The Declaration of Independence in Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language):
Commentary by Shakila Yacob

    Translating the Declaration of Independence was an interesting and difficult exercise. The Declaration is a living document that is applicable not only to the United States but also to other governments in the world; "tyrants" may not only be Kings but also others who have ruled arbitrarily. I translated the Declaration to allow the Malay speaking community to understand better American political ideology and its relationship to U.S. domestic and foreign policies.

    Translating the Declaration into the Malay language inevitably leads us to consider some differences between Malaysia and the United States. For example, Malaysia's constitutional monarchy reflects the intertwining of democracy and monarchy, which is a legacy of imperialism and is antithetical to most Americans. In addition, Malaysian independence was gained through a peaceful negotiation process with the British government rather than a Revolutionary war. Finally, the reverse of tyrants to Americans is freedom but to the Malays it is justice. And n a predominantly Muslim society like Malaysia, notions of justice are shaped by Islamic laws.

    Translating any historical document is difficult process, because it is easy to misinterpret words and concepts. The Malay language is a rich language shaped by Malay political culture and that culture needs to be considered in making translations. Sometimes several different words could be chosen; at other times, there was no one proper word. There was also a question of whether to choose a Malay word over an English word that has been "Malayanised". The word "tyrant" in a "Malayanised" version is "tirani" which is much more specific whilst the Malay word "zalim" or "cruel" is a general term which did not reflect the true meaning of "tyrant."

    The most complicated part to translate was the first, long paragraph. To simplify the paragraph, I divided it into two sentences. "One people" was translated to mean "one race" or in Malay "suatu bangsa". The framers had used the words "we" and "us" at different points of the Declaration and both these words have different meanings in the Malay language and cannot be used interchangeably. Kami may refer to either a large group which is impersonal in their relationships or a small group with personal relationships. Kita or "us" refers to only small groups sometimes with personal relationships or a common goal. Initially, in an effort to be consistent, the word "kita" was used throughout the passage, however, realizing that the framers did mean it differently when they use "us" and "we" in different parts of the document, appropriate changes were made.

    Another difficult choice was translating the references to the King. The correct address for the King being the supreme ruler in Malaysia is "Baginda" or "His Majesty." The Malay political culture emphasizes the sovereignty of hereditary rulers. As the Declaration of Independence was written to oppose the rule of the King and not to differentiate his status among the commoners, the word "he" was chosen. In Malay it would have been "dia." But the word "beliau" was chosen instead as a mark of respect.