My thoughts on the ‘Sumandak Sabah’ song

The song ‘Sumandak Sabah’ is a song that’s currently being frequently played on the radio. Albeit it’s a fun and catchy tune, I can’t help but to analyze the lyrics of the song. A few phrases have caught my attention. Before that, what is ‘sumandak’? It means ‘girl’ in Kadazan which usually refers to unmarried girls.

Firstly, it’s concerning the phrase ‘semua lawa-lawa pandai masak nasi’ (all of them are pretty and know how to cook rice). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t appreciate the beauty of Sabahan girls (although what constitutes as ‘beauty’ depends on each individual’s perception of it) and I’m also not saying that knowing how to cook rice isn’t essential as a basic part of living skills, especially when you identify yourself as an Asian and subscribe to the idea of having rice as the staple food. But doesn’t this sort of acknowledgement only limited to the superficial aspect? Aren’t Sabahan girls/women more than that? Why do we reinforce this belief and stereotype that asserts their place is in the kitchen?

Secondly, it’s concerning the phrase ‘pandai lagi dari kaum lelaki’ (more intelligent than men). Do we have to acknowledge the intelligence of Sabahan girls by comparing it with the intelligence of men by asserting that men’s intelligence as inferior? This phrase is kind of misandrist in nature. Both men and women have strengths and weaknesses. Neither men nor women are inferior or superior than the other. In fact, we actually complement one another. It’s patriarchy that reinforces the view that men should be on top and not women. Maybe the phrase intends to prove that women can be as equally as intelligent. But it is done in a manner that puts down men. I see it as patriarchy in reverse – same manner of oppression but only the roles have been reversed.

I shared this view on my IG story and Twitter and I have received a variety of responses after inviting followers for a discussion in my DMs. Most of them responded by saying that they agreed with me followed by an elaboration of their personal opinion of the song. 

One of them suggested that they could’ve composed the lyrics a bit better. Perhaps that the phrase ‘semua lawa-lawa pandai masak nasi’ could be changed to ‘semua lawa-lawa pandai berdikari’ (all of them are pretty and independent). The number of syllables are still maintained. This person doesn’t feel flattered to be a Sumandak Sabah if all they point out is the talent to cook rice. By coming up with a different phrase with the same number of syllables, I would like to change that phrase to ‘pandai berdikari selain masak nasi’ (knows how to be independent aside from cooking rice) so as to do away with the superficial aspect of it. 

The second person DMed me saying that she did not like the song at all. Apart from agreeing with my view, she stated that she does not approve of the idea that being a sumandak should be associated with beauty pageant as if it’s the dream and goal of every sumandak to participate in Unduk Ngadau. She also stated that since the song has been played widely in the media, the lyrics should be suitable. Solely relying on catchy tunes does not have an impact at all. I think what she meant by this is that the lyrics should convey a wide range of qualities that Sabahan girls posses apart from just being pretty and knowing how to cook rice. Other than that, solely relying on catchy tunes to sell songs without considering the lyrics and its impact on society does not contribute to forming a progressive society.

The third person who agreed with me said that although how the lyrics portrayed Sabahan girls is a bit disappointing, to look at it positively, perhaps they are just inserting a comedic element into the song just for fun. This is the perspective that I have not personally thought of. Another similar perspective that I’ve received regarding the song is that perhaps that they are just doing it for fun and ‘santai-santai’ (in a relaxed manner). Well, my counter-argument to this is that words and phrases are powerful. They could have a powerful impact on the mentality of those who listened to it without being conscious and aware of what it could perpetuate. Such as what? More sexism. 

A few had also responded by saying perhaps the composer just wanted the song to rhyme hence the choices of phrases. Well, that’s no excuse. They could’ve looked for other words that could rhyme with the ending syllable. 

A person replied by asserting that ‘It’s just a song. Chill.’ I do believe that there are many out there who share the same sentiment. They don’t see the value in discussing about books, movies, TV shows, and songs and see their relation to and impact on the real world. Perhaps they don’t have vested interest in it as they have other interests which do not involve thinking and analyzing about how certain issues could reflect and have their impact on society. How do I respond to these types of people? I invite them to think. It benefits them as it could develop their critical thinking skills. But if they refuse, then there is nothing more I could do. I would rather invest my energy and mental capacity towards people who would be willing to discuss with me whether they agree or disagree. 

How about the composer and the artist who promoted the song? I think it’s innocent on their part. They mean no harm. But we do have listeners who are critical of the songs that they listen to, as it’s been reflected on the responses that I’ve received. So, if by any chance that they are reading this, I think by now they should be aware that being in the limelight, they are always subjected to criticism. 
By looking at the majority of the responses that I get (most of them are from Sabahan girls/women), the lyrics don’t reflect the true qualities of a ‘Sumandak Sabah’. However, the very act of giving such critical opinions is also a reflection that there are Sabahan girls/women who can do more than just be ‘lawa-lawa dan pandai masak nasi’.

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