Lifestyle Tech

Google Doodle celebrates the late Azah Aziz for her amazing lifelong work for journalism and Malay cultural

L-R: Marc Woo, Country Head of Google Malaysia presenting the framed Google Doodle of the Azah Aziz to Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Aziz

Google is honouring the late Azah Aziz for her lifelong work in journalism and Malay cultural with a one-of-a-kind Doodle design, which is available to view now on Google. This year also would have been her 94th birthday. For those who aren’t familiar of Azah Aziz, she was one of the pioneering women journalists in Malaysia and a Malaysian cultural icon remembered for her lifelong work towards the preservation of Malay culture, textiles and traditional attire for generations to come. With such feat, she was awarded with Tokoh Budayawan Melayu or figure of Malaysian culture.

The late Azah Aziz’s Google Doodle design

A star was born

Pictured: Azah Aziz
Photo credit: Courtesy of Pahang State Museum Corporation

Also known as Mak Ungku, Azah Aziz was born on August 21, 1928. Her keen interest in language, culture and the arts had been nurtured by her mother, Azizah Jaafar, who was from a distinguished Johor family and a pioneer in domestic science studies, and from whom she inherited a fine collection of early Malay textiles and garments. This was also reinforced by her marriage to Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz bin Ungku Abdul Hamid, with whom she shared a deep interest in Malay language and culture.

Her interest in writing and literature developed when she took up secretarial work at the Malay Studies Department, working under the department head Tan Sri Zainal Abidin Ahmad, more popularly known as Pendeta Za’ba, a renowned Malay language and literature scholar.

Pioneering woman journalist and author

Pictured: Azah Aziz in her younger days
Photo credit: Courtesy of Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Aziz

In 1957, Azah Aziz was offered a job as a secretary to the Straits Times’ then-editor-in-chief Leslie Hoffman, three months after it introduced its first romanised Malay newspaper, the Berita Harian. She then began her career as a journalist when she was tasked to manage the women’s section, taking over duties originally handled by her mother Azizah, for two years.

Among the international personalities she interviewed during her journalism stint were former prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, boxer Muhammad Ali and his family, and the first woman cosmonaut that went into outer space, Valentina Nikolayeva-Tereshkova.

Azah Aziz was a pioneer in many ways. She founded the Malaysian Women Journalists Association (Pertama) and became its first president (1971-1978) and later its advisor. She was also one of the founders of the Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (Pertiwi), a charitable organisation dedicated towards addressing the welfare and needs of women and children. She also championed salary equality, separate taxes for working wives, Muslim family amendments and later founded the Islamic Women’s Action Organization.

Apart from her many newspaper and magazine articles written during her 37 years as a journalist, she has authored more then ten books including the seminal volume on Malay textiles and costumes titled Rupa dan Gaya: Busana Melayu which discusses the influence of cultural values, traditional customs and historical developments on its evolution.

Through Akaz, her own publishing company, Azah Aziz became one of the first women in Malaysia to publish books on poetry, games and songs for children, such as Adik Comel, Ibu, Keluarga Kita, O! Bangau dan Burung Kenek Kenek, Kenangan Budi, Pantun-pantun Melayu, Taman Seni, Dendang dan Dondang Kanak-kanak and many others.

Malay cultural expert

Despite her career, her love for the arts and textile did not wane. Throughout the years, she collected antique garments and fabrics from the old Malay world. Azah owned a collection of over 100 types of heritage clothings such as baju kurung, baju Melayu and kebaya, which she inherited and bought.

With her in-depth knowledge of costume, jewelry and textiles, she lectured about and introduced Malay culture to art festivals and international seminars. She spent her life elevating Malay customs so its culture could continue to thrive around the world.

In addition to knowing all the pieces of traditional clothings and the types of textiles, she was also very adept about the ways to wear them and what pieces of accessories are needed to match them. That was why she was often a go-to source of reference by people involved in the field.

Her involvement in the field had prompted many to appoint her as a member of their board of directors, including the National Film Development Corporation (Finas), Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation, and the Tun Razak Foundation’s Board of Trustees, among others.

Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) has also recognized her contributions in the field of journalism and the promotion of culture in 2008, with the university awarding her an Honorary Doctorate in Arts and Education. Azah Aziz was also selected as a Tokoh Wanita Johor in 1992, honored as Avon-Tan Sri Fatimah 1994 Women of Distinction Award, and the first recipient of Anugerah Jarum Berlian that was organized by Rias magazine, a publication by Utusan Melayu.

An inspiration for generations to come

Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Aziz shares her details of her late mother, Azah Aziz, at Google Malaysia office with the media presence

Azah Aziz’s daughter, Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Aziz shares her thoughts on her mother’s legacy: “I grew up with a very close relationship with my mother. All throughout my career, she was very supportive. Without her support, I would’ve never been able to have the career that I did. She was everything to all of us and now that she’s not here, we miss her immensely. She was a fighter, with a very strong passion for the issues that she believed in. Growing up, she was very liberal in her thinking on many issues and wrote passionately about it for women’s rights, children’s rights, but I wouldn’t describe her as a feminist but rather more as an advocate of women’s issues and those issues relating to children.

As a little girl, I remember her interest in writing. She wrote about textiles, costumes and how they would be worn, and about cultural heritage. She believed, like if you wanted to wear a modern outfit, you should always wear it, whether it’s the Western modern outfit or from any other country, but you shouldn’t change the structure of your own traditional clothes to preserve and conserve its originality. Her book is so meaningful and what is unique about her work is, although many people had written about textiles and costumes of the region but none of them had integrated the classics and poetry that were written hundred of years ago, that have made reference to these textiles and costumes, giving us a very deep insights into the beauty and special distinct element relating to these exquisite and resplendent textiles. I want the world to know about the Malay cultural heritage embodied in the textiles and costumes that I had the book translated into English and it will be soon published, and the intention is for it to be widely distributed.

Her collection will also be gifted to a museum on textiles, costumes and accessories (soon to be announced) so that Malaysians and the world can share this wonderful heritage through her eyes and see how beautiful it is and how it should be appreciated, better understood and cherished so that it can be preserved, for it has survived many hundreds of years, it needs to continue to do so for future generations!”

Azah Aziz’s grandson also reflects on their memories together:

“If you ask me about my grandmother, the first thing I would say is she had a great sense of humor and wit! Fantastic warm laughter that I can still recall. When I was a young boy I remember that she taught me how to play congkak, card games and classic board games like monopoly. I miss her cooking but most of all I miss her company and how we shared great adventures traveling overseas.”
– Alif Ayman

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