The Rose of Cikembang, by Kwee Tek Hoay, translated by George A Fowler

All Things Books / Review

About The Rose of Cikembang,
Written by Lisa Hill, and was originally published in ANZ LitLovers,
Feb 28, 2020


How quickly the months roll around! Once again it is time for me to share my reading for the Indonesian bookgroup to which I belong, and this time, the book is a classic of Indonesian literature, The Rose of Cikembang (Boenga Roos dari Tjikembang) by Kwee Tek Hoay (1886-1951), translated by George A Fowler in 2013. First published in 1927, the story dates from the era of Indonesian nationalism before WW2 and independence from the Dutch and before Bahasa Indonesia became the official language. As it says in the Introduction…

The Rose of Cikembang (pronounced ‘Chee-kem-bhang’) was part of an already remarkable body of modern mass literature, now largely forgotten, which had been created over the previous thirty or so years mainly by Indonesians of Chinese descent in a language that had long been known as Low Malay, or simply Malay. This was a rich linguistic stew that contained in its fundamental Malay broth chunks of Javanese, Hokkien words and grammatical structures, Balinese—Balinese house slaves and soldiers being in wide demand in early Batavia—Portuguese, and Dutch. The particular mixture varied from port to port, depending on the dominant language of the respective hinterland. It was called ‘Low’ to distinguish it from the ‘High’, or more courtly, and supposedly linguistically purer, variants of this lingua franca of archipelagic commerce and general communication. (p.vii)

Read the full article here.