A community leader who saw himself as a servant, Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah (born 1876 died 1933)
Eunos in the eastern part of Singapore was named after Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah, one of Singapore’s most notable Malay community leaders. That is but one way to remember, and be inspired by, the legacy of Mohamed Eunos’s good works.
Born to a wealthy family in 1876, and educated at Raffles Institution, Mohamed Eunos spent most of his life on the cause of the Malays of Singapore. He was the Municipal Commissioner for the Malays, the Asian representative in the Legislative Council and founder of the Malay Union along with others where he served as president and was actively involved in.
He was also given the title “Bapa Kewartawanan Melayu” or Father of Malay Journalism by William R. Roff, a scholar in Malay studies. After five years working in Muar, as appointed by the Johore Government, he returned to Singapore with the encouragement of his friends who were Malay reformers, to help set up the only Malay language newspaper published in Singapore, Utusan Melayu. Under his leadership, it became an influential paper. Two years later, he founded another Malay newspaper, Lembaga Melayu.
It was Mohamed Eunos who proposed the idea of “Kesatuan Melayu”, or Malay Union, to promote the political, social, moral and intellectual advancement of all the Malays, and to communicate with the Government of the Straits Settlements on behalf of the Malays on all questions affecting the rights, interests and privileges of the Malays, and to provide for the education of the children of the Malays.
The Malay Union was the first union of its kind, and Mohamed Eunos, with the confidence and trust of the Malay community, was elected president of the Malay Union. As president of the Malay Union, Mohamed Eunos wholeheartedly declared that his first objective in life was to bring to the fore the Malay community and to improve their lot.
However, he did not consider himself to be a leader of the community, but saw himself as a servant of the community.
Once, the Malay Union asked the Government to set up a Malay school for the children of Tanah Merah Besar Kampong under their request; but it was rejected. The Malay Union then volunteered to build a school at its own expense while the government provided teachers, furniture and equipment. During the handover of the school, Mr. C. G. Coleman, then Inspector of Schools reportedly said, “I wish to thank you and your Kesatuan heartily for your goodness and public spirit in erecting this school and presenting it to the villagers of Tanah Merah Besar.”
As the Malays’ representative in the Legislative Council, Mohamed Eunos relentlessly fought for equal access to education and opportunities for his community. He understood the educational needs of his community well. For example, he felt that Malay boys were disadvantaged, with a late English education and thus access to government jobs. He brought this up during a legislative meeting, and when he was not satisfied with the response of the government, he continued raising the issue in subsequent meetings. He was also the patron of the Committee of management of the Muslim Students’ Aid Society.
Mohamed Eunos cared about other issues too. Once, he questioned if it was true that a ring had been formed locally to keep up the price of electric light bulbs. This brought attention to the problem and the City proposed a solution so that consumers could obtain them at a fair price. At another time, he asked if the government was prepared to favour a certain class of Malay fishermen if it could be proven that they were worse off than other fishermen.
Mohamed Eunos, along with fellow philanthropist Haji Ambi Sooloh, fought for a home for the Malays who were affected by the building of Singapore’s first airport at Kallang. After much lobbying by Mohamed Eunos, a 240-hectare piece of land named Kampong Melayu was given in exchange for the land in Kallang.Kampong Melayu was also a Malay settlement for the preservation of the essence of Malayness. Kampong Melayu was later renamed Jalan Eunos Malay Settlement. In 1981 the settlement was degazetted to pave the way for the construction of the Pan Island Expressway. A residential district in Singapore was later named Eunos to commemorate Mohamed Euno’s legacy.
Mohamed Eunos had contributed much to the Malays and thus to the development of Singapore. When he retired, the colonial secretary, Sir John Scott said, “He was a Malay gentleman who had the interests of the members of his community very much at heart and was always sincere in everything he said and everything he did... I am sure that the Malay residents in the Colony, will be sincerely grateful to Mr. Mohd. Eunos for his advocacy and championship on his behalf.”
By Christabel Khoo