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Jum'ah, 16 Dzul Hijjah 1441 (Thursday, August 6th, 2020)
19 Maret 2008 00:07
Raja Ali Haji: Preserving Language, Presenting Indonesia

Raja Ali Haji: Preserving Language, Presenting Indonesia

A. Introduction

In 1928, hundreds of Indonesian people from various youth organizations gathered, declaring an oath that they were one motherland, one nation, and one language: Indonesia. The gathering attended by youth groups from all over the Nusantara (archipelago), consciously pledging the allegiances was the incredible phenomenon (determinant) of Indonesian history and its establishment. 

As the same vision about the concept of motherland, nation, and language, they took a gathering producing commitment about those concepts using a language that was easily understood by everyone attending it. According to Muhammad Hatta, at the beginning of the 20th century, Indonesia Language had not been recognized yet, forasmuch as what kind of language was used at the time? A historical analysis must be done to reveal the facts.

Indonesia is a country encompassing thousand islands inhabited by various tribes with different cultures and languages. So, what kind of language that was called Indonesian Language in the Youth Oath in 1928? It was Malay Language, especially Riau Malay Language, which was used at the time as the result of the Indonesian Language Congress agreement in Medan in 1954 (Hasan Janus and friends: 2004). How come? Malay Language was a language commonly used in trade and the governmental activities. In addition, according to Mohammad Hatta, by 1928 Malay Language was a lingua franca of Indonesia; thus Malay Language, especially Riau Malay Language, is used as the national language of Indonesia. It is used to be called Riouw Maleisch by the Dutch Colonial Government.

It was chosen as Indonesian Language not only for its status as Lingua Franca, but also for its well preservation and development done by Riau intellectual people. Because of its well preservation and development, it is regarded as a grand-status language among other languages in Indonesia at the time. That is why, it was commonly used by common people, state employees, and even the Dutch colonial government officer. Moreover, Dutch people assigned in Indonesia had to be able to speak Malay Language. Therefore, in 1928, those youths concluded these facts into a sentence sounded “One Language, Bahasa Indonesia!”

It was Raja Ali Haji, the figure who had a significant role in arranging the basic grammar of Malay Language that nowadays is recognized as Bahasa Indonesia. Unfortunately, it is just a little who know and appreciate his merits. May be, if he had not preserved Malay Language, the Youth Oath taken place in 1928 would not have pledged one nation, one language, one motherland: Indonesia. That is why, it is necessary to preserve, discover and learn all of his works.   

B. Linguistic Biography of Raja Ali Haji  

Gurindam Dua Belas (1847), Bustanul Katibin (Garden of the Poets, 1857), and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa (1859) are some of his works in linguistic and literature. Those works not only show his versatilities, especially in writing, but also his great personality and awareness of the great advantages of language to create civilization. 

Historical analysis towards Raja Ali Haji will show that his capability in writing and his awareness of the great advantages of language were influenced by at least five factors. First; he had a Bugis bloodline. It had shaped up his love to wander abroad[1]. It had shaped up his ability and sensibility to actively adapt in responding new environments. The wanderer blood flowing within him took him to know different people from Java even Arab. His journey had given significant influences in his character building process.

Second; his talent in writing was inherited from his father, Raja Ahmad[2]. He was a motivator, facilitator, and a competitor of Raja Ali Haji in literature and linguistic (Teuku Haji Ibrahim Alfian, 2004). Raja Ahmad was not only a royal counselor but also the writer of many poems such as Syair Raksi, Syair Perang Johor, and Syair Engku Putri. The incredible interest of Raja Ahmad in writing had motivated Raja Ali Haji to love writing. 

Third, the strategic position of Riau enabled Riau as a destination and stopover place for traders or some tribes. Therefore, Riau became a very heterogenic and cosmopolitan area enabling him to learn and know various cultures from many tribes. Knowing other cultures made him realized the importance of understandable and perceivable language for everyone.

Fourth; Riau was a very dynamic region for the development of culture and literature. It was the “warehouse” of Malay poets and Malay Culture experts. This condition enabled him to have a big chance for having profession and achieving good results in culture and literature. Moreover, his chance was opened widely as he was the son of a noble. Therefore, he had chance for education in Panyengat Palace from the scholars coming from other countries. Hasan Junus (1998; 39) states:

“Raja Ali Haji attained his basic education in Panyengat Palace. He was educated by reputable figures coming from other places. There were many scholars coming from foreign countries living up the Malay Culture Center concerning with the Islamic study. They came and domiciled in Riau for teaching and learning. It was caused by language and literature that were well preserved and developed enthusiastically affecting all circles in Riau. It means that the only sons of palaces` kinfolks who got the priority for attaining education. It was properly utilized by him.”  

Fifth; In 1822, he and his father went to Betawi to meet the General Governor of Betawi named Baron Van Der Capellan. On that occasion, he spent the time visiting “Komidi Holanda” in “Schowburg” (now Jakarta Art Building). He twice came to Java, in 1823 and 1826. When he was in Java Island in 1826, he had an occasion to meet the Resident of Jepara named D.W. Punket Van Haak. He went to Mecca accomplishing pilgrimage with his father in 1827. While running pilgrimage in Mecca, he deepened his Islamic knowledge and learned Arabic from Sheikh Daud bin` Abdullah el-Fatani. He took a journey to Egypt before coming back to Riau.

Their journey to Mecca and Egypt not only improved his Islamic knowledge but also raised the new awareness of the language`s importance and the need to be free of colonialism. It was the influence of the latest socio-politic condition in Arab, especially Egypt, at the time. On that occasion, the Prime Minister of Egypt, Muhamad Ali, shouted up declaring Pan Arabism as an opposition toward the England Hegemony (Thariq Bisry; 1996). It had influenced his personality especially in Language`s importance as a media to unify Malay people and an action against Dutch colonialism.

His propinquity to his Dutch friends could not be interpreted as his supports for the Dutch colonial government. It was his will to use the ability and the facilities owned by his friends so that he could publish his works.

      “While Malay people put respect at Raja Ali Haji as a good Muslim and cultura expert, the Dutch regarded him as a threat on their administration control in Riau. Resident Netcher in his pension report describes him as an intellectual figure defying all Malay traditional custom changes. He acted antagonistically toward the existence of the Dutch colonial government and not a friend for European….”

Those five things were the enormous influences in his character building process and also his thoughts, especially in linguistic. It can be clearly seen on his two works, Kitab Bustanul Katibin written in 1857 and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa written in 1859. By these, we will know that he had a visionary thoughts stimulating and unifying Malay people by using language. 

C. Preserving Language, Presenting Indonesia

Language is a significant media used by human being to establish their civilization. By language, people develop their spiritual life, intellectuality, and their social life. People think by language, even before their thoughts are formulated into statements. Without language, there will not be spiritual life, intellectuality, and social life. Therefore, the writing of Kitab Bustanul Katibin and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa shows that Raja Ali Haji recognized the importance of language and literature to develop his country.

By his two books, he had resuscitated Malay people, especially Malay Riau, over the significant role of language toward the human being. His great efforts together with his friends in preserving and developing Malay language had affected hundred youths from all archipelagos to gather pledging an oath, One Language, Bahasa Indonesia.

By Kitab Bustanul Katibin and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa, it can be clearly seen that he had realized that language and literature are the important media to build the awareness of nationalism and patriotism. He took a great foundation to establish the freedom society, not being pulled out from their original culture. Therefore, the next generations someday will have already had a great preparation to establish their own civilization by Raja Ali Haji`s works. Abdul Hadi (2004) states that Raja Ali Haji was not the product of his mere period; he is heart and soul of his nation epitomizing piety for all people. He could not keep on silent knowing his country`s destiny deteriorated to other nations. He thought and mobilized all of his efforts to encourage his country to escape from the long term fall. As a poet, he tried to develop his country by language.

According to his thoughts, there are at least four functions of language. They are below:

Language as a media for strengthening nation`s identity. Colonialism, especially in Malay, had destroyed the economic system and politic situation in Malay society, and the worst one, it had worsened Malay identity. Slow but sure, Malay people were enforced to accept foreign culture though those were totally different from Malay culture`s values, and the mindset of Malay people. In another word, the Dutch had intensively done demelayunization. Periodically, one by one Malay young people started to forget their own culture. Consequently, the preservation and development of Malay language by Raja Ali Haji et al resulted the higher status of Malay language so it could be in the equal position to the colonialist`s language. Another one was Malay language used for introductory language both in academic case and governmental administration. As the glory achievement of him and his partners in linguistic, thus the Dutch officers that would be delegated in Malay area had to be able to speak Malay language.

Language as lingua franca. Malay language had been used for communication in every sector of human being since the era of Crivijaya Kingdom. However, it was only used for economic activities at the time. As it was only regarded-significant in economic case, its functions of Malay language seemed disappear. Moreover, Malay language had lost functions as Malay identity. His journey to other places made him realized that Malay language was used by different groups with different dialects. This condition caused everyone concerning with Malay language development sorrow, especially Raja Ali Haji. His sorrow stimulated him and other Riau intellectual people to write and to develope the Malay language. “Language indicates the prestige of nation.” he thought. The existence of Kitab Bustanul Katibin and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa is the great attempt to shape up a language portraying nation`s prestige.

Language as a nationalism motivator. The significant roles of Malay language as lingua franca among archipelago`s tribes resulted an allegiant oath among the Indonesian youths. It is stated in one motherland, one nation and one language, Indonesia. This spirit was a real effect of the well-organized of Malay language. Though there are some people rejecting that Bahasa Indonesia is Malay Riau language, the history of Raja Ali Haji had proven that the introductory language used in academic case and Dutch colonial governmental administration was Malay language.

The Malay language as Lingua France grew rapidly into a media against colonialism. That is right that this spirit did not appear obviously from Malay thoughts. It was inspired by the Islamic revolution that occurred in the Middle-East area, especially Egypt. The Islamic revolution happened in some Arab areas and Persian were reactions of colonialism movement threatening social, culture and religious sectors. His visits to Egypt in 1827, along with his father, inspired him to do the same thing for his nation. Therefore, the writing of Kitab Bustanul katibin and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa not only preserved Malay language but also as a fight against colonialists` cultures.

Bustanul Katibin (Garden of the Poets) written in 1857, published in 1875, was a grammar handbook of Malay language which was arranged based on Sibawaih Arabic grammar. It was part of his efforts to preserve the origin of Malay language. Otherwise, Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa is a Malay Dictionary encompassing vocabulary, grammar, and Malay language terms relating to religion, culture, and literature. Those are more than common language handbook, its contents and benefits had proven that those are the foundation of Malay civilization that later would be the inspiration for Indonesian people to establish Indonesia.

Language as a media in disseminating knowledge and being close to God. His efforts had shown that language is a significant media in disseminating knowledge and also a media for being close to God. His efforts in writing Kitab Bustanul Katibin and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa are the ways to disseminate knowledge. Socialists` theories state that language is a significant factor to establish civilization. How big someone`s idea, if it cannot be interpreted in an understandable and perceivable language, it will be totally useless.

After the foundation of Malay language had been arranged, he continued by disseminating his knowledge to common people. As they had understood the same knowledge of linguistic as him, he continued by writing other books that later would be excitedly accepted by common people. Just say that someone will be granted a house, Raja Ali Haji had given the entire information, the fence, and even the key of the house. By this, he believed that the one receiving the house would not be confuse anymore. This portrayal is the same as language. There is a possibility that Tuhfat al-Nafis book would not have been understood if he had not socialized its linguistic foundation.

From the explanation above, it can be concluded that he is the real figure who realized the enormous potencies of language. By the well-preserved language, he had presented Indonesia.
D. Conclusion

Raja Ali Haji`s decision to preserve, develop Malay language and put its foundation is a visionary thought that will be totally hard to be found now. His efforts not only formed Malay Riau language as a well-preserved language but also made it became Bahasa Indonesia. In my opinion, Kitab Bustanul Katibin and Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa are the most monumental works of his among the others. 

Unfortunately, a lot of information relating to him had been subtracted; he is only noticed as the author of Gurindam 12. He is like an axe artisan whose services will be forgotten by people along with the attendance of a plane artisan. UU Hamidy (2004) states:
“Raja Ali Haji had developed Malay Language in Riau as well as he preserved it. His efforts had broadened the way to establish the Indonesian language. However, his services are almost unknown. Most people just appreciate an institution or an individual developing Indonesian language. His efforts in developing and preserving Malay language are the same as the process of axing and planning language resulting good formation and foundation. Therefore, his efforts in developing the language are just like planning, even more than those all. Unfortunately, the plane artisan will be more appreciated than the axe artisan.”    


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  [1] character of loving wandering in Bugis people enables them to know and understand different people and culture. This way enables Bugis people to develop an integrative civilization among tribes without being separated by the boundary of culture, economy, and geography. In this case, wandering cannot be interpreted as the process of someone`s removal to a new world; it is courage to know other people.

[2] Raja Ali Haji (RAH) was born in Penyengat Island, Riau Islands in 1908. His father was Raja Ahmad (titled Engku Haji Tua) and his mother was Encik Hamidah binti Panglima Malik Selangor. He was the grandson of Raja Haji Fisabillah Yang Dipertuan IV from Riau-Lingga Kingdom constituting a Bugis noble`s descent. He had brothers and sisters from the same father; they were Raja Haji Daud (the eldest), Raja Endut or Raja Umar, Raja Salehah, Raja Cik, Raja Aisyah, Raja Abdullah, Raja Ishak, Raja Muhammad, Raja Abu Bakar, and Raja Siti (the youngest).   

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