March 29, 2008

Muhammad Yamin

Muhammad Yamin

Indonesian writer and politician, member of the leftist Murba Party. Yamin became President Sukarno's principal 'myth-maker'. He started his career as a writer in the 1920s, when Indonesian poetry was marked by an intense and largely reflective romanticism.

Yamin was one of the pioneers of modern poetry in Indonesia. He was born in Sawah Lunto in West-Sumatra. Yamin started to write in Malaya in the Dutch-language journal Jong Sumatra in 1920. His first published collection of poems Tanah Air appeared in 1922. His early works were tied to the clich├ęs used in Classical Malay.

Yamin studied law in Jakarta, graduating in 1932. Yamin worked in Jakarta until 1942 specializing in international law. Yamin's political career started early and he was an active participant in the nationalist movement. In 1928 the Second Congress of Indonesian Youth proclaimed Malay, since known as Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), the language of the Indonesian nationalist movement. Yamin made an initiative through the organization Indonesia Muda that Bahasa Indonesia be made the foundation of a national language. Today it is the republic's official language and the principal vehicle for innovative literary expression. Nevertheless attempts at writing modern literature have been made in most of Indonesian major regional languages.

During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945) Yamin worked for the Japanese-sponsored confederation of nationalist organizations, the Centre of People's Power (Putera). During and after the struggle for independence Yamin held important posts in the governmental administration. He died in Jakarta on October 17, 1962.

Yamin's first works appeared in the 1920s. He made much use of the sonnet form, borrowed from Dutch literature. At that time among the major writers was the national activist Abdoel Moeis (1898-1959), whose central theme involved the interaction of Indonesian and European value system. In 1936 Pandji Tisna's (1908-1978) Sukreni, gadis Bali was published, which remains possibly the most original work of pre-independence fiction, and deals with the destructive effect of contemporary commercial ethics on Balinese society. Distinctly innovative poetry began to appear in the 1910s. The European sonnet form was especially popular, but the influence of traditional verse forms remained strong. Although Yamin experimented with the language in his poetry, he upheld the classical norms more than the younger generation of writers. He published plays, essays, historical novels and poems, and translated works from such authors as Shakespeare (Julius Caesar) and Tagore.

Indonesian literature from the 1920s to the 1960s: The earliest Indonesian novels were published in the 1920s. Punjagga Baru (The New Writer) literary school, which was established in 1933, influenced greatly the development of Indonesian literature. Another movement, 45 Group, reflected the ideas of the independence struggle. Among its members was the poet Chairil Anwar, who died at the age of 27, but released the poetry from the bonds of traditional forms and literary language. Other important writers: Sanuse Pane, Idrus, Surwarsih Djojopuspito, Achdiat Karta Mihardja, Toha Mohtar, Mochtar Lubis (imprisoned by the Sukarno regime for four years), Pramoedye Ananta Toer. The first Indonesian dramatist to gain wide recognition was Utuy Tatang Sontani (1820-1979). Poetry in Javanese since independence has been dominated by St. Iesmaniasita and by Muryalelana (b. 1932), preindependence fiction in Sundanese was almost synonymous with the name of Mohamad Ambri (1892-1936). The finest Chinese-Indonesian novelist was Liem King-hoo. The most substantial work of fiction in Dutch by an Indonesian author was the novel Buiten het gareel (1940) by Suwarsih Djojopuspito.

For further reading: Modern Indonesian Literature by A. Teeuw (1979); The Emergence of the Novel in Modern Indonesian and Malaysian Literature by Ali A. Wahab (1991); Southeast Asian Novel: Indonesia in Encyclopaedia of the Novel, Vol 2., ed. by Paul Schellinger (1998)

Selected works:

TANAH AIR, (1922)
GAJA MADA, (1948)