Tuesday 30 July 2013

Ramblings from Saudi: What About Brothers and Sisters?

It's funny how sometimes you get to learn and/or appreciate more about your language and culture when you are actually away from your home country. Perhaps it is because of the fact that there is a tendency for us to take for granted those things that seem normal or everyday occurrence to us.

I personally have experienced a few circumstances that actually reflect this. The latest being just last week.

One of my colleagues here, Ahmad, had told me earlier this year that he's going to travel with his father to Patani in southern part of Thailand to visit his relatives there. He was very excited because the trip is going to take him back to his roots. The fact that they are flying in through Kuala Lumpur and not via Bangkok made him even more excited to share his travel plan with me. Unfortunately the trip had been postponed quite a few times since then due to several reasons, the latest being him not being able to get a leave from his boss yet.

The following are the conversation – written more or less in the original manner it was spoken - that we had just had recently:

Me: Doh tu bilanye nok gi Patani ni?
(So when are you going to Patani?)

Ahmad: Sayo dok tahu lagi bila boleh cuti ni...
(I'm not sure yet when I can get my leave approved)

Ahmad: Tapi kakok saya meme doh nok gi bule depan ni…
(But my sister is going there next month)

Knowing that women here cannot travel overseas alone, I asked him:

Me:Eh? Kakok nok gi sano sorang-sorang je ke? Boleh pulok travel sorang-sorang lo ni?
(Eh? Is your sister going there alone? Didn't know that she can travel alone these days?)

Ahmad:Dok eh, dio gi denge isteri…
(Eh, no! She's going there with the wife…)

Me:Oh! Isteri kamu ikut kakok pergi sane?
(Oh! Your wife is following your sister there as well?)

Ahmad: Eh dok eh, isteri kakok ar…
(Eh, no! It's my sister's wife…)

*confused look from me*

[ The following questions then followed (albeit in my head only, LOL!) Eh is his sister a lesbian? Didn't know that that is allowed here in Saudi, what more of getting married to the same sex! LOL ]

Me:Eh! Kakok tu perempuan ke lelaki?
(Eh! Is your 'sister' female or male?)

Ahmad:*laughing* Kakok tu laki la...
('Sister' is a male)

Me:Oh! Ingatkan maksuk kakok tu perempuan... So adik beradik lelaki yang lebih tua panggil kakok la ye? Doh tu adik beradik perempuan hok lebih tua panggil gapo?
(Oh! I thought you're talking about your sister... So you call elder male siblings as 'sister'. But what about elder female siblings?)

Ahmad:Ha'ah. Tu pun panggil kakok gak.
(Yeah. We call them 'sister' as well)

Me:Doh tu, sape hok panggil abang?
(So whom do you identify and call as 'brother'?)

Ahmad:Tak dok sapo… dok guno pun perkataan abang kat sini…
(Nobody, we don't even use the word 'brother' here)

Confused? :-D

The confusion may arise from the fact that I (and Malaysians in general) use kakok ("kakak" in standardspeak, and "sister" in English) for elder female siblings only and abang ("brother" in English) for elder male siblings. Here however, the jawi people use kakok for both elder male and female siblings. So accordingly, in parts of the conversation above, the word "kakok" should have been translated into "brother" in English instead of "sister".

Another colleague, who is a Saudi but of Thai Patani descent and also goes by the name of Ahmad, once told me that his nenek (grandmother in Malay) had migrated alone from Patani to Makkah many, many years ago. I was thoroughly impressed with the adventurousness of his grandmother, considering that she was travelling alone about half-way across the world in search of a better life many decades ago when it was, I presume, not normal for women to travel alone outside a country, what more to migrate half way across the world.

Later I however found out that this Ahmad was actually referring to his grandfather when he talked about his 'nenek'. Further conversations clarified that he called both his grandparents "nenek", even though Malaysians usually use nenek to refer to grandmother only while datok ("datuk" in Malay standardspeak) is for the grandfather.

Another colleague, this time a Malaysian who used to work in Indonesia, told me that in some parts of Indonesia, they also call their elder male siblings as kakak, and not abang.

This actually made me realise about something else. I think, at least in my homestate of Terengganu in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, the older generations there used to address their elder female siblings or relatives as "abang" rather than "kakak". Names like "Abang Yah" and "Abang Nah" were used by my mum when addressing her (late) elder sisters in law. The elder brother in law is also addressed as "abang", and not "kakak", mind you, LOL!

Me and my siblings also used to call our late paternal grandparents tokki (for the grandfather) and tok (for the grandmother). And both these names are derived from the word datok and not nenek.

Thus the situation then, and even now, among the older generations there in Malaysia, is totally the opposite of what is normal for the jawi people here in Saudi, especially among the Patanis (or Southern Thais) and Indonesians.

So despite the fact that we all speak the same lingua franca, we might still not speak the same "language". And we are not actually simply talking about "toe-mah-toe" vs. "toe-may-toe" here. 

Nevertheless, as some people would say, in diversity, there is beauty, don't you think?

This is the sixth blog entry under 'Ramblings from Saudi' series.

'Ramblings from Saudi' is a series of blog entries originally written when I was living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for one year from 2007 to 2008. While the entries under this series are not exactly travel entries, (I hope that) they tell stories about life in Saudi Arabia in general as I personally experienced them.

For other 'Ramblings from Saudi' entries, click here.


Comments and feedback are always appreciated. So do leave one or two if you have the time. Thank you!

  1. Hoorrra ngerti maksudnya.. ):

    1. Anonymous05 July, 2014

      Kenapa tak faham wahai RaW. Kan mudah aje.

      Indonesia panggil kakek untuk abang yang lebih tua dari diri penyebut.

      Kelantan juga sama akan menyebut kakak kepada yg lebih tua. contoh mudah:
      kakak no 2 saya nama Ahmad, sedang belajar di UI Madinah..... . Ini bermakna abang yg kedua dalam adik beradik sedang belajar. Ini kurang tersinggung.
      Cuma anda jangan guna perkataan 'bujang' di Kelantan terutama kepada perempuan yg tiada suami!

  2. Anonymous31 July, 2013

    IC. Now i know that they used to call the elder female siblings or relatives as "abang" too! I should ask my Wan (nenek) on this bile balik raya nanti.

    1. Ah ha! Yup, nanti please update? Heheh! I think those who are in their 60s or above might still use 'abang' for elder female siblings, at least in Terengganu...

  3. Kakok.. huhuu.. teringat pada kawan2 indonesia zaman hostel dulu.. time belajar dengan mereka.. :D

  4. Anonymous05 July, 2014

    Datanglah ke Kelantan, pasti anda akan mendapat kelainan dan akan rasa terhibur dengan kelucuan sebutan-sebutan daerahnya.


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