Nothing Left to Say – Blues Gang

coconut masjid


Nothing Left to Say

Translation by Bin Gregory Productions

Riding my bike down to the store
Middle of the day, in the middle of the heat
Who’s got the strength to tap rubber
Nothing left to say
If I could, I’d be a school teacher
Down in Kuala Pilah

Apo Nak Dikato

by Blues Gang

Poi pokan naik basika
Tongah haghi tongah paneh
Apo dayo motong gotah
Apo nak dikato
Kalau boleh nak jadi cikgu sekolah
Kek Kolo Pilah

Fields of paddy, buffalos all over
Water from the well is so darn cold
Quiet as can be, not a soul around
Nothing left to say
If I could, I’d have some commotion
Like in Tampin town

Sawah leba kobau banyak
Air pigi sojuk sekali
Sunyi sopi takdo oghang
Apo nak dikato
Kalau boleh nak bising-bising
Macam pokan Tampin


Cooking up dinner. Village rice
Coconut milk and chili peppers
Don’t have a rice thresher no more
Nothing left to say
Lots of folks got factory jobs
Down Seremban way

Tanak nasik bogheh kampong
Masak lomak cili (lado) api
Mesen padi takdo lai
Apo nak dikato
Ramai oghang dah kojo kilang
Kek pokan Seghomban


Kemang Bay, Four Mile road
Where everybody splashes and plays
Come the weekend sure is packed
Nothing left to say
The sea just keeps getting saltier
Down in Port Dickson town

Verse 1 repeats.


Batu Ompek Toluk Komang
Tompek oghang mandi mando
Aghi minggu ponoh sosak
Apo nak dikato
Air laut bertambah masin
Kek pokan Port Dickson

Ulang 1.

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1. Another pop song in the dialect of Negeri Sembilan
2. Originally published as “What’s left to say”, I couldn’t live with it after FB fren AA suggested a far better translation.

Tapai ubi, tapai nasi

Tapai ubi


Fold the corners of the tapai leaf

that you may fill it with stale rice

If you want your knowledge to last

Don’t ignore your teacher’s advice


Lipat berbucu si daun tapai

Hendak diisi beras sekal

Pesan guru jangan diabai

Jika hendak ilmunya kekal



A banana leaf wrapped and held with [tooltip text=”coconut rachis” trigger=”hover”]lidis[/tooltip] could hold just about anything.  In this case, it holds tapioca root, ubi kayu, that has … crossed over.  Normally a dense, bland, starchy tuber considered poverty food or at best home cooking, it is transformed into a pillowy soft sweetness soaking in a fiery liqueur: tapai ubi.


tapai ubi flesh



The sweetness of tapai comes from the yeast

Honey from the bee is sweeter by far

Without faith a man is at loss

Like standing deadwood waiting to fall


Manis tapai kerana ragi

Lebih manis madu lebah

Tanpa iman manusia rugi

Bak kayu buruk menunggu rebah



Tapai refers to anything fermented with yeast.  Cooked rice can become tapai nasi, popular in Sarawak.  Glutinous rice, uncooked, becomes tapai pulut, the first step in the production of tuak or rice liquor. Muslims needn’t worry: although C2H6O is chemically present in the tapai, it does not intoxicate even in massive amounts and therefore is not khamr.  Discerning the halal and eating it is not something our forefathers needed a chem lab for.

The first pantun suggests the tapai is cooked in the leaf, and I assumed it was, till early one morning at Satok market I found my dealer taking tapai ubi from a large plastic tub under the table.  The banana leaf was just marketing!  You gotta admit though, a banana leaf is classy packaging.  Better that than a little plastic baggie, certainly, and environmentally friendly besides.  Sanitary?  Well I’m still standing here, ain’t I?  Other leaves are also used, like young coconut leaves[1] for tapai nasi, or less commonly, the unidentified swamp leaf below.



Tapai won’t cook without the yeast, or ragi, a dry crumbly substance sprinkled on top.  I’m unsure what species of creature it is or where it comes from and I decline to enquire further.  The last pantun suggests mysterious and distant origins and I’ll leave it at that.



The Javanese fellow is a maker of tapai

The yeast arrives from the shore over yonder

As long as my dreams remain unfulfilled

Let me die among strangers a trav’ler[2]


Orang Jawa membuat tapai

Raginya datang dari seberang

Selagi cita-cita tidak tercapai

Biar mati di rantau orang




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1. Also used for ketupat, previously on BGP.

2. Pantuns sourced from Malay Civilization, English translation mine.

Gurindam 12 Fasal 6

old house

by Raja Ali Haji (1808-1873)
English translation © Bin Gregory Productions

This is the gurindam of the sixth issue:

Seek you a companion
Who can be for you a medicine.

Seek you a guru
Who can teach every enemy to you.

Seek you a wife
Who can devote to you her life.

Seek you a friend.
Choose one loyal to the end.

Seek you a servant
Whose manners are decent.[/two_first][two_second]

Ini gurindam pasal yang keenam:

Cahari olehmu akan sahabat,
yang boleh dijadikan obat.

Cahari olehmu akan guru,
yang boleh tahukan tiap seteru.

Cahari olehmu akan isteri,
yang boleh menyerahkan diri.

Cahari olehmu akan kawan,
pilih segala orang yang setiawan.

Cahari olehmu akan abdi,
yang ada baik sedikit budi.[/two_second]

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Raja_Ali_HajiGurindam Dua Belas is a 19th century Malay poem written in rhyming couplets with free meter. It has 12 parts, each dealing with a different pasal, or issue. It was composed by Raja Ali Haji (1808-1873), an intellectual of the Riau-Lingga court best known for his history Tuhfat al-Nafis (the Precious Gift). I’ll be posting my translations pasal by pasal.

Gurindam of the First Issue

Gurindam of the Second Issue

Gurindam of the Third Issue

Gurindam of the Fourth Issue

Gurindam of the Fifth Issue

Man Papaya

Papaya, betik, on the tree

As large as papaya, as small as keranji,
Break a branch and the fruit falls down
A face so lovely with manners so ugly
Like rain falling murky and brown
Besar betik kecil keranji [1]
Patah dahan buahnya luruh
Muka cantik perangai keji
Bagai hujan airnya keruh

Growing papaya, or [tooltip text=”in Malay” trigger=”hover”]betik[/tooltip], from seed is easy enough – sow them on loose soil straight from the fruit and they’ll come up without trouble. The tough part is figuring out if your tree is a boy or a girl.

Papaya fruit, buah betik

[dropcap background=”yes”]I[/dropcap]t sounds strange, but there are a fair number of plants out there that bear different flowers on separate trees, making the trees effectively male and female. Male tree flowers only produce pollen and can’t bear fruit, while the female trees won’t bear fruit without a source of pollen somewhere in the area. Marijuana is probably the most well known plant of this kind in North America. In the tropics it is a lot more common.  Rambutans are also this way, for instance. Papaya and rambutan appear together in a traditional pantun:

Rambutans hanging red and bright
A papaya tree by the fence has grown
Good men need not be taught the right
A thorn in the jungle is sharp on its own
Batang betik di tepi pagar
Buah rambutan[2] merah berseri
Orang baik tak payah diajar
Duri di hutan tajam sendiri [3]
[/two_second]Mak Mertua

[dropcap background=”yes”]I[/dropcap]f there is a way to sex papayas prior to flowering, I don’t know what it is. And so trees I spent months growing to maturity have turned out male: lots of flowers but no fruit. My mother-in-law’s not one to recite pantuns, but she does enjoy colorful language; she once cursed stylish, boastful, useless men as betik jantan, male papayas – all show and no results.  I don’t curse them but they do get the axe.  The trees, I mean, not the useless men.

Papaya leaf

[dropcap background=”yes”]I[/dropcap]f you are stuck with a male papaya, it’s not a total loss.  The young leaves are edible if you boil them a while.  They are tough and bitter like mustard or collard greens, but palatable with a dose of sambal. The fruits are just wonderful though, with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency, and very soothing on the belly after a meal. Scientists will tell you this is because they contain the enzyme papain, contemporary woo says it’s because they are an alkaline food, while your [tooltip text=”Witch doctor/Spiritual healer” trigger=”hover”]bomoh[/tooltip] or [tooltip text=”Medicine man/Traditional medicine practitioner” trigger=”hover”]dukun[/tooltip] may have explanations that touch on the realm of the unseen. Go with what works for you.

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1. Keranji previously on BGP

2. Rambutan previously on BGP

3. Pantuns sourced from Malay Civilization, English translation mine.

Gurindam 12 Fasal 5

Maqam at Masjid Bahagian Kuching

by Raja Ali Haji (1808-1873)


This is the gurindam of the fifth issue:

If you wish to know the people of high birth,
in manners and speech are shown their worth.

To know the people of happiness,
avoid involvement in the meaningless.

To know the man of high distinction,
look upon his deeds and actions.

If you wish to know the people of wisdom
ask and learn without feeling boredom.

If those with intellect you would know
store provisions now in this life below.

If men of character you would recognize
among the masses observe how they fraternize.


Ini gurindam pasal yang kelima:

Jika hendak mengenal orang berbangsa,
lihat kepada budi dan bahasa.

Jika hendak mengenal orang yang berbahagia,
sangat memeliharakan yang sia-sia.

Jika hendak mengenal orang mulia,
lihatlah kepada kelakuan dia.

Jika hendak mengenal orang yang berilmu,
bertanya dan belajar tiadalah jemu.

Jika hendak mengenal orang yang berakal,
di dalam dunia mengambil bekal.

Jika hendak mengenal orang yang baik perangai,
lihat pada ketika bercampur dengan orang ramai.


[divider type=”thin”]

Raja_Ali_HajiGurindam Dua Belas is a 19th century Malay poem written in rhyming couplets with free meter. It has 12 parts, each dealing with a different pasal, or issue. It was composed by Raja Ali Haji (1808-1873), an intellectual of the Riau-Lingga court best known for his history Tuhfat al-Nafis (the Precious Gift). I’ll be posting my translations pasal by pasal.

Gurindam of the First Issue

Gurindam of the Second Issue

Gurindam of the Third Issue

Gurindam of the Fourth Issue

Daun Inai

Henna'd fingers at the henna tree

Daun inai banyak getahnya,
Ambil segenggam pewarna kuku,
Wahai adik abang bertanya,
Apa obat penawar rindu.

Thick with sap run the henna’s leaves
Take some in hand your nails for dying
O young maiden, your lover asks you
What salve is there to heal longing?


Gadis ditegus lalu dikenyit
Baik perangai pandang tak jemu
Bagai kapur bertemu kunyit
Merah inai mencari kuku

A glance at the maiden leads to a wink
Moves so fine eyes can’t take their fill
Just like limestone chanced upon turmeric
Or the red of the henna seeking the nail



Photo: Lawsonia inermis, the Henna Tree, Pokok Inai in Malay.

Traditional pantuns courtesy of Malay Civilization.

Translations mine.

Gurindam not dead: Gadis Jolobu

Here I thought I was laboring in obscurity translating 19th century Malay teaching-poems, when behold, Gurindams get a name-check on the radio. Check this out:

Gadis Jolobu
Produced by DJ Fuzz
Lyrics by Waris & Dato Hattan


Ko jolobak ko jolbu
Tuai padi tigo tangkai
Kalau kono komat jolobu
Tak mati badan menghasai
Gurindam dulu dulu jangan ponah dipotikai
Tak tahu tanyo dulu jangan goma memanadai mandai

On the way to Jelebu
To reap three-stalked rice [1]
If the Jelebu mojo hits you
won’t die but you’re bound to suffer
Don’t you ever disrespect the old Gurindams [2]
Better ask somebody, don’t act like you know

Verse 1:

Kisah eh bermulo,mulut ughang kampong
Kisah ramai gadis cantik kek jolobu berkampung
Ughang luar datang luar nak cari’an joki
Lain pulak jadi eh terpikek nak buek bini
Tapi silap,kono komat sampai tinggalkan keluargo
Kopit bawah kotiak bini tanggungjawab lupo
Omak ayah rindu tapi dio buek bodoh
Dah takdo monyosa monangih dopan kubur aiii

The story starts from the mouths of villagers
The story of all the gorgeous women of Jelebu village
An outsider came looking for work
Turned out different: got hooked, took a wife
Her mojo got him, abandoned his folks
Stuck under his woman’s armpit, responsibilities forgotten
His mom and dad longed for him but he played dumb
Now they’re gone: he cries at their grave in regret


Verse 2:

Ughang luar salah tafsir koba gadih kito bahayo
Lopeh coghai semuo ghoto jadi milik dio
Jangan salah anggap,napo lobihkan pompuan
Sobab laki boleh hidup kalau campak dlm hutan
Zaman dah boghubah, adat di tolan zaman
Dah takdo mewaghisi coghito bertauladan
Apotah laie, mengaku ughang nogori
Bilo tanyo suku mano nak jawab pun tak ghoti

Poie tanyo omak,poie tanyo uwan
Kok takdo kosompatan buleh tanyo kawan kawan
Aktiviti bergurindam tolah lonyap dilupokan
“sebagai suatu warisan”

Outsiders get confused, saying our women are dangerous
Divorce one and your assets are hers [3]
Don’t misunderstand why our women get the upper hand
Throw a Nine Clan man in the jungle and he can still get by
Times have changed, culture swallowed by the times
No one left to inherit the teaching-tales
What more when someone claims to be from Nine Clans
Ask him which clan: he can’t begin to answer.

Go ask your momma, go ask your grampa too
If that doesn’t work well then your friends will have to do
Spinning Gurindams is an art form long forgot
As a part of our heritage


Verse 3:

Wak wak makan padi si lomang dalam buluh
Kok dah dapek yg dicari jgn terlansung semayang subuh
Ayam berkokok umah ponghulu itu tando haghi nak siang
Kok dah dapek oghang jolobu tak sabar nunggu malam ko siang

Waterhens eat field-rice, bamboo’s filled with lemang [4]
If you get what you’re after, don’t oversleep the dawn prayer. [5]
The headman’s roosters crow, that’s the sign the day dawns
Night or day you cannot wait once you get a Jelebu woman.

Verse 2 repeats.



1. Rice is harvested when it has 5-10 stalks, or tillers. Harvesting 3-tillered rice is suggestive of misfortune.
2. Here at Bin Gregory Productions, we are all about respecting the old Gurindams. See the Gurindam 12 of Raja Ali Haji Pasal One, Two, Three and Four.
3. The flow is in the thick regional dialect of Negeri Sembilan, a state settled by Minangkabau people who practiced some elements of matriarchal inheritance. The state has nine clan or tribal districts, from whence the name in the following line above.
4. For more on lemang, see here and here. The verse may be referring to the siamang, a type of gibbon, in which case “gibbon’s in the bamboo”.
5. Surely I don’t have to spell it out for you.

Batang jati kangkung

Kangkung, Ipomea aquatica, is a crawling vegetable with hollow stems, allowing it to float on the water, from whence it gets the name water spinach. There’s no relation – in fact it is in the Convulvulaceae or morning glory family. It is a mainstay of kampung cuisine, growing freely in the canals and marshy places. Although peasant food, it has its etiquette: the stems should be cut such that each stem has a leaf, and the leaf should be uncut. The orang tua on my wife’s side will not eat kangkung that has been chopped indiscriminately. Its dignified lowliness, its crawling, floating wayside abundance, allows it to represent humility when evoked in the following pantun.

Batang jati kangkung
Tumbuh rapat di dalam taman
Suka dipuji gemar disanjung
Bukanlah sifat orang budiman

“Morning glory of the water  /
Growing thickly in the garden.  
Love of praise and pride in honors  /
Is not the way of the gentleman.”


Malay pantun courtesy of UKM Malay Civilization Database

English translation mine.