Muhammad Yamin

Muhammad Yamin

Muhammad Yamin (1903 – October 17, 1962) was born in Talawi, Sawahlunto, in the heartland of the Minangkabau on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. He was the son of Oesman Gelar Baginda Khatib (1856–1924) the Penghulu ("Head of sub-district") of Indrapura. Oesman had five wives with whom he had sixteen children who make up a veritably influential, but incohesive political and intellectual, family in early modern Indonesian history. Other well known sons of Oesman are Muhammad Yaman, the eldest, an educator; Djamaluddin, a renowned journalist, who later in life added to his name his nom de plume, Adinegoro; and Ramana Oesman (1924–1992), a pioneer of the Indonesian diplomatic corps.


Early life

In 1937, Yamin married Siti Sundari, daughter of a nobleman from Surakarta, Central Java, by whom he had one child, a son, Dang Rahadian Sinayangish Yamin ("Dian"). In 1969, Dian married Gusti Raden Ayu Retno Satuti, the eldest daughter of Mangkunegoro VIII, "Duke"/"Prince in the Kingdom of Surakarta.

Muhammad Yamin was a historian, poet, playwright, and politician. He was educated at the Algemene Middelbare School (AMS) in Yogyakarta, majoring in history and Far Eastern languages, including Malay, Javanese and Sanskrit. Upon his graduation in 1927, he went on to study law at the Rechtshogeschool in Batavia, as Jakarta was known during the colonial period in Indonesia. The Rechtshogeschool, founded in 1924, is the precursor of the Faculty of Law of what became the Universiteit van Indonesie and, after the transfer of sovereignty, changed its name in 1950 to Universitas Indonesia, the premier tertiary institution in the country (Ref 1). Yamin earned his doctorate in law (meester in de rechten) in 1932.

He worked in Jakarta until 1942 specializing in "private law". Yamin's political career started early and he was active in nationalist movements. In 1928, Yamin participated in the Second Congress of Indonesian Youth, which issued the Sumpah Pemuda. Through the organization Indonesia Muda, Yamin became an active proponent for Malay to become the national and unifying language. It has since been renamed "Indonesian" and made the official language of the Republic of Indonesia and the principal vehicle for innovative literary expression.

Literary Legacy

Yamin began his literary career as a writer in the 1920s, when Indonesian poetry was marked by an intense and largely reflective romanticism. He was a pioneer in that art form.[1] Quoted below is the first stanza of his ode to the natural beauty of the highlands in present West Sumatra:

Di atas batasan Bukit Barisan
Memandang beta ke bawah memandang
Tampaklah hutan rimba dan ngarai
Lagi pun sawah, telaga nan permai:
Serta gerangan lihatlah pula
Langit yang hijau bertukar warna
Oleh pucuk daun kelapa:
Itulah tanah airku
Sumatera namanya tumpah darahku.


Above Hill Barisan outlook
Looking down looking beta
Appeared jungles and gorges
More was fields, ponds and gorgeous:
just look at As well as the earth
the green Heaven the color of exchange
By the palm leaf:
That is my homeland
Sumatra called flows where my blood.

(from Tanah Air)

Yamin started to write in Malay in the Dutch-language journal Jong Sumatra, the literary publication of the Jong Sumatranen Bond, a semi-political organization of Sumatran youth. Yamin's early works were tied to the clichés used in classical Malay. He debuted as a poet with Tanah Air ('motherland') in 1922. It was the first collection of modern Malay verse to be published. The credit for the first important modern prose in Malay belongs to his fellow Minangkabau, Marah Roesli, author of the novel Sitti Nurbaya which also appeared in 1922. Rusli's work enjoyed years of great popularity. The 'motherland' to which the title of Yamin's poem refers was not Indonesia but Sumatra, specifically the part that is called the Minangkabau Alam on the western part of the large island. In the title poem, Yamin stands on the hills near the town of Bukit Tinggi, the site of the prehistoric canyon now verdant with rain forest and paddy fields.

Yamin's second collection, Tumpah Darahku, appeared on 28 October 1928 [2]. The date was historically important, because it was on that date that Muhammad Yamin and his fellow nationalists recited an oath: One Country, One Nation, One Language, popularly known as the Youth's Oath (Sumpah Pemuda). The date is celebrated as a national holiday in Indonesia. His play, Ken Arok dan Ken Dedes, which took its subjects a pair from Java's history Pararaton[3], appeared in one of the 1934 issues of Pudjangga Baru, the only literary publication that featured the use of Malay instead of Dutch. Yamin joined a short list of writers that chose to promote Malay, in a none-too-subtle rebuke to the predominantly Dutch-speaking indigenous intellectuals. His compatriots included Roestam Effendi, Sanusi Pané and Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, founders of Pudjangga Baru.

In his poetry, Yamin made much use of the sonnet form, borrowed from Dutch literature. At that time among the major writers was the national activist Abdul Muis (1898–1959), whose central theme was the interaction of Indonesian and European value system. In 1936 appeared Pandji Tisna's (1908–1978) Sukreni: Gadis Bali, possibly the most original work of pre-independence fiction, which dealt with the destructive effect of contemporary commercial ethics on Balinese society. Distinctly innovative poetry had appearead in the 1910s. The European sonnet form was especially popular, but the influence of traditional verse forms remained strong. Although Yamin experimented with Malay in his poetry, he upheld the classical norms of the language more than the younger generation of writers. Yamin also published plays, essays, historical novels and poems, and translated works from such authors as Shakespeare (Julius Caesar) and Rabindranath Tagore.

Political life

Yamin was active in the Jong Sumatranen Bond in one of whose forums he befriended Mohammad Hatta, Indonesia's first Vice President. In his early political activities, Yamin advocated the non-cooperative stance of the Indonesian Party (Partai Indonesia, PARTINDO) against the Dutch colonial administration, declining all invitations to join the civil service. He earned his living through writing and reporting.

Yamin was elected to the People's Council Volksraad in 1939, an advisory body created in 1917 by the Dutch in the Netherlands East Indies. It opened its first session in May 1918. It served as a forum for the expression of grievances, but lacked the power to pursue genuine reform. In 1928, it was transformed into a legislative body acting at the sufferance of the Governor General who held the power of veto on all acts of the Volksraad.

Upon the dissolution of PARTINDO, Yamin formed the Indonesian People's Movement (Gerakan Rakyat Indonesia - GERINDO) in May 1937 [2]. Other founders of GERINDO were A. K. Gani (1905–1958) and Amir Sjarifuddin (1907–1948). GERINDO's aim was to raise public consciousness of nationalist ideas by organizing the people. GERINDO's founding, however, also reflected a growing willingness on the part of many left-wing nationalists to cooperate with the Dutch. This willingness arose both from despair over the prospects for organizing effective nationalist resistance in the face of Dutch military and police power and from a conviction that collaboration against fascism (especially Japanese fascism) had the highest priority in world affairs. GERINDO hoped that through cooperation the Dutch would establish a separate legislature in the colonial territory. Shortly before the Japanese attack on Java, Amir Sjarifuddin received funds from the Dutch authorities to organize underground resistance. This movement was quickly ended by the Japanese. GERINDO, as all other organizations, were banned

GERINDO's policy of cooperation with the Dutch prefigured the postwar strategy of the Socialist Party — including that of Amir Sjarifuddin, defense minister and later prime minister of the Indonesian Republic — in making far-reaching concessions to the Dutch to obtain international recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty.

During the Japanese occupation (1942–1945), Yamin was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Center for People's Power (Pusat Tenaga Rakyat - PUTERA, not to be confused with the Malaysian political party opposed to the United Malays National Organization and its affirmative-action ideology of Ketuanan Melayu). The Indonesian PUTERA was a Japanese-sponsored confederation of nationalist organizations. PUTERA was established on March 9, 1943, with Sukarno as chairman.

Concurrent with his role in PUTERA's Advisory Board, Yamin was appointed a senior official at the Sendenbu (the Japanese Propaganda Office).

PUTERA had a seamy side. Chairman Sukarno played a major role in the conscription of romusha, laborers forced to serve the Japanese army. It is estimated that 270,000 Indonesian romushas were sent to the islands other than Java and Sumatra, as well as to other Japanese-occupied lands in Southeast Asia. Many of them died of starvation, diseases, and executions in the camps. Other members of PUTERA had a nobler ambition and that is to advance the cause of and pave the way for eventual Indonesian independence.

Yamin was also one of the sixty-two founding members of the Japanese-sponsored body investigating the preparations for Independence/ Investigation Committee (Badan Penyelidik Usaha-Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan - BPUPK). He suggested to the Investigation Committee that the new nation should include all the Malay-speaking world: not only the territories of the Netherlands Indies, but also Sarawak, Sabah, Malaya, and Portuguese Timor.

On May 29, 1945 in one of Investigation Committee's sessions, Yamin claimed to deliver a speech on certain philosophical and political foundations and enumerated five principles for the nation that would emerge after independence. Those five principles Pantja Sila were later incorporated in the Preamble of the 1945 Constitution.

Yamin's claimed was opposed by Dr.M.Hatta,Mr.Subarjo, Mr.A. Maramis, Prof. AG. Pringgodigdo, Prof. Sunario and all of the surviving members of BPUPK which was interviewed. Actually Yamin himself stated that Sukarno was "the Discoverer of the Pancasila". Amongst other occasions Yamin mentioned this were at the commemoration of "The Birth of Pancasila"in June 1958at the State Palace (see Muhammad Yamin, Sistema Falsafah Pantja Sila (Jakarta:Kementerian Penerangan RI, 1958), pp.7-10, at a Pancasila seminar in Yogyakarta on 16–20 February 1959 and in vulume 2 of Naskah Persiapan,p71. After rediscovery oh the authentic archive of BPUPK (Archive A.G.Pringgodigdo and A.K.Pringgodigdo) Yamin's claim is positively untrue (see RMAB Kusuma: "Lahirnya UUD 1945", Badan Penerbit Fakultas Hukum Universitas Indonesia, 2004:11-12.

The author of Pantja Sila is Sukarno. He delivered Pantja Sila (Pancaasila) on June 1, 1945 meeting. Most historians and academic community credit Sukarno for the creation of Pantja Sila. Pantja Sila, or in modern spelling Pancasila, is the state ideology of the Republic of Indonesia [4] and consists of the following:

  • Belief in the One and only God (Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa)
  • Just and civilized humanity (Kemanusiaan yang Adil dan Beradab)
  • The unity of Indonesia (Persatuan Indonesia)
  • Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives (Kerakyatan yang Dipimpin oleh Hikmat Kebijaksanaan dalam Permusyawaratan/Perwakilan)
  • Social justice for the whole of the people of Indonesia (Keadilan Sosial bagi Seluruh Rakyat Indonesia)

Yamin was not a member of the Select Committee to draft the constitution [5]. The ideas contained in his draft of the document became the major underpinnings of Indonesian political institutions. Not as simple as the separation of powers common in the Anglo-American structures of government, Yamin looked closer to home - to the Nationalist Chinese and proposed five branches, in deference to the then regnant collectivist philosophies. These were:(1) The Executive as represented by the President and the Vice-President, (2) the Representative Institution, (3) the All Indonesia Assembly, (4) the Ministers, (5) the Advisory Council, and (6) the Supreme Court. His ideas were seconded by Soepomo who proposed different names for these institutions.

On August 17, 1945, Indonesia proclaimed independence and the next day, the Preparatory Committee tasked a commission of seven: Sukarno, Mohammad Hatta, Soepomo, Subardjo, Otto Iskandardinata, Yamin and Wongsonegoro to make the final and necessary changes in the national Constitution, which had already been written during the month prior to Japanese surrender to the Allied forces (Ref 2).

Yamin served in the cabinet of successive, post-colonial administrations, notably as Minister of Education and Culture (1953–1955)id:Kabinet Ali Sastroamidjojo I, Minister without portfolio (1957–1959)id:Kabinet Djuanda, Minister for Social Affairs and Culture (1959–1960)id:Kabinet Kerja I, Minister and Deputy Director of the National Planning Board (BAPPENAS)(1960–1962)id:Kabinet Kerja II and Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Information and Director of BAPPENAS (1962 until his death)id:Kabinet Kerja III. He founded many universities across Indonesia, including Universitas Andalas in Bukit Tinggi in his native West Sumatra.

Yamin died in Jakarta on October 17, 1962, He was buried with full national honors next to his father, in the family plot in Talawi, on the island of Sumatra.

The originator of significant ideas, Yamin dominates modern Indonesian political and cultural history. His ideas contributed to the political awakening and the surge in national pride in Indonesia.[6] His contributions to the political, educational and cultural development of Indonesia was recognized in the years after his death. He was awarded posthumously one of the nation's highest honors and proclaimed a National Hero of Indonesia (Gelar Pahlawan National Indonesia).List of National Heroes of Indonesia

In 1994, Dian Yamin's widow, "Tuti" Yamin donated all of Muhammad Yamin's papers to the National Archives in Jakarta.

Selected works

  • Tanah Air, 1922
  • Indonesia, Tumpah Darahku, 1928
  • Ken Arok dan Ken Dedes, 1934
  • Sedjarah Perdjoeangan Dipanegara (History of the Dipanegara Wars), 1945
  • Gadjah Mada (history of the Majapahit prime minister), 1948
  • Revolusi Amerika (American Revolution), 1951
  • Tatanegara Majapahit (7 volumes) an exposition of the administration of the Majapahit Empire (5th to 14th century AD).
  • Naskah-naskah Persiapan Undang-undang Dasar, 1959 - a compendium and commentary on the proceedings of the deliberations leading to the promulgation of the 1945 Constitution.
  • Proklamasi dan Konstitusi Republik Indonesia (The Proclamation of Independence and the Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia), 1951
  • Kebudayaan Asia Afrika (The Asian and African Cultures), 1955


  • Cheng Han Tan et al., Legal Education in Southeast Asia, Asian Journal of Comparative Law v1(2006), No 1, Article 9. Free copy available at [1]
  • Kahin, George McTurnan, Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia, Ithaca , Cornell University Press, 1952.
  • Kusuma, RMAB,"Lahirnya Undang-Undang Dasar 1945", Jakarta, Badan Penerbit Fakultas Hukum Universitas Indonesia, 2004. ISBN 979-8972-28-7.

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