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Thursday, February 22, 2007


Bernama: Instilling Nationalism Through Jawi

By Melati Mohd Ariff

KUALA LUMPUR, 21 Feb (Bernama) -- The Jawi script is very much a Malay heritage. It was once held in high esteem by the Malays who practised this calligraphic style in their writings that fanned nationalism across the archipelago, but it is fast forgotten now.

Jawi (Malay words written in Arabic calligraphy) was widely used, especially during the golden era of the Malay Sultanate of Melaka, from as early as the 15th century not only in matters relating to religion but also in all administration and cultural affairs.

Malaysians today have taken the Jawi script for granted and are probably not aware that up to the 1960's Jawi was widely used in the Malay language.

The Jawi script also played a significant role in fanning Malay nationalism and the struggle for independence with the emergence of countless periodicals and newspapers using the Jawi script as early as the 19th century.


The writer was overcome by nostalgia upon reading the Utusan Zaman newspaper dated Sept 1, 1957 (6 Safar, 1377).

'Merdeka', 'Merdeka', 'Merdeka' in Jawi were splashed across the front page accompanied by a prominent picture of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj at the independence proclamation ceremony.

Under the sub-title "Upacara Yang Bersejarah Dan Mengharukan Sekali, Meriah Dan Penuh Dengan Kegembiraan" (A Historic, Poignant and Grand Ceremony Filled With Joy), the significance of the proclamation of independence for The Federation of Malaya was highlighted.

The same edition's front page also published the content of the Proclamation of Independence signed by Tunku Abdul Rahman as the Prime Minister of The Federation of Malaya.

The proclamation states: Commencing on Aug 31, 1957, based on the agreement signed between the Queen and the Sultans of the states of Malaya, the Malay states of Johor, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Terengganu and Perak and also states previously known as the Straits Settlement of Melaka and Penang, should become a new federation known as The Federation of Malaya.

The proclamation of independence of The Federation of Malaya itself was prepared in Jawi.

Utusan Zaman was the Sunday edition for Utusan Melayu and both were very influential newspapers back then and solely used the Jawi script.

Utusan Melayu was first published in Singapore on Nov 7, 1907. The first edition of Utusan Melayu in Malaya was published on May 29, 1939 under the leadership of the late Yusoff Ishak (who became the President of Singapore from Dec 3, 1959 to Nov 23, 1970). Utusan Zaman began publication on Nov 5, 1939.

Important treaties between the Malay Sultans and the Portuguese, Dutch and British were also executed in the Jawi script.

Among these treaties was the Pangkor Treaty of 1874, which paved the way for British intervention in Perak.

Besides these documents, correspondence between the two parties were also conducted in the Jawi script.


The Jawi letters have been in existence in the Malay archipelago for centuries. It shares a strong bond with the Arabic script, which made its way to the Malay archipelago together with Islam, disseminated by Muslim traders and missionaries of Arab, Indian and Chinese origins in the 7th century.

Prior to the Arabic script, the Malays were using the "rencong (sharp-pointed) script" written on bamboo stems and leaves. This was followed by the "kawi" and "palava" writings, both of Indian origin.

With the coming of Islam, the Malays tried to use the palava or kawi characters to write about Islam, but both were unsuitable as they could not properly pronounce the verses of the Quran and Hadis.

"The situation prompted the Malays to experiment with Arabic characters. Hence, the Jawi script is truly the creation of the Malays even though it is based on the Arabic script," said Dr Hashim Musa, former lecturer with Universiti Malaya's Malay Studies Academy who has written a book, "The History of the Development of the Jawi Script".

He said the Malays eventually included several letters to conform with the Malay syllables, which are 'che', 'nge', 'pa', 'ge' and 'nye'. The letter 'vi' was later introduced in the 1990's by the Malay language custodian, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

The earliest evidence of the existence of the Jawi script was the discovery of inscriptions on a stone dated 702H (1303 AD) and according to Hashim, Sanskrit words could still be seen on the inscribed stone.

But the modern day Jawi script is due to the initiative taken to systematise the Jawi script by none other than Zainal Abidin Ahmad, the leading Malay literary figure or better known as Pendeta Za'ba, who produced the "Daftar Ejaan Melayu Jawi-Rumi" (Jawi-Roman Spelling Register), which he worked on in 1938 and only printed in 1949.


The dawn of the era of periodicals and newspapers written in Jawi began as early as the 19th century. It started with "Jawi Peranakan" published in Singapore in 1876, which became the first Malay newspaper in Malaya.

This was followed by various publications. Among the prominent ones besides Utusan Melayu and Utusan Zaman were Melayu Muda, Melayu Raya, Pelita Malaya, Perkhabaran Dunia, Perubahan Baharu, Saudara, Suara Melayu, Warta Kinta, Warta Malaya and Warta Negara.

Among the popular magazines that used the Jawi script was the well-known "Majalah Guru" (Teacher's Magazine), a voice for the Malay teachers who were the writers as well.

Teachers in those days played a crucial role in spearheading the independence movement through the publications where apart from articles related to the issues of the day, they also carried short stories and poems.

According to notes in the second edition of the Catalogue on Malay Magazines and Newspapers produced by the Malaysian Archives, Majalah Guru was published in six stages. This magazine was printed in Jawi from Nov 1, 1924 to Jan 1, 1950 and was continued in the Romanised edition until the end of 1968.

Another magazine, which was equally inspiring, was Warta Ahad that started publication in Singapore on May 5, 1935 by Warta Malaya Press Ltd. Its editorial line-up included Datuk Onn bin Ja'afar and Abdul Rahim Kajai.


Utusan Melayu was synonymous with the Jawi script. Its prominence before and after independence was undeniable. It's a pity that this newspaper's strong influence slowly diminished when Romanised writing became dominant especially after the declaration of the 1963 Official Language Act.

Former editor-in-chief of the Utusan Melayu Group Tan Sri Mazlan Nordin, when met recently at a forum here, stressed that Utusan Melayu played a very influential role in the rise of Malay nationalism.

He said, among others, Utusan Melayu forged the voice of the Malays to stand up against the Malayan Union and the Malayan Communist Party.

Mazlan, who was the editor-in-chief of Utusan Melayu from 1973 to 1982, said the newspaper also helped to champion the rights of the Malays who were being marginalised.

"In that respect, we must remember the role of Utusan Melayu and the Jawi script and also the other newspapers such as Warta Malaya and Majlis. We must be grateful to these Jawi newspapers for their significant role, especially on the road to independence," he added.


One of the independence figures from Melaka Datuk Wira Borhan Md Yaman also spoke highly of the dignified role of the Jawi-scripted Malay newspapers such as Utusan Melayu, Utusan Zaman and Warta Ahad (magazine) in instilling the spirit of independence.

"A lot of articles were written on current issues such as poverty and the backwardness of the Malays, besides analysing education matters and calling on all Malays to unite.

"The writings also touched on how inferior the Malays were under colonisation compared to their fate during the glorious days of the Melaka Sultanate. Those brilliant writers then were not adequately paid but they continued writing for their own satisfaction and for their sheer concern for the nation and race," said Borhan after recalling the great names such as Pendeta Za'ba, Pak Sako (Ishak Haji Muhammad) and Keris Mas (Kamaluddin Muhamad).

Another Jawi script advocate, Muhammad Mokhtar Taib or better known as Pak Matlob, shared Borhan's views.

"The newspapers highlighted the despondency of the people under colonisation and also the many weaknesses in society. Generally, the Malays at that time had only primary-level education and were only eligible to become office boys or clerks," said Pak Matlob who received the Exemplary Teacher Award on May 16, 1998.

According to Pak Matlob whom the writer met after the launching of a campaign to promote Jawi, here, recently, the critical writings became a push-factor for the Malays in their quest for independence and in the defence of their dignity.

"In those days, the Malays lacked self-esteem. The gap between those living in the villages and urban areas was glaring. The Malays then were mostly fishermen and farmers.

"Poverty was a big issue and the Malays realised that they could only change their fate through independence," said Pak Matlob who has penned numerous books for various levels, especially on the Jawi script.

Among the writers he admired was his own teacher from the Sultan Idris Teachers Training College (SITC), the late Ahmad bin Abdullah who wrote under the name of Ahmad Bakhtiar.

"His writings were sincere and in most of them he compared the life of the Malays with others', in a way to stimulate thinking," he said.

The Jawi script has indeed contributed immensely to the political and mental development of the Malays. Hence, it's only apt that the Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry revive its glorious days. -- Bernama

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