Hari Domingo, ‘Rembang’ and ‘Purnama’

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Many moons (purnama) ago, I encountered Brazilian novelist and lyricist Paulo Coelho

(b. 1947) in an in-flight magazine over the skies of eastern Europe. He was asked on the meaning of happiness.  His answer: “Sitting by the window watching the stillness of a tropical midday afternoon.” Coelho was inadvertently associating happiness to time – its measurement and duration. The term “midday afternoon” is tengah hari (midday) in Bahasa Melayu. This is when the sun sits right in the middle (tengah) of the sky.

Then there is also hari, pagi rembang, tinggi hari, beralih hari and dinihari, certainly evoking different states of being to different individuals.  The Malays use nature as their time telling tool, even after the introduction of the clock and the calendar.  Nature is framed – we have day and night, month, the seasons and the year.

Asmah Omar in her Malay Perception of Time (2000/2013)   explains the natural state of the time frame, and what it represents in the various languages, mainly Austronesian, Sanskrit, Arabic and Portuguese. The words petang and malam refer to “darkness,” where in many Austronesian languages,   petang or its cognates refer to the darkness of the atmosphere.  The root pet in Javanese mean “extinguished, of light.” The darkness of the atmosphere has induced the Malays to coin petang and malam as time frames.   Malam has the root lam, which reflects a common origin with lam in kelam (dark, of the atmosphere).   From malam, comes tengah malam – the darkest time of the night.

Hari (day), pagi (morning) and rembang (mid-morning) are not transparent in their etymologies. I would often remember parents prohibiting their children to play outside the house in the rembang. And that is what I remember from my mother when I was old enough in my primary school years, not to play outside the house during that time. Earlier I got the impression that rembang was the hottest time of the day. But Rembang, according to Asmah, is a time frame between 10 to 11 am, Malaysia time. The description for this frame is matahari sepenggalah, literally the sun as long as the pole.    Tinggi hari is after rembang – representing the observation of the Malays of the sun’s at the time frame  concerned (about 11 o’clock).  This is when the sun is moving to a higher position (tinggi), though not as high as when it is tengah hari (midday).  In the latter situation, the sun is right in the middle (tengah) of the sky.

The there is also the term beralih hari (approximately between 2.00 – 3.00 pm), which literally means “the changing of the day.”  This indicates the changing of the position of the sun as it starts to go down.  Asmah, also a scholar of Ibanic languages, notes that the term has an equivalent in Iban in ngalih hari (ngalih = change; hari = day). Beralih hari leads to petang which starts the new day.  However, in modern Malay usage, 2.00 p.m. is considered petang.

Twilight, dusk is described as senja or senjakala – a loan from Sanskrit.  A more graphic description is (masa) matahari terbenam (the time of) sunset, literally (the time) the sun sinks into darkness. Dinihari, where the first element dini, from the root dina, means day. To the Malays, dinihari is heralded by the first crowing of the cock, anytime between 3.00 and 4.00 in the morning. Day-break, subuh, has its roots in Sabah (morning).  According to Asmah, to the traditional Malays, pagi is a long span of time from subuh right to tengah hari. With the cultural environment from Islam, there is the necessity for the subuh-frame – beginning with fajar menyingsing and ending with the beginning of tergelincir matahari. Fajar is an Arabic  loan meaning “dawn.” So fajar menyinsing means “break of dawn.”

The influence of Islam and the Arabs have given the Malays the concept of the week, the seven-day frame.  But bear in mind that the word minggu (week) is not a native Malay word. Asmah suggests that the probable origins of the word is from the name for Sunday in Portuguese, Domingo. Thus from hari Dominggo, it then was truncated to hari Minggu.  Hence, Hari Minggu became another name for Sunday.  It is used interchangeably with Ahad, which equals to Sunday.  The Malay have used  Arabic names for the days of the week before the encounter with the Portuguese.

Full moons are called purnama – hence bulan purnama.  Classical Malay texts pay a great deal of attention to the duration of time, expressed in quite definite terms.  Lovers talk about not seeing each other for a period which has seen three full moons pass by (tiga purnama).  Notions of time are also found in Malay proverbs and pantuns. These are associated to memory, wisdom and resilience among others. Time as an element that lingers on, if we remember James Joyce’s “…long last lingering look.”  The following pantun attests to a good deed that forever lingers in one’s memory for eternity:

Pulau Pandang jauh ke tengah,

Gunung Daik bercabang tiga;

Hancur badan di kandung tanah,

Budi yang baik dikenang juga

 

[Pandan island is far in the ocean,

Mount Daik has three peaks;

Even when my corpse has rotted,

Your good deed will be remembered

Trans. Asmah Omar]

Also remember, the Malay perspective of time is bounded by geography, configured by the rhythm of the equatorial tropical climate.

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