'Nusantara' a click away

Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past. – Party slogan from ‘1984’, by George Orwell  

1984 may be fiction but Orwell’s writing echoes the importance of recording history. By preserving history in all its diversity, we can help to ensure a clearer understanding of the times we live in for future generations. 

In Malaysia, unfortunately, this practice has been found wanting. 

Ask any student doing Malay Studies and he’ll tell you about the difficulty of finding the works of Malay writers like Abdul Rahim Kajai, Embong Yahaya, Ishak Muhammad and Syed Sheikh Ahmad Al-Hadi. It’s just as frustrating for those looking for a comprehensive resource for Malay pantun (poetry) or peribahasa (proverbs).  

www.malaycivilization.com aims to solve this problem. The website for scholars of Malay Studies or those interested in the field, is currently being developed by the Institute of the Malay World and Civilization (Atma) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. 

Its contents include Malay literature, works in Jawi and Malay dictionaries. The main section is Padat, a Malay world studies database comprising journal articles, book excerpts, seminar proceedings, technical reports and everything you want to know about the Malay world. 

The project mooted by Atma director Prof Datuk Dr Samsul Amri Baharuddin, is made possible with a research grant of over RM500,000 from the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment in collaboration with Mimos. The long-term project is currently in its first phase and aims to compile 50,000 articles by the end of the year. 

More importantly, says Dr Samsul, the website puts Atma on the map of Malay World research, putting the institute on a competitive footing with other international full-fledged research institutes in the field – such as Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal and Land-en Volkenkunde (Kitlv) in Leiden, The Netherlands; the School of Oriental and African Studies in London; and the Center for South-East Asia Studies in Kyoto, Japan.  

An online digital library is also being built to house more than 30,000 slides, photos, plans, drawings and sketches. 

A special section is the N.A. Halim collection which consists of non-printed materials donated by the late writer, who devoted his life to collecting documentation of traditional houses, mosques, moats and palaces throughout the Malay world. The amassed photographs, drawings and slides have been digitalised on the website for the use of those undertaking research on various aspects and types of Malay culture.  

Although the website is still under construction, most of the resources are currently available. The multidisciplinary content is arranged according to authors, titles, publishers and keywords, both in Bahasa Malaysia and English. 

The designers have managed to capture the colours and richness of the Malay world’s historical and cultural heritage on the Internet. Visit www.malaycivilisation.com to see for yourself. Visitors are required to register but there is no registration fee. 

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