Kuali Hitam

Warisan Zurinah Hassan


continuation of part one posted on 10.8.13
(A draft of speech/paper  to be delivered  at: An International Conference,
The Asian
Heritage Forum: The Legacy of Women Intellectuals of Asia
organized by Institute of Thai
Studies and Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn
, 10-11 September 2013).
What you see in front of you
today is a survivor. There are more who  have started but failed
to overcome the obstacles against them. My own true story is a clear indication
of   the unequal opportunity for education.  My grandmother’s worries of my roaming about around
the compound only show the belief  that  girls should not be alone by herself.  She gave some clear instruction that I should
be accompanied and I lost my privacy. My habit of spending too much time with
books did not make them happy. They said why don’t I spend more time improving my skill on cooking and sowing so that they can be proud of me. 
The customary
and domestic obligations and the burdens of child bearing and rearing are well
known   factors that suppress artistic talents.  I too have the experience of having to stay
home with my little toddlers during which it was impossible to produce anything
of literary standard. Later, when I managed to break away  I  sum
up those  depressing situations in  a short story entitled Catatan Di Meja Makan ( Writing on the Dining Table) first
published in   1983 in our national newspaper. The short story
 is an example of how personal
experiences are put to literature.The protagonist is named Hamima, an upcoming
short story writer who left her  job to look
after  her small children. She
became  desperate when routine of a housewife
 took her away from her writing (and
herself). Indeed . the protagonist is speaking my own desperation in a life
that offer no sense of satisfaction and purpose. Those were the times when I considered
myself  a failed poet and a failed person.
During the period, I  wrote very little
partly due to  fatigue  of household chores and attending to  small children’s constant needs and the fatigue
of suppressed anger and dissatisfaction.  I lost contact with the world and the contact
with my own being.
When Hamima had
no choice but to give up her job to become a full time housewife, she thought
she could  manage her time:
I planned my schedule properly. I allocate time for the various tasks of a
housewife,     working the hours and
minutes needed for cooking, sweeping , ironing ,washing          plates, tidying the
kitchen so that I could have sometime left for my writing. I have to be     careful             if
I were to maintain as a writer and not die off   like so
many of them before me.        I told   my
self that  I am not going   to
give up. After all isn’t there a saying “hendak seribu   daya” (you will try a thousand ways if you really want something)
And later she
found out that there is no such thing as time tabling  in a housewife job because it is full of the
unexpected. There is no way of telling when the child is getting sick, at what
time  is he going to  slip and fall,  when is any one smear tomato  sauce on the floor. She felt empty and
depressed for not being to write. She envied the men for it is easy for them to
do anything. For instance a male writer could sit at the table with his books
as long as he wanted to.
I manage to steal some time to read the Literature Magazine. There is an      interview with our leading novelist Amran
Hadi.  Bapa Amran was talking about his     commitments to writing and also his secret
of success. He talked about the  understanding
  wife who keep the children away, preventing
them from disturbing him so that he could          concentrate
on his writing.
The novelist,
who is a big name said he is lucky to have such an understanding wife. Hamima
sigh, yes bapa Imran is lucky but can she do the same? What will happen to the
children if she lock herself up in the room to write?. The children will cry
for her. They demand attention and disturb her even when she wanted to write,
even when she is hungry and need to eat and even when she is sick and need a
Besides Writing
on the Dinner Table there are more short stories on the problems of being a
woman and a writer.  Siti Hawa Dan Pengembara Yang Singgah (Siti Hawa And The Traveler
Who Stop By) is about a student and  a
promising poet named Siti Hawa having a romantic relationship with Andy, a visiting
lecturer who is himself a poet and a literary critique.  Andy assured Hawa of her talent and  encouraged her to pursue her artistic
aspiration. To be a successful writer she should travel and see the world and
break away from social and cultural bondage. Hawa finally decided against it
because she cannot leave behind a beloved and sickly mother.  Apart from Writing on the Dining Table Siti
Hawa And The Traveler Who Stop By) there are other stories that depict the plight
of female writers and women as a whole. Anita
is about a dedicated school teacher who is often prejudiced by tha people
around only because she is not married. Perjalanan
Sendiri (My Journey) portrays a lady officer with a stressful life juggling
between official workload and child rearing and the need to please in laws
and  neighbours.
My main
involvement in literature is poetry. It is for poetry that I received SEA Write
Award in 2004 and The Sunthorn Phu Award in 2013. There are many poems
befitting the feminist voices as has been analyzed by Dr.Suzana Muhammad
(Universiti Sains Malaysia) in her paper “The Development of Woman Identity:
Feminist Approaches To Selected Poems of Zurinah Hassan”. One such poem is the
Message of the Princess of Mount Ledang to Sultan Mahmud. The Princess of Mount
Ledang was a mythical character, 
unearthly, magical, mysterious and of course described as exceptionally
beautiful.  She dwell at Mount
Ledang  in Southern area of Peninsular
Malaysia  visible from  the 
palace of the Malacca Sultan. As the story goes, The sultan was looking
for a queen after the demise of his consort.  This time around the sultan was determined  to marry some one or something out of the  ordinary human princess as he wanted to be
different and far above anyone else. That was how he got the idea of asking for
the hand of Princess of Mount Ledang.
So the Sultan
sent his men up the mountain to ask for her hand in marriage causing much
hardship and unnecessary death. It was hazardous journey that even Hang Tuah
the famous Malay warrior failed to get to the top. Only Tun Mamat succeeded to
the summit  and entered the garden of the
Princess. But he could not speak to the Princess,  only conveyed the sultan’s proposal through an
Dang Raya Rani who was the princess’s chief lady in waiting.  The beautiful princess send her famous
message to the Sultan through Tun Mamat.
The Message From Princess Of Mount Ledang To Sultan Mahmud
Tun Mamat
Convey this message to the sultan
Bring these as my dowry
If he wish to marry me
Build me a bridge of gold and another of silver
Bring me germs and mosquitoes seven trays of their hearts
Vessels full of tears and juice of young beetle nuts
From the king and his prince a bowl each of their blood
I knew from the start
That he is willing to construct the bridge of misery
Let the people carry the trays of agony
And bear the burden of heavy vessels of tears
Rack their life with flame of his own desire
Provided he could escape the fire.
Tun Mamat,
These conditions only show my rejection
As his queen I refuse to be
Seeing my life a murky reflection
I am not  Tun Fatimah
With the skill to forgive cruelty
I am not Tun Kudu
Who could be forced to 
It’s enough with Hang Li Po
Wrapped up as a gift, a legacy
Or Tun Teja who trip and fall
The lover she follow was only a shadow
Let Mount
Ledang  stand  tall , a reminder to all
Of a flower that survived and remain free
Untouched by the royal fancy
Even a woman can choose to disagree
Even a king has his turn
to admit being beaten
 This proposal is an episode in the Sejarah
Melayu (Malay Annals). The whole thing may not 
historical true. The Princess may not exist. But the writer of Sejarah
Melayu has put up the story as a medium to criticize the Sultan for his unjust
rule of the country and cruelty 
especially to women treating them as if they have no heart and soul.
Princess of Mount Ledang put up this conditions of the dowry as a way of
refusing to marry him. As for the sultan this is the first time anyone say no
to him. The Princess was the first women to succeed in showing the Sultan that
he too must be accept rejection. The important point in Message of Mount Ledang to
Sultan Mahmud is the exertion of a woman’s right to decide and take control of
herself  and her life. That princess is
able to speak her mind show that women has freedom of expression. As I
put in my poem
Let Mount
Ledang  stand  tall , a reminder to all
Of a flower that survived and remain free
Untouched by the royal fancy
Even a woman can choose to disagree
Even a king has his turn
to admit being beaten
Besides Princess of Mount Ledang, there are
more  legendary figures in the Malay
Annals. One of which is Princess Hang Li Po.
The beautiful Princess Hang Li Po
In the voyage to Melaka
Crying in agony
So young and so tender
To be torn from her mother
Like a shoot from its root
She’d rather die
Drowned by the ocean
Then to lose the loving touch of her parents
Is this her fate her destiny
To be delivered as a gift,
wrapped as a commodity
Shipped to Melaka
As a bride and a donation
That would strengthen the nation
Her mother, Her Majesty, The Maharani
Had spoken in tears
My beloved Li Po, please be brave
This fact we have to face
You and me what we are born to be
As queens and princesses
We do not own ourselves
Marriage for us is not a personal decision
It is a state arrangement, a political mission
Do not cry for your father
He is a man, and a king
He loves you as a daughter
But his kingdom is everything
He laughs and cry for the nation
The kingdom demands his attention
First the reign over his land
Family happiness come second
Yes Li Po
Look what history has written
Of empires and nations
Built and strengthened
At the sacrifice and tears of women
While many brought to the end
By misdeed and greet of men
Original tittle: pelayaran Hang Li Po
Translated by the poet.
Princess Hang Li
Po was the princess of China betrothed to the Sultan of Melaka as the show of
support and protection from the much feared Empire of China to the newly
founded nation of Melaka. The Princess was taken away at a tender age when she
still wanted to stay home, cuddled by  her
mother.  I imagined Hang Li Po’s tear dropping
 into  the ocean for the people she loved. Her mother
must have also cried in agony but they are both women facing patriarchal
oppression. As a mother I am very much disturbed and sadden by this
mother-daughter separation.  It was  heart breaking for any mother to have  her daughter taken away and sent to a place so
far. Given the condition of travel at that time, there was no guarantee of
seeing each other again.  Hang Li Po was being
treated as a commodity shipped to Melaka. Marriage for queens and princesses is
not a personal decision but   a political mission. And her father as  a man and a king think and talk less about
family happiness but more on nation building.  Hang Li Po was not the only one sacrificed for
the sake of Malacca Sultanate. There have been  others like Tun Teja  who ran away for the love of  Hang Tuah only to find out that she was to be
bestowed to the king. Another known character in The Malay Annals  was Tun Kudu, a queen who was divorced by her
husband and told to marry a 
statesman  in exchange for
stability.  Melaka was built on sorrow
and tears of women but eventually fall due to the greed and misdeed of men. And
so are many other nations.
I have written poems about women in
the legends but actually I am talking about the present situation. What
happened to them is happening to many women in our time though in different ways.
 Even today there are marriages for
reasons other than love,  There are marriages
of convenience, marriages for family honour, 
business arrangement, social commitments, and more often to save a woman
and her family from the social stigma. There is a high and often
unaffordable  price of living up to one’s
identity and curving one’s own destiny. This is what I said in a poem entitled
  -one woman’s opinion
is the difficulty
changing routine and priorities
make you less yourself
a woman has to be less her self
order to be more a woman
to a woman
 a protection
her who dares not live
her own identity
is too costly and too risky

Marriage is a priority and the
traditional upbringing instilled the  
anxiety of   remaining single.
Even up to the present time some young girls sacrifice advancement in  career for a marriage prospect much to the
lost of their nations.  In a poem Salam
Perempuan Dari Penjara, (A Woman’s Greeting From Prison, 60-61)  I look at a woman’s journey through life as
procession where no one dares to divert from. It is a procession where   everyone walk 
to a fixed destiny.  “She and her sisters/in a procession to
their day/while within this wall/they have not lived at all”.
As I have mentioned earlier there
are women who marry for the sake of freeing themselves from social stigma. As for
choosing their life partner, the elders told their girls not to be choosy and
told their boys choose their bride properly.  This depressing situation give rise to a poem  Satu Catatan Singkat (A Short Conversation)
            A man is free to limit his choice
            A woman limits her choice to free
(page 88-89)
To be born a woman, there is not
much that you can do but to pray to God for his protection and guidance. As I
wrote in Nyanyian Menidurkan Halini (A Lullaby to Halini), where I am telling a
girl to be strong
Don’t cry anymore
You must learn to
value your tears
 don’t let it fall
 on any wrong shoulders
May you grow up Halini
With courage and confidence
Put your trust in God
 You  will really need him
because you are born a
(page 80- 81)
These are some
of the poems and short stories depicting female depression especially for those
born at about the same time and in the same place as I was.
Where literary
production is concern things have changed. Gone are the days where you have to hurt
your arms and shoulders on the type writer.  You save the journey to the post office and the
risk of  getting your laboriously prepared
manuscript lost in the post. The computer has arrived to the joy of all writers.
The process of  producing manuscript is
cut down drastically. Now it look as if anyone can be a writer by just typing
on the key board and e mail  to the
editor or directly publish in their own blogs and numerous web sides open to anyone
at all.  E literature is in fashion. Your
writing can published on line sometimes without having to go through editorial
screening.  In my country there is influx
of popular novels and many women writers are making names and money. Of course
this look likes a happy  ending only if
we can be sure that we are  producing
literature and not otherwise.  

The road I have
taken is long and winding,   paved with sharp and coarse gravels. If not
for  love and passion, I wouldn’t have reach

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