frangipani: old map of Southeast Asia (Nusantara)
frangipani ([personal profile] frangipani) wrote in [community profile] steampunk_nusantara2010-04-16 04:55 pm

For the scanning and translation queue: The Tale of Admiral Wan Zafirah ibna Wan Mahmud

Item is a leather-bound book that has been badly damaged, missing half or more of its original pages and obscured with soot. Its contents appear to be a stylised biography of well-regarded admiral (laksamana), written in classical, highly poetic Malay and printed in the Jawi script.

Length: 23 cm
Width: 16 cm
Origin: Unknown

An examination of the item reveal that the book was machine-produced. The binding and the woodpulp paper pages are of serviceable but medium-lasting quality, perhaps suggesting that the item was -- for lack of a better term -- mass-produced. The edition notice tell us that the book is the tenth edition of the original publication, though attempts at salvaging the rest of the text revealed only that the date of printing is 1340 Hijrah. Two words are written in a childish hand on the title page, one on top of the other. The second one was written in Jawi, transliterated as Muhang (no other name given), while the first utilises a writing system unfamiliar to the researchers. These are, presumably, the name(s?) of the owner(s?). There are other written notations in the book, but written in a finer hand. Numerous creases, stains and dog-eared pages point to the frequency with which the book was likely to have been read.

I have excerpted below some rough translations for what remains of the book, with accompanying notes. Regrettably the full measure of what the book has to offer for our ongoing research will only be evident after it has spent some time in the hands of the linguists and literary experts.

Title and notes:
حکاية لقسامان وان زافيرة ابنا وان مهمود
ڤڠليما بايو ريبوت کراجاٴن ملاک

Hikayat Laksamana Wan Zafirah ibna Wan Mahmud
Panglima Bayu Ribut Kerajaan Melaka

The Tale of Admiral Wan Zafirah ibna Wan Mahmud
Warrior of the Storm Wind of the Kingdom of Malacca
It is clear from the admiral's name that she is identified as a woman, though the use of the prefix "ibna" is quite uncommon in the literature catalogued so far. It was also suggested that there may be two ways of reading the subtitle: that the admiral is a "storm wind warrior", or that she is a warrior of the storm winds of Malacca. More on these points later.

Translated excerpts and notes:
[...] she dug the graves with her hands, and beside her mother and brother she cried for three days and three nights, and no effort by the villagers would move her from the graves. The religious man [lebai] counselled her with prayers for her family, but still she would not rise even to eat.

On the fourth day her neighbour ran to her with news that Sang Bartulumi Dashagas [سڠ برتولومي داشڬس] has returned with his pirates. Even now the ships with the black sails rose and sank with the waves like waiting sharks, anchored in the bay. Two fishermen were dead from their cannons, and one young woman scarred for life from a firebomb when she dug the sand for clams for her hungry siblings. The rest were now too afraid to sail out for fishing, sending young children into the jungle to hide while the men and women waited for the pirates to land.

When she heard this news, she finally stood and walked away from the graves, though her eyes were blind to anything but her goal. From the burnt remains of the house, she extracted first some rice and dried fish from a pot, and these she ate ravenously, with mangoes and chillies from her mother's trees. Then she swept aside the ashes to find what was still intact: clothes and her mother's hair pin [cucuk sanggul] from a teakwood chest, and her grandfather's long-bladed keris [keris sundang] where it fell from her mother's hand as she lay dying. The blade of the keris had turned black, but its spirit and breath of fire [nafas api] were strong. This keris she purified with incense and oiled [...]

[...] fought the tenth pirate, she reached Sang Bartulumi Dashagas, the man who murdered her family. They fought from dusk to dawn, in the darkness of the night and the fire of the burning ships. When the rays of the morning sun touched her face and figure, he laughed and cried out, "From the tongues of all who have told me of you, I thought you would have the face of an angel [bidadari] and the curves of a king's concubine [gundik raja], but truly you are a creature of two worlds [makhluk dua alam], and an abomination to each."

His speech triggered an all-consuming rage in her [gelap mata], and they fought [...]

[...] the sword [of Sang Bartulumi Dashagas] she buried blade down between the graves of her mother and brother, as a guardian over them and a warning to all who would come after her. Before the village chief, she declared a change of name into one she desired, her true name, Wan Zafirah. Nobody dared to challenge her. Her grandfather's keris she renamed Coal-Black [Hitam Arang] as a remembrance, to give her strength and purpose against Malacca's enemies. [...]

These are excerpts from the first chapter of the book, which sets out the admiral's childhood, adolescence and departure from her village. I fear that I have not done the language justice, opting for transparency of meaning over poetic turns in phrasing. The narrative is quite interesting: the admiral's male name is mentioned just twice (once to establish that her father named her, and the second in a conversation with her mother on her gender identity), and the writer cleverly used pronouns to refer to her for the rest of the chapter, making the reference clear in context. Of course, Malay pronouns are gender-neutral (dia could mean "she" or "he"), and I chose to use "she" based on how the admiral identifies herself in the text.

Bartulumi Dashagas is very likely a phonetic transliteration of Bartolomeu das Chagas, a Portuguese name. Are we to take this as an indication that Portuguese pirates were active in the Southeast Asian waters in the admiral's time, or was he an anomaly? Fortunately, even with the missing pages, a considerable portion of the biography is taken up with detailed descriptions of military battles against various foes and quite an amazing number of one-on-one duels -- we'll find out more after a proper translation (note to D5: get the historians on to this). Much is made of the admiral's eye for strategy and innovation, and if my reading is correct, she rose quickly through the ranks during a time of uncertainty vis-à-vis Malacca's relationships with her neighbours and the great powers, exarcebated by a concerted effort to consolidate her borders and political influence. It seems there was also a virtual technological revolution in this era, some of it centered around Aceh -- there are quite a number of passages in the surviving text on dealings with the Kingdom of Aceh and its bijak pandai (whom I take to mean more than a generic "the wise" or sages).

EDIT: Speaking of Aceh, after much persuasion from the minions assistants, I've included excerpts from a chapter particularly favoured by some of the staff. And, if the state of the pages is any indication, the owner(s?) of the book found it equally riveting. The chapter is set just after Wan Zafirah was appointed by the Sultan of Malacca to lead three airships to the Kingdom of Aceh on a diplomatic mission to strengthen ties between the two kingdoms. Earlier passages narrate that this mission was a set-up by rivals in the court, who (understandably) assumed that a warrior hitherto known solely for her skills on the battlefield would fail quite thoroughly.

[...] the procession meandered through the streets of Kutaraja. Children strew ylang-ylang [bungong seulanga] in their path, and crushed underfoot the flowers burst into the most beautiful scent. Scholars [sarjana-sarjana] and intellectuals [bijak pandai] ran or walked sedately alongside in a manner befitting their respective ages, dressed in robes of saffron, black and white. Men and women peered from their windows at the Malaccan delegate below, some with implements poised in their hands, where they were interrupted at work. An old man offered Wan Zafirah fruit of her choosing from a rainbow of colours, and wished her the very best of blessings from God.

When the renowned towers of Aceh came into view, a murmur rose from the captains [hulubalang-hulubalang] and their soldiers. Knowledge [ilmu pengetahuan] and poetry danced like sparks of fire in the very walls of the towers, which gleamed marble-white in the sun. Through the towers of the palace a poet in Istanbul had sent a poem to his beloved in Wilwatikta, hidden within the words of a treatise on the motion of the planets. Wan Zafirah was expansive in her praises to the Temenggong of Aceh, who was as proud of the lands he protected as he was of his children.

As they passed through the tall gates of the palace, Wan Zafirah spied a face in a window to the east, a man with beautiful eyes. He seemed first to her a youth, but when their eyes met she saw he was but a few years older than she; startled, he withdrew into the depths of the palace.

Wan Zafirah asked the Temenggong, "Who is the man with the eyes of a bodhisattva [bodhisatwa], and why does he turn from us so?" The Temenggong laughed gently and remonstrated, "He is Hamzah Safar, a jewel among a hundred of Aceh's intellectuals. What you take to be rudeness is a gentility of manners; he refrains from staring lest he sees too deeply into their hearts, and takes too much from others. So easily is the character [jiwa] of others rendered onto machines with painted faces, but binding their souls [roh] to our creations is a heresy [...]

[...] when the sunlight turned golden and poured from the windows like long, slow rivers, Wan Zafirah would put aside the accroutements of her station, all except her mother's hairpin and Hitam Arang. Dressed as like a trader, she walked down narrow streets to the banks of Krueng Aceh, where Hamzah Safar awaited by the wild bushes of the bread flowers [kesidang]. He too, would wear neither robes of a scholar nor the headgear [tanjak] of a noble [...] Walk together they would, beneath the shade of the champaca trees, and at the roots of a great banyan tree they spoke of improving their airships, and of [better compensating for lift and drag?]. They sketched wings and aerofoils and equations of beauty and grace, and erased the drawings from the earth after, so none would know they were ever there. Neither poems of love nor immodest words would pass from their lips, yet day after day neither could bear to leave, nor be left behind. [...]

[...] is folly," said Laksamana Khiyar Malik. "Aceh has sent many ships into the aether and few returned, and even fewer of our bravest and strongest on these voyages survived."

Wan Zafirah would not be dissuaded, so great was the hate in her heart. "This is the only choice we have to overtake the pirates. Their airships cleave the air like an arrowhead, and even our fastest ships will not overcome a day's delay in the distance between Aceh and the pirates' safe harbour. If Malacca could beg for Aceh's indulgence and generosity in assigning its best metalworkers [pandai besi], we will have an airship ready to travel the aether by sundown." Hamzah Safar unfurled a scroll of paper, on which crowded diagram after diagram, new fittings on Wan Zafirah's airship. The courtiers [menteri-menteri] craned their neck for a look, and murmured protest rose over the lightness of the craft, the impossibility of it weathering the aether.

The Queen of Aceh rose from her throne, majestic in her overwhelming presence, and all were silenced before her. She raised a hand to beckon the Bendahara, who stood ready for her orders. Wires gleamed as they detached themselves from Her Majesty's sensory implants [susuk deria] and retracted into the throne. Ratu Aqilahuddin Alam Shah had waged war and won against two pretenders to the throne in the fifty years of her reign, and held Aceh strong against kingdoms who eyed her territories with greed, and when she spoke it was in a voice like a deep brass bell, unwavering against doubts and challenges. "If you are successful in your rescue of my sister's grandson, warrior of Malacca, I shall grant your heart's desire, in so far as it is humanly possible for myself and my kingdom. You shall have also for your choosing the best of Aceh's sailors to augment the strength of your ship [...]

[...] The ship moaned and shuddered like a wounded beast, unfettered by familiar earthly bonds, but alone in the whirling chaos of the aether. Her sails sang desperately for a heartbeat, then calmed under the hands of Darun i Dumarun [دارون إ دومارون], who maneuvered the ship Jentayu's new wings as if [s/he] had been birthed with them. Indeed Darun i Dumarun may have been fated by God to serve on this ship, as a helmsman [jurumudi] born of the peoples to the north of Nusa Tanjungnagara and their great wandering forests [rimba merantau]. And [s/he] had come to Malacca [...]

[...] Hamzah Safar said to Wan Zafirah quietly, under the pretense of convening with her, "If I could, I would build you a better ship, for all the rest of our days, as numerous as you want."

Che Nga [چي ڠ] cried out, "The pirates! There they are!" [...]

[...] With her sister's grandson safe in the arms of his parents, the Queen of Aceh granted both Wan Zafirah and Hamzah Safar their dearest wish: to be joined forevermore under the eyes of Allah, with one condition: that Hamzah forebore to stay in Aceh for a year, to better share the fruits of his intellect between Aceh and Malacca. Wan Zafirah thus bade her husband farewell, making promises that -- once impossible -- could now be kept, and set sail from Aceh to Malacca, her heart singing with the wind.

From that day on, Hamzah Safar was thus named Hamzah al-Mahbub [حمزة المحبوب] by all who knew of Wan Zafirah and the story of how she caught the heart of the brightest of a generation of Aceh scholars. Thereafter they were as like the moon and stars in the night sky [seperti bulan dan bintang di langit malam], never apart. [...]

I do believe I am owed a cup of coffee for every word translated. Again, I fear that my language skills were barely up to the task. Interestingly, the Queen of Aceh is referred to as Raja Perempuan Aceh (raja perempuan literally means "woman king") rather than permaisuri (as in, a queen who is the wife of a king) or even the Arabic loan word Sultanah. On another point, pandai besi is generally a blacksmith, sometimes also a keris-maker (more often known as empu), but in the context of the narrative and the usage of the term within it, "metalworker" is a better fit.

Flowery symbolisms and metaphors aside, the text is quite fascinating for what it suggests through otherwise seemingly straightforward language in the narrative. For example, the names of Wan Zafirah's crew baldly presents to the knowledgeable reader a diversity of peoples. Che Nga may be a Peranakan name, while Darun i Dumarun is quite clearly a Dusun name (which P.L. pointed out as she jumped up and down with an unspeakable amount of excitement). Incidentally, Nusa Tanjungnagara refers to coastal areas of Borneo under the influence of the Majapahit Kingdom (which we determined after some consultation with a historian we grabbed off the canteen, the poor unwary fool at hand) -- however, we have no way of knowing whether the Nusa Tanjungnagara of Hikayat Laksamana Wan Zafirah and the Nusa Tanjungnagara of our history are analogues. That the writer made sure to note their names and origin (not just of Darun i Dumarun but others in parts of the text I have not extracted) points to a vested interest in portraying Malacca as a center of civilisation that attracts highly-skilled individuals.

EDIT: Okay, fine, I will also note that Hamzah al-Mahbub means "Hamzah the Beloved".

Post a comment in response:

Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.