Hikayat Abdullah (Malay version)

If you were a student in Malaya before the 1970s, chances are that this would have been one of your textbooks. Introducing Hikayat Abdullah, a semi-autobiographical work by the father of modern Malay literature, Munsyi Abdullah. Today we have with us Associate Professor Hadijah Rahmat, an author and scholar of Malay-Indonesia studies. Professor, could you please share the importance of Hikayat Abdullah? Hikayat Abdullah is one of Abdullah’s works. He has produced numerous original works and was also an editor of some of the most important early Malay works. This work is essential for anyone who wants to know more about Malay literature and history, as well as the background to colonialism in Melaka and Singapore in the 19th century. In my opinion, apart from its content, the book is also interesting due to its fine calligraphy and beautiful illustrations. If we look closely at this work, what stands out the most is the writing. He had written it by hand first before producing it through the lithography process. It shows his expertise in writing in Jawi and Malay. Secondly, we can observe the beautiful and colourful illustrations. His writing and illustrations both show that this work has a personal touch from Abdullah himself and that makes it special. His writing style and his close observations make the content come alive. This is especially for stories regarding his life and the development of early Singapore. Hikayat Abdullah is not just an autobiographical work. What I find interesting is how aspects of his personal life run parallel to British colonialism in the Malay world. The most interesting aspect of this title in my opinion is Abdullah’s first-hand observation of the political, cultural and social developments of Singapore. Hikayat Abdullah has also been translated into English by Western scholars such as John Turnbull Thomson and William Shellabear. They were often used as reading materials in schools of the Straits Settlements. We are definitely grateful that Hikayat Abdullah is part of National Library’s Rare Materials Collections. I am sure that many more will refer to this work in generations to come.

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