The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #5 September / October 2013
Word on the Streets
Malay Masters
by Sofia Ozols
September / October 2013 | 

The streets of Parleremo are named after famous writers for the language of each quarter. This is where we take a quick look at why they famous.
Jalan Abdullah

Munshi Abdullah
1796 - October 1854

• 1838 Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan (The Tale of Abdullah's Voyage to Kelantan)
• 1849 Hikayat Abdullah (Abdullah's Story)
• 1858 Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Mekah (The Tale of Abdullah's Voyage to Mecca)

Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir was a Malayan writer of Indian origin. The term Munshi means "teacher" or "educator", which is how his fans and followers thought of him. He had a very strict Muslim upbringing, and he was a language teacher and interpreter who was proficient in Arabic, English, Hindustani, Tamil and Malay. His works and contributions to literature earned him the title "The Father of Modern Malay Literature".

Abdullah was born in Malacca in 1797. When he was six, he had a severe attack of dysentery and was sick most of the time. While his mother took great care of him, he was also taken care of by various individuals, as the custom of the Malay community of that period believed that any child with poor immunity to diseases should be cared for by those were not his or her biological parents.

Young Abdullah was unable to read the Qur'an. While other children chanted their verses from it, he would trace out the written Arabic characters with his pen. His strict father became furious at his son's inabilities and sent him to the Kampong Pali Koran School when he was only seven years old. His father made sure Abdullah did not neglect his Qur'an studies and made him practice writing very often, severely punishing him for any mistakes, until he did the lessons perfectly. Part of his studies included writing the complete Qur'an, and translating Arabic text into Malay.

When he was eleven, Abdullah began earning money by writing Qur'anic texts, and when he was 13, he was teaching religion to Muslim soldiers who were stationed at Malaccan Fort. It was there that he first was given the title "Munshi" by the soldiers he taught. He continued with his Malay studies while also learning Hindustani, then went on to study in Malacca and followed his father's path as a translator and teacher.

In 1810, Sir Stamford Raffles, a British statesman, arrived in Malacca on the orders of Lord Minto, Governor-General of India. He hired Abdullah, who was just 15, as an interpreter to communicate with the native rulers in their language. Abdullah kept a diary of his time working with Raffles, which eventually became part of Hikayat Abdullah (Abdullah's Story), and is the only eye-witness record of preparations for the British military expedition against the Dutch and French in Java, Indonesia in 1811, although he did not take part in the expedition himself because his mother refused to let him go. Hikayat Abdullah is considered to be an autobiography of Abdullah and was his major literary work, being completed in 1845 and first published in 1849. It was one of the first Malay literary works to be published commercially.

Abdullah was the first Malay author to write in the colloquial language and not the traditional Malay literary style, which were often fantasies and legends. His writing was filled with realism and modern, using many Malay idioms and proverbs. For this reason, He is regarded by many to be the first Malayan journalist. His works were an inspiration to future generations of writers and was an early stage of the transition from the classical, flowery prose of Malay literature to it's more modern form.

Abdullah's other works include Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan (The Tale of Abdullah's Voyage to Kelantan), which describes his experiences on a trip from Singapore to Kelantan in 1837, and Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Mekah (The Tale of Abdullah's Voyage to Mecca), which was published posthumously, since Abdullah died in Jeddah in 1854 at the age of 58, before reaching Mecca.

Jalan Shahnon Ahmad

Shahnon Ahmad
13 January 1933 -

Partial Bibliography
• 1964 Anjing-anjing (The Dogs)
• 1965 Debu merah (Red Dust)
• 1965 Terdedah (Exposed)
• 1965 Rentong (Rope of Ash)
• 1966 Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan (No Harvest but a Thorn)
• 1967 Protes (Protest)
• 1967 Menteri (Minister)
• 1969 Perdana (Prime)
• 1973 Srengenge (The Sun)
• 1974 Sampah (Garbage)
• 1977 Kemelut (Crisis)
• 1977 Selasai sudah
• 1978 Seluang menolak Baung
• 1978 Penglibatan dalam puisi (Involvement in Poetry)
• 1979 Gubahan (Arrangement)
• 1981 Kesusasteraan dan etika Islam (Literature and Islamic Ethics)
• 1985 Al-syiqaq
• 1988 Tok Guru (His Teacher)
• 1988 Tunggul-tunggul Gerigis (Stumps)
• 1991 Sastera sebagai seismograf kehidupan (Literature as a Seismograph of Life)
• 1992 Ummi dan Abang Syeikhul
• 1995 Pongang sastera: gema karya kreatif dan kesannya terhadap khalayak (Pongang Literature: Echoes of the Creative Work and Its Impact on the Audience)
• 1995 Tivi
• 1999 Nurul, anak papa ku
• 1999 Shit @ PukiMak @ PM
• 2003 Lamunan puitis: sebuah trilogi (Poetic Reverie: A Trilogy)
• 2005 Tonil purbawara
• 2006 Perjalananku sejauh ini: sebuah autobiografi (Far Wanderings: An Autobiography)
• 2006 Setitis embun semarak api (Dew Drop Flame)
• 2007 Mahabbah
• 2008 Weltanschauung: Suatu Perjalanan Kreatif ( Philosophy of Life: A Creative Journey)

Dato' Haji Shahnon bin Ahmad was born in Sik, Kedah, in 1933. He is a Malaysian author, former Member of Parliament, and a National Laureate. He has written novels, satires and short stories in Malay. He won the title of Pejuang Sastera (Champion of Literature) in 1976, then the Anugerah Sastera Negara (National Laureate Award) in 1982. He even has the honorary title of Dato, which is roughly equivalent to a British knighthood.

Shahnon was born in the village of Banggul Derdap, which is located in Sik in the Malaysian state of Kedah, in 1933. He went to an English secondary school in Alor Setar until 1953, then taught English in Kedah and Trengaanu. He spent a year serving as an army officer, then taught Malay literature and language from 1960 to 1963 in Kedah. He went to Australia in 1968 to study and work in Canberra at the Australian National University there, then graduated with a degree in Asian Studies in 1971.

After returning to Malaysia in 1972, Shahnon was given a position on the staff of Universiti Sains Malaysia (University of Science, Malaysia) in Penang, where he started studying modern Malay poetry. He went on to get his Master of Arts degree from there 1975, then stayed on to teach literature and serve as the dean of the School of Humanities.

Shahnon wrote several novels from 1965 to 1978, most of them dealing with the social changes occurring in his country. Rentong (Rope of Ash), published in 1965, was about a village headman named Pak Senik who tried to make the villagers plant two crops of rice a year. Shahnon liked to play with the titles of his books. For example, his political novels Menteri (1967) and Perdana (1969), when combined to form Perdana Menteri, or "Prime Minister".

During the 1970s, Shahnon joined the Islamic fundamentalist movement called Darul Arqam, which practiced a very strict adherence to an Islamic code. He began calling for Malay writers to develop an authentic Islamic literature in Malay. However, by the late 1980s, he had given it up, expressing his disappointment with religious leaders who exploit their followers, as he believed was happening with Darul Arqam. He wrote some satirical novels covering this, including Tok Guru (His Teacher).

From 1985 to 1996, Shahnon was the head of the Islamic Center of Malaysian Science University. During this time, he wrote a few books, but his most notable one was Shit @ PukiMak @ PM, published in 1999. It was a controversial political satire, making allegorical references to the ruling coalition government and others, comparing them to feces in the large intestine of a person. There were some attempts by the government to ban this book and to strip Shahnon of his literary title and awards. He did finally resign from his teaching position at the university.

Shahnon's novel Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan (No Harvest but a Thorn, 1996), brought him international attention, and it has been translated into many other languages, including English, French, Russian, Dutch and Japanese. It has also been adapted into a film called Rice People. It depicted the hardships of a struggling farming family and their belief in the supernatural. With Srengenge (The Sun, 1973) won him the Hadiah Sastera (Prize for Literary Fighters) in Malaysia with its strong religious theme.

Jalan Usman

Usman Awang
12 July 1929 - 29 November 2001

Partial Bibliography
• 2006 Tulang-Tulang Berserakan (Scattered Bones)
• 2007 Turunnya Sebuah Bendera (A Revelation of the Flag)
• 2009 Jiwa Hamba (Enslaved Soul)
• 2009 Sahabatku; Puisi-puisi 5 Bahasa (Companions; 5 English poems)

Usman Awang was a Malaysian author, poet, and playwright, often labeled as the best poet in the Malay language. Writing since 1955, he produced around 200 poems, most of them being romantic and beautiful.

Usman was born in 1929 to a poor family in the small fishing village of Kuala Sedili in Johor, Malaysia. He had only a primary school education at the Malay School Kuala Sedili and worked on a farm. When World War II started, he was forced into slave labor under Japanese occupancy. When the war was over, he held jobs an office boy, a proof reader and a policeman before becoming a journalist for Utusan Melayu. He was among the people that went on strike to protest the government's interference with the newspaper after Malaysia gained independence from Britain. When the government planned to amend the Constitution in 1967, he was also part of those protests, fearing that Malay would lose it's position as the national language.

His poetry rose out of his social activism, as a means of awakening people to the dangers of oppression by a government. He wrote under many pen names, including Tongkat Warrant (which he used when he worked as a police officer), Adi Jaya, Amir, Atma Jaya and Rose Murni.

The Reformasi movement in Malaysia was begun supporters of Anwar Ibrahim after he was fired from his position as Deputy Prime Minister in 1998. He was jailed in 1998 on the charges of corruption and sodomy, which he claimed he was innocent of. Usman was a believer in Anwar's innocence and dedicated two poems to him in his anthology Dari Derita Bangsa (From the People's Anguish).

Usman won many awards, including the Southeast Asian Writer Award in 1982 and the National Literature Award in 1983. He died in November, 2001, after a number of illnesses, at the age of 72.

Word on the Streets - Malay Masters
Writer: Sofia Ozols
Petey: Pangkor Beach
• "Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir" Wikipedia <>
• "Shahnon Ahmad" Wikipedia <>
• "Usman Awang" Wikipedia <>

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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