We criticised societal backwardness and those whom we regard as the instruments responsible for the birth of such backwardness. We criticised colonialism and its instruments, that is, the elite class, those whose consciousness have been frozen by the influence of feudalism and myths, and superstition that has been enmeshed with religion.
Keris Mas (10 June 1922 – 9 March 1992), born Kamaluddin Muhamad, was a prominent Malaysian literary figure and was one of the founders of the Asas 50 literary movement. Keris Mas’ main contribution in the field of Malay language literature was in short stories. By the end of the 1960s, he had written about 60 short stories. His works are distinguished by their themes of addressing social injustice and strong and lively characters that resonate with the reader. This led him to become Malaysia’s first National Laureate in 1981.
“In the field of literature, the proponents of ASAS 50 adopted a new breathe of style, employing a mode of language that is fresh, departing from the preceding genre of writers, propounding the themes of societal awareness, politics and culture with the aim of revitalizing the spirit of freedom, the spirit of independence of a people (bangsa) of its own unique sense of honour and identity, upholding justice and combating oppression.
…. We criticised societal backwardness and those whom we regard as the instruments responsible for the birth of such backwardness. We criticised colonialism and its instruments, that is, the elite class, those whose consciousness have been frozen by the influence of feudalism and myths, and superstition that has been enmeshed with religion.”
To free Malay society from those elements of its culture which was obstructing or negating the pursuit of modernity and progress;
To advance the intellectual awareness of the rakyat (Malay masses) towards the ideals of social justice, prosperity, peace and harmony;
To foster Malay nationalism; and
To refine and promote the Malay language as the lingua franca of Malaya.
The Man Who Would Have Been A Religious Teacher
Keris Mas was born in 1922 in Kampung Ketari, Bentong, Pahang. Having attended his first few years of school locally, he continued his studies at Tawalib School in Sumatera — and then at Kolej Kulliahtul Muallimin Al-Islamiah (Maktab Perguruan Islam), where he earned a teacher’s diploma. It was his family’s wish that he teach religion. However, Keris Mas forged a diverging path for himself.
Having returned to Malaya in 1940, he went to Singapore to take the University of London matriculation examinations — but World War II began, and his studies were interrupted. When the Japanese surrendered, Keris Mas joined the Pahang wing of Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM), for a brief stint as Information Officer.
He then became Editor at the Utusan Melayu in Singapore. Here, he made it his special mission to develop Mastika, the prestigious Utusan Melayu publication that, at the time, faced flagging sales. 1953 saw him moving on to a short term at Melayu Raya, before moving on to Warta Negara in Penang. He then returned to Utusan Melayu as a contributing writer in 1955.
In December 1956, Keris Mas became the Pengarang Umum (General Editor) of the newly-formed Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. The rest of his working life was spent moving up the ranks of this organisation, a career that culminated with Ketua Bahagian Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Sastera (Head of the Literary Development Department). He retired in June 1977. His responsibilities in this last post included being Editor-in-Chief of the Dewan Bahasa and Dewan Sastera magazines.
Awards & Recognition
1976: Pejuang Sastera (Literary Pioneer) award
1981: Sasterawan Negara (National Laureate) award, of which Keris Mas was the first recipient
1989: Honorary Doctorate
in Literature, Universiti Sains Malaysia
Keris Mas passed away on 9 March 1992 from a heart attack at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital, at 3am. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife, Roswita Ali and two children, Hayati and Amir, and seven grandchildren. He was buried at the Bukit Kiara Muslim cemetery.
Kumpulan Cerpen Sasterawan Negara Keris Mas, 1946-1989
Wasiat Orang Bangsawan (The Last Will and Testament of a Nobleman), published in the magazine Suluh Malaya (The Malayan Torch) in 1946. His works are now contained in the following anthologies: Mekar dan Segar (Rise and Shine) (1959); Dua Zaman (Two Eras) (1963); Patah Tumbuh (What Is Lost Returns) (1963); and Pertentangan (Conflict) (1968).
Jungle of Hope, 1983
Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Kahasa Dan Pustaka, Ministry Of Education, 1990. Paperback. ; 11 x 19 cm.; pg. viii, 269; Translation of: Rimba harapan; translator, Adibah Amin. Foreword. “”[This] novel is about traditional Malay farmers who, compelled to sell their padi land by a combination of natural disasters and modern economic pressures, move far into the jungle to open up new land and start life afresh.
Hero of the Malayan Jungle, 1946
His Holy Sacrifice, 1949
The Big-Time Merchant From Kuala Lumpur, 1983