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The Writers' Movement '50 (Angkatan Sasterawan 1950), better known as Asas '50, is the first and oldest literary association in post-war Malaya and the Malay region.[where?] Founded on 6 August 1950, Asas '50 represented the voice of the Malay community and used literature as the ideal thrust towards the independence of Malaya in 1957.[clarification needed] The association's philosophy of "Art for Society" (Seni untuk Masyarakat) formed the main shaping force in the development of Modern Malay literature. The literary body was pioneered by Muhammad Ariff Ahmad (MAS), Kamaluddin Muhammad (Keris Mas), Abdul Wahab Muhammad (Awam-il Sarkam), Abdul Jalil Haji Nor (Merayu Rawan), Munir Ali (Rosmera), Kumasi Haji Dainuri (Teruna Jaya), Abdul Majid Husain (Hamzah), Masuri Salikun (Masuri S.N), Abu Yamin Kasun, Ahmad Ramli Abdul Karim (Ramlimah), Muhammad Daud, Abu Yazid Abidin (Wijaya Mala) and Muhammad Yusof Yaacob (Jim).
Asas '50 was dedicated in the development of literature. It held the belief that literature is an integral part of the society. Asas '50 currently works to promote and propagate literature through seminars, workshops, forums, dialogues, courses etc.
One of the landmark events in the early history of ASAS 50 was the debate on the purpose of literature. The debate was between two groups, the Utusan Melayu group, headed by Asraf and the Majalah Hiburan group headed by Hamzah Hussien. The crux of the debate was whether to follow "Art for Society" (Seni untuk Masyarakat) or "Art for Art's Sake" (Seni untuk Seni). According to a researcher, Athi Sivan (1997), Hamzah propagated the Gautierian call for purity of art to distance Asas 50 from the left wing ideologies prevalent at that time in Singapore, especially in Utusan Melayu. This ensued the debate and it lasted more than a year before slowly fading away with Hamzah leaving Asas 50 to form a new literary organisation. After this debate, ASAS 50 became less active after 1955, when several of its main members (Keris Mas, Usman Awang, etc.) left to reside back in Malaya, while several loyal members remained in Singapore and continued to spearhead the association to this day.
The philosophy held by Asas '50 was described by Keris Mas as follows:
"In the field of literature, the proponents of ASAS 50 adopted a new breathe [sic?] of style, employing a mode of language that is fresh, departing from the preceding genre of writers, propounding the themes of societal awareness, politics and culture with the aim of revitalising the spirit of freedom, the spirit of independence of a people (bangsa) of its own unique sense of honour and identity, upholding justice and combating oppression.
.... We criticised societal backwardness and those whom we regard as the instruments responsible for the birth of such backwardness. We criticised colonialism and its instruments, that is, the elite class, those whose consciousness have been frozen by the influence of feudalism and myths, and superstition that has been enmeshed with religion."
Asas '50 plays a role in the development of literature and language in the region. They are led by Mohamed Pitchay Gani (President), Mohamed Latiff Mohamed (Deputy President), Yazid Hussein (Vice-President), Abdul Samad Ali (Secretary), Hoirull Amri Tahiran (Secretary 2), Muhammad Herwanto Johari (Head of Youth and Head of Programmes), Namira Mazlan (Head of IT) and Irwan Jamal (Head of Publications).
Seni Untuk Masyarakat
With the motto Seni Untuk Masyarakat (Arts for the People), it was inspired by the Indonesian writers movement, Angkatan 45, and has been described[who?] as a watershed moment for the development of Malay literature in the region. Seen as an angry young men movement,[who?] it promoted several aims:
- To free Malay society from those elements of its culture which was obstructing or negating the pursuit of modernity and progress;
- To advance the intellectual awareness of the rakyat (Malay masses) towards the ideals of social justice, prosperity, peace and harmony;
- To foster Malay nationalism; and
- To refine and promote the Malay language as the lingua franca of Malaya.
An attempt initiated by Asas '50 to absorb the splinter literary groups such as Grup Gelorasa and Pass into Asas '50 was carried out in 1974. A new slogan "Literature for the Community" was coined to provide a mutual understanding and mission amongst the new members of Asas '50. The slogan was generic and did not have any ideological leanings of any the other previous associations. Thus, the slogan is accepted by all the new members of Asas '50. However, the battleground has changed for Asas '50 as it was no longer fighting for the independence and physical extrication of the community. This time, Asas '50 stated aim is to free the community from psychological and intellectual oppression left behind during the reign of the colonial masters and the Japanese Occupation. 'Independence' was superficial as the community still glorified the masters to the point of diminishing and trivialising their very own identity.[who?] Asas '50's mission is still schooled in the concept of "Literature for the Community" even though it has since changed its slogan.
Asas '50's contributed significantly towards the development of the Malay language and was described by kakiseni.com as
"the movement that championed the use and development of the Malay language"
It was described by Kakiseni.com as The thousands of literary works written in Malay exhibited a diverse form of writing styles as well as the use of contemporary terms to explain a certain phenomena experienced by the community at that point in time lay as a testament of Asas '50's success. In addition, a number of Asas '50 members are teachers and journalists.
A significant and historic contribution made by Asas '50 was the introduction of the Roman script to Malay. The Jawi writing was initially the modus operandi. However, since the 3rd Malay Language Congress (Kongres Bahasa ke-3) in 1956 and under the initiation of Asas '50, Maritime Southeast Asia saw a reformation and revolution in the Malay language arena. As a result, Roman spelling was integrated into Malay and this has remained till today. This change simplifies the learning as Roman spelling is also used in the English language. Research and study of materials and sources from the West to be used by the locals were thus made more accessible and decipherable. Roman spelling has since eclipsed the use of Jawi in daily matters and in education. Only Brunei still practices the use of Jawi.
Asas '50 is the first registered Malay literary association and it is also the first to begin a literary culture rooted as the social protest or the social critic. The association is also responsible in the push towards independence for Malaya in the 1950s and the changes made to the Malay language via the 3rd Malay Language Congress (Kongres Bahasa ke-3). In the 1970s, Asas '50 initiated the Malay Literary Prize (Hadiah Sastera) which is now known as the Malay Literary Award (Anugerah Persuratan). This enabled the works and efforts of writers to be recognised and appreciated. Asas'50 was also recognised as the first Malay literary body in the region to hold the Regional Malay Literati Conference (Pertemuan Sasterawan Nusantara) in 1977. This has since been integrated and adopted as bi-annual event for the Malay literary scene in this region.
The association is the first Malay association to have sealed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Library Board (NLB). In addition, Asas '50 has also published "Leksikon", a comprehensive directory, complete with detailed descriptions, of 70 reputed writers in Singapore from 1965 to 2005. The launch of "Leksikon" also immortalised Asas '50 as the first association to have held an event at the new NLB building at Victoria Street.
Asas '50 has been the country's official representative in learning the development of the Malay literature in the region. The association works arm in arm with regional literary associations such as Gapena (Malaysia), Asterawani (Brunei), Horisons (Indonesia) and others. Many of its members are also involved in activities organised and held by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), Mastera and Mabbim.
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Since its inception, the crux of Asas '50 has always been formed by a group of young and dedicated writers who are passionate in understanding the struggles of the community.[who?] These young writers are usually at their most productive and prolific as they continue their search for their own identities and self. The Asas '50 youth wing was started in 2002 to shape the next generation of leaders and activists in the Malay literary scene. This aim was strongly advocated by Masuri S.N, who believed that the strength of an association is reliant on the youths, who will eventually receive the baton to carry the association into the next phase of its mission. The younger members Asas '50 mainly comprises the trainee teachers of the National Institute of Education Townsville Campus. Today, a number of these members are appointment holders in the association's executive committee.
To date, Asas '50 publishes a variety of books. A number of these publications however were only produced in the early 2000s. However, there were already books published independently by members of Asas '50. Among the publications was the 2005 release of Abdul Ghani Hamid's Petikan Rasa/Extracts of Feelings. Funded by National Arts Council via the Singapore Cultural Medallion Grant, the book was a bilingual compilation of Abdul Ghani Hamid's poems and paintings. Another book published by Asas '50 was "Memoir Perjalanan Mas" in 2004. This historical biography of Muhammad Ariff Ahmad depicted the life and struggles of Mas. The importance of this book lies in the involvement of Muhammad Ariff Ahmad in the Malay culture, language and literary arena. Inadvertently, this book has become the unofficial documentation of the Malay literary movement history in Singapore.
The publishing of the first Malay writer's directory called Leksikon was a collaborative effort with the NLB, and it was the first of its kind in the Singapore Malay literature. Detailed information of the creative writers in Singapore since 1965, is available in this book. Another one for the history books is the association's publication of an anthology of poems and short stories called "Menyongsong Pelangi" in 2005. This anthology comprises literary works contributed by young writers alike and is released in commemoration of Asas '50's 55 years celebration.
Impact on Malay film industry
Asas '50 has played a part in the early Malay film industry. Films by P. Ramlee were influenced by Asas '50 as the objectives of those films mirrored those of the association's. There were also connections and friendships linking P.Ramlee to Asas '50. For example, Asraf's wife, Fatimah Murad, was the editor of P.Ramlee's film magazine called the "Majalah Bintang." Thus, Asraf capitalised on this avenue and network to inject the ideologies held by Asas '50 as well as to trade views and opinions with P.Ramlee. Historical film enthusiasts and observers have recognised the film "Bujang Lapok" to breathe the same ideologies as that of Asas '50. The film is said to contain satirical stabs at the community at that point in time. An obvious trait prevalent in these films was the use of the actors' real name such as "Ramlee", "Sudin" and "Aziz." This was P.Ramlee's method of highlighting the emotional aspect and the reality that shrouded the community of yesteryear.
Impact on local media and newspaper
The local newspaper has also held the principle of "Literature for the Community" by publishing literary works that speak of the latest phenomena and dilemma faced by the community all through the years. These poems, shorts stories, essays etc. unearthed the ills of the community from the social, religious, political and economical perspectives. In fact, the number of literary works published in the local newspaper totalled 3,200 from 1,600 writers as of 1965. This reception has made Singapore Malay literature synonymous with the term "newspaper literature (sastera akhbar)." Inadvertently, Asas '50's mission was propagated and proliferated by the local newspaper which had the same ideologies as the literary association.
The Resource and Reference Compass
The NLB has recognised Asas '50 as the ideal resource and reference pool for its "Singapore Literary Pioneers Gallery" and NLB Online Repository of Artistic Works (NORA) projects. This includes a database collection of Malay writers and manuscripts. Another project piloted by NLB and Asas '50 was the "Potret Tun Seri Lanang." In this project, Asas '50 acted as the middleman in obtaining the literary works of the Tun Sri Lanang award winners, which included books, publications, private collections and others. These will then be displayed at the special collections section of the NLB.
The part played by Asas '50 in the growth, development and progress of the Malay literature span a wide scope and has impacted the community intrinsically. The association has consistently upheld its mission and vision of "Literature for the Community" with utmost integrity and responsibility. Asas '50 has spearheaded a myriad of initiatives to preserve the image of the community, country and that of the writer himself. From its battle towards independence for Malaya to its inexorable aim of uniting the splinter Malay literary groups, Asas '50 has managed to form a united front under the manifesto "Literature Develops Humanity." The climax of Asas '50 achievements is manifested in the installation of the Malay Literary Prize (Hadiah Sastera), which inevitably raised the status and stature of writers in our societal mould.
- Athi Sivan (1997) Hamzah Hussien: Sekitar Pemikiran Seni untuk Seni
- Keris Mas, 30 Tahun Sekitar Sastera, (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1979), p. 131. Quoted and translated in Ibid[permanent dead link]
- The Development of the Malay Language: Contemporary Challenges Archived 23 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- Malay – Our National Language[permanent dead link]
- Modern Malay Literature in Singapore[permanent dead link]
- Films as Social History – P. Ramlee's "Seniman Bujang Lapok" and Malays in Singapore (1950s–1960s)[permanent dead link] (MSWord file)
- Kakiseni, Malaysia Archived 19 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- Abdul Samat Ali & Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, Perjalananku : Karya Sayembara Cerpen Pelajar Menengah 2008, Angkatan Sasterawan '50, Singapore, 2008.
- Anuar Othman & Mana Sikana, Jatuh Ke Laut Menjadi Pulau : Pemikiran Sastera Malaysia & Singapura, Anuar Othman & Associates Media Enterprise, Singapore, 2003.
- Anwar Ridhwan, Jati Diri Pasca Asas '50, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 1999.
- Asmah Haji Omar, Ensiklopedia Bahasa Melayu, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 2008.
- Athi Sivan, Hamzah Hussin: Sekitar Pemikiran Seni untuk Seni, Penerbit UKM, Bangi, 1997.
- Masuri SN, Dalam Merenung Dalam, Angkatan Sasterawan '50, Singapore, 2007.
- Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, Bila Rama-Rama Patah Sayapnya, Angkatan Sasterawan '50, Singapore, 2007.
- Mohamed Pitchay Gani Bin Mohamed Abdul Aziz, Melayu Singapura Dalam Kritikan, Angkatan Sasterawan '50, Singapore, 2002.
- Mohamed Pitchay Gani Bin Mohamed Abdul Aziz, Leksikon: Direktori Penulis Melayu Singapura Pasca 1965, National Library Board, Singapore, 2005.
- Muhammad Ariff Ahmad, Perjalanan MAS, Angkatan Sasterawan '50, Singapore, 2007.
- Muhammad Ariff Ahmad, NILAM : Nilai Adat Melayu, Majlis Pusat, Singapore, 2007.
- Nirwana Haliza Bte Mohamed Halil, Sastera Sebagai Alat Alternatif Menangani Masalah Sosial in Aktivis Academic Journal 8, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2008.