Why you should not sneak up on a Melayu


“Opocot pocot mak kau mak aku jatuh kuali akuuu…”

Having a friend, or a mum, or a grandmother that is endowed with the habit of ‘melatah‘ can be both amusing and dangerous; depending on the situation.

Melatah, what?

First and foremost, if the word ‘melatah‘ is new to you, let’s enlighten you. Melatah is an unusual and uncontrollable reaction to situations that catches people off guard, often seen in Malays. Apparently, it is also a thing among the Eskimos and Indians.

In the West, melatah is known as the hyperstartle syndrome in which The New York Times explained as a prolonged reaction to any startled situations that can progress to an extreme degree.


There is conflicting diagnose to this syndrome as of this day but most speculates that the main cause of melatah is that the subconscious mind reacts spontaneously to sudden situations making people react without contemplating their actions. A cat passing by can trigger a 2-minute rant of how to cook ayam rendang.

Medical experts categorized hyperstartle syndrome as one of mental illness caused by anxiety or depression. It is categorized under cultural-bound syndrome.

“In 1994, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or D.S.M.-IV, recognized latah for the first time as a member of a new category of psychiatric illnesses known as culture-bound syndromes — that is, mental disorders induced primarily by culture and not by any bodily pathology.” -New York Times

It slowly progresses to become more of a habit if the teasing continues relentlessly, which usually happens when you have the devils as your friends or relatives. Dr.Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman, a psychiatric consultant of Hospital Pantai Kuala Lumpur suggested that people with this habit has a certain neurotic personality and it might be genetically inherited throughout generations.

To boot, he also added that some also could be an attention seeker and in search of the spotlight because they could come across as exaggerating by how dramatic their reaction can be. A consultant neurologist, Dr.Vimalan Ramasundram, described this cultural-bound phenomena as a group occurrence rather than individual and it can be contagious among a group of people.

The truth behind this condition remains a mystery.

Diversities of people that ‘melatah’

No, they’re not the same. Surprisingly. Below is our way of categorizing the types of latah.

The Vanilla

The most common of them all is the basic or simplest kind of melatah; the ones that spit out either short and bitter words or incoherent sentences from the far far galaxy of Krypton and sometimes just babbling such as in the Sim City.


The Accent Automation

Malaysia is blessed with a hundred and one languages from all 6 regions and yet we often try to stick with Bahasa Malaysia or English when conversing with each other. So, it is not astonishing that the real loghat comes up when someone is startled.


The WWE Contenders

These are the people you don’t wanna to mess with because they will physically punish you as retribution for your silly pranks (don’t poke them, literally) and unless you want to put your life on the line, proceed with caution when around them. Fair warning.


The Samuel L.Jackson

Have you ever heard Samuel L.Jackson reciting his version of bedtime story? Oh yeah, it’s actually entitled “go the F to sleep”. Yes, he is currently on top of the list of celebrity who curses the most. Thus, the Samuel L.Jackson of the melatah people is the one that spittle swear words like there’s no tomorrow (applaud from Eminem). If this happens, take it with good humor rather than getting offended and avoid getting into a brawl because really, they can’t control it.


The Mime

Move over Mr.Mime because these people can do it better. One’s reaction will mimic the perpetrator including the speech and body movement if it exist. Once is funny, but if you repeatedly poke fun at them, it gets a bit exhausting for both parties.



The King Julian

The one that breaks out into a dance or body movement such as silat or taekwando is another type of melatah. Their presence are a joy to the crowd because they often becomes the center of attention and lift up the atmosphere.


The Snatch & Throw

This category of people is a bit savage. Unintentionally, of course. They grab everything and anything within the vicinity and try to score a home run by throwing it to unsuspecting victims nearby. A stuffed doll is fine but I can’t say the same with a Kamus Dewan.


Fun fact: The melatah people was considered an entertainment in occasions 20 years ago

Yes, it is fun being playful with these people and we don’t blame you but the fact remains that melatah or hyperstartle syndrome is an illness. Therefore, always remind yourself that your actions could more or less affect them in a way that causes harm.

Mira Aziz


Mira Aziz

Most times she’s pretty normal but other times she’ll run around like her pants are on fire. She prefers to keep the mystery alive and revealing herself peel by peel. This former dancer spends her days doing whatever gets her heart pumping; watching anime, badminton, TV series, reading books, yada yada. She is also a big believer in spending her short stay on Earth living to the fullest.

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