Hasinawati (Translation)


I left Semarang
In my memory
Crossed the Java Sea
Transited in coastal towns
Anchored in Singapore
Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka.

A gripping custom
‘Forced marriage’
Pushed me to flee
Thus I boarded a ship
Assisted by a relative
Started a new life
Far from Java.

I understood the meaning of hardship, struggle,
All alone in Singapore
I became a midwife, hawked food,
Then brought up my daughter
When my husband was working overseas.
But he died young.

I knew the history of Java
Its saints, aristocrats, freedom fighters,
Its Panji stories, wayang kulit, Babad chronicles,
& I knew
My ancestors & descendants opposed the Dutch,
My son-in-law’s family dueled with kris
Against the Portuguese, Dutch, British,
In Java, Malacca, Johor, Singapore
& I taught my daughter, Fatimah,
The meaning of dignity, identity,
When the century was young
& the colonials were masters.

My experiences were my education:
In my kebaya & batik sarong
With my hair worn in a bun & a scarf
I taught my daughter to read Jawi
Scrutinized newspapers, ancient chronicles,
Appraised the present circumstances
So she would be wise, resilient,
Like Tun Fatimah & Kartini,
& our descendants will never perish
As unafraid to experiment, to question,
They will be jewellers
They will be seeds & islands.

Moving from Kampong Melaka to Kallang Rokok
After her daughter’s marriage
After her eyes became myopic
Before the Second World War
She dies.

At the turn of the twentieth century
From Semarang to Singapore
The journey is far
Of a determined, stubborn, & resilient woman
My great-grandmother.

Poem written in Malay by Rasiah Halil titled: Hasinawati
Written: 30 September – 2 October 1995; Mayflower, Iowa, United States of America
Translated by: Rasiah Halil

Panji Stories – Cycle of stories set in ancient Java.
Wayang Kulit – Traditional shadow puppet theatre.
Babad Chronicles – Javanese stories which have indigenous historical components.
Kebaya – A traditional blouse-dress from Indonesia.
Jawi –Malay writing written in Arabic alphabets.
Tun Fatimah – The daughter of Bendahara (Prime Minister) Tun Mutahir whose family was killed by Sultan Mahmud Shah of Malacca and was forced to marry him. Tun Fatimah became the warrior queen of the 15th/16th century Malacca and was noted for her intelligence and beauty.
Kartini/Raden Adjeng Kartini – Born in 1879 and died in 1904, in Indonesia. A Javanese princess from Jepara, Indonesia, who pioneered the education and empowerment of women in Indonesia.
Jeweller – Malay proverb: Hanya jauhari yang mengenal manikam/Only a jeweller knows the worth of a gemstone – only an expert can evaluate the worth of someone in a particular field.
Seeds and island – Malay proverb: Kalau asal benih yang baik, jatuh ke laut menjadi pulau/A good seed, even if it falls into the sea will be an island– A good/well-versed person will be able to develop himself/herself no matter where and under whatever circumstances.


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