A Malay poem for Black History Month

Since it’s Black History Month in Britain, I’d like to feature an unlikely poem by Malaysia’s greatest poet and dramatist, Usman Awang (1929-2001). Written in 1971, ‘Suara Blues’ (Voices of the Blues) is a critique of Western hegemony and racism. It is also a kind of clarion call for the return to ‘the centre’, the origin, the age of pre-colonisation, which was a popular theme in postcolonial writing at the time.

In Malay (English translation after the jump):

Suara Blues

Kemilau hitamnya paling indah
Disinar bulan di cahaya matahari
Ribuan
Ribuan sayap hitam
Di awan
Membayangi sebuah istana
Ribuan bayang hitam
Suara hitam
… dan murka hitam

Dicanang ke seluruh negeri
Mana pemburu mana penembak terpandai
Gugurkan sayap-sayap hitam.
Kerana hitam
Hanya kerana hitamnya.
Tiada tangan mencampakkan kacang
Tiada jari menaburkan jagung
Lapar, lapar yang hitam.

Burung hitam
Telah mereka dengar gema
Genta malam
Trompet hitam, jauh
Jauh di sana di Afrika
Adalah mereka saudara-saudara tercinta
Suara Blues

berazam berombak berkurung berteriak
perhambaan dari pembinaan tamadun
dari air mata tulang-tulang putih mereka
hanya kerana hitam, ya kerana hitamnya
lapar yang hitam, nasib yang hitam.

Dan kini di sini tanah air setengah hitam
Pasukan-pasukan penembak Diraja
Kemilau senapang ciptaan manusia tamadun
Jauh, jauh datangnya = Made in USA, Made in England

Mana seronok menjadi juara tembak
Pertandingan Kejohanan Pesta Gemilang
Berebutan sesamanya, berebutan seperti orang lapar,
Menjatuhkan sayap hitam.

Warna yang dibenci
Rupa yang dibenci
Suara yang dibenci
HITAM

Bayang hitam yang dikasihi

Terbanglah,

Terbanglah cepat ke hutan
Ada gunung ada bukit ada sungai jernih
Adalah teman setia
Tiada keseorangan, tiada keseorangan
Di sini terhimpun seribu kekuatan.

In English (Note: this is my translation and interpretation).

Voices of the Blues

The radiance of blackness is most beautiful when
Moonlit in the sunlight
Thousands
Thousands of black wings
In the clouds
Cast shadows on a castle
Thousands of black shadows
Black voices
… and black fury

Spreading across the nation
A place where the skilled hunters and assassins
Shoot down the black wings
Because of its blackness
Only because of their blackness.
No hand will feed grains
No fingers will give corn
Hunger, black hunger.

The black birds
Have they heard the echoes
The bells of night
Black trumpets, far away
Far away there in Africa
Are the voices of their beloved kin
Voices of the Blues

ambitious broken caged screaming
slavery from the foundations of civilisation
from the tears and the whites of their bones
only because of their blackness, yes their blackness
black hunger, black fate

And now here on this half-black homeland
Squadrons of royal assasins
The glare of rifles made in civilasations
Far, far away = Made in USA, Made in England

Where is the fun in being the victorious assasin
At the Glorious Festival of Champions
Competing against each other, competing like hungry men,
To shoot down black wings

The hated colour
The hated look
The hated voice
BLACK

Beloved black shadow
Fly away,
Fly away quickly to the forest
There are mountains, hills, clear running rivers
There is a loyal friend
There is no solitude, there is no solitude
Here exists a thousand strengths.

1971

3 thoughts on “A Malay poem for Black History Month

  1. Ok. Am gonna do some readings on Black History Month.

    And… aiyoo darling. Cerita kat I sikit, boleh? Who is the poet referring to… blackness… the black birds? Any relation to whatever that had taken place in 1971?

  2. Haha! takde masalah. Kalau terlalu engrossed bagusla, asalkan dapat faham makna-makna tersirat lepas baca tu cukuplah. Saya rasa tak ada sebab spesifik mengapa Usman Awang mencatit ‘1971’ lepas sajak ni selain ia tahun bila sajak ini dikarang. Saya rasa era 1960-1970-an sesuai digelar zaman paling bersejarah bagi kaum kulit hitam di AS; ‘suasana zaman’ atau ‘zeitgeist’ ini mungkin menjadi unsur inspirasi bagi sajak ini dan yang lain2 e.g. ‘Salji Hitam’ dan ‘Konggo’. Boleh dikatakan juga bahwa kesemua sajak-sajak ni mencermin pendirian Usman Awang yang anti-penindasan dan anti-penjajahan. Sayang tak ada orang macam Usman Awang buat zaman kita sekarang yang anti-penindasan UMNO dan anti-neo-penjajahan.

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