FROM: Chapter 1: A Lake Singkarak Child Why I was born into this world, I do not know. Why I was born in Minangkabau puzzles me even more. These two things have surprised me very much and have bothered me since I was little. But I will not bother with things I do not know …
Muhammad Radjab (1913-70) was a journalist, author and translator originally from the Minangkabau rural homeland in West Sumatra (now part of Indonesia). Though not born into high nobility, many in his family had garnered social prestige as religious teachers and hajj pilgrims. He was educated first at local Muslim schools before attending the teacher training institute, Sekolah Normal Islam, in Padang, in the early 1930s. Subsequently, he migrated to Java to pursue a journalistic career, writing and editing for a number of newspapers, including Pemangunan (Jakarta, 1934-5) and Indonesia Raya (1950-1), and the news service, Berita Antara (1946-7, 1952-5). His longest stint was at the feature wire service, Antara Features (1955-63). His final years were spent heading up the research section of LKBN Antara, and lecturing at Mahaputra University and Trsisakti University. When he died in 1970, he left his widow with eight children.
Throughout his career, Radjab also wrote a number of books. The first, entitled Tjatatan di Sumatra (Notes on Sumatra, 1949), was a journalistic account of Sumatra during the Indonesian revolution. The extracts presented here come from his second book, a childhood memoir entitled Semasa Kecil di Kampung (Village Childhood, 1950). These first two books may be seen as complementary to one another in that they both sought to offer a narrative of Sumatra’s journey to modernity within the context of Indonesian nationhood. His other books, including Dongeng-Dongeng Sulawesi Selatan (1950), Toraja Sa’dan (1952), Perang Paderi (The Padri Wars, 1954) and Sistem Kekerabatan di Minangkabau (The Kinship System of Minangkabau, 1969), were ethnographic or historical in perspective. On his death, he was working on a book on Minangkabau literature and ethnic customs. His numerous translations from English into Indonesian included fiction, books on social science, and law texts.
(This introduction is merely a summary of the biographical information contained in Part One of Susan Rodgers’ Telling Lives, Telling History: Autobiography and the Historical Imagination in Modern Indonesia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), especially pp. 11-13.)