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Jawi Peranakkan – the first Malay newspaper is published 1876

The history of the Malay press and Malay journalism in Singapore began in 1876 with the publication of the first Malay weekly  newspaper – the Jawi Peranakkan. The name of  the newspaper, which is translated as “The Local Born Muslim”,[1] is derived from the name of the community that founded the newspaper.[2] The Jawi Peranakan community comprised locally born children of  the union  between Malay women and Indian-Muslim traders, merchants and  migrants to Malaya.[3] Due to their intelligence and language ability, the Jawi Peranakans were employed by the European community as clerks, translators and teachers.[4] Moreover, they were ranked alongside the Arabs in terms of leadership and authority within the Muslim community in Malaya.[5]

Published every Monday,[6] the Jawi Peranakkan newspaper, which was written in the Jawi script, aimed to provide its readers with the “latest news, both local and foreign thought likely to prove interesting”.[7] However, the newspaper actually contained very little news.[8] Instead, it carried official government notifications, advertisements, readers’ letters and Malay poetry.[9]

The newspaper’s founder and first editor was Munshi Mohd Said bin Dada Mohiddin.[10] Said was a well-respected figure in Singapore who taught Malay at the Raffles Institution and occasionally acted as interpreter for the British.[11] Under his editorship, the Jawi Peranakkan published editorials that focused primarily on social events and the weather.[12] Said was the newspaper’s editor until his death in 1888, after which the management of the paper and its printing press was passed into the hands of his widow, Che Sawiah.[13]

Upon Said’s death, the Jawi Peranakkan had to struggle to survive due to a lack of public support,[14] as well as intense competition from other newspapers such as the Nujum Al-Fajar (“Cycle of the Eastern Star”) and the Sekola Melayu (“Malay School”).[15] However, in spite of the difficulties, the Jawi Peranakkan managed to outlive its contemporaries, which appeared to have ceased publication by 1893.[16]

In 1893, the editor and proprietor of the Sekola Melayu, Mohamed Ali Al-Hindi, joined the Jawi Peranakkan as its second editor.[17] Under Ali’s editorship, the newspaper gradually shifted the focus of its editorials from social events and the weather to the Malay language and idioms.[18] Unfortunately, despite Ali’s best efforts to revive its popularity, the newspaper languished and finally ceased operations in 1895.[19]

The Jawi Peranakkan contributed greatly to the growth of the Malay press and Malay journalism in Singapore, and played an important role in the development of the Malay language.[20] For example, the newspaper had to be innovative in its use of language to accurately describe the day-to-day affairs of the British colony as described in the official government notifications and commercial advertisements.[21] As a result, the newspaper introduced its Malay readers to a new vocabulary derived from adapting English words into Malay.[22] Copies of the Jawi Peranakkan were also distributed to Malay schools to be used as a teaching medium.[23]

The newspaper also had a part to play in stimulating the intellectual growth of Malay literary pioneers such as Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah,[24] who subsequently became the first editor of the Utusan Malayu, a Malay newspaper published from 1907 to 1921,[25] and Pak Za’ba (Zainal Abidin Ahmad), a lecturer in Malay language at the University of Malaya in Singapore.[26]

1. Haron A. Rahman. (1982, March 18). Beginning of Malay journalism here. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 36, no. 1 (201), 37. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from JSTOR.
2. Roff. W. R. (1994). The origins of Malay nationalism (p. 49). Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 320.54 ROF.
3. Roff, 1994, p. 48.
4. Roff, 1994, p. 48–49.
5. Roff, 1994, p. 49.
6. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, p. 37.
7. Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry (p. 17). Singapore: Times Academic Press. Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN.
8. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, p. 37.
9. Tan & Soh, 1994, p. 17.
10. Jeman Sulaiman. (1988, November 7). The rise of Malay newspapers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, p. 38.
12. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, p. 38.
13. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, pp. 38–39.
14. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, p. 39.
15. Birth of Malay newspapers. (1948, November 15). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. The Singapore Free Press, 15 Nov 1948, p. 4.
17. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, p. 40.
18. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, p. 41.
19. Nik Ahmad, May 1963, p. 41.
20. Ismail Ahmad. (1959, March 21). ‘Jawi Perakanan’ jadi perintis dalam persuratkhabaran kita [‘Jawi Peranakan’, a pioneer in Malay journalism]. Berita Harian, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Milner, A. (2002). The invention of politics in colonial Malaya (p. 97). New York: Cambridge University Press. Call no.: RSEA 959.5 MIL.
22. Milner, 2002, p. 97.
23. Tan & Soh, 1994, p. 17.
24. Milner, 2002, p. 96–98.
25. Kennard, A. (1973, February 12). An account of early Malay press and periodicals. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
26. Yaakub Rashid. (1982, October 25). Early Malay papers faced the same issues. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 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.

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