Cot melukut
Berambang gantang.
Mana tikus ‘nyorok?
Celah kangkang!

A popular nursery rhyme for youngsters. Begin by poking the bottom of the kid’s foot, then race up their leg to tickle the inner thigh. Conceptually similar to the American “This Little Piggy Went To Market”, the Malay version has the advantage of being certified Halal by JAKIM. It translates as:

Broken grains of rice
Scattered ’round the measure’s edge.
Where hide the mice?
Between your legs!

Gantang, translated as “measure” here, is an old Malay unit of measurement roughly equal to a gallon in volume, holding around 6 lbs of dry rice. For a hapless American, dealing with metric is bad enough. When you balik kampung and talk to the orang tua, matters get more complicated. Cupak, kati, ela, batu: the weights and measures from at least four different systems are still in use by my mother-in-law, if no one else.

Local measurements have traveled abroad as well: tael is the English word for a unit of weight or currency used by Chinese traders, derived from the Malay tahil. The value of the unit, and its use, comes from China. It acquired the Malay name from trading with the archipelago, and from there it spread to English.

I’m still trying to find out what a hun/hoon is. It appears to be a Chinese unit of length smaller than an inch and bigger than a… smidgen? pinch? millimeter? Any input appreciated!

UPDATE: Brother Musa informs me that a hun is indeed a Chinese unit equal to 3/16 of an inch. Thank you!

Other Malay contributions to English
Other Malay nursery rhymes translated

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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