Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Azah Aziz, a pioneer in Malaysian journalism
Dedicating her life to both journalism and the preservation of Malay culture, Azah Aziz leaves behind a formidable legacy
EVERY so often Google puts up some fun illustrations on their homepage, oftentimes to signify a special day or historical figure associated with that day. Several of the most celebrated Malaysians, such as P. Ramlee, Sudirman, and Saloma have been recognised in this way.
The latest recipient of this honour is the late Sharifah Azah Mohamed Alsagoff, better known as Azah Aziz. Today would have been her 94th birthday, she passed away 10 years ago.
The illustrated banner that hangs above the Google homepage. – Google pic
She was a pioneering woman journalist who started her career in the 1950s, an advocate for women’s rights, and a renowned and respected Malay cultural expert, specifically in the field of textiles and traditional attire – aspiring to keep alive that part of Malaysia’s cultural heritage.
Earlier this week, Azah’s daughter, former Bank Negara Malaysia governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz attended a preview event at Google Malaysia’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Describing her mother as a “pathbreaking pioneer” who started a 37 year career in the 1950s when there weren’t that many women journalists, Zeti went through a few career highlights, such as when Azah interviewed Indira Gandhi, the then president of India, the family of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, as well as the first woman who went to space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Nikolayeva-Tereshkova.
Azah Aziz in her younger days.
“She was very humble and she was known in her own right. I’d walk down the streets where she was recognised and people would shriek and run up to touch her like as if she was celebrity, because she wrote and she wrote everyday, she wrote columns, in the early days it was about women’s affairs and women’s rights and women’s interests, how to better their lives, their health, and how to manage their families, and so on.”
“She was a very engaging writer, she wrote well, even my father (Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz bin Ungku Abdul Hamid) would give speeches for the general public, he would let her read it and edit it because her Malay was so beautiful.”
Beyond Azah’s career in journalism, she had a lifelong love for Malay arts and culture, specifically textiles. She would eventually own a collection of over 100 types of heritage clothings such as baju kurung, baju Melayu and kebaya, which she inherited and bought.
To that end, she wrote a very well regarded book about her passion for preserving the textiles and costumes of the Malay world, called Rupa and Gaya Busana Melayu, which has since gone out of print.
Azah’s book on classical Malay clothing, Rupa and Gaya Busana Melayu, will live on as her daughter plans on releasing an English translation later this year. – Shopee screengrab
“It describes the textiles, very exquisite and resplendent textiles, and the other textiles that are worn everyday by Malaysians and how they have survived for hundreds of years.
“And in our generation there’s a fear that it is going to be lost because people are forgetting it and it’s being modified to such a degree and extent that you don’t recognise what it was, but actually it has survived for hundreds of years.”
Unfortunately, the book was only written in Malay because Azah was not confident in writing in English, despite being very good as Zeti attests. Not only dedicated to documenting textiles, the book was also interspersed with extracts from old classical works with references to textiles and costumes.
To keep her mother’s legacy alive, as well as knowledge of Malay cultural history, Zeti has spent the past three years working on an English translation that should see publication by year end, – often working eight hours a day on it during the pandemic.
“It is going to be released, it’s a 380 pages book with 500 photographs and so we’re very excited that it will be released and another aspect is that her entire collection, I’ve spoken to my two sons, we have decided to gift it to a museum, a new textile museum and they will announce it soon and that is for every Malaysian and foreign visitor to see when they come see this aspect of our cultural heritage.”
A foundation, Tanah Azah Aziz is also being established – with profits from the book going there – aimed at preserving this aspect of Malay cultural heritage.
Described by a biographer as a “Constellation of several stars shining in the universe of the arts”, Azah’s legacy looks to live on and hopefully the Google Doodle will inspire curiosity in some people to learn more about this Malaysian icon.
source – The Vibes