Hikayat Abdullah--Extracts

Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir


A Note on the Text

The text used here is from Hakayit Abdulla : Translations from the Hakayit Abdulla (bin Abdulkadar), Munshi, translated with comments by J.T. Thomson (London : H.S. King , 1874), from the rare books room at the National University of Singapore Library. I have omitted Thomson's comments, but kept all spellings including his non-standard romanisation of Malay words. Thomson's translation is incomplete and inaccurate at times, but unfortunately A. H. Hill's much improved translation is still under copyright.


The author of the Hikayat Abdullah, Abdulah bin Abdul Kadir, grew up in Malacca at a time of British Imperial expansion into the Malay world, and was present in Singapore from the time of Raffles' arrival in the 1820s onwards. A prolific writer and translator, he is also known as the author of Kesah Pelayaran Abdullah (The Story of the Voyage of Abdullah), an account of a voyage up the east coast of the peninsular in 1837. Abdullah finished his autobiography, the Hikayat Abdullah, in 1843.

The Hikayat Abdullah is clearly different from other Hikayat and from works such as the Sejarah Melayu in its portrayal of the inner life of its protagonist, illustrated in his recounting events of his childhood, or critical judgments on officials' behaviour. Abdullah knew Raffles and Farquhar well, and contemporary readers may find his endorsement of most aspects of colonial rule puzzling. Syed Hussein Alatas, for instance, has described him as "a captive mind in the world of colonialism" (138).

Alatas's characterization is perhaps not the whole story. Indeed, the Malaysian academic himself notes that Abdullah does not uncritically absorb colonial attitudes, but transforms them in a quest for modernity. While reproducing British colonial stereotypes depicting Malays as lazy, for instance, Abdullah nonetheless finds a different reason for such behaviour: the despotic concept of kerajaan, of a political system which gave arbitrary powers to local rulers and squashed individual intiative. Abdullah thus transforms much of the influence of Enlightenment thought he receives from Raffles and others into a quest for a Malay modernity different from that of Europe, and centred on a rational Islam purged of superstitionus accretions.

Works Cited
NUS English Language and Literature

Last updated: September 2, 2002