I had an interesting day yesterday. I chaired two panels at Dewan Bahasa identifying potential writers and poets in Brunei Darussalam to be the next worthy recipient of the Southeast Asia Writers Award or SEA Write Award as it is always known and the MASTERA Awards. I have to admit that the meeting was literally intellectually stimulating when you have a few people who are icons and diehards of the Brunei Malay literary community discussing about books, poets and writers.
Most people in Brunei have always known whenever they hear the word SEA Writer Award and MASTERA, they will know it as an award given for literary significance. Like me before joining the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, most general public do not really know the awards.
Most have heard about the S.E.A. Write Award, or Southeast Asian Writers Award. The late Rosli Bidin, Borneo Bulletin's reporter was awarded the SEA Write Award back in the early 2000. In fact the SEA Write Award has been presented annually since 1979 to poets and writers in Southeast Asia and from 1986 onwards for Brunei since we joined ASEAN in 1984.
The SEA Write Award is not an ASEAN award even though the awards are given to a writer from each of the countries that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. For some reasons though not all countries in ASEAN have been represented every year. Sometimes it is hard to tell. The award is sometimes given for a specific work by an author, or it could be awarded for lifetime achievement. The types of works that are honored vary, and have included poetry, short stories, novels, plays, folklore and scholarly and religious works.
For instance this year, we had to go through about 15 books published in Brunei for the last 3 years. Some of these books had been nominated in the last couple of years but had not won the nomination. In that sense we were not looking for a lifetime achievement award but to be nominated one has also to look into the previous achievement of the writer.
What most people do not know is that the award is from Thailand. The ceremonies are held in Bangkok, with a member of the Thai royal family presiding. The most interesting thing to me is that the award was not conceived by any literary society but was conceived by the management of The Oriental hotel in Bangkok, which then sought further backing from Thai Airways International and other companies.
Why a hotel? Well, according to its own website, "Since its establishment, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok has always had an affinity with famous writers from around the world. During its history, great authors have either stayed in or visited the hotel. This affinity with the literary world is best exemplified in the Authors’ Residence which houses suites named after Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and James Michener. Moreover, suites in the River Wing have also been named after various authors such as Graham Greene, Norman Mailer, John le Carré and Barbara Cartland, to name but a few."
"As a tribute to this literary tradition, “The S.E.A. Write Award” was established in early 1979 to encourage writers in the ASEAN countries and to bring recognition to the creative literary talents of the region. The idea emerged from discussions amongst the management of Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, Thai Airways International Public Co., Ltd., and the Italthai Group of Companies. HH Prince Prem Purachatra was elected as the Chairperson of the Organising Committee. The Organising Committee also received valuable support from the PEN International Thailand-Centre under the Royal Patronage of HM the King as well as from the Writers’ Association of Thailand who took the role of setting the criteria and selecting the winning work and author from Thailand each year. Later on the Jim Thompson Foundation, Bangkok Bank Public Co., Ltd., Thai Beverage PLC., and a number of other private and governmental organisations joined the Organising Committee. The annual Awards Presentation and Gala Dinner has always been presided over by a member of the Thai Royal Family."
Who has been Brunei's nominated winners since 1979?
1986 - Muslim Burmat
1987 - Pehin Yahya Ibrahim
1988 - Leman Ahmad
1989 - Adi Kelana
1990 - Salleh Latif
1991 - Mohammad Zain
1992 - Awang Haji Abd Rahman
1993 - Pengiran Haji Mohd Yusuf
1994 - Mussidi
1995 - P.H. Muhammad Abd Aziz
1996 - Pg Haji Sabtu
1997 - Awang Mohammad Timbang
1998 - Pehin Badaruddin
1999 - Norsiah MS
2000 - Pehin Aziz Juned
2001 - Rahim MS
2002 - Rosli Abidin Yahya
2003 - Assoc Professor Dr Hashim Hamid
2004 - Jawawi Ahmad
2005 - Rahimi AB
2006 - Sawal Rajab
2007 - Haji Moksin Kadir
2008 - Pg Dr Hj Mohammad
2009 - Hajah Norsiah Gapar
2010 - Wijaya
2011 - Mohd Zefri Ariff
And who have we nominated for 2012? You have to wait until the award ceremony in Bangkok on 9 November 2012.