Home, Fatherhood, Succession: Three Generations of Amrullahs in Twentieth Century Indonesia

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By Jeffrey Hadler on Hamka
Published in Southeast Asia Program Publications at Cornell University,
Apr 01, 1998

We ask for a thousand pardons . . . We are repeating other people’s stories / Their lies are not our responsibility.1 2 “Traditional” Minangkabau disclaimers do not hold here. This essay is an attempt to unravel the skein of memories and fiction in Hamka’s (Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, 1908-1981) self-narrative of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The two primary texts are Hamka’s biography of his father and his four-volume autobiography—Ajahku and Kenang-kenangan Hidup.3 The young Indonesia was, for Hamka, a tenuous and dangerous place. It took his considerable skills as a novelist, Islamic scholar, and Minangkabau cultural authority to build a textual raft that would carry him into the new nation. While this essay will not attempt to identify any “lies,” it will explore Hamka’s very deliberate manipulations of narrative genres often mined uncritically and incautiously by historians. I will also analyze Hamka’s work of the 1920s, and set it against the contemporary writings of his father. Both men have been defined by Ajahku, the biography Hamka wrote of his own father, and by Kenangkenangan
Hidup, Hamka’s own four-volume autobiography; the characterizations of the texts need to be held up against the extant historical record.

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