WOTM: Azah Aziz

Azah Aziz: Lady of Culture, Lady of Arts, Lady of Malaysia

This issue’s Woman of The Month not only inspires us to be independent, hardworking ladies like herself, but she has also been a major culture influence on the young generation. She has learnt (and even taught many) to embrace our nation’s culture and traditions as well as input these certain factors into her everyday life. SPARKS’ very first Malaysian Woman of The Month is none other than the journalist, author and cultural icon, Azah Aziz. Let’s ponder further into her life, shall we!

Azah was born on the 21st of August 1928 in Singapore to Malay, Turkish/Arabic parents and was brought, at a very young age, to Johor Baru where she was raised. According to her published biography ‘Azah Aziz: Kartika di Langit Seni’, she was still very young when her schooling was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation during World War lI. Although Azah was forced into learning the Japanese history and their ways of pedagogy, this did not get in her way of continuing to read and self-educate herself on the Malaysian history and its beautiful language. 

After World War ll, Azah Aziz intended to continue her studies. But all of that was interrupted when Ungku Aziz, her boyfriend at the time, proposed to her including, “Marrying me will be like furthering your studies at the University.”. Although she was very looking forward to continuing her studies at many different parts of the world, Azah agreed to get married in order to take on the responsibility of being a wife and starting a family. “I don’t regret the decision I made. Yes, I may have been bright enough to be given all sorts of opportunities around the world but that would not have compared to having and raising these children of mine”.

Before landing her dream job, Azah Aziz worked as a secretary at the Johor Welfare Department. Then as a secretary in the Department of Social in University Malaya as well as the secretary to Pendeta Za’ba (a prominent educationist and independence freedom fighter) in the Department of Malay Studies in University Malaya. Although she was offered many opportunities to study and work abroad, she chose to stay in Malaysia as she wanted her children to grow up with the same culture and traditions surrounding them as they did with her. She encouraged her kids to be creative not only with Malaysian traditional forms of art but with art forms from different countries and areas of the world. Being pedantic was not an option!

After finding her full potential and talent of literature and writing, Azah Aziz worked at the newspaper company, Berita Harian as a writer- specifically for the female columns- for 16 years. After many years of working faithfully for this newspaper company, Azah decided to move on and work for Utusan Malaysia after being offered the place of editor as well as the consultant for their Woman’s Magazine. Besides working as a writer at these newspaper companies, Azah Aziz started up the Association of Women Journalists Malaysia and the University Women’s Association in Malaysia. By the time these two organisations were up and running, Azah took on the duties of President for both organisations herself. She was indeed, the inspiration for all female journalists in Malaysia and beyond. 

Azah Aziz was the first women to ever fight for the rights of women in Malaysia. Her main focuses were on the issues of equal wages for both men and women, taxation separation and working wives. Back then, working wives were frowned upon by the communities. Many assumed that women who agreed to provide themselves to their marriage should do nothing but prepare meals, clean the house and do the laundry. In Azah’s eyes, this needed to change. She was aware of the full potential and talents of women and how they needed to be given the chance to embrace these talents of theirs.

Because she decided to remain in Malaysia, Azah Aziz took this opportunity to truly embrace our nation’s culture-packed arts and heritage. She started off by collecting old songket pieces and later moved on to traditional textiles, jewellery, traditional clothing and traditional Malay handicrafts. Not only did she embrace the already produced forms of Malaysian tradition but she had also co-founded/ introduced traditional taridra (dance drama) costumes during the Arts Festival for ASEAN Universities. Other than the Malaysian cultures and traditions, Azah Aziz was also the first to introduce the Haiku Japanese form of short poems to the Malaysian people. 

Needless to say, Azah Aziz really does stand for her title as Tokoh Budayawan Malaysia (Figure of Malaysian Culture). The amount of time she has invested to share her love for Malaysian culture, tradition, arts and equal rights with us have contributed to our communities tremendously. She spent her life making sure Malaysian culture and legacies continued to live on, not only in Malaysia but around the world. Azah Aziz has taught us to remain true to our roots, culture and traditions. She exemplifies that regardless where we may be and what we may be doing, we must always hold on to who we are, Malaysians. 


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