Muhammad Yamin (1903-1962)

Indonesian historian, poet, playwright, 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.

Di atas batasan Bukit Barisan
Memandang beta ke bawah memandang
Tampaklah hutan rimba dan ngarai
lagi pun sawah, telaga nan permai :
Serta gerangan lihatlah pula
Langit yang hijau bertukar warna
Oleh pucuk daun kelapa :
Itulah tanah airku
Sumatera namanya tumpah darahku.

(from 'Tanah Air')
Minangkabau Muhammad 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, but his early works were still tied to the clichés used in Classical Malay. Yamin debuted as a poet with Tanah Air ('fatherland') in 1922. It was the first collection of modern Malay verse to be published. However, the first important modern novel in Malay, Sitti Nurbaya by Minangkabau Marah Rusli, had appeared in 1922. Rusli's work enjoyed ten years of great popularity. The 'fatherland' to which the title of Yamin's book referred, was not Indonesia but Sumatra. In the title poem In it, Yamin stands on the hills of his native Minangkabau country, praising its natural beauty. Yamin's second collection, Tumpah Darahku, appeared on 28 October, 1928. The date was historically important - then Muhammad Yamin and his fellow nationalists resolved to revere a single - Indonesian - homeland, race and language. His play, Ken Arok dan Ken Dedes, which took its subject from Java's history, appeared also 1928. From the late 1920s until 1933 Roestam Effendi, Sanusi Pané with his poems (Madah Kelana, 1931) and plays (Kertadjaja, 1932; Sandhyakala ning Majapahit, 1933), and Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana were the principal shapers of the Malay language and its literature.
Yamin studied law in Jakarta, graduating in 1932. He worked in Jakarta until 1942 specializing in international law. Yamin's political career started early and he was a active in nationalist movements. 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 is made as the foundation of a national language. Today it is the republic's official language and the principal vehicle for innovative literary expression. Also 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 Center of People's Power (Putera). In 1945 Yamin suggested to BPUPKI, a committee preparing Indonesian's independence process, that the new nation should include Sarawak, Sabah, Malaya, and Portuguese Timor, as well as all the territories of the Netherlands Indies. Achmad Sukarno (1901-1970), who was a member of BPUPKI, supported Yamin. Sukarno became in 1945 the first President of Indonesian republic. Under Sukarno's long period of power - he was he was stripped of office in 1967 - Indonesia became a leader of the Third World, and developed close ties with China and the U.S.S.R. During and after the struggle for independence Yamin held important posts in the governmental administration. Yamin 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 were national activist Abdoel Moeis (1898-1959), whose central theme was the interaction of Indonesian and European value system. In 1936 appeared Pandji Tisna's (1908-1978) Sukreni, gadis Bali, possibly the most original work of pre-independence fiction, which dealt 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 uphold the classical norms of Malay more than the younger generation of writers, who gradually improved on the new poertry. Yamin also 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. Pudjangga Baru (The New Writer) literary school, which was established in 1933, influenced greatly the development of literature. Its founder and first editors were Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, and Arminjn Pané, brother of Sanusi Pané. Pudnjagga Baru advocated the idea that traditional literary forms had to be replaced by moderrn means of expression. 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 Pané, 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 Encyclopedia of the Novel, Vol 2., ed. by Paul Schellinger (1998) - For further information: Tanah Air -
Selected works:
  • TANAH AIR, 1922
  • GAJA MADA, 1948


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