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  • Hikayat Johor dan Tawarikh Almarhum Sultan Abu Bakar: Kajian, Transliterasi dan Terjemahan by A. Rahman Tang Abdullah
  • Anthony Milner
Hikayat Johor dan Tawarikh Almarhum Sultan Abu Bakar: Kajian, Transliterasi dan Terjemahan
A. Rahman Tang Abdullah
Johor Bahru: Yayasan Warisan Johor, 2011. 227 pp., ISBN: 978-983-2440-41-3

Work on nineteenth-century Johor has an obvious importance, and not merely from an academic perspective. Johor was the first modern sultanate. Located so close to British Singapore, and with a Ruler needing to establish his credentials with his own people as well as with his dangerous neighbour, Johor was the state where a Malay elite first experimented with fresh ideas. Some members of this elite attended the highly influential Keasberry school from the mid-1800s—and Munshi Abdullah (Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir), who taught at the school for a time (and was an impatient critic of pre-modern Malay royal government), might well have had them in mind when he wrote optimistically of a ‘new generation’. As a number of recent and important publications stress, descendants of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century administrators of Johor were leaders of the Malay nationalist movement—particularly its UMNO strand—which was consolidated in the years following the Pacific War. Reading Zainah Anwar’s Legacy of Honour (Kuala Lumpur: Yayasan Mohamed Noah, 2011), Fawzia Abdullah’s The Three Swans (Kuala Lumpur: MPH, 2010) and Ooi Kee Beng’s The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Times (Singapore: ISEAS, 2006) makes it seem all the more important to explore further the Johor heritage of Malaysia’s current ruling regime.

A. Rahman Tang Abdullah deserves credit for drawing attention to the Hikayat Johor dan Tawarikh Almarhum Sultan Abu Bakar. First published in 1908 and written by Haji Mohd. Said bin Sulaiman, who joined the Johor government in 1898 and was Private Secretary to the Sultan from 1910 to 1952, the text focuses on the long reign of Sultan Abu Bakar (who became Temenggong in 1862 and died with the title ‘Sultan’ in 1895). Among other reasons why the Hikayat Johor deserves serious attention, A. Rahman Tang points out that it was reprinted time and again—eleven times in all—and constantly used in Johor government schools before the Second World War. The scholarly neglect of the work might be partly due to the dismissive judgement of the renowned Malay scholar Za’ba (Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad), who suggested that Mohd. Said Sulaiman’s aim as an author was ‘primarily to add number and quantity to Malay literature’. As Zainah Anwar explains in Legacy of Honour, however, Mohd. Said Sulaiman certainly had political skills. In the 1930s, when relations deteriorated between Sultan Ibrahim (Sultan Abu Bakar’s [End Page 99] successor) and his adopted son, the rising Malay activist Dato Onn, it was Mohd. Said Sulaiman who engineered a reconciliation—and did so by helping Onn to write a book honouring the Sultan’s fortieth year on the throne. Mohd. Said Sulaiman understood the potency of a text, and we can see the way he used writing skills for political and ideological purposes in his own Hikayat Johor.

In offering this edition of the Hikayat Johor, A. Rahman Tang introduces the text—its history of publication, its author (his role in Johor and his other writings), its place in Malay literature and the general historical context in which it was written—and then presents both a romanized transliteration and a translation in English. He gives particular attention to comparing the Hikayat Johor with two other texts, the Tawarikh Dato’ Bentara Luar and the Hikayat Pahang—and here he might have taken the analysis further. A. Rahman Tang gives most attention to the contents of these texts, but especially in the case of the Hikayat Pahang a careful analysis of the contrasts in style would also be welcome. I tried to deal with this matter as an historian in my own work (The Invention of Politics in Colonial Malaya, Cambridge University Press, 2002) and would be grateful to read a more detailed assessment by a specialist on Malay literature.

A. Rahman Tang suggests (p. 44) the authors of the Hikayat Johor and the Hikayat...


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