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The Malayo-Muslim World of Singapore at the Close of the Nineteenth Century

  • William R. Roff

Much attention has been devoted, by scholars and others, to the dramatic growth of Singapore in the latter part of the nineteenth century, as a great commercial entrepôt, as a flourishing city of tens of thousands of Chinese migrants, and as the maritime focus of two economic empires, the British and the Dutch. The direction and the intensity of this interest are, of course, understandable, but it has done much to obscure the role of Singapore as a focus also for the cultural and economic energies of the Malaysian world which existed alongside but in many ways separate from the world created by the West. While the comparison cannot be pressed too far, Singapore in the nineteenth century may be likened to Malacca in the fifteenth, in its role as metropolis for an area that embraced the whole Malay Peninsula and Archipelago, from Kedah and Acheh to the Celebes. Island trade in Malaysian or Arab hands, Indonesian migration to the Peninsula, the pilgrimage to Mecca and its subsidiary activities in the fields of Islamic teaching and publication, brought together in Singapore a great variety of Malaysian and Muslim peoples from differing social and economic background but sharing a lingua franca and important elements of a common culture, and often freed from the more hampering restraints of traditional social systems. Urban life has in all places and times been an important breeding ground for new ideas and new ways, and to this general pattern Singapore at the close of the nineteenth century conforms.

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1 The term is used here, without present-day political connotations, to refer to the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago as a whole and its related peoples.

2 See, e.g., Winstedt, R. O., “A History of Johore,” Journal of the Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society [hereinafter JMBRAS] X, 3 (1932), 8182.

3 Census of the Straits Settlements, 1901, p. 28, Tab. III. The census category “Malays” included, without distinguishing, Malay-speaking Sumatrans. The term “Peninsular Malays,” when used here, refers to Malays born in the Peninsular States or the Straits Settlements.

4 Ibid. The larger proportion of these were Javanese (8,519) and Boyanese (2,712), with in addition Bugis, Dyaks, Filippinos and Achehnese. The complexities of regional and ethnic groupings presented British census takers at this time with considerable difficulties of classification.

5 Ibid. See p. 81 for a discussion of the term “Arab” in this context.

6 Ibid.“Jawi Peranakan” (“local-born Muslims”) were the offspring of South Indian Muslim and Malay unions (see p. 86 and n.66).

8 Ibid., p. 29, Tab. III.

9 See, e.g., the Malay newspaper Jawi Peranakan, 1 and 15 August 1887, which gives a long account of Governor Weld's visit to Pahang in July, and the circumstances attending it. Details of all Malay periodicals cited in the present article may be found in Roff, William R., Guide to Malay Periodicals, 1876–1941 (Singapore, 1961).

10 Clifford, Hugh, A Freelance of Today (London, 1903), pp. 18.

11 See, e.g., article Menuntut Ketinggian akan Anak2 Negeri” [“In Pursuit of Greatness for Our People”], Al-lmam, II, I (July 1907).

13 Chelliah, D. D., A Short History of the Educational Policy of the Straits Settlements, 1800–1925 (Kuala Lumpur, 1947).

14 Bintang Timor, 30 October 1894.

15 The recent publication, long delayed and out of sequence, of Ken's, Wong LinThe Trade of Singapore, 1819–69,” JMBRAS, XXXIII, (December 1960), has done much to repair this situation. See, especially, Chapter IV, on “Singapore and the Malaysian Traders.”

16 [Captain] Osborn, Sherard, Quedah; or Stray Leaves from a Journal in Malayan Waters (London, 1857), p. 4.

18 Cameron, John, Our Tropical Possessions in Malayan India (London, 1865) pp. 39ff.

19 Davidson, G. W., Trade and Travel in the Far East (London, 1846), pp. 5365.

20 Conversation with Haji Embok Suloh, Singapore, 1961. Ramsay, A. B., “Indonesians in Malaya,” JMBRAS, XXIX (May 1956), 120, refers to Haji Embok as “at one time a considerable owner of house property in Singapore.”

21 Treacher, W. H., Notes of Visits to Districts in Selangor, 1894 (Kuala Lumpur: Government Printer, n.d.)

22 Cf. Gullick, J. M., Indigenous Political Systems of Western Malaya, (London, 1958), p. 26.

23 There are no statistics relating to immigrant Indonesians. As an indication of Sumatran predominance on the west coast before 1900, see W. H. Treacher, op. cit., pp. 12, 14–15 and passim. In 1886, Selangor was estimated to have a migrant Indonesian population of 12,000, out of a total Malaysian population of 18,000 (Sadka, Emily, “The Residential System in the Protected Malay States, 1874–95,” Australian National University Doctoral Thesis, Canberra, 1960, p. 7, n.8, citing Selangor Annual Report for 1886). The migrant Indonesian element in Perak was much smaller, in 1879 only 9,724 out of 56,632 (Ibid, citing Perak Annual Report for 1881), but was also predominantly Sumatran (see, e.g., Kinta Monthly Report for April 1894, in Perak Government Gazette, 25 May, 1894).

24 Jackson, R. N., Immigrant Labour and the Development of Malaya, 1786–1920, (Kuala Lumpur: Government Printer, 1961), p. 127.

25 I am indebted for this information to an M.A. thesis in preparation in 1961 for the Department of Malay Studies, University of Malaya, by Sayyid Hussin b. Ali.

28 For details of Javanese indentured labour in Malaya, which persisted until 1932, see chapter XI, “Javanese Labour,” in Jackson, op. cit., pp. 127–131; also Parmer, J. Norman, Colonial Labor Policy and Administration: A History of Labor in the Rubber Plantation Industry in Malaya, c.1910–1941, (New York, 1960), pp. 108113.

27 Vredenbregt, J., “The Haddj,” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 118, (1962), 93, and Appendix II, 148–149, where the Indonesian statistics annually from 1878 are given.

28 For details of the regulations, see Vredenbregt, op. cit., pp. 98–100. For an account of the Netherlands East Indies Government attitude towards hajis, see Benda, Harry J., The Crescent and the Rising Sun (The Hague/Bandung, 1958), pp. 1920.

29 Before 1895, a small fee was levied on pilgrim passports in British Malaya, after that date none at all. Passports were required to show only the nationality, native country, place of domicile, profession, age, and appearance of the pilgrim, together with the name and birthplace of his father. (Perak. Government Gazette, 11 November, 1895).

30 Vredenbregt, op. cit., p. 130.

31 Ibid., p. 117, n.86.

32 Ibid., p. 137. For an instance of the kind of arrangement whereby an Arab firm in Singapore acquired labour for estate development by advancing money to Indonesians in the Hejaz, see ibid., pp. 127–128, and jawi Peranakan, 2 July 1894.

33 For details of the shaykh system in Mecca, as it applied to pilgrims from Malaysia, see Hurgronje, C. Snouck, Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century, (London, 1931), pp. 222224.

34 Van den Berg, L. W. C., Le Hadhramout et les colonies Arabes dans I'Archipel lndien (Batavia: Government Printer, 1886), p. 122.

35 See, e.g., Tibbetts, G. R., “Early Muslim Traders in South-East Asia,” JMBRAS, XXX, 1 (1957), passim.

36 Ingrams, W. H., A Report on the Social, Economic and Political Condition of the Hadhramout (Colonial Paper No. 123, London, 1936), p. 141.

38 Census of the Straits Settlements, 1901, p. 15, Tab. II, and p. 28, Tab. II. Berg, op. cit., p. 110, n.I refers to a Straits Settlements Government census of 1884, which gives a figure of 1,637 for The Settlements as a whole, and 835 for Singapore. He considers the Singapore figure for adult males, 445, “much too high,” and says that there are “at the most 200 adult [male] Arabs actually settled at Singapore.” He attributes the alleged excess to Arabs in transit to the Netherlands Indies. His own figure of 580 male and female Arabs in Singapore includes children only if more than ten years old.

39 The proportion of “Malay-Arabs” was highest in Malacca, where a well-established Arab colony had existed for many years, and probably rather higher in Penang than in Singapore, which was where most of the newcomers settled.

40 Serjeant, R. B., “Historians and Historiography of Hadramawt,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, XXV, (1962), 238.

41 Report on “Hadhramis in the East Indies,” by L. de Vries, Deputy Adviser for Native Affairs in the Netherlands East Indies, in Ingrams, op. cit., p. 147.

42 Ingrams, op. cit., p. 150, says that the Arab community is, for its size, the wealthiest in Singapore, “owing to its large holdings in house, land and estate property.” Cf. also Lee-Warner, G., “Notes on the Hadhramaut,” Geographical Journal LXXVII, (1931), 220, who says that “whole streets in Singapore and Penang are owned by wealthy Hadhramis.”

43 Buckley, op. cit., II, 563–565, where brief life histories are given for several leading Singapore Arabs; cf. also Wright, A., ed., Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya (London, 1908), pp. 705707 and 710–712.

44 Cf. Serjeant, R. B., Prose and Poetry from Hadramawt, (London, 1951), p. 4, n.8.

45 Ingrams, op. cit., pp. 141–142. Cf. also Sanger, Richard H., The Arabian Peninsula (New York, 1954), p. 225.

46 There are no figures for the earlier period. By 1934, remittances amounted to £630,000 annually from all overseas sources, and to about, £40,000 a month from Java alone. Ingrams, op. cit., pp. 142 and 70.

47 Cf. C. Snouck Hurgronje, The Achehnese, II, p. 5.

48 Quoted in Winstedt, R. O., “A History of Malay Literature,” JMBRAS, XVII, 3 (1939), 93.

49 Winstedt, op. cit., p. 101. A Latin translation of the Book of the Thousand Questions was made at Toledo in 1143 A.D.

50 Hurgronje, Mekka, p. 264. He is referring here to both Javanese and Malay.

51 Details of these are still deficient. References to some of them may be found in Birch, E. W., “The Vernacular Press in the Straits,” JSBRAS, IV (December 1879), 4; Hurgronje, The Achehnese, II, 185–186; Zainal Abidin b. Ahmad, “Modern Developments,” in Winstedt, “A History of Malay Literature,” p. 145; and in the Malay press of the time.

52 See Hurgronje, Mekka, pp. 165 and 286–287.

53 Ahmad Marzuki, Akidat ul-Awwam, translated into Malay as Naadzam Abdau, or Naadzam Che Marzuki.

54 Hurgronje, The Achehnese, II, pp. 182–183.

56 The collections most widely used in Malaya were taken from the Sahih al-Bukhari.

57 One of the most popular collections of maulud readings was that published in Cairo by Hasan at- Tochi. Cf. Hurgronje, op. cit., I, 212.

58 The Hikflyat Abdullah (“Abdullah's Story”) was first published in Singapore in 1849, and the same author's Kesah Pelayaran Abdullah (“The Voyage of Abdullah”) a few years later. One of his sons published a Kesah Pelayaran Mohd. Ibrahim Munshi (“The Voyage of Mohd. Ibrahim Munshi”) in 1872.

59 See, e.g., Winstedt, “A History of Malay Literature,” pp. 117–118, or Taib, Mohd. b. Osman, , An Introduction to the Development of Modern Malay Language and Literature (Singapore, 1961), pp. 14. For the view that Abdullah's marked pro-Western bias constitutes a serious criticism of his work, see Ahmad, Kassim, ed., Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah (Kuala Lumpur, 1960), pp. 114.

60 Besar, R. A. Datoek & Roolvink, R., eds., Hikajat Abdullah (Djakarta/Amsterdam, 1953), pp. 426427.

61 Za'ba [Zainal Abidin b. Ahmad], “Modern Developments,” in Winstedt, op. cit., p. 144, gives as examples “setia-usaha” for “secretary,” “pejabat” for “department,” and “kerja raya” for “public works,” all of which came into general use. A major reason for the direction taken by the PBMPB's interest was the autonomy in government and administration retained by Johore, compared with the other states.

62 jawi Peranakan, 4 June, 18 June and 2 July 1894. The controversy related mainly to the Muslim Recreation Club in Penang (so named), but the principle involved was discussed at length.

63 Mohd. Taib b. Osman, “The Language of the Editorials in Malay Vernacular Newspapers up to 1941,” (B. A. Honours Exercise, Department of Malay Studies, University of Malaya, 1958), pp. 11–20, gives a list of Arabic words occurring in the Malay press, most of them dating from about this time. Cf. also Wilkinson, R. J., Papers on Malay Subjects, Series I, Part 1, Literature, (Kuala Lumpur, 1907), p. 20.

64 The only existing historical study of the Malay press is Ahmad, Nik b. Hassan, Nik, “The Malay Vernacular Press” (B. A. Honours Exercise, Department of Malay Studies, University of Malaya, 1958). I have in preparation a History of Malay Newspapers, based in part on a series of five talks prepared in 1961 for Radio Malaya, and reproduced by them in mimeograph. Cf. also my Guide to Malay Periodicals, 1876–1941, (Singapore, 1961), an annotated search-list, and Mohd, . b. Muda, Dato', Tarikh Surat Khabar [History of Newspapers], (Bukit Mertajam, 1940), pp. 90204.

65 Not at all described, if we except a few scattered references in contemporary literature.

66 The term “Jawi Peranakan” or “local-born Muslim,” was in practice used to signify only the offspring of South Indian Muslims and Malay women, and their descendants. Those Indian Muslims who did not marry Malay women remained a separate community, unassimilated to the Malays, as is the case today. The term Jawi Peranakan later went out of use, to be replaced by Jawi Pekan, or “town Muslim,” especially in Penang, where the bulk of the community lives.

67 Birch, E. W., “The Vernacular Press in the Straits,” JSBRAS, IV, (1879), 5152. This is the only extant contemporary record of the origins of the first Malay newspaper. Present holdings of Jawi Peranakan date only from 1887.

68 Only two Penang papers (Jawi Standard and Tanjong Penegeri) were started before 1900, as compared to six in Singapore (Jawi Peranakan, NujumuúI-Fajar, Shamsúl-Kamar, Sekola Melayu, Bintang Timor, and Warta Malaya), and two in Perak (Sri Perak and Jajahan Melayu).

69 The most notable exception was the Singapore Bintang Timor which, sponsored by the Straits Chinese Association and edited by Song Ong Siang, ran for twelve months in 1894–95. Bintang Timor has the added distinction of being the first Malay-language daily (for the first nine months of its life). Other periodicals were weekly, with one fortnightly and two monthlies.

70 It has been suggested to me by Malays that the absence of any marked criticism of Government, or of colonial rule in general, was due to fear of reprisals. I doubt if this was the case to any significant extent. It is true that many of the Jawi Peranakan held minor official posts of one kind or another, but in a much more profound sense than simple fear of losing their jobs or incurring official displeasure, they were impressed by the material and educational superiority of the West with which they were familiar, and by a corresponding sense of their own shortcomings.

71 Al-lmam, I, 5, (November 1906).

72 Quoted in Mohd. b. Dato' Muda, Tarikh Swat Khabar, p. 123.

73 A. C. Hill, Inspector of Schools in the Straits Settlements, in a prize-giving address delivered at Kampong Glam Malay School, Singapore, reported in Jawi Peranakan, 30 July 1894.

74 Birch, op. cit., p. 52, said in 1880 that Jawi Pcranakan “appears to fulfill the useful function of a ‘highest reader’ in all the vernacular schools.” There are numerous evidences of this in the newspapers themselves. See, e.g., Sekola Melayu, 1 August 1888, and Bintang Timor, 26 November 1894.

75 The remarks which follow refer mainly to Jawi Peranakan, which in addition to being the best organised and longest-lived Malay newspaper of the period, is also one of the few of which there are extant holdings.

76 Bintang Timor (20 October 1894) said scathingly of its contemporary Tanjong Penegeri (of which no copies are known to exist today), that it might as well be published in Java as in Penang, for all the local news it contained.

77 Also in Paris.

78 See, e.g., in 1887, reports in Jawi Peranakan from Sandakan and Patani (30 January and 7 February), Selangor (4 and 18 April), Kelantan, (22 August), Pahang (1 and 15 August), Kedah (26 September), and Perak (14 November).

79 Of particular interest in 1887 were the reports (cited above, n.78) from Patani, describing the system of government and the condition of the inhabitants; from Kelantan, describing the famine of that year; and from Kedah, describing the immigration into that State consequent upon the East Coast famine.

80 Jawi Peranakan, 10 October and 30 December; Bintang Timor, 26 July, 25 October, 26 October, 30 October, 17 November, and 26 November.

81 See above, p. 86. In its editorial for 8 August, 1894, Bintang Timor says that this year the Malays in Singapore “have delighted in starting clubs like the Europeans and Chinese.” The first study and recreation club (“tempat pelajaran dan bersukaz.”) appears to have been the Persekutuan Dar-ul-Adab, formed in the early 1890's (Bintang Timor, 10 August 1894, gives the membership of the Committee for that year). At about the same time, an association called Harbab Ashkedan (or Hasbab Askedari) came into being. A third club, the Pcrsekutuan Dar-ul-Taadzim was formed in August 1894 (Jawi Veranakfin, 13 August 1894), and a fourth, the Persekutuan Jawa Almasahjn, in October 1901 (Sayyid Hussin Ali, “Pertubuhan Bahasa dan Sastera Melayu Di Singapura Selepas Perang Dunia II” [“The Growth of Malay Language and Literature after the Second World War”], Bahasa, II, 2, (Singapore, March 1960), p. 8, n.5). Penang at this time had the Muslim Recreation Club, and at least one other association, with the name Jamshid. It is of interest to note that the first Malay industrial combination was organised in 1894, the Club Kapitan2 dan Injinir2 Melayu (Malay Captains' and Engineer'' Club), by ships' crews. A report in Jawi Peranakan (10 October 1894) says that a meeting had been held to discuss the formation of such a club, “because everyone else is doing it” and to make it easier for members to confer about raising their wages (“supaya senang ia bermeshuarat darihal menaikki gaji mereka-itu kelak”).

82 Bintang Timor, 21 August 1894.

83 Ibid., 21 August; 1 September; and 5 October, 1894.

84 Bintang Timor, Nos. 81–5, 87, 89–92, 5–17 October 1894.

85 See, especially, editorial in Jawi Peranakan, 15 October 1894.

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