kumpulan bebas melata
Anggerik di Dahan Sakura,
(Orchids on a Sakura Branch (2018)

Raja Aisyah’s ‘Kami ini seorang merdeka’ may have been written within the domain of upper-class domestic life, but it would echo and disperse as a symbol of the diverse struggle for freedom across the Malay world for generations to come.

Decades later, a different kind of desire for emancipation is revived in the contemporary works of Malay writers under Kumpulan Bebas Melata. Kumpulan Bebas Melata–itself meaning “free and dispersed group” – comprises a shelf of poets and authors from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam. Many of these writers were not fresh faces to the literary world. But it was in the nurturing space facilitated by Rohani Din where their bonds tightened as a community of Malay women writers. Through Kumpulan Bebas Melata, they had a support network to lean on, encouraging one another to continually pick up the pen and courageously experiment with literary genres that push the limits of their own craft.

Among those still active in the group are Kamaria Buang, Faridah Taib, Nordita Taib and Khaziah Yem. Together, their works paint a powerful mural of the daily conflicts and trials of the working class: motherhood, aspirations, relational struggles, remembrance, culture and faith.

In 2018, these authors, together with Rohani Din, released their first anthology of haiku-style poetry in Malay, Anggerik di Dahan Sakura (Orchids on a Sakura Branch). Their 18th book is about to be published.


Check out the dynamic variety of published works produced by Kumpulan Bebas Melata’s writers.

Malaysian-born Rohani Din’s first biographical novel Diari Bonda (Mother’s Diary) (1999), was conceived in devastating circumstances: when her youngest child was in a 48-day coma. Such an origin would naturally birth a series of novels that did not shy from the vulnerabilities and intimacy of daily life. Extending this cathartic, prolific space to other Malay women writers, Rohani, affectionately called Bonda by her fellow writers, was continuously inspired by the works the group produced. Every space became her office: whether standing in the bus, or on a cross-border ferry, she edited, wrote and saw them through almost 20 publications including poetry anthologies, which shed light on everyday, working class life.

For some of the writers, home life became the foundation of their words as they reclaim time lost to domestic demands, and reveal the painstaking elements of parenting and caregiving. For Rohani, resistance is the quiet roommate who lives in the shadowy corners of homemaking, refusing the injustices of gendered labour.

Rohani Din beside her late husband, Jumadi Safar, with students of Teaching College Gaya, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, (2014)
"I no longer care about the dishes in the sink. Let them sit till tomorrow morning. If I cook, let the dishes add to the pile in the sink. Let the people in this house feel the ache in my heart and eyes that I have felt all this time. I truly feel like I am treated like a domestic helper without a salary."
Rohani Din, A Mother’s Diary (1999)

"Aku tidak endahkan lagi pinggan mangkuk di dalam singki. Biarkan sampai esok pagi. Kalau aku memasak, aku akan tambah lagi…

Biarkan sesiapa yang ada di rumah berasa sakit hati dan matanya sebagaimana yang aku rasakan selama ini.

Sesungguhnya aku merasakan seperti pembantu rumah tidak bergaji."

Rohani Din, Diari Bonda (1999)
Rohani Din, Diari Bonda (A Mother’s Diary) (1999)

Between the lines of Kumpulan Bebas Melata’s stories and poems, love and memory oozes. The writers move beyond simple nostalgia and use remembrance as a tool of resistance, evoking the textures of community life, social connections, and survival.

"Outside the food stall
sits an old woman
on her face
serendipity reflected
reaching out her hands joylessly and uneasily
giving greetings
hoping for people’s offerings
to fill her empty pockets
dollars and scents donated:

Nordita Taib, The Elderly Beggar (2014)

"Di halaman pintu warung
duduk seorang wanita tua
pada raut wajahnya
terpancar ketenangan
pilu nan resah menadah tangan
mengucap salam
mengharapkan pemberian
mengisi saku yang kontang
sen dan dolar dihulurkan:

Nordita Taib, Pengemis Tua (2014)

Kamaria Buang’s Tanah, di Sini Aku Bersemadi (This Land, Where I Come to Rest) (2016) explores an intergenerational relationship with land. Similarly, Faridah Taib’s Sepi Nostalgia Keretapi Tanah Melayu Stesen Tanjung Pagar (The Sentimental Nostalgia of Tanjung Pagar Railway Station) (2016) dusts off layers of memory, remembering Tanjung Pagar Railway Station as an emblem of history and development between Singapore and Malaysia.

"Symbolic and nostalgic
like the beads of a necklace
closely connecting the two nations
knitting relations
after decades
of carrying out important duties
events recorded
memories captured
once our pride and joy"

 Faridah Taib, The Sentimental Nostalgia of Tanjung Pagar Railway Station (2016)

"Simbolik dan nostalgik
bagai untaian manik
erat mendakap kededua rakyat
satukan hubungan sesama
setelah berdasawarsa
menggalas tugas
merakam peristiwa
kenangan tercatat
pernah menjadi kebanggaan"

 Faridah Taib, Sepi Nostalgia Keretapi Tanah Melayu Stesen Tanjung Pagar (2016)

Kumpulan Bebas Melata casts a gentle, perceptive gaze on the numerous losses that emerge in contemporary life: cultural loss, historical loss and, of course, the oft-erased experiences of working class women in their domestic life. Their shared sense of place and history allows a constellation of knowledge to guide future generations. And, as Khaziah Yem depicts in Berjuang Bukan MenentangWarkah buat Sis (Fighting for, not Going Against – A Letter for a Fellow Sister) (2014), to fight is simply an act of faith.

"You say that we have to just accept and resign to fate
We can’t go against His will
I have never gone against His will

Fighting for something does not mean going against His will
We continue fighting for His love
We are fighting for His love, not going against His will"

Khaziah Yem, Fighting for, not Going Against – A Letter for a Fellow Sister (2014)

"Katamu kami harus menerima dan redha
Tidak boleh menentang kehendak Illahi
Sesungguhnya menentang tidak sekali"

"Berjuang bukan bererti menentang
Kami berjuang untuk mendapatkan kasih sayangNya…
Kami berjuang bukan menentang"

Khaziah Yem, Berjuang Bukan Menentang – Warkah buat Sis (2014)

Their Impact

It is impossible to do full justice to the impact Raja Aisyah Sulaiman, Kumpulan Bebas Melata, Adibah Amin, Sa’eda Buang, Rasiah Halil and Associate Professor (A/P) Hadijah Rahman have had on not only their fields of knowledge, but the wider cultural context of Malay literature. Their works do not stand alone: they are bound together with both the weight of history and clarity of foresight.

Collectively their words are invigorated by the same spirit for emancipation. Freedom is sought in different ways for our pioneers, but even in its most private and visceral form, politics, culture and society attempt to dictate the conditions of how it is exercised.

Our pioneering writers’ works must be understood not only through choice excerpts and quotes featured here, but as imprints that leave intergenerational marks. Rather than fading away with time, they crystallise.

"This land is
a gift to us."

Kamaria Buang, This Land, Where I Come to Rest (2016)

“Tanah ini anugerah buat kita.”

Kamaria Buang, Tanah, di Sini Aku Bersemadi (2016)

Resistance begins when we interrogate what is taken for granted. What will you question?

Rohani Din

Rohani Din, or better known as Bunda Anie Din, started writing when she became a grandmother with her novel, Diari Bonda which became a bestseller. She has written 13 novels, 6 poetry collections and about 60 poetry anthologies. Her noted works, Anugerah Buat Syamsiah and Sanggar Anugerah Istana Kami I & II won the Sayembara Novel Watan award whereas a few of her books were nominated in the Anugerah Sastera in Singapore and Malaysia. This included Ku Tunai Janji, Kereta Api Terbalik Langgar Kerbau.


  • Her first novel, Diari Bonda (1999) had a 5-print run due to its success.

  • Anugerah Buat Syamsiah (2002) won first prize for National Novel Competition organised by Perikatan Sayembara Dayacipta (PERSADA). It was also nominated for Singapore Literature Prize 2004.

  • Sanggar Anugerah Istana Kami 1 & 2 (2004) were given Silver Prize at National Novel Competition (2004)


Kamaria Buang was born on 5 February 1958. She studied at Kampong Glam Girls Primary School (1966-1971) and Sang Nila Utama Secondary School (1972-1975). She has started writing since 1972 and up till now has written about 100 poems which was published in Berita Harian/Berita Minggu and various publications and antologies. Puisi Anak Tentangga Kelantan Lane (2009) and SANDALKU MILIKMU (2015) have won the Anugerah Persuratan awarded by Malay Language Council of Singapore. Kamaria has also attended many literary events locally and the regions.


  • Anugerah Persuratan for Puisi Anak Tentangga Kelantan Lane awarded by Malay Language Council of Singapore (2009)

  • Anugerah Persuratan for SANDALKU MILIKMU awarded by Malay Language Council of Singapore (2015)

Nordita taib

Nordita Taib was educated at Duchess Primary School (1967-1972) and Sang Nila Utama Secondary School (1973-1976).

She is currently a clerk with Singapore Sports Council.

Several of her writings have been published in various anthologies and collections as well as by local Malay paper – Berita Harian/Berita Minggu, Singapore.

She received an Honourable Mention at Golden Point Award 2013. Other than that, Nordita has also collaborated with local songwriters and muscians. As a songwriter, she came in first place for a Raya song writing competition organised by Wisma Geylang Serai, 2021.


  • Honourable Mention (Malay), Golden Point Award (2013)

  • First Prize for Apakah Ini Hanya Sementara, Lagu Raya Songwriting Competition, Wisma Geylang Serai (2021)

Faridah Taib

Faridah Taib (1964) works at National Institute of Education (NIE), Singapore since 1982. Mother of 2 and a grandmother of 1, she has taken journalism course with Berita Harian. She started as a part-time journalist in 1983 with the magazines, Aneka and Puspaneka. In 2004, she started writing poetry.

Her poem
Jabal Rahmah was recorded as a song Sama-sama Beradu Gagah, an album by Kumpulan Bebas Melata. This album was supported by NAC and MUIS. She was also the lyricist for Dondang Mekar Sepanjang Masa and Irama Kemakuran which were recorded by a COMPASS commissioned album titled, Irama Kemakmuran.

Till today, Faridah regularly contributes poems and articles to the local press. She actively reads and performs her poems at events held by NLB, The Arts House, Nationaly Gallery Singapore and community clubs.

Her poem
Sepi Nostalgia Keretapi Tanah Melayu Stesen Tanjung Pagar (The Sentimental Nostalgia of Tanjung Pagar Railway Station) was recognised as the Best Published Poem at the Malay Literary Award (2017).


  • Best Published Poem for Sepi Nostalgia Keretapi Tanah Melayu Stesen Tanjung Pagar (The Sentimental Nostalgia of Tanjung Pagar Railway Station) at Malay Literary Award (2017)

Khaziah Yem

Cikgu Khaziah Yem has been writing poetry since 2012. Several of her poems have been published in Berita Harian, Berita Minggu as well as anthologies.

She collaborates with the poet and novelist from Singapore, Rohani Din under the umbrella of Kumpulan Bebas Melata and have published alongside poets from 5 other countries. She has contributed to
Senandung Tanah Merah and since 2013, have been active in literary activities initiated by Rohani Din that saw the coming together of poets from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Papua.

Her poems have been made into songs and recorded by the reknowned singer and composer Mohd Khair Mohd Yasin and his son, Bakti Khair.

She is part of Syairpura, led by Afi Hanafi who champions traditional Malay music and singing in Singapore. Cikgu Khaziah has written syair Badang and Sang Nila Utama and have performed them in Bedok Library with Syairpura in 2018. She was also in Gentarasa (2018) organised by Wisma Geylang Serai and ERA Dance Theatre. The show was directed by Cultural Medallion recipient, Osman Hamid.

Other than that, she is active with Sriwana’s Drama Unit. She organises workshops on poetry and syair for its members. She has also written syair for Sriwana’s productions such as the one act Bangsawana, Tajul Ariffin dan Puteri Dewi Gemala.


  • National Day Award – Pingat Bakti Setia (2022)