By Latiff Mohidin

At dawn they returned home
their soaky clothes torn
and approached the stove
their limbs marked by scratches
their legs full of wounds
but on their brows
there was not a sign of despair

The whole day and night just passed
they had to brave the horrendous flood
in the water all the time
between bloated carcasses
and tiny chips of tree barks
desperately looking for their son’s
albino buffalo that was never found

There were born amidst hardship
and grew up without a sigh or a complaint
now they are in the kitchen, making
jokes while rolling their cigarette leaves

Translated by
Salleh Ben Joned

Okay… where do I begin… Hmmm… first of all this is just my humble take on this poem and bear in mind that I don’t have a clue of neither the poem nor the poet. The main thing to notice here is the fact that it is translated thus, telling us that the poem was originally written in Malay. I like the idea behind it that could make the students realise that literature is universal and that a good piece of art can be appreciated in any language without losing its strength, beauty and aestheticism. I’ve tried googling “Sajak Latiff Mohidin”, in hope of finding the original version… which could be manipulated into lesson to make it more interesting… but I could not find it (please send it to me if you found it). I guess I might be visiting bookstores as soon as I reach civilisation soon.
I personally felt that the new collection of poems hold more values and in-depth lesson that students nowadays really seem to need insurmountably. As the title suggest, this poem is obviously trying to convey the hardship that a family in a village is facing after a big flood. “Smart-a**” students might be asking; “How do you know that they live in a village, sir?” The answer lies within the albino buffalo (kerbau balau), a complete giveaway of the setting of the poem, as city people are not known to be rearing buffalos (IMHO). However, the big theme or message in the poem as I see it is not the hardship itself but how the family handle it. In other words, it can be said that the theme might be “the optimism of the unfortunates”. I can’t help but to state again here that this is 100% my own words so, feel free to share yours (the upside to the fact that no ‘baby-step’ is written yet). Back to the theme of my choice, I said so based on the lines 6-7 and also the last 2 lines:
but on their brows
there was not a sign of despair

It was stated before lines 6-7 that they returned home at dawn in a soaking-wet clothes that is all torn-up and with bruises and cuts all over… but, their face did not show any sign of hopelessness and despair that would normally be expected.
now they are in the kitchen, making
jokes while rolling their cigarette leaves

These last two lines further accentuate my points on the optimism of this family. Imagine yourself hours after a terrible tragedies or disaster. It takes a lot of courage and strength to see the silver lining and to move on after that. Yet, that is exactly what this family is doing. They’re spending time together, enjoying each other’s company and may be gratifying on the fact what they still have instead of what was lost. This is exactly the authentic and profound values that our students need to be taught about. In my students’ case, most of them would be able to relate very well with the family; the fact that they face the same kind of struggles and the fact that they are almost always grateful with what they have (disturbingly, some of them seems to be to optimist that they don’t bother to want to change their fate… but this is out of topic… haha). Back to the point that this is a good value and most students nowadays should realise that they really are becoming ungrateful brats. I’m sorry to go here and there at such a random pace, but this is no assignment rite? So, humour me and please read till the end. The tragedies in the poem actually allow us with a lot of option for pre-reading activities. The suffering of this family can easily be contextualised with a depiction of real occurrence around the world. Floods and tsunamis are obvious choices; you can have it in form of pictures, videos, audios or even articles. But we can go a step further by showing pictures of malnourished families having great times under extremely unfortunate circumstances. I remembered Mdm Z saying something about how her children could not really sympathised with what they saw on their trip to Africa (if i’m not mistaken) because the children there are so happy. Even when they don’t really have a lot to be happy about. There are actually a value that could be learnt here. It’s just a matter of making it obvious to the students and this is where we should facilitate.
Let’s try to look into the other literary elements here. Settings have been discussed though I can’t be sure of the time frame as I could not trace the original poem. Hmm… let’s see… metaphore; nope, simile; nope, personification; nope, onomatopoeia; hehe… is ‘sigh’ counted as one?, assonance; nope, and alliteration; nope. This is my observation, again… feel free to correct me. And another one is rhyming scheme; I think this is a free verse right? With no apparent scheme. So… I think that’s all for now… as I’m typing this my battery is almost dead… I wonder what’s wrong with the generator this time… we’re having power disruption again… at 9 a.m. just like yesterday… Hmm, such a challenging day to keep smiling… But I guess after reviewing this poem, I could brave it through; come the heat, the sun, the hunger and the thirst… I should be grateful that I’m alive and I should “make hay while the sun shines” right? Hahaha, such a very strange idiom to be contextualised here in Malaysia.


Here are some thoughtful comments that surely worth highlighting:

“Latif used to write with lots of colours. he still does. In The Midst of Hardship he uses colours of ‘dawn’, ‘home’, ‘stove’, ‘scratches’, ‘wounds’, ‘brows’, etc. I would tell my kids that life is full of colours – like those on a pallate of an artist. How’s that?” – Anonymous

“…there are abundant (words referring to hardship) in this poem (in my opinion) … i’m no expert but words such as: “scratches”, “wounds”, and “horrendous”… are really identifiable with “hardship”. Hope this help…” – Cikgu Faisal

“…probably can add here another theme; ‘love’. Mostly of course, about the love within a family. Love is what binds them together. I’m not sure but the line ‘desperately looking for their son’s albino buffalo that was never found‘ really jumps out to me. During the time of hardship, who would care about what their son or daughter lost. But in this poem, they show concern and are desperate. I guess coz they care. parents nowadays kan are too bz and ‘forget’ about the needs of their children. I feel this line really ‘menyindir’ town parents who r senang lenang and dont find time for their children. dorang nih yg in the midst of hardship pun, still show concern for their child. any of get what i mean here?

‘albino’. also jumps out to me. i mean, Salleh  could have jz said ‘buffalo’ right? (correct me if im wrong) so why ‘albino’?” – Marinette

In response to Marinette’s question on why does Salleh uses the word albino, that’s because we have that type of buffalo here in Malaysia… if I’m not mistaken, it’s called “kerbau balau” or “kerbau balar”… am not really sure (Cudnt find the original poem but I’m sure that’s what Latif uses in his poem). I can’t read Latiff’s mind but I think by using albino buffalo here, he managed to insert another value here. Nette, brought up the theme of love and I agree with her bout that. Consequently, as we can read in the poem that they returned home without finding the buffalo but they didnt seem to be “really bothered” by it. They accept fate as it is but more importantly, it portrays how “immaterialistic” they are. Albino buffalo is rare and very difficult to get but here we can see that eventhough they are concern with the fact that the precious buffalo is missing, they refuse to let it ruins their day… and their spirit. That is my opinion… thanks for reading!



  1. Salam mabruk.

    I’m greatly thankful 2 hav met yr page, cikgu faisal. i’m a teacher in the making and yr blog is very resourceful and highly- assisting. trimas:)

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