In the name of God the Compassionate and the Merciful!
It came to pass about the year of the Hejira 1256, on the fifth day of the month Shaaban Almakran, viz., on the Second day of the month of October, 1840, that at that time an intimate friend of mine kept constantly pressing me to let him know my origin, the nature of my history, as well as the whole circumstances of my life, which he suggested should be written in a book composed in the Malay language.
Now because of this I became so much concerned that I sat ruminating over this desire of my friend, as all the events of my life, with their concomitants, had gone by with their age. Furthermore, I became loaded with anxiety at the thoughts of my being only a simple person, whose understanding and experience in the science of language was imperfect, and whose proficiency in this sort of composition was limited; besides, my position in the course of my daily avocation was one of ups and downs. Thus, while I considered all these things I was ill at ease in heart.
Then I said to myself, Let me examine myself on what I have heard and seen, especially as other people in this age generally are not backward in putting themselves forth as clever; while as to their talk, it is enormously big, in order that folks may believe in their cleverness; but their talk is all empty air. For when people ask them to do anything, whether it be in composition, in writing, or explaining language, to a certainty they are found wanting; for this reason, that all their tall talk is not based on training, but on hearsay by the wayside. Thus they neither know the ins nor the outs of it, Furthermore, there are many people who are helpless, as gold dealers are without their touchstone in their hands, when they listen to the "spoutings" of people of this description. Is their conduct not like the person stumbling at the pushing of a pillow while sound asleep. Thus they regard them without testing them, one way or another; just as a feather standing erect in their idea is a pole of wood of good stuff, straight, with no bends in it, so as a matter of course, they think it must have weight in it. Now this is the reckoning of a man who, seeing a nice doll, halves it first to see into it, but finds it empty. Nevertheless, as says the critic, of course the jeweller knows the precious stone, and more, especially in this age of wonders, where in the wilderness is made into a town, the quarry into a vulture, the bug into a tortoise, the worm into a dragon!
In the first place, all these miracles come of riches; for even if one be low and ignorant of the last degree, yet if he have riches he is, as a matter of course, clever and mighty; but if he be clever and mighty, but not wealthy, as a matter of course, he is low again.
Moreover, all my sayings, my circumstances, and the like, I take by way of prototype of myself. In the first place, the lowness of my existence; secondly, the poor manner of my living; thirdly, my want of knowledge and experience; and fourthly, it is not in me that rests the work of composition, and certainly neither have I the power or the direction, but this is of God alone. And further, on no account will I conceal my own backslidings and omissions at their times and periods.
After I had considered all the above, it suddenly occurred to me as if I had been startled by a person from my sleep, when I instantly answered him thus: If they think you are lowly, ask of those who are mighty; if you are poor, ask of those who are rich; and if you are inexperienced, ask of the Lord, who has promised that He will give to those who ask of Him. And if you thus believe in His providence, by the blessing of the Almighty, so I pray for assistance (as far as it can be vouchsafed) to that Lord who created the mighty sky, and who upholds it without props, that He may allow me to accomplish the wish of my friends. And if it rest not on me to do this, yet do I place my entire trust in Him to permit me to enter on this small undertaking.
There! now hear me, O my friends. As I compose this work on myself, so I shall call it the "Hakayit, or Autobiography of Abdullah"; and there will be jottings in it up to the times to which I have lived, and back to the period of my birth in Malacca, relating to things that I have seen or have heard of--including every particular of occurrences in the country of Malacca or Singapore--these shall be noticed by me till the period of completing the book. But in the relation no doubt there will be found many mistakes, lapses, and things forgotten, both in style and narrative, as well as in junction of the letters, or in the entanglement of words. Now may I bow my head before the European and native gentlemen who take the trouble to read my story, so as properly to have acquaintance therewith; and as thus at the very beginning of my book I have acknowledged my deficiencies and ignorance, I all the more heartily and willingly ask pardon and forgiveness; and I further state that it has no claim to the name of being a clever one, but, on the contrary, is full of stupidities and errors in every time and period.
Last updated: June 27, 2002