Category Archives: Malaysia

Melaka, Asia’s “Gullet”

From Singapore: Unlikely Power, by John Curtis Perry (Oxford U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 552-76, 592-600:

The fleeing rulers of Temasek found a new home in Melaka, almost exactly as far from today’s Singapore as Albany is from Manhattan (127 miles). The name Melaka proved highly appropriate, deriving as it does from the Arabic meaning “meeting place” or “rendezvous.” Its origins are hazy like those of its predecessors Temasek or Singapura being the stuff of legend, but early in the fifteenth century a Hindu kingdom emerged there, soon to become a Muslim sultanate, the faith brought in by itinerant merchants traveling from the west.

Melaka was not a new kind of settlement but was in the pattern of other Southeast Asian cosmopolitan maritime entrepôts, a place for trading. Here on the straits a tiny fishing community evolved into a hangout for those wanting a center to conduct commerce or to exploit a strategic position to exact fees from passing ships, and, more crudely, we might say a place to fence stolen goods.

Unlike most Southeast Asian trading towns, which placed themselves defensively upriver to discourage maritime marauders, Melaka sat boldly at the mouth of a muddy stream where moored vessels rolled gently in the current or rode offshore in a sheltered spot on an easily navigable approach where ships could find safe anchorage.

The city that arose there depended almost totally on trade even, with the exception of fish, needing to import its basic foods to fill the rice bowl as well as to provide most other sustenance. Its land, hacked out of dense jungle, was ill-suited to growing grain although fruit orchards flourished at hand. Fruit does not travel well, especially in a hot climate. If you wanted to eat it, you had to grow it. Melaka, with its back to untamed jungle, lacked continental hinterland and we have no indication that anyone was interested in clearing and farming land beyond the outskirts of town.

Without an easily accessible hinterland, trade furnished Melaka’s life stream. Although not situated at the straits’ narrowest point, the city could control a navigable passage through which much oceanic traffic passed. It lay on the direct route between the Maluku islands (the Moluccas), the heart of Indonesian spice growing, and Alexandria, the Egyptian feeder port for Venice, the European distributor. Melaka would become the metropolis of the straits for more than a century, a flourishing maritime state presumably never as populous as Venice, but comparable to London at the time. Like other trading cities in the region, it was largely independent of any bigger territorial authority. Saltwater space formed its true sphere, “the axis of the realm.”

At the peak of its power in the fifteenth century, Melaka made itself master of both sides of the straits and the islands within, but its empire was less a matter of territory than situation, its purpose being to protect trade streams and sources of manpower and foodstuffs.

The cast of characters in Melaka at its peak illustrates the multiethnic, multicultural character of maritime life. Giving it color and pulse were Chinese, Javanese, Tagalogs, Persians, Tamils from South India, Gulf Arabs, Gujerati Indians from the far northwest of the subcontinent, and even a few of the great cosmopolitan traders, Armenians and Jews. In short, people from the whole of the Asian maritime littoral and beyond crowded the streets and bazaars of the city, all intent on doing business.

An early European visitor would call the straits, a place of cultural and commercial convergence, Asia’s “gullet,” and, mindful of its wide-ranging significance in the spice trade, declared “Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice,” the center for distributing spices to consumers throughout Europe. If Venice were the “hinge of Europe,” so Melaka might have been described as the hinge of Eurasia.

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Rise and Fall of Temasek

From Singapore: Unlikely Power, by John Curtis Perry (Oxford U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 507-27, 532-40:

Archaeologists give us a sense of Temasek’s physical features: a terraced hill overlooking the Singapore River with a palace, market, defenses, earthen rampart, and moat. The earthen wall represented a commitment to permanence. Not even royal palaces commanded permanent building materials. But we do have some baked brick and stone remnants from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries suggesting Buddhist temples. Unfortunately, during the early British colonial era, much was destroyed in the rush for development. And therefore the legend could arise, and long lingered in the standard histories, that nothing had existed in Singapore until the British arrived in 1819.

Being a religious center as well as a commercial one, Temasek seems to fit into a pattern of the Malay port city, its wall being an exception. Religion reflected Indic impulses, not Chinese. The hilltop held cosmological significance, representing Mount Meru, known in both Indian Buddhist and Hindu tradition as a divine abode and metaphysical center of the universe. For creating this sacred place, the builders, because they lacked labor, used a natural landscape, not a constructed one such as at the great Angkor. They then carefully allotted the downward spaces, using walls and water to define them. Divinities commanded the top; artisans lived at a respectful distance on a lower level of the hill where they fashioned such objects as pottery, glassware, and fine jewelry.

Chinese people, perhaps the first Overseas Chinese community in Southeast Asia, lived there alongside local peoples instead of in their own separate neighborhood, illustrating the diversity of this maritime town, serving as useful intermediaries in the China trade, so important in the economy. Of Temasek they reported “the soil is poor and grain scarce.”

The need to survive thus demanded trade. Coins show sophistication, and unearthed pieces of fine porcelain would indicate that people wanted high-quality ceramics not ones locally produced. Temasek thus took its place in the “ceramic route,” a southern Eurasian maritime equivalent to the continental Silk Road. Heavy and delicate porcelain could travel in volume only by sea. In return for such prized Chinese goods, the town could feed the overseas market with a luxury item, hornbill casques, so-called yellow jade, a precious bird ivory that had the advantage of being something that the Chinese highly prized and was easier to carve than other ivories.

Two poles of power, Siam and Java-Sumatra, met in the straits where these Malay city-state ports like Temasek or Palembang on Sumatra enjoyed an autonomy deriving from the ability of their rulers to generate wealth through commerce, as does today’s Singapore. Like today, the broader Asian economy largely determined what happened on Singapore Island. Local people were players in a game heavily determined by outsiders, principally Chinese and Indians, the two Eurasian super economies.

Caught between the Thai (Siamese) and the Javanese, the ruler of Temasek fled and the population followed. It had lasted only a century, yielding to the nearby port of Melaka, which benefited from cultivating a close relationship with the Chinese court. Temasek/Singapura declined as a trading state or as a political nerve center and ultimately the site was virtually abandoned. That was how the British would find it when they came early in the nineteenth century. But it continued to be important in Malayan history, figuring heavily in its mythology and remembered as the founding home of the dynasty that would flourish elsewhere in the region: successively in Melaka, Johor, and the nearby Riau Archipelago.

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Some Loanwords in Indonesian/Malay: A

From: Loan-Words in Indonesian and Malay, ed. by Russell Jones (KITLV Press, 2007), ignoring the far too numerous loans from Arabic, Dutch, and English.

Chinese

aci (Amoy) elder sister
ahsiu (Amoy) dried, salted duck
a i (Amoy) aunt (addressing younger than speaker’s mother)
akew (Hakka) term of address for boy (‘little dog’)
amah (Amoy) female servant
amho (Amoy) secret sign, password
amoi (Chiangchiu) younger sister; girl
ampai (Amoy) detective
angciu (Amoy) red wine
angco (Amoy) dried Chinese dates (Z. jujuba)
ancoa (Amoy) how can that be?
anghun (Amoy) shredded tobacco
angkak (Amoy) grains of red sticky rice (O. glutinosa)
angki (Amoy) persimmon (D. kaki)
angkin (Amoy) waist belt
angkong (Amoy) grandfather
angkong (Amoy) ricksha
anglo (Amoy) heating stove
anglung (Amoy) pavilion
angpai (Amoy) card game employing 56 cards
angpau (Amoy) present given at Chinese new year
angsio (Amoy) braise in soy sauce
angso (Amoy) red bamboo shoot
apa (Amoy) dad, father
apak (Hakka) old man, ‘uncle’ (lit. father’s elder brother)
apék (Amoy) old man, ‘uncle’ (lit. father’s elder brother)
apiun (Amoy) opium
asuk (Hakka) ‘uncle’, father’s younger brother

Hindi

abaimana anal and urethral orifices (with regard to ablution)
acita fine rice
anggerka gown
antari inner
arwa saw-edged knife
aruda rue (bot.)
ayah Indian nurse

Japanese

anata you
arigato thank you
aza hamlet

Persian

acar pickles
adas fennel
aftab sun
agar in order to
agha nobleman
ahli versed in; member of
aiwan hall
ajaibkhanah museum
akhtaj vassal
almas diamond
anggur grape
anjir fig
arzak beautiful gem
asa mint
asabat nerve
asmani heavenly
atisnyak fiery, glowing
azad faultless

Portuguese

alabangka lever
alketip carpet
alpayaté tailor
alpérés ensign, sublieutenant
andor (obs.) a litter on which images of saints were borne
antero whole
aria lower away (naut.)
arku bow (of a kite)
aria, aris-aris bolt rope, shrouds (naut.)
arkus arches (triumphal, with festoons)
armada armada, squadron, naval fleet
asar roast; barbecue

Sanskrit

acara program, agenda
adi beginning, first, best, superior
adibusana haute couture
adicita ideology
adidaya superpower
adikarya masterpiece
adimarga boulevard
adipati governor
adipura cleanest (etc.) city (chosen annually)
adiraja royal by descent
adiratna jewel, beautiful woman
adisiswa best student
adiwangsa of high nobility
adiwarna glowing with colour
agama religion
agamiwan religious person
ahimsa non-violence
aksara letter
amerta immortal
amerta nectar
amra mango
ancala mountain
anda musk gland
Andoman Hanuman
anduwan foot chain
anéka all kinds of
anékawarna multi-coloured
anggota member
angka number, figure
angkara insolence, cruel
angkasa sky
angkasawan astronaut; broadcaster
angkasawati astronaut; broadcaster (fem.)
angkus elephant-goad
angsa goose
aniaya violation
anjangkarya working visit
antakusuma cloth made from several pieces
antar- inter-
antara (in) between
antarabangsa international
antariksa sky
antariksawan astronaut
antariksawati astronaut (fem.)
antamuka interface (of computer)
antarnegara international
anugerah (royal) favour
anumerta posthumous
apsari nymph
arca image; computer icon
aria a high title
arti meaning
Arya Aryan race
aryaduta ambassador
asmara love
asmaraloka world of love
asrama hostel
asta cubit
asta eight
astagina eightfold
astaka octagonal bench
astakona octagon
astana palace
asusila immoral
atau or
atma(n) soul

Tamil

acaram wedding ring
acu mould, model
andai possibility
anéka various, diverse
anékaragam various kinds
apam rice flour cake
awa- free from
awanama anonymous
awatara incarnation
awawarna blanched, decolorized

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Slavery in the Dutch East Indies, 1600-1800

From: Being “Dutch” in the Indies: A History of Creolisation and Empire, 1500–1920, by Ulbe Bosma and Remco Raben, tr. by Wendie Shaffer (National U. Singapore Press, 2008), pp. 46-47:

While Mestizo communities were growing rapidly in the colonies in South Asia, Java and the Moluccas, things were looking very different in Batavia. Here the social spectrum was, in a manner of speaking, weighed down under the burden of two opposing immigrant streams. On the one hand were the large numbers of newcomers from Europe. They continued to occupy the upper ranks in the Dutch East India Company, fashioning their world with their conventions and status norms. Among the newcomers were thousands of soldiers living in the garrisons who were not permitted to marry. On the other hand, the city swarmed with slaves who had been brought there from neighbouring regions and who, after manumission, filled the ranks of the urban proletariat. During the 17th and 18th centuries between 200,000 and 300,000 slaves were transported to Batavia. Indeed, the majority of those living in Batavia had a background of slavery. Inside the city walls, where about 20,000 people lived, at least half the population were slaves and 10 per cent were Mardijkers [interesting etymology!—J.]. Most of the extramural communities also consisted of former slaves and their children. The demographic effects of the slave trade were enormous: when slavery was abolished in 1813, population growth ceased for a long time.

The Europeans were the largest group of slave owners. There are no statistics recording how many slaves there were per household in Batavia, but figures from other comparable cities can offer some idea. In Colombo in 1694, 70 per cent of the slaves were owned by Europeans, with an average of almost 11 slaves per household; on Ambon these figures were respectively 59 per cent and almost five. In Batavia the Mardijker community fluctuated with the number of Europeans in the city, which suggests a close correlation between the number of Europeans and the emancipation of Christian slaves. There appears to have been an almost insatiable demand for slaves. The whole of Batavia — from the company’s dockyards to household personnel, from orchestras to agriculture — depended on slave labour. The ubiquitous slaves also provided easy sexual contacts for their owner. Presumably, sexual relations between masters and their slaves were so common, and so much a matter of course, that they were seldom given special mention.

Slavery left other traces on the pattern of urban life. It was customary for Europeans to baptise their slaves. This practice took off after 1648, when baptised slaves were admitted to the religious celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the Dutch Reformed Church. In Protestant churches it was not the sacrament of baptism but that of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist or Holy Communion) that admitted a person into the community of Christian believers. Furthermore, many Batavian Europeans took pride in emancipating their baptised slaves. They would usually do this in their wills. Some of the emancipated slaves would, not surprisingly, be the natural children of slave women and European fathers. Once they had been baptised and emancipated, these former slaves merged into the Mardijker community. The Mardijkers were a flock of varied plumage. Initially, most of the slaves in Batavia came from India and Bali. This changed between 1660 and 1670, when the VOC halted its slave trade from India and Pegu (southern Burma) and, after the capture of the southern Sulawesi kingdom of Goa, channelled the extensive slave-trade network from Makassar to Batavia. The slaves of Indian origin living in Batavia quickly became a minority group. After some decades, this shift in slave supply areas resulted in the establishment of a Malay-speaking church in Batavia. The slaves from India tended to speak Portuguese, and the lingua franca in most households with slaves would probably also have been Portuguese. Thus, after their emancipation, slaves from India as well as the East Indies joined the Portuguese-speaking community. Between October 1688 and February 1708 there were 4,426 people accepted into the Portuguese-speaking church, while in the Malay-speaking church the number is no more than 306. With time, the Portuguese language began to fade out of use, and so during the 18th century the balance shifted. In the 1780s each year saw about 30 people joining the Portuguese congregation, while 31 were accepted into the Malay church.

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Extraterritoriality for Everyone

From: Being “Dutch” in the Indies: A History of Creolisation and Empire, 1500–1920, by Ulbe Bosma and Remco Raben, tr. by Wendie Shaffer (National U. Singapore Press, 2008), pp. 4-5:

Segregation and extra-territoriality — the principle that foreign merchants were subject to their own laws — had many advantages. The local ruler had to negotiate with only a few representatives rather than each individual trader. Maintaining law and order — especially when it had to do with family and inheritance law — could be left to the internal authority of the immigrant community. And the advantages were all too clear for the foreign merchants: they were able to continue living under their own laws. “Legal pluralism” — that is, different groups falling under different legal systems and authorities — was characteristic of the fragmented power relations in the cities and states of South and Southeast Asia. The highest authority was the king, but he was not all-powerful. He had to deal with courtiers, regional governors, religious leaders and the representatives of foreign merchants. Each one of these had their own followers, their own servants and their own slaves who remained outsidethe reach of the central ruler.

The distribution of political power was reflected in urban space. In Ayutthaya large communities of foreign merchants lived in ban (villages or districts) situated just outside the city walls. At the close of the 17th century we find mention of communities from Gujarat (Hindustanis), Coromandel (Moors), Pegu, Malacca (Malays), Makassar, Cochin-China (Vietnamese), China, Japan, Portugal, France and the Netherlands. Each of these communities had its own headman; the large Chinese community even had two. However, although in theory the ethnic groups seemed juridically and spatially segregated, daily reality was somewhat more complicated than the above might suggest. Foreigners and their descendants were not prevented from gaining access to the Siamese community. The extensive “Portuguese” settlement — outside the city walls and facing the Dutch trading post — was peopled by “a Portuguese race descended from black women”; in other words, Mestizos, children with a Portuguese father and a Siamese mother. In other communities, too, there was considerable mixing between travellers from abroad and local women, again resulting in children of mixed parentage.

The mixing went beyond family relations; some foreigners even attained high-ranking posts at court. At the end of the 17th century, for instance, the royal guard of Ayutthaya was composed of a couple of hundred Persians, while for three successive generations the chief minister (chaopraya) came from a Persian family, only to be followed by a Greek. Other first ministers were of Indian, Chinese and Mon descent. The king of Siam also employed Englishmen — for instance, as harbour master. Evidently, the king preferred to employ foreigners in key positions, since they did not command a large band of followers who might pose a threat to the throne. But their difference stopped there. Nowhere do we find the suggestion that these families behaved as foreigners. On the contrary, it seems that they adapted themselves to the culture and customs of the Ayutthaya court. They married into Siamese families and ultimately became totally assimilated.

Along the coast of the Malay peninsula and in the Indonesian archipelago, the pattern of segregation and mediation was essentially no different from that in Siam. The city of Malacca, which during the 15th century thrived on the expanding international trade and attracted many foreigners, appointed four syahbandar (harbour masters) to maintain contacts between the local government and various trading communities, and also to administer justice and act as military commanders in times of war. The syahbandar appointed from the Gujaratis of northwest India was described by the Portuguese traveller Tome Pires as “the most important of them all”. Then there was a syahbandar for the merchants from Coromandel, Bengal, Pegu and Pasai (in north Sumatra); one for the foreigners from Java, the Moluccas, Banda, Palembang, Borneo and Luzon; and, finally, one for the Chinese and other traders from the East.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Ayutthaya and Malacca were among the largest cities in Southeast Asia. Travellers from Europe estimated the population of these places to be as large as 200,000 — although in reality the number would have been closer to 10,000. But whatever the actual figure, there is no doubt that these were bustling emporiums, where a foreigner was not an uncommon sight. There was a prevailing pattern of segregation, but we cannot say with any accuracy how strictly this was applied.

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Borrowed Gender Distinctions in Malay

There was an interesting discussion a couple of weeks ago on the An-lang (Austronesian languages) listserv about how those languages distinguish gender. Here’s my heavily copyedited rendition of the posting by Waruno Mahdi, whose breadth and depth of knowledge about Malay is hard to match.

The situation in Malay is similar to that described by Paz Naylor for Tagalog/Cebuano/Hiligaynon in the Philippines. The language did not originally have gender-specific terms, other than for ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘aunt’, ‘uncle’, ‘elder brother’, perhaps also ‘elder sister’. There are also gender-specific honorific titles in Malay folklore, where hang appears before a man’s name and dang before a woman’s name.

Terms for animals can be made gender-specific by adding the attribute jantan ‘male’ or betina ‘female’ behind the gender-neutral noun. That usage is already widespread in the earliest (16th-century) manuscripts, and does not appear to reflect late external influence.

The corresponding pattern for distinguishing male and female human terms is to add lelaki ‘man’ or perempuan ‘woman’ after the head noun. This usage is likewise attested in early manuscripts, but not as frequently as the usage for animals. The most frequent headword with those attributes was anak ‘child’, and the resulting construction distinguished ‘boy/son’ and ‘girl/daughter’.

Another such headword in earliest sources was raja ‘king’, a loanword from Sanskrit. In the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) one can find raja perempuan used to mean ‘female king, reigning queen’ (not simply ‘king’s wife’).

Malay borrowings from Sanskrit go back to the first millennium A.D., but the rise of word pairs marked specifically for gender in Malay did not occur until fairly recently. The term for ‘madam, milady’ in the earliest Malay manuscripts was tuan putri (‘master, sir, milord’ + Sanskrit loanword for ‘daughter’). The male equivalent of putri in Sanskrit is putra ‘son’, but the two words were used differently in Malay. Putra ‘son’ was fully incorporated into the language, giving rise to derived forms such as berputrakan ‘to have as son’, whereas the usage of putri was restricted almost exclusively to the expression tuan putri attached to the proper names of noble women. In a quick search of Ian Proudfoot’s MCP, I only came across a single deviant example in Hikayat Bayan Budiman, in which putri is used in both singular and plural to mean ‘princess’.

The rise of morphologically distinguished gender pairs dates to the 1930s in Indonesian Malay, where saudara ‘sibling’ had come to be used as term of address between indigenous Indonesians (somewhat like the word citoyen during the French Revolution). Political gender-correctness then demanded a term for female compatriots (equivalent to citoyenne), so the Sanskrit pattern of putra ‘son, prince’ vs. putri ‘daughter, princess’ (in their modern meanings) was extended to create saudari as the female counterpart to saudara. This pattern was later extended to create many more gender pairs, such as mahasiswa vs. mahasiswi for male vs. female students.

In response, David Gil notes Malay usage of mister (< English) to mean ‘white person’, whether male, female, singular, or plural. Whereupon Mahdi observes that similar antecedents, sinyor (< Portuguese senhor) and menir (from Dutch mijnheer), applied only to white males. A funny example he cites is a brand of Javanese herbal medicine (jamu) from the early 20th century known as jamu cap Nyonya-Meneer (lit. ‘missus-&-mister brand herbal-medicine’), with a picture of a Dutch couple on the package.

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The Model T’s Effect on the Amazon

Seringueiros [rubber tappers] were, by default, the true settlers of Brazil’s interior. When Henry Ford had introduced the Model T in 1908, the Amazon had been the world’s sole source of rubber. The wild popularity of these automobiles, and the seemingly insatiable demand for rubber that accompanied them, had ignited a frenzy in South America that rivaled the California gold rush. In The Sea and the Jungle, H. M. Tomlinson complained that the only thing Brazilians saw in their rich rain forests in 1910 was rubber. “It is blasphemous that in such a potentially opulent land the juice of one of its wild trees should be dwelt upon … as though it were the sole act of Providence,” he wrote. “The passengers on the river boats are rubber men, and the cargoes are rubber. All the talk is of rubber.” Two years before Roosevelt had set sail for South America, his friend the great American naturalist John Muir had been similarly astonished by the rubber lust that he had witnessed as he traveled through the Amazon. “Into this rubbery wilderness thousands of men, young and old, rush for fortunes,” he marveled, “half crazy, half merry, daring fevers, debilitating heat, and dangers of every sort.”

By the time Roosevelt reached the Amazon, the dangers were still there but the promise of riches had all but disappeared. The bottom had dropped out of the South American rubber boom in 1912, when the Amazon lost its lock on the market. Thirty-six years earlier, an Englishman named Henry Wickham had smuggled Hevea brasiliensis seeds, the most popular species of Amazonian rubber tree, out of Brazil. Those seeds had then been cultivated at Kew Gardens, and the British had eventually planted their predecessors in tropical Malaysia. There, far from their natural enemies, the trees could be planted in neat rows with no fear that a blight would destroy the entire crop, as it likely would have done in South America. Labor in Malaysia was also not only cheap but readily available, and much more easily controlled. So successful had been the transfer of rubber trees to the Far East that by 1913 Malaya and Ceylon were producing as much rubber as the Amazon.

SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 317-318

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