongkong nyiur", literally Struggling over an almost fleshless coconut is making a fuss about nothing.

"Santan ke pasu, hampas pun ke tanahlah", literally : The coconut milk goes into the jar, but the residue is thrown to the ground.  Santan represents the benefit gained and hampas the services rendered from which the benefit has accrued...such vivid depiction of short memories of ungrateful people who forget benefits they have received from others.

"Ambil patinya, buangkan hampasnya", literally take the cream of the coconut and throw away the pith. An advice from Munshi Abdullah to the readers of his Galila dan Daminah which comprised, as he admits, many stories in which he himself did not believe ( the hampas of the book ) but also much that was valuable in the way of phrases, sayings etc ( the pati ) The same principle also applies to friendship.

"Lemak santan berlada". Richness of coconut that has been peppered. Ah...smooth talk veiled by scathing sarcasm.

"Ugut-ugut beruk sahaja".  Beruk the coconut monkey is a notorious coward.  He who only is the threat of a coconut monkey= Loud aggressive talk only, ha!

"Cari umbut kena buku" To look for coconut heart ( by hacking towards the middle section of the trunk base ) and only get a knot in the wood. To seek for good and found the bad.  The Malay blogger linked below did a better job than the kamus in explaining to us what is umbut. shows us what is umbut.

"Terlentang berisi air, tertiarap berisi tanah".  Like a coconut shell when turned upwards, it is filled with water; when turned downwards it is filled with earth.  A poor devil overcome by misfortune, as under a curse, and eking out a miserable existence

" Bentang tikar pun tidak". He didn't even lay a mat for me! The floor of a traditional Malay house is made of split coconut palms, the minimum contribution to a guest's comfort is by laying of a mat for him to sit on. 

"Kukur apa kepada kukur? Nyiur juga yang binasa". What does rasping matter to the rasp?  It is the coconut that suffers.

Note: the first kukur is a verb, the second a noun.  This is a Malay way of telling a selfish person: 'It's all very well for you to talk!  Just try it on yourself'. 

Coconut in Malaysian Schools

Bahasa Malaysia makes you name each part of coconut anatomy. Can you match them correctly...?

husk isi
blossom sabut
pulp tempurung
shell daun
leaf lidi
vein mayang

Bahasa Malaysia trains you to attack a coconut. Make logical sentences out of the table below.

mengupas tempurung
membelah lidi
Kita meraut isi
memarut kelapa parut
memerah pokok kelapa
menebang sabut

Bahasa Malaysia pushes coconut related food down your throat. Trace the ingredients.

Kerisik santan
Batang sate nira
Gula Melaka dibuat daripada kelapa parut
Sarung ketupat lidi
Dodol daun
Nasi Lemak gula melaka


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"Seperti Katak di bawah Tempurung"

"Malay Sayings" by Taylor and Francis sheds more light on this popular saying.  There were old school Malays denying their children of education in their own language because they themselves did not have the privilege.  So Munshi Abdullah used the expression frog under the coconut shell to illustrate the parents' narrow-mindedness through his book Hikayat Abdullah.

Tombong, marshmallow-like coconut sprout, one of my childhood's favourite snacks

 Monkeys made of Coconut Husk

A Story of Perlis is about Coconuts