Off Walls Off Pedestals

How Sir Stamford Raffles Gathered Data of All Sorts and Bought Some 340 Books, and Many More in Melaka (Developing Another Mind Installation)

Posted in Other Works by tsabri on April 8, 2010

What I’ll be writing is not new _ it has been discussed in numerous forums, particularly that of literature, culture or even politics. The matter, which concerns about attitudes of the Malays on education, culture and such, has been something of concern in Malaysia’s cultural, social, economics as well as political developments since decades ago. The Malays has been stereotyped as ‘lazy’, ‘stupid’ and ‘good for nothing’ people’ by the so-called ‘imperialists’ or ‘colonialists’ of the pasts… so were discussed.

Sometime in 2008, I accompanied Mastura to Melaka to setup The Curtain for the Srikandi: Sentuhan Seni Jiwa Wanita art exhibition (on this blog: The Curtain: From Mixed-Media to Multimedia). After putting up The Curtain and some paintings, she went for a meeting with the UiTM girls who were curating the exhibition. I excused myself and took a stroll down the historic Melaka_

Melaka's Google

Old Melaka (unknown)

Melaka 1630s

Melaka 1720s

Melaka 1750s

Undated

I went across the Jalan Laksamana, to a row of cendol stalls, ordered a bowl and sat slurping – overlooking the Sungai Melaka… a boat, an old fashioned one, glided lazily on the murky waters. A well-built mat salleh man came out from a cabin’s door, followed by a teenage kacukan perhaps of Arab and Tamil parentage. The young man wore a sort of tarbus on his head. I was excited to recognized them_ Sir Stamford Raffles and Munsyi Abdullah! Yes, it was them alright… The munsyi boy waved. Raffles gave a friendly smile, and then waved his hands. I waved them back.

At http://www.journeymalaysia.com/, I found them again;

Munsyi Abdullah and Stamford Raffles in Melaka. At age 15, Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir watched as the British Forces marched into Melaka. The year was 1811. British troops were waiting for instructions to be sent off to Java. Stamford Raffles was appointed to be the Lieutenant Governor of Java(1811-1816). Before embarking on a sea voyage to Java, Raffles stationed his army in Malacca where he planned the initial operations for advancement into Java.

British Malacca (Melaka) 1850s

Munshi (a title meaning ‘tutor’) Abdullah’s encounter with Stamford Raffles was to have a very large impact on the boy’s future. Employed as a scribe in his moderate but significant team of employees, Munshi Abdullah was given the opportunity to learn from a man who had an insatiable appetite for learning. Raffles wanted to know everything about the locals…their culture, their history, their myths and legends, their language, their arts and their creativity. He also was a budding naturalist and had a team of hunters and gatherers who collected animals and plant specimens, which were later preserved in jars or pressed into pages (respectively). Illustrations were collated into huge volumes of books.

Raffles collections grew to include rare manuscripts, books, written verses, sha-er and pantun. The people of Melaka then did not understand the value of such books and manuscripts. They readily sold them to the collector for cash. Such manuscripts were written in longhand and were originals – no copies were ever recorded. Other books that could not be bought, were borrowed and copyists had the task of duplicating them. Several copyists were employed for this task, and Munshi Abdullah was one of them. The exposure led him to write his autobiography in later years, called Hikayat Abdullah (The Story of Abdullah). For an excerpt of his views as a journalist and an observer, check out his writings on at www.sabrizain.demon.co.uk/malaya/

Reading above texts made me to remember the day when Raffles and the munsyi-boy waved at me_ later that night in the library I found  Hikayat Abdullah, a 1963 edition from the Pustaka Antara, Kuala Lumpur and reread it – thinking of some ‘paragraphs of concern’ that I remembered reading some years ago, and later found them summarized as above quoted from the site. I found them on page 75 & 76. In the words of Abdullah himself;

Syahdan lagi adalah empat orang diberinya gaji, masing-masing dengan pekerjaannya. Seorang disuruhnya pergi ke hutan mencari jenis-jenis daun, dan bunga-bunga, dan cendawan, dan lumut-lumut, dan barang perkara yang berlain-lain rupanya. Dan lagi seorang disuruhnya mencari segala ulat-ulat, dan belalang, dan jenis-jenis lupu-kupu dan kumbang, dan berbagai-bagai jenis binatang, dan riang-riang, dan lipan dan kalajengking, dan sebagainya. Maka diberinya jarum peniti, disuruhnya cocokan binatang-binatang itu. Dan lagi seorang disuruhnya mencari karangan-karangan, seperti siput berjenis-jenis, dan kepah, dan lokan, tiram, remis dan sebagainya, dalam sebuah bakul. Dan lagi ikan berjenis-jenis. Dan lagi pula seorang pergi mencari binatang-binatang liar, seperti burung-burung, dan ayam hutan, dan rusa, kijang, pelanduk, dan napoh, bengkuang, dan kancil, dan sebagainya.

Dan lagi adalah ia menaruh sebuah kitab besar,maka kertasnya tebal-tebal; maka gunanya kitab itu dimasukkannya segala jenis daun-daun, dan bunga-bunga, dan sebagainya. Bermula maka barang perkara yang tiada boleh dimasukkannya, maka ada ia menaruh seorang Cina Makao. Terlalu pandai menulis gambar-gambar, atau buah atau bunga, ditulisnya seperti hidup, maka disuruhnya tulis akan segala perkara itu. Maka lain daripada ini lagi, adalah pula satu pipa, entah arak entah berandi, ada penuh. Maka barang binatang atau ular, lipan, kalajengking, dan sebagainya, maka hidup-hidup dimasukkannya ke dalamnya itu. Setelah dua hari lamanya, kemudian diambilnya, dimasukkannya le dalam botol. Rupanya, binatang itu seperti hidup juga. Maka menjadi heranlah orang-orang di Melaka melihatkan pekerjaan yang demikian.

Maka pada masa itu banyaklah orang-orang dalam Melaka mendapat faedah sebab mencarikan segala kejadian yang di udara, dan dari bumi, atau dari laut, dari darat, atau dari negeri, atau hutan rimba, baik yang terbang, baik yang merayap, baik yang bertumbuh, baik yang terbit dari tanah, sekalian perkara yang tersebut itu sekaliannya menjadi duit belaka.

Dan lagi pula orang membawa kitab-kitab dan hikayat Melalyupun, entah beberapa ratus jenis, tiadalah teringat. Hampir-hampir habis surat-surat Melayu daripada beberapa zaman, daripada harta nenek-moyang sekalian habus dijualkan, dibawa orang dari mana-mana, sebab mendapat harga baik. Habis dijualkan, tiadalah sadarkan orang-orang yang di belakang kelak menjadi bodoh. Satu suratpun tiada yang dibaca dalam bahasanya sendiri, karena kitab-kitab itu semuanya dalam tulisan tangan. Jikalau kitab dicap tiada mengapa, maka tiadalah tinggal lagi benihnya sampai sekarang. Maka adalah kitab-kitab itu sekelian kira-kira tiga ratus empat puluh, lain daripada jenis-jenis syair dan pantun dan ikat-ikatan dan sebagainya. Dan lagi lain pula dipinjamnya, disuruh salin, ada empat lima orang jurutulisnya yang menyalin sahaja….

Revisiting the paragraphs impelled me developing several ideas on Melaka as a venue or a subject for a ‘mind installation‘. I’m putting the ideas into a proposal and will get interested friends to sit on journeys meeting Sir Stamford Raffles and the Munsyi-boy, or the suspicious and fierce Benggali Putehs from Lisbon, or the Gujarati traders or even the day Parameswara saw a deer kicked his hunting dogs into the (Melaka) river…

Note (illustration credits)

  1. Old Melaka (unknown): http://www.journeymalaysia.com/
  2. Melaka 1630s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malacca
  3. Melaka 1720s: http://www.colonialvoyage.com/malaccaNL.html
  4. Melaka 1750s: http://www.dutchmalaysia.net/lang_en/culture/pictures_old_malacca.html
  5. Undated: http://www.sanderusmaps.com/antique-maps/asia/malaysia–malakka_17814.cfm
  6. British Malacca (Melaka) 1850s:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Malacca1854.jpg
  7. Abdullah Munsyi’s Portrait: http://gen-s.com.my/sbns/index.(Was it a today painter’s imagination?)

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