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Surat pantun cara Lampung.png
A Pantun writing using the Jawi script (Lampung, Indonesia)
CountryIndonesia and Malaysia
RegionAsia and the Pacific
Inscription history

Pantun (Jawi: ڤنتون) is a Malay oral poetic form used to express intricate ideas and emotions.[1] It is generally consists of even-numbered lines[2] and based on ABAB rhyming schemes.[3] The shortest pantun consists of two lines better known as the pantun dua kerat in Malay, while the longest pantun, the pantun enam belas kerat have 16 lines.[4] Pantun is a disjunctive form of poetry which always come in two parts, the first part being the prefatory statement called pembayang or sampiran that has no immediate logical or the narrative connection with the second or closing statement called maksud or isi.[5][6][7][8][9] However, they are always connected by the rhymes and other verbal associations, such as puns and repeating sounds.[10] There is also an oblique but necessary relationship and the first statement often turns out to be a metaphor for the second one.[11] The most popular form of pantun is the quatrain (four lines),[12] and the couplet (two-lines),[13] which both featured prominently in the literature and modern popular culture.[14]

The form of pantun grew and spread from the Srivijaya Empire in Sumatra, Indonesia. The earliest literary records of pantun date back to the 15th century,[15] as it was featured in the most important Malay literary text, the Malay Annals.[16] Pantun is regarded as a high art and has been the integral part of classical Malay literature. It also thrived as a natural part in the daily communication of traditional Malay society and served as the important expressive tool in Malay songs,[17] rituals, performing arts and in all form of storytelling.[18]


According to Za'aba, the word pantun is thought to evolve from the Malay word sepantun[19] (Jawi: سڤنتون) meaning 'same as'.[20] The word is used to signify a proverbial metaphor or simile,[21] a type of figure of speech commonly found in traditional pantun or proverbs from classical Malay literature.[22] The archaic meaning of pantun in Malay language also refers to a form of proverb used for indirect references,[23] which has similar role to pantun as poetry, that are still generally created in styles portraying sindir (indirect references) and kias (analogies).[24]

Other theory suggests that pantun originated from the word penuntun[25] ('guider'),[26] from noun-building prefix pe(n) and the verb tuntun (Jawi:تونتون) or 'to guide'.[27] Alternatively, Brandstetter suggested that the word originates from tun and its similar sounding variants in Austronesian languages, with multiple meanings; Kapampangan tuntun ('well organized'), Tagalog tonton ('skillful arrangement'), Old Javanese tuntun ('thread'), atuntun ('well arranged'), matuntun ('to lead'), and Toba Batak pantun ('polite' or 'worthy of respect'). Winstedt supported this opinion, noting that in many Austronesian languages, words which suggest 'something set out in rows' gradually gain the new meaning of 'well-arranged words', in prose or in poetry.[28] Ari Welianto suggested that pantun is originated from Minangkabau word of patuntun which means "guide".[29]


Some scholars believe that pantuns predates literacy and maybe as old as the Malay language itself,[30] Muhammad Haji Salleh believe that pantuns form grew and spread from Srivijaya, and most probably from around the city of Palembang or Malayu. When Palembang became more dominant, pantuns of the two cities would be known to each other's population, and while they used the same language, they were adversaries politically.[31] Nevertheless, the tradition was known to have reached its refined form with the flowering of classical Malay literature from the 15th century.[32][33] Notable literary works like Malay Annals and Hikayat Hang Tuah contain the earliest written examples of pantun.[34][35]

For at least 500 years, pantun spread from Malay language through trade routes, ports, and migrations and became the most dynamic single literary form.[36] Today, it is known in at least 40 dialects of Malay, and 35 non-Malay languages, in the Malay Peninsula and many of the islands of Maritime Southeast Asia.[37] The popularity of pantun among hybrid communities like Peranakans, Chitty and Kristang people, signifies its preeminent position as a cultural symbol in the Malay world.[38] A type of pantun called pantun berkait that consists of interwoven quatrains, was introduced to Western poetry in the 19th century by Ernest Fouinet and later popularised by Victor Hugo, that forms the basis of modern pantoum.[39]


The pantun originated as a traditional oral form of expression, manifesting the traditional Malay views of life and their surroundings, and utilized to express an endless range of emotions and ideas. As a symbol of Malay identity, pantuns are known to be the reflections of adat ('customs) and adab ('manners'). As Malay culture emphasised the importance of polite and indirect expressions, pantuns are generally created in styles portraying various forms of figurative language.[40] Elements of metaphors, similes, symbols, personifications, eponyms, allusions, idioms and proverbs are abound in the elegantly compacted Malay pantuns.[41]

In Malay culture, pantun is an important instrument of communication in various social, cultural, and economic activities. It is used traditionally to express feelings, to give advice, to exchange quizzes, and also to sweeten conversations. For example, pantuns are used in the customary verbal exchange in a Malay wedding (or engagement) ceremony, especially as part of the culturally sanctioned greetings between the representatives of the bridegroom and the bride upon their arrival at the bride house.[42] As an expressive tool, pantuns are also used extensively in the lyrics of traditional Malay songs[43] that tuned to the popular rhythms like Zapin,[44] Inang and Joget.[45] Other notable application of pantuns can be found as a structural support for art performances like Dondang sayang, Bangsawan, Mak yong, Mek Mulung and Dikir barat.[46] The skill in performing these poems is to recite in a way to suggest a form of singing while at the same time conjure up the ability to engage in quick, witty and subtle dialogue.

Indonesia possesses a wealth of verbal art. A largely nonwritten tradition of reciting expressive, often witty quatrains called pantun is common in most Malay areas throughout the archipelago. Some pantun performances are narrative; the kentrung traditions of central and eastern Java, for instance, use pantun structure (which is called parikan) to recount religious or local historical tales to the accompaniment of a drum,[47] although this appears to be modern adaptations, as writers from the early 20th century like H Overbeck and JJ De Hollander noted that a tradition similar to pantun did not exist in Javanese at that time.[48] Indeed, much of Indonesia's traditional literature forms the foundation of complex mixed-genre performances, such as the Randai of the Minangkabau of western Sumatra, which blends instrumental music, dance, drama, and martial arts in ceremonial settings.[49]


In its most basic form, the pantun consists of a quatrain which employs an abab rhyme scheme. A pantun is traditionally recited according to a fixed rhythm and as a rule of thumb, in order not to deviate from the rhythm, every line should contain between eight and 12 syllables. "The pantun is a four-lined verse consisting of alternating, roughly rhyming lines. The first and second lines sometimes appear completely disconnected in meaning from the third and fourth, but there is almost invariably a link of some sort. Whether it be a mere association of ideas, or of feeling, expressed through assonance or through the faintest nuance of thought, it is nearly always traceable" (Sim, page 12). The pantun is highly allusive and in order to understand it, readers generally need to know the traditional meaning of the symbols the poem employs. An example (followed by a translation by Katharine Sim):[50]

Tanam selasih di tengah padang,
 Sudah bertangkai diurung semut,
Kita kasih orang tak sayang,
 Halai-balai tempurung hanyut.

I planted sweet-basil in mid-field
 Grown, it swarmed with ants,
I loved but am not loved,
 I am all confused and helpless.

According to Sim, halai-Balai tempurung hanyut literally means 'a floating coconut shell at sixes and sevens'. Selasih ('sweet basil') implies 'lover', because it rhymes with the word for that, kekasih. Other frequently recurring symbols are the flower and the bee, indicating a girl and her lover, the squirrel (tupai) implying a seducer, and the water hyacinth (bunga kiambang) meaning love that will not take root. The pantun often makes use of proverbs as well as geographical and historical allusions, for example, the following poem by Munshi Abdullah:[51]

Singapura negeri baharu,
 Tuan Raffles menjadi raja,
Bunga melur, cempaka biru,
 Kembang sekuntum di mulut naga.

Singapore is a new country,
 Tuan Raffles has become its lord,
Chinese jasmine, purple magnolia,
 A burgeon of flower in the dragon's mouth.

This alludes to the foundation of Singapore in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. The last line means a girl who is protected by a powerful man, and Sim suggests this may refer to Raffles's wife Olivia.

Sometimes a pantun may consist of a series of interwoven quatrains, in which case it is known as a pantun berkait. This follows the abab rhyme scheme with the second and fourth lines of each stanza becoming the first and third lines of the following stanza. Finally, the first and third lines of the first stanza become the second and fourth lines of the last stanza, usually in reverse order so that the first and last lines of the poem are identical. This form of pantun has exercised the most influence on Western literature, in which it is known as the pantoum.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilkinson 1908, p. 28
  2. ^ Daillie 1988, p. 38
  3. ^ Hirsch 2014, p. 440
  4. ^ Daillie 1988, p. 38
  5. ^ Wright 1908, p. 230
  6. ^ Hirsch 2014, p. 440
  7. ^ "Pantun". United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  8. ^ Milyartini, Rita (2018). "Singing Keroncong and the Values Behind it". Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research. 255 (2018): 137–138. doi:10.2991/icade-18.2019.31. ISBN 978-94-6252-671-6. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  9. ^ Chadwick, R.J. (1994). "Unconsummated metaphor in the Minangkabau pantun". School of Oriental & African Studies. 22 (1994): 83–113. doi:10.1080/03062849408729808. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  10. ^ Hirsch 2014, p. 440
  11. ^ Hirsch 2014, p. 440
  12. ^ Hirsch 2014, p. 440
  13. ^ Muhammad Haji Salleh 2018, p. 46
  14. ^ Ding 2008, p. 13
  15. ^ Hirsch 2014, p. 440
  16. ^ Winstedt 1969, p. 137
  17. ^ Liaw 2013, p. 442
  18. ^ Ding 2008, p. 6,7 & 13
  19. ^ Za'aba 1962, p. 219
  20. ^ "sepantun". Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  21. ^ Wright 1908, p. 230
  22. ^ Za'aba 1962, p. 219
  23. ^ "pantun". Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  24. ^ Daillie 1988, p. 79 & 149
  25. ^ Harun Mat Piah 2007, p. 58
  26. ^ "penuntun". Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  27. ^ "tuntun". Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  28. ^ Liaw 2013, p. 442
  29. ^ Ari Welianto (2020-03-03). "Struktur dan Jenis Pantun". (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2020-09-19.
  30. ^ Daillie 1988, p. 3
  31. ^ Haji Salleh, Muhammad (2011). "Sailing the Archipelago in a boat of rhymes: Pantun in the Malay World". Wacana Journal. 13 (1): 83. doi:10.17510/wjhi.v13i1.10. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  32. ^ Hirsch 2014, p. 440
  33. ^ Winstedt 1969, p. 137
  34. ^ Winstedt 1969, p. 137
  35. ^ Kassim Ahmad 1966, pp. 1–3
  36. ^ Muhammad Haji Salleh 2011, p. 78
  37. ^ Muhammad Haji Salleh 2011, p. 78
  38. ^ Ding 2008, pp. 6–7
  39. ^ Hirsch 2014, p. 441
  40. ^ Daillie 1988, p. 79 & 149
  41. ^ Muhammad Haji Salleh 2011, p. 80
  42. ^ Muhammad Haji Salleh 2018, p. 2
  43. ^ Ding 2008, p. 13
  44. ^ Abels 2011, p. 81
  45. ^ Tengku Ritawati 2018, pp. 105–106
  46. ^ Muhammad Haji Salleh 2011, p. 92
  47. ^ Saputra, Karsono H. (2001). Puisi Jawa struktur dan estetika (Cet. 1 ed.). Jakarta: Wedatama Widya Sastra. ISBN 9799653010. OCLC 48100094.
  48. ^ Overbeck 1922, p. 4
  49. ^ "Pantun". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  50. ^ Sim (1987).
  51. ^ Sim (1987), p. 40.


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