Can we talk about the ‘kerbau pendek’ in the room?In Malaysia?
By Joan Lau Executive Editor Malay Mail January 25, 2019
Curious Kitchen’s Wagyu Strip Loin dish was mistaken for pork earlier this week after it was spotted in MAS’ ‘Going Places’ magazine. — Picture via Instagram/Curious Kitchen
COMMENTARY, Jan 25 ― I feel like we in Malaysia have turned back the clock… to 1978! Our prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the deputy prime minister then and I was in my first year in university.
I was equal parts excited and bewildered in those early weeks at University of Malaya (UM).
For some reason, the university mandated that some of the modules be taught in BM… even though I was doing English Literature!
That first year, one of the books we were studying was George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The lecturer was Mrs Jeannie Mok.
She read off her lecture notes in BM and was talking about the characters Napoleon and Snowball, both pigs… when I heard her say kerbau pendek when referring to them.
What the heck is a kerbau pendek? So apparently the word babi was just not acceptable, and we were to refer to Napoleon and Snowball as kerbau pendek.
We laughed privately after the lecture at the stupidity of it all… then promptly forgot about this blip. We actually thought it was Mrs Mok being… silly. And never thought to ask if she was perhaps made to do this.
Fast forward to 1994 and Huzir Sulaiman’s Bendul character on TV. This Mr Bean-like character in one episode used the word kerbau pendek when referring to a babi.
I thought, “Oh, there it is again… that word.” How silly. But then again, it was RTM and I chalked it down to bureaucracy and random censorship.
The following year the movie Babe with its central character of a pig was banned from our local cinemas.
I mean, there was no censoring it right?
Today in 2019 when information ― in the form of news and entertainment ― comes to and at us so freely, it seems unthinkable that there was a time where we tried to change the name of an animal ― the pig ― to something more palatable.
Who are we protecting here by going one step further… not saying its name or using its image? I am referring to the latest babi kerfuffle involving Malaysia Airlines’ inflight magazine Going Places.
Some overzealous people protested over the use of a picture of an alleged pork dish in the magazine… Malaysia Airlines apologised and later it turned out not to be pork but actually beef.
And in the latest turn of events, the word pork (and I assume pig) will be verboten in the magazine.
Imagine that! Welcome to 1978.