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/ V

Studying Srivijaya. by O.W. Wolters.

The Bukit Seguntang Buddha by Nik Hassan Shuhairnl,

Spur-marked Yueh- Type Sherds at Bukit Seguntang

by E .. Edwards McKinnon.


A Priest's Bell ,and a T'(lmple Lamp by F,E. Treloar ..

A Reputed Acehnese Sarakata of the Jamal al-Lai! Dynasty

by Daniel Crecelius and E.A. 8eardow.

An Indian Protagonist of the Malay Language Abdullah 'Munshi': his race & mother tongue

by Dato H.F.O'8, Traill,

The Changing Batak by A.G. Viner.

Isabella Bird's Visit to Malaya: a Centenary Tribute

by J,M. Gullick.

Book Review

Biographical Notes about Contributors to this Issue

Volume LlI. Part 2 1979

KDN 0597/79- MC(P) No. 117/3/79 -ISSN 0126-7353 Published in December 1979

AN INDIAN PROTAGONIST OF THE MALAY LANGUAGE Abdullah "Munshi" t his race and his mother- tongue



It was purely by chance that Abdullah got his soubriquet of "Munshi", which was given to him by the Indian soldiers of the Malacca garrison from whom he learnt Hindustani. While studying their language he also, though only a teen-ager, wrote Koranic texts for them, and did some teaching, and since he was in addition a speaker of Tamil and Malay, they nick-named him "Munshi", the Hindustani word for a teacher of languages.

Later on, when he started his close association with the European missionaries, and more or less cornered the market in teaching them, his fellowwriters of Malacca spitefully, and enviously, called him Abdullah "Paderi", but that name did not stick.

Had his first teaching efforts been amongst those same missionaries and traders, who afterwards formed the bulk of his clientele, he might perhaps have been known to us simply by the Malay word "Guru"; yet when we consider his predominantly Indian blood it is, after all, most appropriate that it was his lot to be known, both in his lifetime and afterwards, by the Hindustani name of "Munshi".

In the world of Malay literature Abdullah has a very ambiguous image as to his race and his mother-tongue. He is often written about, and spoken about, as though he were a Malay, though some writers merely allow this to be supposed rather than make a definite statement one way or the other.

Going back to Abdullah's own times we have the famous description by J.T. Thomson in the introductory words to his translation of parts of Abdullah's "Hikayat" - a description much quoted, and rightly so, since it comes from a man who knew Abdullah personally. It occurs in "Hakayit Abdulla", pages 4 to 5, and is as follows:-

"In physiognomy he was a Tamillian of South Hindostan, He was tall, slightly bent forward, spare, energetic, bronze in complexion, oval faced, high nosed, and one eye squinted a little outwards. He dressed in the usual style of Malacca Klings or Tamils, having an Acheen saluar (trowsers), checked sarong (kilt), printed baju (coat), a square skull cap, and sandals".

It is surprising that although Thomson could thus see that Abdullah had

the appearance of a typical Malacca Tamil he yet thought that Abdullah had a Malay mother. He gives no reason for this assumption but he was writing some eighteen years after leaving Singapore and had no longer any means of checking his facts, and Abdullah himself had by that time died. The truth is that Abdullah, by his own evidence, had no Malay blood at all. Perhaps it is this early error




of Thomson's which has led so many writers on Abdullah even up to the present

time to say that he had a Malay or half-Malay ~other. . .

Thomson goes on to say, a little contradictorally after imputing a Malay

mother to Abdullah, " in language and national sympathy only was he a

Malay." .' .

Even this statement, however, needs considerable qualification, for as to

Abdullah's language, much of his Malay grates upo~ the ear, and c~uld ~ever have been written by a man whose mother-tongue It was. As to his being a Malay in "national sympathy" ~ his c:iticisms. of the ~al~ys,;S a peopl~ and ?f the feudalistic behaviour of thier Rajas, particularly in his Pelayaran and in the short fragment of Volume,ll of the "Hikayat", no matter even ~ t~ey were justified, are extremely offensive. The "stupid Malays" and their 19_TI-orant hide-bound "nenek-moymzg", as he considered them to be, were not his race and were not his ancestors. These criticisms could only have been made by a

foreigner - an outsider looking in. . .

The earlier generation of more modern writers certainly knew that Abdullah was not a Malay. Winstedt, in his "History of Classical Malay Literature" says of him, "Foreigner though he was, ~e led them (the Malaystback ... : .. ~o a

realism that is in accord with the gemus of a race of extroverts. (My Italics).

And Wilkinson in his large dictionary under the word" Keling" says "Abdullah (a man of Indian descent) uses it of his 0Wl1 people". (i.e." Keli11gs"). .

Among the more recent writers on Abdullah we find that A.H. Hill, though aware that Abdullah was not a Malay, nevertheless perpetuates the ambiguity concerning his race and language by referring (on P ", 20 of the Intr~~uction. to

his translation of the " Hikayat Abdullah") to " .his own language ,meanmg

Malay. Again on P. 27 Hill refers to " his own countrymen ", meaning

the Malays. In this case, it is true, Hill explains his re~rk by saying that':; ..... in spite of his mixed ancestry he always thought ~f hl.~;l£. as a ,~alay. I believe this view to be quite mistaken, for although, m h1S Hikayat ,Abdullah "includes himself in" with the Malays on many occasions, yet he stops short of calling himself one directly, and in his" Pelayaran" it is quite clear that he excludes himself from the Malays. On that voyage the Malays are "them" to Abdullah, and he berates them as a race to which he does not belong.

When we consider the more or less present-day writings on Abdullah, chiefly by Malay scholars, and ranging over the past twenty years or so, we still find the same ambiguity. It is true that in a few works his race is correc.tly stated, for example in "Sejarah. Sastera Melayu Moden", by W. Shamsuddm M. Yusoff, who says (P. 61) that Abdullah's family was "peranakan Arab dall India". In a few other works one can infer that the authors know that Abdullah was not a Malay, or at least not" Melayu Jati", but the majority of writers either state ~r imply that Abdullah was at least partly Malay, and some .of them refer to .hlS "masharahat", or society, as though it were synonomous with the Malay society of his time. This can hardly be so, for Abdullah's "masharakai" in Malacca, where he' lived for the greater part of his life, was that of the "peranakkall Keli1tg"s. And in Singapore, though he lived, very understandably, in Kampong Melaka,


PART 2, 1979


an area perhaps predominantly Malay, he would nevertheless have had also his fellow ex-Malacca "peranakkans" as his neighbours. His few Malay friends were on the periphery of his world even in the Settlements, and as for the "masharakat" of the Malay States, which was the true Malay society, it was to him that of a foreign country.

In his "Hikayat" Abdullah himself is almost as ambiguous on the subject of his race as the people who have written about him. He never definitely claims to be a Malay, in so many words, but he implies it in an oblique way quite frequently.

On Page 32 of the "Hihayai" for example (Malay Literature Series, 4. 6th Edition, 1949) he says that it was not thought right by the Malays to study the Malay language because it is " ...... our 0W1l language". (My italics)

Again, on P. 128, when asking readers not to blame him for the mistakes in Paderi Thomsen's translation of the Gospel of St. Mathew, on account of Abdullah being Thomsen's guru, he says that he, at least, knows what is right from what is wrong in the Malay language because "it is my OWlJ language".

But it is in his final pages that Abdullah comes nearest to saying he is a Malay, though again only by including himself with the Malays, and not by an unequivocal statement. He says, on P. 348, <C ......... there is one other matter which I find amongst lIS Malays ..... .". And yet even here it is apparent that Abdullah cannot call himself a Malay, for in the very same sentence in which he starts off by saying "Kita orang Melayu", he lapses back into "dia" and "mereka" instead of repeating the "kita",

I think it would be more correct to say that by the time he wrote his "Hikayat", which was towards the end of his life, Abdullah was certainly identifyil:g himself with the Malays, but definitely not thinking of himself as a Malay by race.

It is difficult to say just when Abdullah began to identify himself with the Malays. He certainly did not do so in his childhood, for his own evidence shows his family to have been numbered among the "Peranahkan Keling" families of Malacca,

His intensive and enthusiastic study of the Malay language in his youth probably sowed the seeds of his Malayophil outlook in adult life, and this must have grown stronger as the years went by. But it was a "love-hate" sentiment which was never resolved.

Abdullah's" Pelayaran" was written in. 1838, and in that work, as mentioned above, he does not imply that he was a Malay in the way that he does in the "Hikayai", which was started in 1840 and finished in 1843. In fact there is only one occasion in the "Pelayarau", (Malay Literature Series No.2. Second Edition, 1965), where he comes anywhere near to such an implication, and that is on P. 94 when he is explaining the rules of the "Pantun", presumably for the benefit of his non-Malay readers. But the very fact that he does explain them is further evidence of his own non-Malay race and outlook, for it would never occur to a Malay writer that any such explanation was necessary.




'I ,



Abdullah started to write the "Hikayat" only about two years after the "Pelayaran", and it is at first sight surprising that in such a short sp~ce o~ time he should have so changed his stance as to imply on frequent occasions in the "Hikayat", as noted above, that he Was a Malay. Is it. perhaps just p?ssib~e that in the interval between the two works he had realised how offensive hIS remarks in the "Pelayaran" must have appeared to the Malays, and therefore more pointedly assimilated himself to the Malays in the "Hihayat" in order to take some of the sting out of his strictures '

There is in fact some evidence that this may have been so, i.e. in the sentence referred to above, occurring on P. 348 of the "Hikayat", where he starts off by saying "We Malays" and later on in the very same sentence says "they" (the Malays) instead of repeating. the "we", This could well be the result of his conscious effort to include himself with the Malays being betrayed by his forgetfullness so that he reverted to what was in fact the truth, and what he would more naturally have written, referring to the Malays as "they".

In general I would say that Abdullah's final adoption of the Malays as "his people" stemmed from two main causes, one being his love and enthusiasm for the Malay language from the time he studied it under the best "gurus' in Malacca, and the other and more important one being their common religion, Islam.

However, an examination of the evidence in Abdullah"s OWn "Hikayat" leaves little doubt that he was a "Peranahkan Keling", using Arabic for religion and having Tamil as his household or family language, that is, his mother-tongue. That he spoke Malay also is quite certain, for all "Peranakkans" did so, but their Malay Was of the "bazaar" variety, which in Abdullah's case Was then improved or to a very high standard by the most determined and assiduous study.

Abdullah's great-grandfather was an Arab named Shaik Abdul Kadir, a teacher of religion and language. (Abdullah, writing in Malay, correctly calls him a "guru", not a "munshi't.) Shaik Abdul Kadir migrated from the Yemen to what Abdullah calls " ......... tanah Keling dalam negeri Nagur", that is, the country of the Tamils in Nagur. (Which is in Mysore). He lived there for the rest of his life, and married there. Abdullah does not say that the woman his great-grandfather married was a woman of that country, i.e, a Tamil, but most writers, correctly I think, assume that she Was so. (Some even state categorically that she was so, but without authority).

There were four sons of the marriage and after their father's death they all migrated to various countries of South East Asia. One of them, Muhammed Ibrahim, came to Malacca. He was Abdullah's grandfather, and he married "Peri Achi", a daughter of Shaik Mira, Lebai.

Although Abdullah says that his grandmother's name was "Peri Achi", it is probable that this was not her given name, but was her family nickname, or pet name. Since the name is Tamil it implies that her family's language was Tamil. Her family, in fact, must have been very similar to Abdullah's own,


PART 2, 1979


judging by her father's name, that is, a family of Arabic descent on the male side but intermarried with Tamil wives for at least one generation before "Peri Achi", and probably more, depending on how many generations of the family had lived either in the Peninsula or possibly, as with Abdullah's family, in Tamil India. The son of this marriage was Abdullah's father, given the name again of ShaikAbdul Kadir in memory of his grandfather, Abdullah's great-grandfather.

Shaik Abdul Kadir's first wife was almost certainly a Malay girl from a village about twelve miles from Malacca, and by her he had a son and a daughter. But, chiefly through pressure from his family, he divorced her and returned to Malacca. Some time later he married Abdullah's mother, whose name was' "Salamah" .

As with so many points in Abdullah's ancestry, the details which he gives in the "Hikayat" of his mother's origins are somewhat incomplete. He says (p. 5), " ...... nenek-nya orang Hindu, dan negeri-nya Kedah, maka datang-lah mereka itu. ka-Melacca masok ugallJa Islam, ia-pun beranahhan-lah t'lm-ku itu dalam Melaha, di-nama'i-uya: Salamah",

Abdullah uses the word "Hindu" to mean "Tamil" or "Keling", so "Salamah's" "nenek", plural in this context ("mcreka") were Tamils. When he says they came to Malacca, became Muslims, and got a child, his mother, whom they named "Salamah", there is a seeming inconsistency, since only the grandparents are mentioned, and not "Salarnah's" parents. Perhaps "nenek" is used in the sense of "forebears", which could even mean "Salamah's" parents, though this is unlikely. It is more probable that Abdullah did not know, or had forgotten, the details of "Salamah's" parents, and so skipped one generation in his account. In any case, whether parents. or grandparents, they were Tamils.

Hill in his Introduction to the "Hihayat", (P. 7) refers to "Selamah" as "a Malacca-born half-Indian", but there is nothing in Abdullah"s account to show that she was anything but a full Tamil. (Hill also in his translation of this passage, P. 32, has "My mother's father was an Indian from Kedah, who had embraced the Muslim faith and moved to Malacca, where my mother ......... was born", whereas Abdullah, as mentioned above, says it was the grandparen:s, or forbears, (11B1tek), and they (mereka) came to Malacca, and there became Muslims.)

A.E. Coope, in the Introduction to his translation of Abdullah's" Pelayaran", P. X, says "Probably Abdullah's mother had Malay blood". Unfortunately he does not give any reasons for this supposition, and, as suggested previously, he may be following Thomson's lead here. As noted above, Abdullah himself says that "Salamah's" grandparents (or forebears) Were Tamils, and there is no reason to suppose that she, like her forebears from Kedah, was anything but a pure Tamil by blood. Even her name fits her Tamil race, for the eliptical J awi spelling, "Sim", "lam", "rnim", "ha" can as easily be rendered "Sellamah", a common female Tamil name, as "Salamah' or "Salrna" which we have hitherto been given.

It would seem, therefore, that Abdullah's mother, grandmother, and greatgrandmother in direct line, were Tamils, except that his grandmother' 'Peri Achi" probably had some Arab blood from her father's side. This means that Abdullah




was a little more than 1/8 Arab, and almost 7/8 Tamil by blood, depending on how many of "Peri Achi's" family had married Tamil wives.

There are many other pieces of evidence from Abdullah's own autobiography, the "Hikayat", which show that his family, although of Arabic descent on the male side, was numbered amongst the "Peranakhan. Keli11!J" families of Malacca, Some of these points are slight, others are decisive, and in sum total they leave little doubt of his racial status and his mother-tongue.

He was born in Kampong Pali, which, he says, is Tamil for Kampong Masjid, which shows it to have been a Tamil quarter of Malacca.

Both his child, Siti Lela, and later his wife also, were buried at the t'Masjid Keling, eli-balch Mihrab" (Hkt. P.P. 317 and 325).

On page 204 of the "Hikayat" Abdullah relates that when Raffles was leaving for Europe he gave Abdullah a letter and said to him "If you get work in the courts show this letter to whoever is Governor of Singapore and you will get a higher salary than Malay people [would get]", which implies that Raffles knew Abdullah himself was not a Malay. Raffles, indeed, had such an extensive knowledge of the peoples of the Eastern Seas, both from his own experience and from his wide reading, that it is inconceivable that he did not know Abdullah to be a "Peranahhan Keling", Moreover Raffles had brought a "Peranakhan Keli11!J" writer and interpreter with him from Penang when he came to Malaeca, and so was well aware of the advantage such people had in being conversant with both Tamil and Malay, whereas the Malay writers did not speak Tamil.

Hill, in his translation of this passage, inserts the word "other" - "a higher salary than other Malays" - which completely changes the meaning, and is .... surely an unjustified interpolation since it bears on such a critical point, i.e. Abdullah's race. Neither the Jawi nor the Rumi versions of the" Hikayat" say

tt other" Malays.

The most conclusive statement of Abdullah himself as to his family's race occurs when he speaks of the Letter Writers of Malacca, (Hkt. P. 31). He first lists four of them as follows:- Foremost was Khoja Muhammad, "ia-itu peranakhan KeUng Malacca", then Jamal Muhammad, next Abdullah's own father Abdul Kadir, and fourth Mahid bin Ahmad, Lebai. Although he applies the epithet cr Peranahhan Kelitlg" only to the first of these four names, yet the fact that he immediately afterwards goes on to name specifically the Malay writers shows dearly that he did not include the first four, and his own father, amongst the Malays. For he continues, "And there were, from the Malay people that I knew, Enchek Yahya bin Abdul Wahid and Enchek Ismail bin Muhammad Arif Surati".

Here then Abdullah makes a clear distinction between the Peranakhan KeUng or non-Malays, including his father, on the one hand, and the Malays on the other.

Given Abdullah's family pedigree it can hardly be doubted that his family language was Tamil, though like all (, Peranahhan. Kelil1g" families they spoke


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PART 2. 1979


Malay also, when speaking to Malays or Chinese or Europeans. Abdullah says that his father Was a good Tamil speaker and a particularly good Malay speaker and writer. Since Abdul Kadir was the first of the family to be born in the country he must have made a special study of the Malay language to become so proficient in it, and this is not surprising since he came from a family of "gurus". Moreover, during the few years of his first marriage to a Malay girl, and living in a Malay kampong, he had the opportunity of improving his colloquial Malay to a standard above that of his fellow "peranakkmt" writers.

But as to his son, with a Tamil mother, Sellamah, and a near-Tamil grandmother with a Tamil pet-name "Peri Achi", with both of whom he had a close affinity as a child, Abdullah must surely have grown up speaking the Tamil language as his mother-tongue. Even Abdullah's father called his own mother "Achi" as Abdullah says (Hkt. P. 14), " ......... ia-ita bahasa. Keling",

It may be noted here that "Achi" is a Tamil word meaning "sister" Or "female relative", and "peri" denotes "elder". So when Abdullah says that "Achi" means "elder sister", he slips a little. "Peri Achi", not "Achi" alone, means "elder sister". But it is an understandable slip, (perhaps even a slip in revision), because his father habitually shortened the nick-name "Peri Achi" to just "Achi". The composite word "Periachee" is in fact the name of a Hindu Goddess, but it appears to be quite unknown as a personal name for a Tamil woman. And in any case, as Abdullah says, his grandmother was called "(Peri) Achi", (elder) sister, because she was only 13 years old when she gave birth to Abdullah's father, so that she appeared to be his sister rather than his mother.

"Peri Achi"s real name therefore We do not know, but the point of importance is that the words are Tamil, which was spoken in the family by Abdullah's father and grandmother. That it was also the family language of Abdullah .himself and his Tamil mother is hardly disputable.

A.E. Coope says in the Introduction to his translation of the "Pelayaran' "(Abdullah) spoke Malay, of course, and also Tamil. Probably he was bi-lingual in Malay and Tamil".

I think the facts show that it would be more correct to say "He spoke Tamil, of course, and also Malay".

That Abdullah was hi-lingual in Tamil and Malay is not in question; but his Malay, during his childhood, would have been "bazaar" Malay, though probably of a higher standard then usual because of his father's prowess in that language.

Coope adds that he considers it "quite wrong to say, as has been said, that (Abdullah's) style was colloquial", (meaning the style of Malay as spoken by the Malays to one another), and that if Abdullah had written in the true colloquial Malay style he would have "done much to raise the standard of the most important, yet most neglected, branch of Malay studies, the teaching to foreigners of spoken Malay as spoken between Malays".

With this sentiment J fully agree, but not with its implication. That Abdullah did not use the true colloquial style of Malay is perfectly, and often painfully, apparent. But the reason is quite simply that he was not capable of doing so.




For all his expertise, Malay for him, that is idiomatic Malay, which includes colloquial or spoken Malay, was a learnt language, and shows as such in his writings.

Again, Coope says" ...... his importance lies in the fact that he diverges from the formal, not to say stilted, style of the old historical and romantic writers, and wrote naturally" .

This statement needs some qualification, for in fact it can easily be seen from Abdullah's own accounts of his study of the Malay language, in several parts of his Hikayat, particularly on P.P. 96-97, that he thought he was modelling his writing on the classical examples which he studied. The formal expressions of the old writers, such as those words introducing new paragraphs, are used by Abdullah relentlessly, though o(ten wrongly.

And in other respects too, though it cannot be said that he was successful, it is evident that he thought he was writing in classical Malay.

That he wrote "naturally" for the most part r agree, and that is surely his chief contribution to Malay as literature. In spite of his efforts to copy the classical writers his "naturalness" kept breaking in, giving much of his writing a human touch and reality, not so often found in the traditional Malay works.

One of Abdullah's statements in the "Hihayat" could, at first sight, raise some doubts as to Tamil having been his family language, i.e. that on page 20, where he tells us that after recovering from his circumcision his father sent him to a teacher to study the Tamil language and letter-writing and arithmetic. The reason he gives for this is that Malacca at that time was full of Tamil traders and business men, and that all children of good family were made to learn the Tamil language. Abdullah studied it for two and a half years.

I do not think there is any evidence that the pure Malay families of Malacea, at that or any other time, made their children study the Tamil language, and Abdullah"s remark can refer only to the Tamil, or "Peranakkan Keling" families of Malacca. That Abdullah should have been made to study his mother-tongue should not surprise us, for although in those days most people studied little besides the Kora'an, yet Abdullah came from a well-educated family on his father's side, and his father set great store on giving Abdullah a sound education, not only in religion, but in the Tamil and Malay languages as well as in arithmetic and letter-writing.

Abdullah's having studied the Tamil language cannot therefore be taken to mean that Tamil was not his mother-tongue. If this were so the same argument could be used as to the Malay language, which he had to study far more deeply than he studied Tamil.

Moreover, that Abdullah was able in later life to translate Tamil books into Malay after only two and a half years study of the Tamil language in his childhood, even though he did this with some assistance from a Tamil friend, is further evidence that Tamil Was his family language, to which these few years of study added some literary polish.

One possible piece of evidence of Abdullah's family language would be the pamphlet which he wrote after the death of his child Sid Lela. It was a comfort


PART 2, 1979


not only to himself and his wife but, for long afterwards, to their friends when they suffered similar bereavements, and a number of these friends made copies of it.

He says, (Hkt. P. 318) that he read this pamphlet to his wife, and it would be interesting to know in what language it was written. He gave it an Arabic title, "Dasoa'i'l-Kulub", "Balm for the Heart", but it is unlikely that the pamphlet itself was in that language. If it were written in Tamil it would be an important confirmation as to the family language, but if written in Malay, which is perhaps more likely to be the case, since Abdullah was at that time of his life writing his Malay works, the matter would be "non-proven". Unfortunately no copy of this pamphlet seems to be known to us now.

However, even without this small piece of additional evidence, that which we have is surely sufficient. Although the "Peranakhan Keliug" families are bi-linqual in Tamil and Malay yet it is only the Tamil language which they speak among themselves, and Tamil therefore is their household language, or mothertongue.

Abdullah first started his Malay studies in his own home, with his father as tutor. Later on he learnt the language from the Letter Writers mentioned above, going to them for help and instruction in words or phrases which he did not understand in the Malay books he was reading.

From his own reading and from these writers he learnt many of the "secrets" and ins-and-outs of the Malay language. Although it was chiefly to the" Peranakhan Kelillg" writers that he Went, he says that there were some words which, good scholars though they were, they could not explain to him. On these occasions they referred Abdullah to Datok Sulaiman, a pure Malay, "orang Melayu asai", and from him Abdullah learnt the basic principles and roots of the Malay language. The other pure Malay from whom he learnt was Datok Astur.

Abdullah describes (Hkt. P. 33) how he learnt all the refinements of the Malay language from his "gurus." But, apart from difficult words and phrases, much of what he learnt, such as pre-fixes, suffixes, and idioms and proverbs, were things which a «Melaya jati" would have known without studying, from the fact of Malay being his mother-tongue. Abdullah had to learn all these uses because his Malay, before he studied the language, was "bazaar" Malay.

His indefatigable studies of the Malay language gave Abdullah the command of an extensive vocabulary - far exceeding that of the ordinary Malay raya'at, of course, at least as regards literary words, and quite comparable to that of the learned Malay writers. He also acquired most of the proverbs in common use amongst the Malays. But in respect of idiomatic Malay usage I would say that although much above the average non-Malay, he was yet far from perfection. And to praise his "purity of Malay style", as Hill does, seems to me to be a proposition which it is quite impossible to substantiate.

As one reads through the "Hikayat" one is confronted again and again by expressions which are basically un-Malay. They show clearly that the foundation




on which Abdullah built up his unquestionably great knowledge of the language was the "bazaar" Malay of the "peranakkan Keling", which shows itself continually in his "Hihayat" and in his "Pelayaran", AJJ well as this, there are many other expressions which show an incomplete knowledge of Malay usage or a misunderstanding of what he had learnt,

Coope suggests that such expressions are the result a! "slovenly" writing, or were due to Abdullah writing his reports "hot from the anvil", and that Abdullah sometimes recorded the conversations of foreigners in (their own) bad Malay. But in fact Abdullah's unidiomatic Malay usages are far too frequent to be merely the result of slovenliness, and as for the Hikayat, in which so many infe~cities occur it was written at leisure, not in haste. That he records the talk of foreigners in bad Malay is true, but he uses equally bad Malay when writing in his own

person. . .

Nor can his "lapses into hybrid idiom" be the result of the Western influences to which he was exposed, as Hill says. On the contrary, they show that the writer was using a "learnt" language, and not his mother-tongue. ,

Abdullah also explains some of the simple proverbs, where It would never occur to a native Malay speaker that any explanation was necessary, e.g. the frog under the coconut shell, as well as some words, such as (in the "Pelayaran", P. 18) "Salang" and "Sula" which, though not often used .in ever!-day speech, were understood and readily explained to Abdullah by ordinary Village Mal~ys. The word "Sulahan" indeed is used in the "Sejarab Melayu", Page 52, With, of course, no explanation of it, since all Malays :would understan~ it.

Abdullah's chief claim to fame in Malay literature - a claim made not by him but by others - is his modernism and realism, and he is commonly given the title of "Father of Modern Malay"·. Only a few Malay scholars have disputed this and have claimed that honour instead for the seventeenth-century philosopher-poet Hamzah Fansuri. :rheir op.in.ion, ~owever, is base~ on. the definiti~n of "modernism" as being a rational philosophical outlook which IS reflected m the author's Writing, rather than being the form of the writing itself. Abdullah does not come into the category of the great philosophical writers, and therefore

his title as the pioneer of modernism. stems from. other causes, .

As to his being the pioneer of realism, that too has been questioned, by Wahiduddin b. Abd. Wahab, who, certainly with some justification, gives priority to Raja Chulan, the author of "Misa Melayu".. Nevert:I:eless one c:m s~y that Abdullah's image, amongst scholars of Malay literature tn general, IS still that

of the pioneer of modernism and realism. .. .

That this should be so is a considerable Irony, since Abdullah himself, as has been mentioned above tried to model his style on that of the traditional Malay classics. His efforts to do this arc implied in several parts of the" Hihayat",

particularly on pages 32 to 33 and 96 to 97.. ,

His attempted imitation of the classics is very obVIOUS throughout his works.

For example, in the opening words of the "Hikayat" in the Rurni edition (though it is the second paragraph in the 1849 Jawi edition), we have "Bahsaa se~~rang dengarhar: oleh-mu, hai kehaseh-kl.l, ...... " a recognisable echo of the traditional


PART 2, 1979


writers, and not at all a modem style. (Though surely the "Bahwa sekarang Ikngarkan oleh-mu ...... " is a jarring, unidiomatic phrase). A similar imitation of the old writers is (on pages 94 and 148), "Kala yang ampunya chetera ini"; and other such examples are not hard to find.

Abdullah's most frequent copying of the old literary style is in his USe of such words as "bermula" or "sabermula", "hatta", "maha" of course, "shahadan", "arahian" and "kalakian", but he uses these words much more often than the classical writers did, By far his favourites are "bermula" and "sabermula", and since these words mean "to begin with", or "firstly", or some similar expression, Abdullah's use of them is often not only superfluous but also quite wrong. For example, in the chapter of his" Hikayat" "Dari-hal Tuan Governor Butterworth", pages 331 to 33+, out of the first seven paragraphs no less than six start with "sabermula", and the remaining one (para 2) with "shahadan", Only in the first two paragraphs can it be said that these words are correctly used. The next five consecutive paragraphs do not contain the matter which could justify a

"to begin with" or "firstly", _

Yet another example of Abdullah's imitation of the classical Malay literature is his frequent use of the construction which goes "Ada ymtg ..... ." this, "Ada ymtg ..... ." that, "Ada yang ...... " the other, a construction which when first encountered is very striking, but which palls with subsequent repetition. He uses this device on pages 143,145,151,176,179,209, and 265 of the "Hikayat". We find exact models for this in the "Sejarah Melayu", (pages 27 and 59), with which work Abdullah Was well acquainted, having supervised the printing of an edition of it in Singapore. The same construction is found in the "Hikayat Hang Tuah", and in other classical works.

There are many other examples in Abdullah's writings which amply bear out his own intimations in the "Hikayat" that he was trying to write as the old writers did, who Were his models. His modernism, therefore, which does indeed exist, was fortuitous, and by no means intended.

From this conclusion the obvious question arises, why then are Abdullah's writings regarded as "modern" ~ There are several answers to this,

Firstly (one almost wrote "sa-bermula"), he was writing factually about identifiable people places and events in modern history, in contrast to the halfhistorical, half-legendary, or romantic-mythical vein of the old Malay classics,

Secondly he wrote with vividness and naturalness, backed by a very observant eye and an insatiably enquiring mind, so that we get those human details of the people places and happenings which he wrote about. It is this aspect of his work which has caused many writers to liken him to a journalist, and I think it is justly remarked by some writers, e.g. Elyas bin Omar, that he was a "journalist" able to report his own thoughts without regard to other people's wishes, in contrast to the previous traditional writers who more often wrote at the behest of their masters.

Abdullah also wrote with imagination, using original metaphors such as likening the Malay language to "belukar", as on page 247 of his "Hihayat",




Then there are his criticisms of the outlook of the Malays which he thought was ignorant and out-moded, and particularly his criticisms of the Malay feudal system. These things he was able to observe objectively because he himself was not a Malay, and as the years have passed his criticisms have found a popular response because of the changed conditions of modern society. And indeed those same criticisms of his have played their part in bringing about the changes which have occurred.

This too, then, has helped to earn him his title of "Father of Modern Malay Literature" . One should also mention in this connection the point made by Kassim Ahmad in his "Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah Ka Kelantan. dan Judah" on page 13, that Abdullah's modernism is not only a matter of style but also of content, since these views of his stirred new life and spirit in the Malay writers of modem times. (A sentiment which is perhaps an echo of Winsted's previouslyquoted remark).

Finally, a good part of Abdullah's modernism is the result of that "bazaar" Malay influence which he never managed to get rid of. "Bazaar" Malay after all is a language essentially practical, and shorn of superfluitie's, Abdullah's efforts to write classical Malay Were indeed very superficial, and much of his writing has a strong "bazaar"· Malay foundation which gives it a flavour of modem reportage. But the difference is that even a present day Malay reporter still uses correct basic Malay idiom, whereas Abdullah so often does not.

Abdullah's writings, therefore, have a feeling of modernism, difficult to define precisely, within a superficial classical framework. Where he fails is in '" the proper idiomatic use of the basic Malay language, the very sphere in which

he thought he Was supreme. That he did think so is shown in many passages

in the" Hikaya:" and particularly, perhaps, When he gives as one of his reasons

for writing that work that it should be an example to those Who are learning Malay. (Hkt. P. 343).

The basic Malay idiom is neither "modern" nor "traditional", it is a continuing factor in the language. In the "Sejarab Melayn" and perhaps even more in the "Hikayat Hang Tuah", legendary, mythical or romantic as they may be, we find a purity and lucidity which is still basic to present-day Malay, both spoken and written. Even in the "media" of today it is chiefly the individual words and phrases which are new, but not the idiomatic usage. Although there are many passages in Abdullah's writings which have correct idiomatic usage yet there are at least as many where his "bazaar') Malay is manifest, and unpleasing to the ear.


The contention that Abdullah's Malay is too often unidiomatic does not, I think, need a great deal of arguing, for an increasing number of modern Malay writers seems to be aware of the fact.

PART 2, 1979


Only a few examples need be given from innumerable others in the "Hikayat".

There is this sentence, then, on page 80:-

"Haita satelah. ke'esokkatt hari-nya, maka bermula-mula Tuan. Lord Minto itu. berjalan pergi meliha: pe1tjara yang tempat orang bersalaJ: dm: ymtg berhutartg itu. sahalian di-penjarakatt, maha ada ormtg ya!tg hga empat tahun, ada orang yang enam tujoh bulan",

This sentence starts off well, but lapses into "bazaar" Malay with the phrase

" pe/yam yang tempa: ormtg bersalah dan berll1ltang ...... " etc. j and the phra~es

" ada orang yang tiga. empat tahun", and ada ora~tg yang cltam ttlJo!~

bulan" are inprecise in their meaning, whereas a Malay writer ,would make It clear to what these periods of time referred. Such a sentence IS far from the uncluttered idiomatic Malay of either the classics or of modem Malay writing.

As an example of wrong usage one may cite Abdullah's frequent use of "rumab tangga" to mean household .goods. Though Wilkinson in hi~ dictionary does give this as a secondary meaning he unfortunately quotes as hIS reference Abdullah himself, which is begging the question.

Abdullah's duplication of the word" orang" in the "Hikayat" is interminable, e.g. " ...... sa"orang orang Arab ...... (P. 9) and " .... " .. mengajar sa-orang or(llig saudagar" (P. 213). Although there are one or two such examples to be. seen in the Malay classics, yet they are the exception to the rule. As well as 'this we

have in the" Hikayat" the superfluous plural as in " mengenalkan aim kepada

segal. a orang orang puieh" (Po 198) and " tiga OI'ang orang kuii China "

(P. 189).

In his opening paragraph, page 3, as well as on pages 257 and 264, Abdullah has

the awkward and harsh-sounding phrase " btu'attg yang kll lihat dan yattg kIt

dengar ...... ", the very word-by-word composition whi~ he warns others to avoid, and he has another such word-by-word composrtion on P. 117, "Saya suha kalau. bold: jadi" which is, in addition, a ''bazaar'' Malay usage.

Other infelicities' abound in the "Hihayat", and a small selection could include the following:-

(i) " akan tetapi pada akan mereka itu. " (P. 315)

(ii) " petang"petallg orang-orang puteh pergi ha-situ. lIumgall7.bil-alllbt7

angin," (P. 312)

(iii) " sa hari-hari dalani pel1yakit tidak satu-saW." (P. 11)

" ada-lalt salah. ta' satu-satu:" (P. 29)

(Also O1tpages 65,161,180 alld 183).

(iv) ct '" •• .ikau belum biasa di-11Iakatl-IIIakan ora1tg" (P. 142)

(v) " " .... yatlfJ belum-belum pemall data!~g dahulu-dahuh:", (P. 256)

We even have an example of that plum of "bazaar" Malay usage, on page 20, H Ettche punya suha";

Both on page 258 and on page 304 Abdullah uses the expression" Hairan, hairan, hairau", whereas a Malay writer, using the word in an exclamatory sense, would use only one "hairau", emphasising it if necessary by some such con-





tru~tion as, for example, "Hairan betul, sahaya", This too is the sort of writing which, because of its novelty, has helped to give Abdullah the label of "modern" but it should more correctly be seen as yet another example of a writer who has learnt the words, but lacks the basic feeling, of a language not his own.

As to the "Pelayaran" I would say that in general it contains some, but fewer, such examples of unidiomatic Malay. Indeed it has some pages of good Malay style, such as pages 50 to 53. But perhaps these pages are better because they are reporting the words of the Raja Bendahara, which Abdullah tells us he Wrote down on the spot.

Although, as mentioned above, several modem Malay writers have pointed out Abdullah's bad style, yet .. none of them, in my view, attributes it to the right

cause. .

R.A. Datoek Besar and Dr. R. Roolvink in their "Hikajat Abdullah", 1953, say that his style in the "Hikayat" leaves much to be desired, and is often unintelligible. Unfortunately they suggest no reasons for this. On the contrary, they still tend to emphasise Abdullah's Malayness saying "Keluarga Abdullah, mashipun sendirinja buhan berasal MeZayu, tetapi sudah. berberapa turunan lama- 1tya menetap di-semanandjvttg Malaka" (P. IX), a comment which would be more appropriate to one of the old Straits families than it is to Abdullah's family of

which the first to be born in the country was Abdullah's father. '

A.H. Edrus too, in his "Kesah Pelayaran Abdullah Munshi", 1960, points out many of Abdullah's mistakes in Malay usage, but offers no explanation of them. And here too, in the preface to his work, (although this preface is not • written by the author), we find it implied that Abdullah was brought up in the Malay" adat' and that his mother-tongue was Malay, both of which implications

are demonstrably incorrect.

Another modern writer who criticises Abdullah's style is Kassim Ahmad, in his "Kisali Pelayaran Abdullah Ka-Kelantan dan Judah" 1960. Surprisingly this writer not only calls Abdullah a Malay but also a "bumiputera" (P. 2), although he later qualifies this and says Abdullah was not a Me[aYIlJati (P. 10 ":'11).

At least, however, this author does attempt an explanation as to why Abdullah's style has so many weaknesses. He attributes it finally to the "Hikayat"s and other books which Abdullah studied, implying that they were not works of pure Malay origin, and also to the fact that his teachers were Arabs or Indians. Yet I think it is clear that Abdullah must have studied every H ikayat known at the time, and certainlyhe was well acquainted with the (, Sejaral: Melayu."

As to his teachers, as mentioned earlier, though they Were for the most part his fellow "Peranakkan Kelings", yet they also included the two "MelaYIl Jati" teachers, Datok Suleiman and Datok Astur.

However, in seeking the reason for Abdullah's bad Malay style I do not see that We need go any further than the facts as evidenced: in his own" Hikayat" ; for once it is realised, or perhaps one should say acknowledged, that Abdullah was a "Peranakkalz KeZing", and that Malay in its finer points was for him a


PART 2, 1979


learnt language super-imposed on his "bazaar" Malay, the~ surely these failings in usage and idiom are completely understandable, and fall into place.

To point out Abdullah's bad Malay style, and the reasons for it, is by no

means to deny his importance in Malay literature. .

. From the historical point of view his works are of the greatest interest, for without them we would know far less than We do of the people and places and

conditions of life which he wrote about.. . .

Considered as works of literature Abdullah's writings have a two-fold importance. First of all, both because of their forthright views and their journalistic manner which burst upon the world of Malay literature as a complete novel~, they ga~e new life and stirred new thinking in Malay writing. That was their

long term effect. ..

Secondly, his works are inherently good read~. ~any of his passa~es, even those dealing with small matters, are of ab~orbmg interest and .very .l~elike, enabling us to see the scenes vividl?" ~ this respect n:uch of his :"ntmg is admirable. His basic humanity too, ill spite of some unkind laps~, is continuallyapparent, and many episodes in his "Hikayat" are deeply movmg.

But when his books are used in literary studies We have to remember that they are examples of Malay written by a scholarly foreigner, whose mother-tongue was Tamil and whose Malay style was built on the foundation of his "bazaar" Malay.

I find it astonishing that his works have been held up as examples of good Malay style for the past hundred years, and that even such a fine Malay scholar as Wilkinson should have thought so highly of Abdullah's style as to t.ake ~o le~s than 15,000 examples from Abdullah's works to illustrate the In:eanmgs ill his large dictionary. Surely it would have been better to confine his examples to the many acknowledged Malay works which were available.

Abdullah's works were not only required reading for many decades for expatriate Government Officers during the colonial era, but were even used extensively in Malay schools and colleges. Although they are ~es.s used now, it is amusing to see a current poster displayed in Malay scho?ls. depi:tmg A?dullah "Munshi" in a dark-coloured Malay baju and songkok, claiming him, as It were, to be a Malay writer of the Malay language, whereas in fact he Was a "Perattakk~n",

who dressed as Thomson says, " in the usual style of Malacca Tamils",

including a square skull-cap, which was almost certainly white.

Perhaps, though, we should not be worried that Abdullah's works have been taught to Malay children as literature for so many decades, because the fact remains that his "bazaar" usages have not at all contaminated the basic idiomatic Malay language, which is still universally in use.

Only Abdullah's inadvertant modernism has left its mark, and that we need not regret.





r am grateful to a number of persons who have given me help on matters relating to this article, particularly to En. Beda Lim of the Library of the University of Malaya who greatly facilitated my work there, and to En. Ibrahim b. Ismail of the same Library who arranged for me to see all the items in the Library concerning Abdullah "Munshi" and helped me to check the Jawi text on several points, as well as fortifying me by reading through the finished article unflinchingly. Also to Dr. Singaravelu of the Dept. of Indian Studies, University of Malaya, for information on the name "Periachee"; and to En. Aboe Hassan of the British Library for showing me the relevant works in that Library.



Works Consulted

1. Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir. "Hikayat Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, Munshi". Malaya Publishing House Lrd., Singapore 1949. (Malay Literature Series 4).

2. Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir. "Hikayat Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, Munshi". Jawi Edition, 1849.

3. Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, "Kesah Pelayanm Abdullah". Malaysia Publications Ltd., Singapore, 1965. (Siri Kesusasteman Melayu Bi!. 2.)

4. Abdullah b. Abdul Kadir. "Shner Kampong Gelam T'erbaknr", Ed. C. Skinner.

J.M.B.R.A.S., Vol XLV Part 1. 1973.

5. Abdul Rahman Kasbon, "Perbandingan Raja Ali Hajj dan Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir Munshi sebagai Sejarahwan." Dewan Bahasa. Jilid xiv Bil. 12 Des. 1970.

6. Azmi b. Iunid, "An appraisal of "Kesah Pelayaran Abdullah ka-Kelantan" as an Historical

work." Undated paper. University of Malaya Library. '"

7. Coope, A.E. "The Voyage of Abdullah". Oxford University Press. Kuala Lumpur, 1967.

8. Edrus, A.H. "Pengajian Kesah Pclayaran Abdullah Munshi". Singapore. 1960.

9. Ely.s b. Omar, B.A. Thesis, University of Malaya, 1965.

10. "Hikayat Hang Tuah". Kassirn Ahmad (Ed.). Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 1975.

11. Hill, A.H. "'The Hikayat Abdullah." Oxford University Press, 1970.

12. Idris Ibrahim. "Modenisai dalam S as tra Malayu ujud sebelum Munshi Abdullah I" Berita Hadan.9-4-1975.

13. Ismail Hussein, Prof., "The Study of 'Traditional Malay Literature". Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 1974.

14. Kassim Ahmad. "IGsah Pelayaran Abdullah Ka-Kelantan dan Judah"; 1960 Oxford University Pres. Kuala Lumpur. Malayan Publishing House Singapore.

15. Mohd. Wahiduddin b. Abd. Wahab. "Abdullah Munshi as an Historian". Graduation Exercise, University of Malaya, 1965.

16. Pawang Ana dan Raja Haji Yahyn. "Hikayat Anggun Che' Tunggal". Oxford University Press. Kuala Lumpur, 1964.

17. Raja Ali. "'Tufat ul Nali.". Malaysia Publications Ltd., Singapura, 1965.

18. Raja Chulan, "Misa Melayu". Penerbitan Pustnka Antara, Kuala Lumpur, 1968.


PART 2, 1979


19. R.A. Datoek Besar dan Dr. R. Rcolvink. "Hikajat Abdullah". Penerbit Djembatnn, Djakarta/Amsterdam, 1953.

20. "Sejarah. Melayu", W.G. Shellabear (Ed.). Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd., Kuala Lumpur, 1977.

21. Thomson, J.T'. "Hakayit Abdullah (bin Abdul Kadar) Munshi". Henry S. King and Co. London, 1874.

22. Wan Shamsuddin M. Yusoff. "Sejarah Sastcm Melayu Moden". Pustaka Antara. Kuala Lumpur, 1976.

23. Wilkinson, R.J. "A MoIaY-English Dictionary". Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London, 1955.

24. Winstedt, Sir Richard. A History of Classical Malay Literature J.M.B.R.A.S. VO!' xxxi, Part 3, 1958.



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