Zainal Abidin Ahmad (writer)

Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad

(1895-09-16)16 September 1895
Died 23 October 1973(1973-10-23) (aged 78)
Other names Za'aba or Za'ba
Organisation Malay Language and Literary Congress
Movement Malayan Academic Movement

Tan Sri Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad (16 September 1895 – 23 October 1973)[1] or better known by the moniker Za'aba, was a Malaysian writer and linguist. He modernised the Malay language with the publication of a series of grammar books entitled Pelita Bahasa in 1936 at the Sultan Idris Training College. The book contained guidelines in modernising the structure of the classical Malay language, transforming it into the Malay language that is in use today. The most important change was in syntax, from the classical passive form to the modern active form.


Zainal Abidin was born on 16 September 1895 in Kampung Bukit Kerdas, Batu Kikir, Jempol in the state of Negeri Sembilan; the eldest of three children. His mother, Intan Awaluddin (1877-1907) was of Minangkabau descent, while his father Ahmad Ibrahim (1862-1927) was a Buginese from a well-off family in the Riau Islands - the latter being the only literate person in the village.[2] Zainal Abidin however learned to write and read by himself from the age of five, practising his writing on young banana leaves with a twig as the stylus. This caught the interest of his father, who decided to buy him a writing slate and some chalk. This further motivated Zainal's affinity for writing and helped tuned his writing skills later on.[3]

Za'ba initially received his early education at a Malay school in Batu Kikir at the age of 12. His academic excellence allowed him to advance by two grades to Year 3. His father transferred him to a nearby school in Linggi in 1909, with hopes that his son would be become an ulama, where Zainal Abidin would learn the fields of Arabic language and Islamic jurispudence, among other things.[2] He then continued his study at St. Paul's Institution, Seremban, becoming the first Malay to take and pass Senior Cambridge test in 1915.[4]

Za'aba started his career as a teacher at :

Za'ba loved reading and had high commendable writing talent, with most of his writings published in local newspapers and magazines. He published a series of monographs in regard to the Malay language, including Pelita Bahasa (English: The Light of the Language) and Ilmu Mengarang Melayu (English: Malay Writing Skills). His other writings include a compilation of translated Shakespeare works, Cerita-Cerita Shakespeare that was published by Percetakan Gudang Chap in Singapore.

He wrote a lot of essays that were social criticisms against the ills of his contemporary Malay society and against the British colonial rule at that time. His hidden hand had a role in the formation of the United Malay National Organisation, a political party that had played an influential role in Malaysian politics and was one of the ruling parties in the country until the 14th General Election on May 9, 2018 where UMNO had lost to opposition, Pakatan Harapan led by former 4th prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Awards and recognitions

Honour of Malaya

Places named after him

Several places were named after him, including:


  1. ^ Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad (Za'ba).
  2. ^ a b "Biodata Tokoh - Pendeta Za'ba". National University of Malaysia. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
  3. ^ Norhalim Hj. Ibrahim; Aiani Sudeen (2008). Za'ba,1895-1973 : perjuangannya belum selesai (in Malay) (Cet. 1. ed.). Seremban: Lembaga Muzium Negeri Sembilan (the Negeri Sembilan Muzium Board). ISBN 9789832877080.
  4. ^ Syed Naquib al-Attas. Za'aba dalam kenangan // "Panji Masyarakat", Sept/Okt 1981
  5. ^ "Semakan Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat".