Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah

Singapore Infopedia


Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah (b. 1876, Singapore–d. 12 December 1933, Singapore)1 was one of the most notable nationalist intellectuals in the 1920s.2 He has been touted as the father of modern Malay journalism and a leader for Malay nationalism.He also championed better educational facilities for the Malays of Malaya.4

Early life
Born into a wealthy family, Eunos’s father was a Minangkabau merchant from Sumatra, Indonesia.5 While several sources state his birthplace as Singapore, at least one source suggests that he was born in Sumatra.6

Eunos received his education at the Malay school in Kampong Glam and subsequently at Raffles Institution.7 Upon graduation, he entered the government service.8 He worked for a few years in the office of the Master Attendant of Singapore Harbour before becoming the harbour master at Muar, Johor.9

Eunos admired Hikayat Dunia – a geography text – and the works of Munshi Abdullah, a respectable Islamic scholar in the 19th century. He also found inspiration in Jawi Peranakkan, Singapore’s first Malay language periodical and an extension of Munshi Abdullah’s project to disseminate modernist interpretations of Islam in the region.10

Journalistic career
In 1907, Singapore newspaper proprietor Walter Makepeace offered Eunos a job at Utusan Melayu, the Malay language version of the English newspaper, The Singapore Free Press.11  Eunos accepted the offer and became the Utusan Malayu’s first editor at age 31.12 Then in 1914, he became the editor of Lembaga Melayu, the only Malay language newspaper in Malaya printed in Jawi at the time.13

Throughout his journalistic career, Eunos contributed opinionated pieces on Malay nationalism, espousing his notion of bangsa or “racial nationalism”. His views on the subject of bangsa distinguished him from his predecessors, who were dedicated either to the sultanates or the global community of Muslims. His zeal towards uplifting the Malay race during the period of colonial rule subsequently drove him to switch from being a journalist to a representative for the Malays in the colonial political arena.14

Because of his influential role in Malay social welfare organisations, Eunos became a member of the Muslim Advisory Board set up by the government during World War I.15 In 1922, he was appointed a justice of the peace and subsequently the first Malay member of the municipal commission. Following the colonial government’s decision to increase Asian representation in the legislative council of the Straits Settlements, he was appointed the first Malay legislative councillor in 1924.16 He was also a popular member of the Singapore Rotary Club and the first Malay to address the club.17

Eunos’s good standing within the Malay community gained him a following of mostly educated and progressive Malays, including Abdul Samad, the first Malay doctor, and Tengku Kadir, who belonged to the Kampong Glam royal family.18

Vocal with their opinions, Eunos and his associates were constantly at loggerheads with the members of Persekutuan Islam Singapura (PIS or “Singapore Muslim Association”), the only organisation at the time that claimed to represent the views of Muslim Malays.19 They criticised the PIS, which was dominated by Muslims of Arab descent, for being elitist and called it “a rich man’s club”.20 They also founded the Muslim Institute in 1921 to care for the needs of ordinary Malays.21

In 1926, Eunos and his associates formed Kesatuan Melayu Singapura (KMS or “Singapore Malay Union”), and Eunos was elected its first president. The first political Malay organisation set up in colonial Malaya, KMS aimed to increase the role of Malays in public life, uphold Malay interests before the colonial authorities, and promote higher and technical education for Malays.22 KMS subsequently inspired the formation of other Malay associations in the Malay states, culminating in the post-war United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).23

For Eunos, the concept of bangsa was not to be taken for granted. In the 1920s, Eunos and his associates felt that people’s sense of Melayu or “Malayness” was fluid.24 Inspired by an urban residential experiment in Kuala Lumpur, KMS proposed the building of a Malay settlement called Kampung Melayu as a way to preserve the essence of Malayness and inculcate a strong sense of Malay nationalism as a reaction to colonial rule.25 The kampung would provide an environment where Malays could, in Eunos’s words, “live among their own people in the manner to which they were accustomed”.26 Eunos petitioned the legislative council to fund the project and eventually received a grant to purchase land for the settlement.27

Kampung Melayu was later renamed Jalan Eunos Malay Settlement and subsequently extended to include Kaki Bukit.28 In 1981, the settlement was degazetted to pave the way for the construction of the Pan Island Expressway and new housing estates.29 To commemorate Eunos’s legacy, the government later named one of its residential districts, located near the former Kampung Melayu, Eunos.30

Eunos retired in early 1933 after nine years of service as a legislative councillor.31 His health deteriorated following his retirement. On 12 December 1933, he passed away in his home at Desker Road. His body was laid to rest at the Bidadari Cemetery.32

1. “Death of Malay Leader,” Straits Times, 13 December 1933, 13; Musa Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body,” Straits Times, 23 February 1988, 4 (From NewspaperSG); William R. Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1994), 159. (Call no. RSING 320.54 ROF)
2. Joel S. Kahn, Other Malays: Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism in the Modern Malay World (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2006), 5 (Call no. RSING 307.76209595 KAH); C. M. Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 131. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
3. Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Kahn, Other Malays5; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 131.
4. “Death of Malay Leader”; “60 Years Ago,” Straits Times, 16 December 1993, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism159; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 131.
6. “Death of Malay Leader”; Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 131.
7. “Death of Malay Leader”; Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism159Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 131.
8. “Death of Malay Leader.”
9. “Death of Malay Leader”; Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism159.
10. Kahn, Other Malays10–11.
11. Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism159; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 131.
12. “Death of Malay Leader”; Kahn, Other Malays, 11; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism159.
13. “Death of Malay Leader”; Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism, 161; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 131.
14. Kahn, Other Malays11–12.
15. Kahn, Other Malays12; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism160; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 155.
16. “Death of Malay Leader”; Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Kahn, Other Malays12; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism160, 190; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 155.
17. “Death of Malay Leader.”
18. Kahn, Other Malays12; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 155.
19. Kahn, Other Malays12; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism189.
20. Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Kahn, Other Malays, 12; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism189Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 155.
21. Kahn, Other Malays12; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism189–90; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 155.
22. Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism160, 190–91; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 155–56.
23. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 156; Radin Soenarno, “Malay Nationalism, 1896–1941,” Journal of Southeast Asian History 1, no. 1 (1960): 10. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
24. Kahn, Other Malays11.
25. Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Kahn, Other Malays5, 11–13; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 155.
26. Kahn, Other Malays10; Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism193.
27. Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body”; Peter Keys, “Splendid Example of Kampung Living,” Straits Times, 27 September 1981, 8 (From NewspaperSG)Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism194.
28. National Archives (Singapore), Geylang Serai: Down Memory Lane: Kenangan Abadi (Singapore: Heinemann Asia, 1986), 48 (Call no. RSING 779.995957 GEY); Peter Keys, “Splendid Example of Kampung Living”; “Sixty Malay Families Seek Loans for Housing,” Straits Times, 24 April 1959, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “5,000 to Move Out for New HDB Estate,” Straits Times, 1 March 1981, 5; “Did You Know?” Straits Times, 13 November 2009, 169. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Did You Know?
31. “Death of Malay Leader”; Kasbi, “Eunos Founded First Malay Political Body.”
32. “Death of Malay Leader.”

Further resource
Mazelan Anuar, “Mohamed Eunos Abdullah: The Father of Malay Journalism,” BiblioAsia (Jul–Sep 2015)

The information in this article is valid as of July 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.




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