Traditional Malay Literature after ~1550AD: A. Overview

I have finally read through all the texts and notes of V. Braginsky's The Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature. There are 8 major chapters. I wrote a blog post already after reading the first 3 covering the period before ~1550AD. Also wrote a pre-view blog post after reading through chapters 4-5. Now after completing chapters 6-8, I am in a position to summarize the key works mentioned. As I read, I was taking notes on an Excel file -- excluding all the non-Malay language works, in the period ~1550AD I got ~300 entries. Because it is a long list, I want to take some time to summarize the overall genres involved.


A. On p.355/383, a statistics by Ismail Hussei was mentioned - he counted ~800 extant works of Malay literature: ~300 theological treatises; prose belles-lettres 150 titles; 116 poetic works; 100 Miscellaneous; 47 Historical treatises; 41 juridical writings (this does not add up ... but just to give a sense). Braginsky believes there are actually more extant works than these.


B. From 1550AD - end of 19th century, Braginsky also made a distinction at around 1750AD as another watershed. After 1750AD literary work became more purely Islamic, and also more likely to be referred to Arabic rather than Indo-Persian Islamic traditions.


[Below, numbers in brackets are the number of extant works I captured in my Excel file as mentioned by Braginsky by name. I do not double count and as some works can be considered in one or the other category, the count are just indicative and cannot be taken to be precise.]


C. Synthetic Hikayat [28 after 1550AD] - Braginsky says there are about 50-60, but it is not very clear what it includes (e.g. whether it includes the hikayats before 1550AD, and whether didactic hikayats and/or Sufi hagiographies are included). These fictional hikayats span the whole period from 1550AD through to 19th c.; and in fact, they are the primary genre that started substantially in the prior period (the only other genre being the closely-related one of historiography). Most does not mention author; nor is it easy to guess the location they originated from. I would also include the unique historical epic Hikayat Hang Tuah in this group. Within this category, there continues to be Panji romances whose prime was before 1550AD.


D. The other genre that predated 1550AD are historiography [14 works + 8 authors after 1550AD]. Braginsky differentiated 4 stages of Malay historiography, of which Hikayat raja Pasai and Sejarah Melayu before 1550AD are considered the 2nd stage. Only starting the 3rd stage were dates mentioned. 4th stage is associated withh Palembang and Johor/Riau courts in 19th century.


E. Closely-related are hikayats that are didactic frame tales [11], which were strongly influenced by Indo-Persian literature. Earliest work mentioned starts ~1600AD, and last work with dates mentioned were beginning of the 19th c. at the latest.


F. Also around 1600AD, Sufism, kitab (Islamic scholarly works) and syair (poems) starts in Aceh with Hamzah Fansuri (d. early decades of 17th c.) and his circle [10 works + 1 author without named works], which may include Syamsuddin of Pasai [5]. Except for between 1637-1644 when the Gujarati Nuruddin ar-Raniri [10] disputed Hamzah's Wujudiyah (follower of Ibn 'Arabi) position, prominent named Sufi authors continued to be found in Aceh, such as Abd ar-Rauf of Singkel and his circle [11] .


G. For the Sufism / kitab category, we can also include other more religiously didactic or allergorical works - for simplicity sake, I'll call these miscellaneous non-fictional prose [10 works, 1 collection, 2 authors without named works]. Of course the above Aceh authors wrote some of these works; but mention must be made of the didactic work Taj as-salatin written by Bukhari al-Jauhauri in Aceh in 1603. Within this group of works are included theological treatises (per above, there may be some 300 of these out of total of 800 traditional Malay titles), of which Akaid ('Articles of faith') of late 16th c. (around the same time as Hamzah Fansuri) was the earliest.


H. Closely-related are  Sufi / religious prose fiction (Hikayat) [34] primarily starting 2H-17th c.-- among these hagiographies are prominent (although the first hagiography Hikayat Nur Muhammad was translated from Persian  before 1600), together with rhythmic proses about birds, and some other religious works. 


I. Sufi / kitab non-fiction prose had a boom in 2H-18th c. in Palembang [6] with three authors Syihabuddin, Kemas Fakhruddin and Abd as-Samad. From Malay peninsula, Daud al-Fatani [2 works + 2 translations] should be mentioned is -- he was the most prolific kitab author who wrote ~50 treatises -- who wrote Malay works in Mecca. 


J. The biggest change that happened starting ~1750AD from Palembang is the emergence of fictional syair poetry [39] that created a "conjugate" of the hikayat literature. Syairs seemed to target female audience while hikayat's audience were more likely males. Just like synthetic hikayat, known works in fictional syairs were also over 50.


K. As syair is the "conjugate" of Hikayat - there are also historical syair [22]. While the first such syair is the unique Syair perang Mengkasar ~1670, the other dated works are from 2H-18th c., and mostly in the 19th c. Unlike some other genres, historiography spread across various Malay locations without necessarily a strong locational center of gravity.


L. The last broad group of Syairs were the group started by Hamzah Fansuri - i.e. religio-mystical, allegorical, or didactic poems. These miscellaneous non-fiction (is this the right word?) poetry [31] can be considered the "conjugate" of similar hikayat works mentioned as E. and H. Other than by the main named Sufi authors already mentioned above, most other works dated to the 19th c.


M. While fictional syair poetry started in Palembang, in 19th c. Johor-Riau region (tip region of southern Malay peninsula) was also an important center. As mentioned before (in D.), historical hikayat also flourished in the region. The main group of named authors (or could be editors in some case) is the family of Raja Ali Haji from 1840s to 1870 [9] - his sister, step-brother, son and daughter(s) were also known author.


N. To close out this outline, adding up all the bracketed numbers above and the number of Malay texts [37] mentioned before 1550AD in my other blog post, I get a count of 293 works or authors without named works mentioned. This is out of a total of ~800 traditional Malay text. I think as a proportion, 293 out of 800 is a very good proportion - this gives an idea as to how deep Braginsky's survey is. Among the categories, "Poetic works" is most fully mentioned (probably 80%+); followed by "Prose belles-lettres" ~70%) and "historical treatises" (60-70%). The least covered are "theological / juridical and miscellaneous" categories - but even there the works or authors mentioned have at least 15% coverage. (Now, of course, as I mentioned in the blog post about pre-1550AD Malay literature, I have seen another count of 3,000 titles. If that is the case, then the coverage by Braginsky would be very different.) 


I am still thinking whether I should just pick out the key works, or whether I should exhaustively type out everything in 10+ blog posts ...

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