Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Sharing Za'aba's priceless legacy
23 Dec 2006
Rizalman Hammim
SEREMBAN: Even as a young man of 21, Zainal Abidin Ahmad had a way with words.

His early manuscripts showed not only a talent for writing but also an intelligence and versatility which later earned him the well-deserved title of Father of Modern Malay Literature.

Better known as Za’aba, his writings on a variety of subjects including the economy, politics and literature were highly regarded.

And now, thanks to his family, more than 200 of his early manuscripts had been handed over to a collector and researcher here to enable students and other researchers to study them.

The manuscripts, which consists of personal letters, transcripts and unpublished articles written between 1916 and 1917, are now in the possession of Wan Ahmad Arshad.

"Even though he was only 21 or 22 at the time, the way the manuscripts were written showed just how talented he was and how advanced his thinking was," said Wan Ahmad.

Among the manuscripts is a letter written by the famed scholar and educator to a publisher.

In the letter, Za’aba criticised the interpretation of an article by a Utusan Melayu editor, describing it as too narrow.

"From the manuscripts, we can also see the development of the Malay language. And we will also see why Za’aba is widely considered as the Father of Modern Malay Literature," said Wan Ahmad.

Za’aba was born on Sept 16, 1895, in Batu Kikir, Jempol, Negri Sembilan.

He was a teacher and a writer and, in 1953, he was appointed senior lecturer with the Malay Studies Department of the University of Malaya in Singapore.

He was bestowed the title Pendita during the 3rd Malay Language and Literature Congress in Johor Baru in 1956.

He died on Oct 23, 1973, at the age of 78.

Wan Ahmad said the manuscripts handed over by Za’aba’s family were among the largest collections of the scholar’s writings and would be extremely useful to students and researchers.

In order to "share" this rich legacy with others, Wan Ahmad has published a series of 72 compact discs (CDs) containing scanned images of the manuscripts.

"This is my way of enriching Za’aba’s heritage. So far, the CDs have received the support from various quarters, including the National Library and the National Archives.

"This is a unique collection and is only available on demand," he said.

Each set of 72 CDs are priced between RM39,000 and RM52,000.

If you want one, you had better hurry as there are only 12 sets in total and Wan Ahmad has already received orders for six of them.

The CDs can be ordered directly from him by sending an email to

Wan Ahmad is also in the process of developing a website featuring a virtual gallery of Za’aba’s manuscripts.

"The website will further spread the heritage of Za’aba not only in Malaysia, but also to the world at large.

"It will also be useful to those who can’t afford to buy the CD collection," Wan Ahmad said, adding that he hoped to have the website ready by next year.

One thing is for sure though, Wan Ahmad has no plans to sell the priceless manuscripts.

"I consider myself the keeper of the manuscripts. I get my satisfaction from studying and collecting Za’aba’s manuscripts.

Sometimes, monetary reward is not as important as the satisfaction of getting to do what you love," he said.
Let's create more Wan Ahmads so that history can be placed in its proper perspectives

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