14 March 2006

Spreading Malay Literacy in the 1930s

A new generation of Malay commoners was also finding a voice [during the 1930s]. An important source for this was the Sultan Idris Training College for Malay schoolteachers in Tanjong Malim, just north of Kuala Lumpur. The college was an unlikely site for innovation because it was founded to provide teachers for vernacular schools, the stated role of which was to educate Malays to become better fishermen and farmers. Yet the Malay staff of the college generated new enthusiasm for Malay literature and history, particularly the vanished golden age of the fifteenth-century empire of Melaka. They developed the Malay language in a new, standard Romanized script. The Japanese ally Ibrahim Yaacob was a graduate, and it was from amongst his costudents that many of the members of the Kesatuan Melayu Muda – the Union of Malay Youth – were drawn. To Ibrahim Yaacob, the rulers had left Malays like ‘a boat without a steersman’. His writings were a call to awareness of the Malay nation, the ‘Bangsa Melayu’, which was to take precedence over old loyalties. In this, the young had a special role. A Penang magazine called Saudara (‘Friend’) had created a revolutionary league of pen-friends modelled on the ‘Teddy Tail League’ of the Daily Mail. It allowed young Malays to address each other as strangers, as equals and across gender lines. Conservatives panicked that it would encourage girls to write love letters.
SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 48-49

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