Monday, May 28, 2007

Teacher-writers in the quest for Independence

By Nurul Halawati Azhari (Bernama)

The World War II and the Japanese Occupation are two momentous events that prompted a change in the mindset of the Malayans and set the stage for independence.

The three year eight months Japanese Occupation, ostensibly to free Southeast Asia from Western imperialism, only brought unimaginable suffering. When the British returned to Malaya, after Japan surrendered, the scenario was different as the boundless respect and the awe for the British had all faded.

The fact that the British were not invincible as believed earlier gave rise to dissenting voices that would become the prelude to the struggle for independence. Among those actively involved in advocating the dignity of the race and the fight for freedom then were the Malay teachers.

They were a disenchanted lot. Being knowledgeable, and after seeing the disparity between the thatched roof Malay schools where they taught and the better off English schools, they realised the Malays have to change their own fate.


The overall sad state of affairs for the Malays further fuelled the nationalistic fervour of the teachers during that time. Some chose to join political parties like Umno, Angkatan Permuda Insaf (API) and Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM) while others began voicing their views through writing.

They voiced their comments in writing without fear or favour, some critical, against the colonial masters through the periodicals of the day like Utusan Melayu, Majlis, Warta Malaya, Warta Ahad and Warta Jenaka. In fact some even began writing before and during the Japanese Occupation in mediums like Persaudaraan Sahabat Pena Malaya, Semangat Asia and Fajar Asia. Political issues of the day, culture and education, often in the form of anecdotal writings and features, dominated their works.

Teachers like Abdul Ghafar Baba, Syed Nasir Syed Ismail, Alimin, Buyong Adil, Za'ba, Abdullah Sidek, Harun Md.Amin (Harun Aminurrashid) and Shaharom Husain rose to prominence in the local literary scene at that time.

According to Dr Saharom Husain, 87, an exemplary teacher, historian and the custodian of culture, who had spent much of his life producing hundreds of literary and historical texts, the involvement of teachers in writing is an effort that must be appreciated. This is because they played a significant role in influencing the people's mind.


Saharom was also a Japanese language teacher and translator during the Japanese Occupation. He was the product of the teacher training colleges that were once the hotbed of nationalism. The octogenarian recalled the active involvement of teachers from the Malay Teacher Training Colleges in Singapore, Melaka, Matang, Johor Baharu and the Sultan Idris Teacher Training College (SITC) in Tanjung Malim who put their thoughts in writing.

At SITC, for instance, students were encouraged to contribute their writings to the official newsletter of the institution, Chendera Mata. As many were keen in writing, the newsletter could no longer accommodate all their works. Therefore, they began expanding their horizon by contributing their works to the local and foreign periodicals.

Apart from that SITC, under the helm of O.T Dussek, had established a Writing Department and College Library. The department played an influential role and helped in the development of the Malay language and literature apart from advocating education for Malays. This is where the love for reading and writing for the Malay teaching fraternity was inculcated. They kept on writing for a noble reason, bestow recognition for the language and literature, and fight for independence.


Among the highly regarded writers from the teaching community who successfully made a transition to the world of publications then were Harun Aminurrasyid, Buyong Adil and Zaaba. Harun, apart from lecturing, also once wrote a sensational quatrain that very much incensed the teachers and students of the colleges. His works were also published in Majalah Guru and Warta Ahad. Meanwhile, Buyong Adil instilled the nationalism fervour through history classes and his writings.

Shaharom feels that Zaaba was among the most active and vocal to voice out his opinion through the pen.

It was obvious to Zaaba that the British were making the Malay royalties subservient through education. The British even had published text-books on Malay legends like Hikayat Hang Tuah and Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah that only highlighted their feebleness.

As these books also contain supernatural elements, Zaaba saw that there was no way the Malay mind could get out of the rot. To him, the colonial masters even had occupied the Malay minds.


Zaaba's works encouraged Shaharom to continue writing. Under the pen name Mashor Malaya, Shabhi and Dharmaya, he wrote on the role of teachers inculcating the nationalistic fervour. His writings also emphasised on the responsibility of the Malays regarding security, the well-being and the sovereignty of the race and nation.

Even in his golden years, the writer of the historical novel Tun Fatimah (1948), Keris Laksamana Bentan (1954) and Lembing Awang Pulang Ke Dayang (1959) is still active with his vocation. In early 1990s, Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka accorded him the National Laureate award.

Recalling the role of the teachers who turned writers during the pre-Merdeka days, Shaharom felt the Malay teachers then had very high initiative and a burning desire to see their race achieving independence.

"Realising the plight of the Malays then, the teachers grouped themselves into the left and right wings. But regardless of which side they were, they only had one goal, they wanted to free the nation and the race from occupation.

Their efforts through writing were rewarded with independence for the Federation of Malaya on 31 August 1957.


These teacher-writers at times enjoyed plaudits and were revered, and at times disgraced and defamed but their contribution were highly invaluable. Yet, no matter what, for these educationists the plights of the Malays were in their hearts.

And now as the nation gears up to celebrate the independence golden jubilee, the younger generation is perceived as complacent much due to the luxuries of life and the peace that they have taken for granted. However, Saharom wants the younger generation to appreciate the nation's history and the struggle of their forefathers.

"It's only human, when things get easy, they often forget themselves and become complacent. When life is easy, there is nothing else to fight for," he said.

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