By Putri ‘Alia Mursyidah bt Rosly
Buyong Adil was a prominent figure in Malay historiography. He was a prolific historian and his contributions are always estimated highly by the lovers of history until our days. His full name was Haji Yusof bin Adil. He was born on January 27, 1907, in Teluk Anson, Perak, to a family of the Malay merchants. The word ‘Buyong’ in his name appears when his uncle forgot his real name and registered him as ‘Buyong’ when he enrolled in school. Some sources also mention that ‘Buyong’ was his nickname given by his parents to their beloved son. I also discovered in Malay dictionary that ‘Buyong’ or spelled correctly as ‘Buyung’ means son. So, perhaps, his nickname ‘Buyong’ just meant a son.
His early education at Malay School Teluk Anson began in 1918. He later pursued his studies at Sultan Idris Training College (SITC). By this time, he began to write books known as Sejarah Alam Melayu Penggal IV and Sejarah Melayu V as the continuation of historical writings of his teacher, Abdul Hadi Hassan, who moved to Kelantan. From 1928 to 1941, Buyong served as the lecturer at SITC as he was the best student there.
During the Japanese occupation of Malaya in 1941, Buyong went through training by the Japanese teachers at the Tokyo Shihan Gakko, Selangor. From my understanding, he had to participate in training due to his profession as a lecturer, because the educators of schools and universities were obliged to be trained to learn the Japanese culture and language. When the Japanese had surrendered and the British took over Malaya, Buyong was appointed as a headmaster in Ipoh and had actively participated in the Perak Malay Coalition. The British were unhappy with his four years’ involvement in the party which had spread the spirit of anti-colonization and nationalism. Thus, the British decided to send him to Singapore as a head of a radio station in Malay schools in 1950 and closely curbed his political activities.
In Singapore, Buyong became a historical advisor for a movie entitled ‘Hang Tuah,’ which was Tan Sri P. Ramlee’s first movie shown in color (“Buyong Adil,” 2016, p. 3). He also joined the Institute of Language and Culture of the Singapore National as an editor in Malay Section. In 1962, he retired from the government service and was chosen as a member of Singapore’s Public Services Commission. In the meantime, he continued his literary activities by compiling and authoring several books on the history of the Malay states, including Johor, Selangor, Perak, and Pahang.
After serving for 8 years in Singapore, he decided to settle down in Kuala Lumpur. In 1971 he was appointed as a researcher (NeilandSyud, 2011) on history at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) on the order of Tun Abdul Razak, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, to make it easier for him to prepare history books (Sharif, 2012). Since then, he commenced his vocation as an official historian. He published the history of the following Malay states: Johore, Selangor, Pahang, Perak, Singapore, Malacca, Terengganu, Sarawak, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Sabah and a history book on Malay Knights. Apart from that, he co-authored a number of children books such as Merah Silu, Bawang Putih Bawang Merah, and Raja Palembang.
Buyong was a skillful historian capable of reconciling the primary and secondary sources. This can be seen in his writings whereby he analyzed Johore Annals, the official reports of Dutch East India Company (V.O.C) and he also relied on History of Johore (1365-1800) by R.O. Winsted and The Dutch East India Company and the Straits of Malacca by D. Lewis. At the same time, Buyong tried to use the local sources on Malay history as well, including Malay Annals by Tun Seri Lanang, Hikayat Abdullah by Abdullah Munshi (Sharif, 2012).
Regarding his writing style, I observed that he narrated according to the chronological order and the events are well-arranged. For example in Pahang Annals, that commences with Pahang position in the Stone Age, under the government of Malacca, the civil war, Pahang (1874-1881), resident interference, and Pahang from 1895 to 1970. Thus, it indicates that he wanted the readers to be able to comprehend the events and developments according to time order. Buyong also infused the elements of humor and nationalistic sentiments in his books. I believe this helps to make the historical readings pleasant and, perhaps, to eliminate the widespread misperceptions in Malaysia that ‘history is a boring subject’.
Some modern writers criticize Buyong that he was a pro-colonialist because he used the word ‘opened’ instead of ‘seized’ the Penang as he wrote in Sejarah Alam Melayu IV accordingly: “There were people who opened Penang, named Francis Light….” (azman-sharif.blogspot.my). Based on my insight, probably Buyong just wanted to display the positive side of the advent of Francis Light as Penang became a famous central trade due to his ideas and efforts.
Buyong died on August 31, 1976, at the age of 69, when people were celebrating the 19th independence of Malaysia (“Buyong Adil,” 2016, p. 5). As a tribute to his devotion, the Ministry of Education of Malaysia has named a high school in Tapah, Perak, as Sekolah Menengah Buyung Adil in the 70s (Ismail, 2009).
Buyong Adil. (2016). Retrieved September 30, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buyong_Adil
Ismail, Z. (2009). Haji Buyung Adil Sejarawan Tanah Air (1907-1976). Retrieved from
Neilandsyud. (2011). Tokoh Sejarah Negara. Retrieved from
Sharif, A. (2012, May 19). Haji Buyong Adil – Sejarawan Dua Zaman. Retrieved from
Writer is an Undergraduate Student at the department of History and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia