By Quinn, Nation, and Millett
Published here with authors’ permission
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Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir was born in Malacca in 1796. His parents were part Arab, part Indian, and part Malay. While Abdullah was a child, he learned many languages and could speak at least five. When he was older, he became a writer. He was one of the first people to write books in the Malay language, and he is known today as the father of modern Malay writing. He was also a teacher. He taught the Malay language and culture to the English who ruled Malaya at that time, among them Stamford Raffles, and he helped some of them to write English books in the Malay language. Abdullah was known as Munshi Abdullah. Munshi means teacher.
Abdullah did not like the old Malay system of ruling the people. Under this system, the people did not go to school. He believed that without learning, the Malay people could not question the poor conditions of their lives and they could not fight for changes to the system. He wanted the system to change and to change quickly.
In 1838 there was a war in Kelantan. It was a war between three Malay kings. For a long time there had been a lot of trade between Singapore and the Malay kingdoms, and wars caused serious problems for the traders. In 1838, some ships from Singapore were caught and held by the Malay kings in Kelantan. The Singapore ship owners wanted to get their ships back, so they sent a group of people to take letters to one of the Kings. Abdullah was sent with the group because he could speak many languages.
In 1838 it was very dangerous to sail in the seas around Malaya. Pirates often stopped ships at sea, and stole money and other things from them and killed the sailors. Abdullah knew that it was dangerous but he wanted to go so that he could write a book about the voyage. Every day he wrote down what he saw of Malay life and the war.
After a long and difficult voyage, Abdullah and the group arrived in Kelantan. They sailed from the sea into the Kelantan River and then they sailed along the river for several miles until they reached a town. In the town they saw soldiers on the side of the river. The soldiers belonged to the army of one of the enemy kings. Abdullah and his friends were afraid but they had to get the letters to the king. To do this they had to pass the soldiers of the other kings and when the enemy saw them they started to shoot at them. It was very dangerous but Abdullah and his friends made one last try. They ran past the soldiers and when they reached the king’s house they stopped. Abdullah could see the enemy. He took a pencil and a piece of paper and he began to draw a picture of the enemy to use in his book. Suddenly a man was killed not far from Abdullah. After that Abdullah was more careful and went quickly back to his boat.
Today, if there is a war, reporters go there and we can see it on television or the internet, or read about the story in the newspaper. Almost 170 years ago Abdullah did the same thing. He saw the war in Kelantan and he wrote about it in his book The Voyage of Abdullah.