Proverb- Indonesia

“Ada udang di balik batu”

“There is shrimp behind stone.”

“There’s a motive behind every act.”

The informant stated that she most likely learned the above proverb from a friend in middle school. She would use the proverb specifically to “warn a friend” if she thought that someone else were “trying to use or exploit them.” According to the informant, this proverb is used very frequently in Indonesia, but she doesn’t understand “why this specific sentence is used”; for instance, she asked, “why is it a shrimp?”

While the proverb doesn’t seem to exclusively address evil or self-serving intentions, but rather makes the claim that all actions are performed by people with some purpose in mind, I agree with the informant that the proverb can be construed as cautionary; that is, as exhorting an individual to look beyond the behavior of another in order to see the cause, or potential causes, for that behavior. It could also be taken more generally, however, and not necessarily apply to human behavior, instructing us to look in all matters to what is deeper than mere appearance (the stone) so that we may find something even more true or profound (the shrimp). The imagery of a shrimp concealed behind a stone may be arbitrary, as the informant seems to believe, or it could perhaps be a juxtaposition of the small, less conspicuous nature of the shrimp with the large, easily-spotted nature of the stone; or that one provides sustenance and thus serves a practical end, while the other is very common and for the most part useless. Linking these two notions together, we might say that the proverb is also remarking that those who take the time and care to discover that which is not so easily found are rewarded for their efforts—an interpretation which, though broader, encompasses the informant’s understanding of the proverb as warning us against being naïve of other people’s motives. Two items of folklore of which I am aware that resemble this Indonesian proverb in imagery and/or meaning include: “Leave no stone unturned” and “Appearances can be deceiving.”


Atmosumarto, Sutanto. A Learner’s Comprehensive Dictionary of Indonesian. Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Cahaya Timur Offset, 2004. 622. Web <>