Tag Archives: Malay

Bo Tah Bo Lampa

Proverb: Bo tah bo lampa

Phonetic Translation: Boe tah boe lam pah

Translation: If you don’t chug, you have no balls

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US, but originally from Singapore. This piece of folk speech was told to me by the informant in a college dorm room.

Background: This informant is from Singapore, where the drinking age is 18. Because of this, he has gone to clubs and other places with his friends to drink. While out drinking at one of these clubs for the first time, his friends shouted this over and over while they were drinking, essentially telling each other to keep going over. He personally likes this piece of folk speech because or its origins. It did not arise in Singapore initially, but rather has roots in Cantonese bars.

Analysis: The first thing that struck me about this phrase was that, despite the informant identifying it as mainly Singaporean, its origin is in fact in Canton. Though Singapore is a mainly Malay-speaking region, this phrase has replaced other, native sayings. Furthermore, this phrase is an awesome view into how many pieces of folklore formed. In this case, Singapore and Canton share strong trade ties and relatively close geographic locations. That, coupled with the maritime nature of the two regions, meant that sailors temporarily onshore, as well as passengers, were most likely the ones to make the phrase well known. Personally, I think the phrase is crude, especially when translated to English, but still, I can see why it spread easily. Phonetically, it’s an easy and fun phrase.

The Hantus in the Banyan Trees

Informant: There’s these things in Singapore, they’re called Hantus, they’re basically ghosts. So because Singapore was part of Malaysia at some point, a lot of our culture has to do with Malaysian culture. There’s this story about Hantus where, around Singapore, there’s a lot of these trees called Banyan Trees. These trees have huge stems, and are super wide. There are a ton of roots that hang from their canopies down.

Because of these roots, Banyan trees are very dark, especially at night. Their canopies are thick, so light can’t get through them, and the stems obscure everything else.

There’s this legend that when you go into the forest at night and you see all of these Banyan trees, you’re not supposed to shine light up into them, or like, if you have a flash, you’re not supposed to shine it into the top of the trees, and you can’t touch the hanging roots either. If you do, these ghost things, these Bantus, jump out of the trees and will “get” you.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US, but originally from Singapore. This legend was told to me by the informant in a college dorm room.

Background: The informant heard this belief from some of his friends, who also claimed to have seen the eyes of Hantus in the canopies of the Banyan trees. The informant doesn’t believe in this superstition, but he did mention that several people had gone missing among the Banyan trees around Singapore. To him, it’s simply a way to scare people and keep them from flashing lights around at the trees in the dark.

Analysis: I personally am not sure there are any supernatural forces at work. Like my informant said, this instead sounds like a common superstition, a classic superstition to make the native Banyan trees more mysterious, and also to dissuade people from harming them, in fear of such Hantus. What caught my attention was that this legend seems to be centered very specifically around Singapore, where Banyan trees are especially numerous, but it still heavily draws on elements of Malaysian superstition – Hantus. In this way, the use of both is a great symbolic representation of the shared cultural heritage between Singapore and Malaysia.

Orang Minyak or “Oily Man”

This is a male creature, commonly shaped as a human. As can be inferred from his name, he is covered from head to toe in black oil. Sometimes, he is described as naked and sometimes he’s wearing a black pair of swimming trunks. In many stories, he plays a significant roles as a rapist that only targets virgins. There is some dispute over his origins though, it is unclear whether or not he is of human origin or is a creature from the spirit world. Some speculate that the Orang Minyak is the result of a spurned lover that has powers due to his solicitation of either a bomoh (Malayan Witch Doctor) or a contract with a creature from the spiritual world. The Orang Minyak is commonly found in Malayan folklore with appearances made in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

This knowledge was imparted to my informant when she was on a school camping trip at the tender age of 16 in Singapore in the late nineteen sixties.  The Orang Minyak is commonly one of the perpetrators and has been blamed for many rapes especially in the 1960s, early nineteen seventies, even though the reports have been few and far between since the 2000s.  According to my informant, the more superstitious Malay students would wear sweaty shirts to give the appearance of someone who had just been with a man.

Strangely enough, while the Orang Minyak has always been part of Malay folklore, there was a surprising amount of hype produced after a series of movies about the Orang Minyak were produced in the 1960s. Before this, there was an occasional sighting and crime committed by the Orang Minyak, however, there was a sudden onslaught of cases and sightings of the Orang Minyak after the movies came out. This prompts many to question if the Orang Minyak became a convenient cover-up for many rapists and rape cases.