Letter (WCP3281.3249)


I suppose "Aru" = "aru" or "ru" which is the name given to the Casuarina both in Sumatra & the M.P. — the former in the Sumatran form. In that case "Pulau Aru" = "Casuarina Island".

Rose Land Cottage,

St. Albans


Dear Dr Wallace,

Mr Blagden, who has just sent me the enclosed, describes it as an extreme specimen of bad writing in the Arabic character and bad spelling of Malay, & adds that the only person really competent to explain it (completely) is the writer, who has doubtless ere now been gathered to Abraham’s bosom. He says, "the last sentence stumps me completely anyhow: the chief crux is the word at the end of the last line but one."

The general sense (he says) is as follows:-

"This is a letter of reminder of former days times from the Malays’ (I myself think it may rather be from a Malay) — [2] "whose forefathers have possessed the land of Aru(?) as far as the land of Wasir(?). That the English Government may annex us Malays, & that Wallace may become the {Tuwan or Tuan} (local civil officer) given to Aru by the English Government. All alike the grandparents wish it & their children & grandchildren wish it" (this last clause is repeated).

Here follows the last sentence (after the signature), with the word "kabongwalai", which we think may stand for "Kampong Walai" or some such place-name, and then a phrase which I take to mean "the Imam teaches [one word [one word illegible crossed out] (me as his) scholar": in other words it was the Imam or local Muhammadan priest who showed him [3] how to write the letter. I feel pretty sure it is this, or something very like it. Mr Blagden in his version adds "I have read Malay MSS a many, & bad ones not a few, but as bad a one as this I never saw before, & I think it ought to be set at the next exam for the Malay bonus in the F.M.S."

I must say it looks to me, as if the writer were trying unsuccessfully to reproduce some peculiarities in the local pronounciation, ("p" for "b", for instance) because they are evidently not all accidental.

Very many thanks for your long & interesting letter about the N.G. expedition, with every word of which I agree. Indeed it was not with any special reference to this expedition that I said I wished I could go, as I made the very same criticism of the organisation before I had your letter.

Believe me, | very truly yours, | W.W. Skeat [signature]

Enclosure (WCP3281.5746)


Transliteration of Malay letter from Aru


bahuwa alamat ini surat deri ingatang {=ingatan}1 / dahulu kala deripada orang malay/yu nene muawayang {nenek moyang} dapat tana ar(a?) {=tanah aru(?)} sampi <tana {=sampai tanah) wasir(?)> / kompaniya {kumpani} inkaris {Inggris} dabat {dapat} / sama kita orang malayyu <walas> {=Wallace} / yadi {=jadi} tuwan kombaniya {=kumpani} ingkaris {=Inggris} / kasi {kasih} karu {=ka-Aru} <sama> (mana?) nene(k?) muwa {=mahu} diya / bunya {=dia punya} anak susu muwa {=anak chuchu mahu?} anak / susu {=anak chuchu} muwa adanya (writer’s mark) ? kabongwalai(?) / amama ajar marad ada-nya.

The spelling is highly unconventional. Besides the peculiarities shown above the writer has several times put three dots over his s turning it into sh (so in sampi, the first sama, and the second susu). This is pretty common, as the Malay s is not quite identical with the Arabic one in sound. Most of the writer’s eccentricities require no explanation. Sampi is for sampai, dabat is for dapat, yadi for jadi, karu for ka aru, muwa for mahu or mau, bunya for punya, susu for chuchu. The spelling ingkaris is not wrong, as k is often written when g is meant. The words that follow the mark are obscure but the meaning of all the rest seems clear enough. The second sama is written over the line and its position in the sentence is doubtful. Perhaps it may be meant for semua, ‘all’ (??). Mana is a doubtful reading.

{} brackets indicate hand-written annotations by Blagden.

Please cite as “WCP3281,” in Beccaloni, G. W. (ed.), Ɛpsilon: The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection accessed on 4 December 2023, https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/wallace/letters/WCP3281