Buah macang buah kuini,
Masak sebiji dalam daun;
Mengapa begini hatiku ini,
Habis bulan berganti tahun.
A pair of fruits, Machang and Kwini
Each one ripening wrapped in a leaf
Oh why does this poor heart of mine feel like this?
Each month of passing has turned into years
Sarawak is blessed with an abundance of fruit, but mangos are not one of them. The common mango, Mangifera indica, can grow here, but the lack of a significant dry period prevents it from fruiting well. (We have two seasons here: Wet and Very Wet.) Instead, there are a few semi-wild mangos that are collected and eaten. The first is the kuini, Mangifera odorata, a smallish green mango that is the favorite eating mango among the Malays in Sarawak. It is pungent, sharp and hot, but sweet too. A handful of ripening kuinis will perfume the whole kitchen with a smell something like gasoline, but, uh, in a good way.
An even more strong smelling mango is Mangifera foetida, macang (“c” pronounced as “ch” in English). It is rarely eaten on its own: the flavor is too intense and the flesh is very fibrous. So the ripe fruit is pounded in a mortar together with fermented shrimp paste (belacan), fresh cilis and God knows what else, to prepare a sweet and spicy sambal to eat together with the meal. According to what sources I’ve been able to find, the macang ought to look more or less like kuini, and in fact kuini is thought to be a hyrbid of indica mangos and macang. This is backed up by our next pantun:
Dari sana hendak ke sini,
Sampai ke sini melipat kain;
Telah masak macang kuini,
Kulit sama rasanya lain.
Running from here, to there I must go
Folding the laundry I must make haste
Machang and Kuini, two sun-ripe mangos
Their skins are the same but not so the taste
If that’s true, then I haven’t yet discovered the true macang. What I have found is another wild mango, very large and chocolate-brown. It isn’t fragrant like kuini, but the flesh inside is sharp and hot, and filled with tough fibers. I’d been told it was macang, but after kicking around the web, this site in particular leads me to think
what I’ve got is actually Mangifera pajang, a mango variety unique to Borneo, what is known as Bambangan, or Mawang in Iban. Macang or bambangan, it pounds into sambal real well just the same.
As you can see, kuini and macang have their place in Malay literature, even as they become harder to find in West Malaysian markets. I’ve been quoting and translating pantuns about them from Karyanet, a searchable database of thousands of traditional Malay poems. The first two lines of the pantun are meant to strike an image, frequently drawn from the natural world, before the second two lines deliver the heart of the poem. Kuini and Macang, enough to inspire poetry. Here’s one more:
Buah macang setangkai lebat,
Belum dimakan manis dahulu;
Budak ini menghantar surat,
Belum dibaca menangis dulu.
Branche of machang hanging so heavy
No need to eat it to know it is sweet
Your letter has come by this child’s delivery
No need to read it to begin to weep