A HARVEST OF GENRES
Muhammad Haji Salleh
The problem of genre as a literary issue has found very early critics in western literature, beginning as early as Aristotle. It has been discussed over time and is still being discussed by writers like Lewalski (1986) and Beebee (1995).
Malay literature has a different tradition of literary discourse, beginning with the oral and often clouded over by a strict feudal system. As social criticism was rare or hidden so was the criticism of genre. In early works there was only mention of the different genres of the pantun, seloka, and syair, besides the hikayat and the ceritera or cerita but not discussion about them.
Raja Ali Haji in his Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa mentioned and defined many literary words - generic ones included. But classification proper/improper came with the British colonial scholar-officer Winstedt, who unfortunately was classifying Malay genres from the point of influence of Indian, Persia or Arab. But he has at least one serious student. It was Za`ba who in his Ilmu Mengarang Melayu (first published in 1934) quite consistently found categories, to help students of the Malay language to know its rules of literary composition. While doing so he progressed over his British predecessor. His categorisation was based on form and structure, and sometimes mixed into functions, when these two did not help differentiate enough.
It is natural to categorise, to classify, in order that one may focus better and study similar things in their own categories, based on family resemblances and common features. And there is no doubt that from the point of view of the authors themselves, to a certain extent, they too approach their task of writing within the parameters of the established genres. This is easy enough, as the main problems and initial work have been solved by earlier users. But it must be said too that genres are mere guidelines to certain rules and qualities of the many forms used in literature.
What are the genres of Malay literature? Harun Mat Piah et al (1993) in their Kesusasteraan Tradisional Melayu, have named them as follows:
Cerita Nabi-nabi dan Tokoh-tokoh Islam
Sastera Undang-undang dan Ketatanegaraan
Kepustakaan Ilmu Tradisional.
For poetry alone Harun (1989:38-39) has found these terms
17.Prosa berirama (prosa lirik)
20.Jampi dan mantera
However, eventually Harun used only 12 as the basic forms Malay poetic expression: pantun , syair, nazam, gurindam, seloka, teka-teki, peribahasa berangkap, teromba, talibu, prosa berirama dan prosa lirik, mantera, dikir, as they are more discernible with clear differences.
From the evidence of literary texts we know that there are the main genres like poetry, prose and drama. Here the division overlap with the western. But the similarities perhap stop here, the borders are unweildly and on a closer look, we know that these are mere generalised categories.
In Malay literature there are many that may not be defined or measured against the western ones. The makyong, the theatrical story that has actors moving in circles or into scene, complete with songs and dance and action is a mixed genre. It not a stage play, neither is it a musical. We do not even have words for it in the language, what more in English. So is the ritual curing ceremony of the main puteri, where a cure is effected through poetic words and gestures, and accompanied by a whole orchestra. So is the wayang kulit (puppet theatre - another unique form that defies category - as it too contains music, the art of making leather puppets, songs, rituals etc.)
Another complicating element and division that of the oral and written, and to further blur categories many of the elements of both are present in the other category too. This may be seen throughout its history, in fact even into the present. Thus Sulalat al-Salatin and Hikayat raja-raja Pasai, two written historical works have elements of the oral in the songs, the dialogue and the formulaic scheme of composition.
But it is also true that while there are generic parameters that help the author in his composition like the hikayat, syair,and pantun, in the act of narration proper genres are mixed -- elements from various other genres are employed to enhance the effect and quality of the work.
Thus in the oral narratives one finds poems, stock phrases, dialogues, verse capping session, teasing and so on. In written historical works there are pantuns, legends, anecdotes, genealogies, tales etc.
In the syair sometime we find the pantuns, which in effect changes the mood, rhythm and musical quality of the syair. Look at the following for example:
Tajuk mahkota melur bersunting
Tara mahkota berayun sunting
Berkembang bunga kemunting
Dung-dung uma ayun tinting.
Berjalan tinting lusir berlari
Berayun tinting tangan menari
Indah bijak Laila bistari
Yang bijaksana Laila jauhari.
Kalau ada gelundi pahit
Minum serbat di dalam gelas
Kalau ada budi yang baik
Sepanjang hidup dapat dibalas.
A second example is excerpted from the conclusion of the “Syair Berang-berang” now in the Bodlein, Oxford (MS Malay e. 2(R). The preceding verses are monorhymic syair, but finally the form changes into the pantun, a popular form and highly in demand. However, it will be noticed that two extra lines are added to the pantun, making it a half- pantun and a half-syair:
Batang seri di dalam puan
Padi di dalam bermangku nila
Akan berseri gerangan tuan
Hati di dalam bagaikan gila
Padi di dalam bermangku nila
Serahi di dalam puan
Hati di dalam bagaikan gila
Sebab berahi kepadamu tuan
Jikalau tuan mudek ke hulu
Pintakan sahaya kembang kemboja
Jikalau tuan mati dahulu
Nantilah saya di pintu syurga
Berang-berang sangat berosak hati
Kerana bertemu emas pelangki.
The pantuns themselves are a great anthology of the collective creative genius. It has developed from the 2 line to the four, six, eight, ten, and even twenty. There are other forms that are based on the alif-bata-ta (the Jawi alphabet) the rejang (fortune telling through auspicious times and dates and the Pak Bongsu Membilang Malam, a narrative of a woman’s emotions aver several days.
The pantuns themselves are present in the mantera, in the songs, the dondang sayang, the many paces of the marriage ceremonies, in speeches, in letters and also not least in love-making. The following is an exmple of the pantun in the mantera or incantation.
Pucuk perena daun perena
Ketiga dengan pucuk api-api
Baginda Ali minta guna
Siti Fatimah turun mandi.
Siti Fatimah turun mandi
Titi sampai melentuk
Siti sampai berlari
Aku minta putarkan hati si Anu
Pulang kepada aku
Lupa makan minum
Lupa mandi lupa tidur
Tidak lupa kepada aku
Tidak lupa siang dan malam
Habis kulit dengan tulang
Baru lupa engkau kepada aku.
Or listen to this Balian curing incantation, mantera, of the Petalangan (Tenas Effendi (tth):55), Upacara Pengobatan Tradisional Masyarakat Petalangan Desa Betung.
Anak itik anak ayam
Terbang menyisi-nyisi langit
Kecil sebesar biji bayam
Mengandung bumi dengan langit
Kota bumi selebar dulang
Kota langit sekembang payung
Duduk di tanah sekepal semula jadi
Tumbuh rumput tarung temarung
Alam besar diperkecil
Alam kecil dihabisi
Tinggal alam dalam diri
Mana alam dalam diri?
For Malay authors it seems that genres are mere guidelines, that are quite fluid. For the dynamic author they may be combined and recombined, mixed to help them give a mould for their talents and themes. They assist and provide alternatives rather than hinder, they inspire and please and entertain rather than bore the audience.
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