Meaning: People tend to be attracted to what most benefits them
"Ada udang di balik batu."
There is a shrimp behind the stone
Meaning: There is a hidden motive behind an act
"Air beriak tanda tak dalam."
Shallow water has ripples.
Meaning: Overly boisterous/ loud-mouthed people often don't know much. To be "all talk".
"Air cucuran jatuhnya ke pelimbahan juga."
Water dripping from the roof will eventually go to the reservoir.
Meaning similar to "Like father like son" or "An apple never falls far from the tree"
"Air dicincang tak putus."
Water minced will not separate.
Meaning: Like the seaweed that clings together after each passing boat separates them, so too a family will come together with the passing of each crisis.
See also: "Biduk lalu kiambang bertaut."
"Air susu dibalas dengan air tuba."
Milk is repaid with poison
Meaning: A good deed that is repaid by a bad deed
"Air tenang menghanyutkan."
Still water runs deep.
Meaning: Never underestimate a quiet person, for he may have qualities that belie his quiet nature.
"Air tenang jangan disangka tiada buaya"
Never think that still water doesn't have crocodiles.
Meaning: Never take for granted a peaceful outlook since danger may lurk beneath.
"Anak dipangku dilepaskan, beruk di rimba disusukan."
A child on the lap is let go, a monkey from the forest is nursed instead.
Meaning: Changing priorities.
"Alah bisa karena biasa."
Practise makes perfect.
Meaning: If we practice enough, we can do really well.
"Anjing menggonggong, kafilah tetap berlalu."
The dogs are barking, the caravan moves on
Meaning: Useless protest, criticism or sarcasm.
"Asam di gunung, garam di laut bertemu dalam satu belanga."
Tamarind on the mountain, salt in the sea meet in the one pot.
Tamarind and salt are two of the most important and frequently used spices in Indonesia.
Meaning: Even things that are far apart can meet as one. Usually used to settle differences between two rivalries or to express a relationship from two very different entities. Or, in the context of match-making, even two persons of different backgrounds / from distant places can meet and eventually get married, etc.
Meaning: Asking questions is the only way to learn
"Mati satu tumbuh seribu."
One dead replaced by one thousand.
Used to describe the undying spirit of a movement (for instance during the struggle for independence)
Also: "Gugur satu tumbuh seribu." The word 'gugur' means similar to 'mati' (die), but it usually relates to dead leaves (when a leaf dries it will fall from its tree.) Adds a poetic/romantic feel to the description of the death those percived to be honourable or heroic. Thus, "Gugur satu tumbuh seribu" sounds more patriotic than "Mati satu tumbuh seribu."
"Memancing di air keruh."
Fishing in a murky water.
Meaning: Taking advantage of a murky/confusing situation.
"Memang lidah tidak bertulang."
The tongue indeed has no bone.
Meaning: To describe, with disgust, a person who has no principles, who keeps changing what he/she says, who is a liar.
"Menang jadi arang, kalah jadi abu."
Meaning: To describe a no win situation
Same as: Bagai makan buah simalakama.
See: Kalah jadi abu, menang jadi arang
"Mengharap burung terbang tinggi, punai di tangan dilepaskan."
Meaning: Expecting something bigger, and we let go what we already have.
Example: A gamble who gamble away his paycheck expecting to win big but ends up with nothing.
"Mengharapkan hujan turun, air di tempayan ditumpahkan."
Eager for the rain to fall, water already stored is thrown away.
Same as: Mengharap burung terbang tinggi, punai di tangan dilepaskan
"Menuhuk kawan seiring menggunting dalam lipatan."
To punch a comrade, to cut inside a fold.
Meaning: To describe a traitor (or traitorous acts)
"Merdeka atau mati."
Freedom or death.
Meaning: We have to fight for our freedom as long as it takes, and we shall not mind the death following our struggle for independence.
That is a very common motto in Indonesian wars against the Dutch colonialisation, usually written "Merdeka ataoe mati", because at that time, 'u' was still written as 'oe', just like the current 'y' was 'j', the 'j' was 'dj', and the 'c' was 'tj'.
"Sejelek-jelek pemimpin pasti punya anak buah, sebaik-baik pemimpin pasti punya musuh."
No matter how bad a leader is he/she will have followers, no matter how good a leader is he/she will have enemies.
Meaning: There is always someone who loves you, and someone who hates you.
"Sekali lancung ke ujian, seumur hidup orang tak percaya."
Once a person cheats in an exam, forever people will distrust him.
Meaning: Once you lost the trust of someone, it is almost impossible to gain it back.
"Sekali merengkuh dayung, dua tiga pulau terlampaui."
One stroke at the paddle, two and three islands have passed.
Meaning: Do multiple tasks at one go.
"Sekali bah, sekali pantai berubah"
Once there is a flood, the beach will change
Meaning: A change of event such as the death of a leader, will lead to other changes.
Same as: Sambil menyelam minum air.
"Sepandai-pandai tupai meloncat, akhirnya jatuh juga."
No matter how good a squirrel can jump, it will fall eventually.
Meaning: No matter how smart a person is, eventually he/she will make a mistake.
"Seperti katak dalam tempurung."
Like a frog trapped inside a coconut shell
Meaning: No experience, narrow minded (but acts as if he knows everything)
"Seperti katak hendak jadi lembu."
The story says of a frog that wants to be as big as a cow by inflating itself. In the end, its body bursts open and the frog dies.
Meaning: Someone who expect to become someone that beyond him.
Meaning: Someone who wish/expect something impossible.
Similar with: Bagai pungguk merindukan bulan
"Seperti pinang dibelah dua."
Like a halved pinang.
Pinang is a tree with very straight up trunk, similar to the palm tree or also commonly called as beetle nut tree.
Meaning: Like a twin, very similar (in appearance)
Humorous: "Seperti pinang dibelah dua dengan kapak". The literal meaning is like pinang halved with an axe. Idiomatically, it means two things that are quite different (because you can never halve a pinang with an axe neatly).
"Setajam-tajam pisau, masih lebih tajam lidah."
No matter how sharp a knife is, a tongue is even sharper.
Meaning: Be careful of what you say as it can hurt more (feelings) than a knife
"Setinggi-tingginya bangau terbang, akhirnya ke pelimbahan juga."
No matter how high a crane flies, it will fall into the pit eventually.
Meaning: No matter how successful a person is, he/she will experience some bad things too.
"Sudah jatuh, tertimpa tangga pula."
A person slips, and a ladder falls on him.
Meaning: All the bad things seems to happen at the same time.
Comparable to "When it rains, it pours".
To describe a very unlucky person who has been having an unlucky streak.
"Surga di telapak kaki ibu."
Heaven is on the bottom of mother's foot.
Meaning: A person who loves/cares about their mother is doing the best deed.
This is also a reference to the saying of Prophet Mohammad of the same meaning, explaining the position of Mother in Islamic belief.
"Siapa menabur angin, akan menuai badai."
Whoever sows the wind reaps the storm.
Meaning: Your actions all have consequences. You are responsible for the bad consequences of your bad actions.