Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah
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Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah (b. 1876, Singapore? – d. 12 December 1933, Singapore) was considered one of the most notable nationalist intellectuals in the 1920s. He has been touted as the "father" of modern Malay journalism and a leader for Malay nationalism. He also championed better educational facilities for the Malays of Malaya.
Eunos was born into a wealthy family; his father was a Minangkabau merchant from Sumatra, Indonesia. Several sources state his place of birth as Singapore, but at least one source suggests that he was born in Sumatra. He received his education at the Malay school in Kampong Glam and subsequently at Raffles Institution in Singapore. Upon graduation, he entered the government service. He worked for a few years in the office of the Singapore harbour master attendant before leaving to become the harbour master at Muar, Johor.
Being both English educated and proficient in the Malay language, he was effectively bilingual. He was an ardent follower of the works of Munshi Abdullah, a respectable Islamic scholar of the 1800s, as well as the Hikayat Dunia ("Story of the World"). He also found inspiration in the Jawi Peranakan. As Singapore’s first Malay-language periodical, the Jawi Peranakan was an extension of Munshi Abdullah’s project of disseminating modernist interpretations of Islam in the region.
In 1907, Singapore newspaper proprietor William Makepeace offered Eunos a job at the Utusan Melayu, the Malay language version of the English newspaper Singapore Free Press. Thus, at age 31, Eunos became the first editor of Utusan Melayu. Seven years later, in 1914, he became the editor of another Malay language periodical, Lembaga Melayu. This was the only newspaper in Malaya to be printed in Jawi at that time.
Throughout his journalistic career, he contributed opinionated pieces on Malay nationalism espousing his notion of bangsa or "racial nationalism". His views on the subject of bangsa distinguished him from his predecessors, who were dedicated either to feudal power or to the global community of Muslims. His zeal towards uplifting the Malay race during the period of colonial rule drove him to switch careers from a journalist to a representative for Malays in the colonial political arena.
Because of his influential role in Malay social welfare organizations, he became a member of the Muslim Advisory Board set up by the government during World War I. In 1922, he was appointed a justice of peace and subsequently became the first Malay member of the Municipal Council. In 1924, the colonial government made a decision to increase the Asian representation in the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements and appointed him to be the first Malay legislative councillor. Eunos was also a popular member of the Singapore Rotary Club and was considered the first Malay to address the club.
Eunos’s good standing within the Malay community gained him a following of mostly educated and progressive Malays such as Abdul Samad, the first Malay doctor, and Tengku Kadir, who belonged to the Kampong Glam royal family. He and his associates were vocal with their opinions and were constantly at loggerheads with the members of Persekutuan Islam Singapura (PIS or "Singapore Muslim Association"), the only organization at the time that claimed to represent the views of Muslim Malays. They attacked the PIS, which was dominated by Muslims of Arab descent, for being elitist and called it "a rich man’s club". As a response, they founded the rival Muslim Institute in 1921 to care for the needs of ordinary Malays.
In 1926, Eunos and his associates formed Kesatuan Melayu Singapura (KMS or "Singapore Malay Union") and he was elected as its first president. The KMS was the first quasi-political Malay organization set up in colonial Malaya. It aimed to increase the role of Malays in public life, uphold Malay interests before the colonial authorities, and promote higher and technical education for Malays. Unbeknownst to Eunos and company, the KMS would later be at the forefront of organizations that led Malaysia to her independence in 1957.
For Eunos, the concept of bangsa was not to be taken for granted. As early as the 1920s, Eunos and his associates felt that people’s sense of melayu or "Malayness" was fluid; this meant that people could get in and out of Malayness with ease. Inspired by an urban residential experiment in Kuala Lumpur, the KMS proposed the building of a Malay settlement called Kampung Melayu as a way to preserve the essence of Malayness and to inculcate a strong sense of Malay nationalism as a reaction to colonial rule. The kampung would provide an environment where Malays could, in Eunos’s words, "live among their own people in the manner to which they were accustomed". Eunos petitioned then governor Sir Hugh Charles Clifford through the Legislative Council to fund the project and eventually received a total of $700,000 in grants.
Kampung Melayu was later renamed Jalan Eunos Malay Settlement. In 1981, the settlement was de-gazetted to pave the way for the construction of the Pan Island Expressway. The Singapore government later named one of its residential districts "Eunos" to commemorate his legacy.
Eunos retired in early 1933 after nine years of service as a legislative councillor. His health deteriorated following his retirement. On 12 December 1933, he passed away in his home at Desker Road. His body was laid to rest at the Bidadari Cemetery.
Death of Malay leader: Inche Eunos Bin Abdullah [Microfilm: NL 1482]. (1933, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 13.
Eunos founded first Malay political body [Microfilm: NL 16088]. (1988, February 23). The Straits Times, p. 4.
Geylang Serai: Down memory lane: Kenangan abadi (p. 48). (1986). Singapore: Heinemann Asia.
(Call no.: RSING 779.995957 GEY)
Kahn, J. S. (2006). Other Malays: Nationalism and cosmopolitanism in the modern Malay world. Singapore: Asian Studies Association of Australia; Singapore University Press; NIAS Press.
(Call no.: RSING 307.76209595 KAH)
Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore: 1819-1988 (pp. 114,144). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)
William, R. R. (1994). The origins of Malay nationalism. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 320.54 ROF)
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(Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV)
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Mohamed Eunos Abdullah, 1876–1933
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