Feb 4, 2005
PETALING JAYA: He was Jawi illiterate until he was 17, but now independent researcher Raimy Che-Ross' career is centred around the translating and studying the Malay Arabic script.
“I would get A’s in everything but failed Agama because I could not read Jawi. And the ustazah (religious teacher) would pick on me because I could not do so.
“Then, the headmaster called me up one day when I was in Form 5 and told me that I had to pass the subject to get a good grade.
“So, I taught myself Jawi six weeks before the exam. I borrowed books and even went to Kampung Baru to buy the Utusan Melayu, which was in Jawi, to read.
“People on the bus would stare wondering what this boy was doing reading the newspaper. But I passed the exam in the end,” said the Canberra-based researcher in an interview.
Raimy, who is of Chinese-Malay-Pattani and Acehnese descent, eventually went on to do his bachelor of arts in political science, anthropology and art history at the Australian National University in Canberra.
It was at the University that he stumbled upon references to Kota Gelanggi while he was translating the Raffles Malay 18 Sejarah Melayu (the oldest version) from Jawi to Romanised text.
Saying that most of the Malay literature featured stories of mythical places or individuals such as Puteri Bunian or Istana Kayangan, Raimy’s first encounter with a true-life location turned out to be Kota Gelanggi (or Kota Batu Hitam), which he found references beginning with Raffles Malay 18 and subsequent versions of the Sejarah Melayu.
“It referred to a place that was located in Johor. This was not an Istana Kayangan but a physical reference. I thought it odd but did not think much of it at the time. When I translated other texts later there were references to the place from different sources like Chinese, Indian and Malay literature,” he said.
However, it was only six years ago that it dawned on him that he had stumbled upon a “treasure trove”.
“I pulled out the boxes, put on a “Ministry of Sound” CD and sorted the documents according to theme. When dawn broke, I was dumbfounded because it was not just a fairy tale or figment of imagination but an actual thing.
“I continued to work on it and research was a priority. I had no academic tenure and did it out of my own interest. There was no research support. Sometimes, it was a choice between a cup of coffee or photocopying a document,” added Raimy.
He continued on his quest by finding the oldest topographical map of Johor and subsequent copies of it. He proceeded to calculate distances and did an elimination process before finally pinpointing an area measuring about 5sq km.
Raimy is an accredited national Malay translator under the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters, Australia and his first job was as a Malay tutor at the Australian foreign affairs and trade department’s language studies unit.
Other positions that he has held include a visiting scholar at the Cambridge University Trinity College, Commonwealth Trust (Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre), research administrator at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur and appointed senior research consultant for the Jawi Transliteration Project at the National University of Singapore history department.
Raimy has written articles including “Malay Manuscripts in New Zealand: The “Lost” MS of the Hikayat Abdullah & other Malay MSS in the Thomson Collection” and on the oldest published syair entitled “Syair Peri Tun Raffles Pergi ke Minangkabau: A previously unknown text.”