In the formative years of a nation the life span of a story or
poem can be fleeting. Literary works may blossom one season in cheaply made books or
little magazines that pass from hand to hand, and vanish the next. Books go astray and are
abandoned to insects and weather. Whole libraries are lost to upheaval. Authors often fail
to save their own manuscripts and early publications.
HANS BAGUE JASSIN recognized that these early works of imagination and intellect are
precious. As the struggle for daily existence and for viable nationhood imposed other
urgent priorities upon Indonesians and their government, it was his inspiration to collect
and save the early flowerings of Indonesia's literary life.
JASSIN, who was born July 1917 in Gorontalo, North Sulawesi, has devoted his lifetime
to Indonesian literature. While in high school he immersed himself in the new
Indonesian-language novels, stories and poems beginning to proliferate in the waning days
of Dutch control of the East Indies. He was himself a student writer and editor.
Joining in 1940 Balai Pustaka, a government publishing house fostering indigenous
writing, he was at the center of the emerging and vibrant national literary life. Writers
of the new generation became his friends, and he made it his life's work to promote, write
about and collect their output.
During the Japanese occupation, and through the struggle for independence, JASSIN
edited a succession of literary magazines. From 1953 he taught Indonesian literature at
the University of Indonesia, simultaneously completing his own degree there in the Faculty
of Arts, and in 1958 studied comparative literature at Yale University. He gave his
countrymen the first full translation of the 19th century Dutch classic about Java, Eduard
Douwes Dekker's Max Havelaar, and translated the Koran into poetic Indonesian.
In time JASSIN became Indonesia's most prolific literary critic, an influential voice
in determining literary standards and in advancing the cause of free expression. During
the ideological debates of the early 1960s he promulgated the famous "Cultural
Manifesto," denouncing art which served only one political voice. Later he risked
incarceration by refusing to divulge the identity of a controversial author.
From his earliest days as an editor and critic JASSIN collected and scrupulously saved
every book and magazine he could beg or buy, plus correspondence, manuscripts,
bookreviews, clippings and photographs which might help him understand a short story,
novel, poem or play and its author. These he filed and drew upon for his articles, books
His growing collection, assembled entirely with his own funds, became Indonesia's most
exhaustive library and archive for literary research. From the beginning he shared it
openheartedly with students and scholars from around the world.
In 1976, after JASSIN's hoard of folders and books had overflowed his own house into
his brother's, the then governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin, stepped in to provide proper
facilities for his collection and a modest subsidy for its operation. Since then the city
of Jakarta has housed the H.B.Jassin Center for Literary Documentation, now on one floor
of a new building, and provided it with the accoutrements of a modern archive. The annual
government subsidy covers the cost of utilities and staff salaries. As custodian and
administrator JASSIN takes no pay and in part still finances new acquisitions from his
university pension and royalties from his books. The collection, which now exceeds 50,000
volumes, continues to grow.
In electing HANS BAGUE JASSIN to receive the 1987 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public
Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his preserving for Indonesians their literary