Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Lost Times and Untold Tales From The Malay World

Ian Proudfoot, one of the greatest scholars of the Islamic world of Southeast Asia and especially of early Muslim printing, passed away on 23 September 2011. The following is the introduction to the book 'Lost Times and Untold Tales From The Malay World' which pays tribute to his work.

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"maka kujadikan diriku pungutib sagala remah remah dcripada sagala taman orang orang yang bijaksana, umpama, sa'ekor lubah yang munghimpunkan mudu dcripada berbagei bagei junis bunga bungaan yang harum bahunya" From Taman Mingatauan 1848, p. 2: "I make myself a compiler of the grains from the gardens of wise men. like a honeybee collecting honey from various fragrant flowers."

Coiling like vines around the imaginary equatorial line, the lands of the Malay World are fabled for their fertility and are home to an enormous
variety of different species. The metaphorical Malay Garden of Knowledge is also renowned for its riches, and has attracted the attention of many scholarly cultivators intent on revealing the evocative textures of its lost times and its untold tales.

Few scholars can match Ian Proudfoot's inspiring work in this scholarly garden, where, for the past three decades, he has cultivated with love and care the flowers and shoots of Malay World epistemology. Honouring the spirit of Proudfoot's scholarship, Lost Times and Untold Tales from the Malay World comprises original and provocative essays that reveal how analyses of offbeat texts can produce fascinating insights into the past. In one absorbing volume, a multi-disciplinary cohort of international academics presents intriguing, amusing and thought-provoking perspectives on calendars, royal myths, colonial expeditions, printing, propaganda, rituals, theatre, art, advertising, Islamic manuscripts, gardens and erotic literature. Linked by themes of transformations in time, texts and technologies, the essays apply the approaches of history, anthropology, art history, archaeology, linguistics, philology, literary criticism, and textual analysis to a marvellous array of cultural expressions from the Malay World, a huge geographical area spanning Peninsular and Insular Southeast Asia, with excursions into West, South, and East Asia as well as the "West". In this volume, mousedeers and beached whales, giant lizards, gaseous windbags and marginal Islamic scholars, Christian priests and Japanese aristocrats all roam around freely — a forceful demonstration of the futility of essentialising the cultural, literary and historical riches of the Malay World. 

Proudfoot's fascination with texts, technologies and time to a large extent has shaped his academic life, forging his worldwide reputation as an acknowledged expert in the Malay classical literature canon, philology, codicology, early printing and newspapers. His research interests branched out to include literacy, printing and colonial education in nineteenth-century Muslim Southeast Asia, ideologies and genres in classical Malay manuscript literature, and the history of Southeast Asian Muslim calendars, and Indian calendars in Java.

Impressive and varied as his intellectual output is, there are two
prize cultivars in Proudfoot's scholarly garden. The Malay Concordance Project (MCP), an online searchable database of classical Malay texts, comprises over 4 million words and 95 texts, including 80,000 verses.
The MCP is a tribute to Proudfoot's linguistic, literary and technological expertise and his lifelong commitment to sharing and promoting research among the international community of scholars of Malay literature. With his magnificent MCP, Proudfoot has revamped and structurally refurbished the Malay Garden of Knowledge enabling students of Malay literature in the whole world to use it.

His fascination with early Malay printing has yielded an authorita­
tive 858-page book containing a database of early printed materials from the "lands below the winds" in the British colonial sphere. The book is introduced with an extended essay that outlines and analyses the advent, heyday and demise of indigenous printing in British Malaya. With the expert assistance of his companion gardener, Lee Yook, Proudfoot has meticulously analysed thousands of often overlooked and cheaply printed publications and has rescued them from oblivion. At the same time he has filled the yawning abyss between "traditional" and "modern" Malay writing and, with his fine sense for nuance and detail, Proudfoot gallantly forbore from appending the label "transitional" or "intermediary" to it.

Unusual for a compilation of books, printers, publishers, copyists,
printshops, etc., the database evokes a sense of excitement in the reader; it strikes an emotional chord and evokes a certain dramatic tension. Proudfoot, in his inimitable style, has succeeded in designing a seductive scholarly
garden in which it is a great pleasure to roam — to plagiarise the metaphor Gijs Koster used for his book on classical Malay texts. Entering Proudfoot's lost world is like embarking on an expedition: one roams at will, looking up references and making one's own discoveries of connections and small networks between texts, publishers and distributors.

Myths, journeys and the cultural significance of expeditions form
the themes in the next series of essays. On an excursion to a small village in Central Java, George Quinn finds and discusses Java's Get­Rich-Quick Tree, home to the money-spinning creatures known as tuyul. Timothy Barnard continues with an expedition to Komodo Island, home of the giant lizard species, which inspired the creation of the Hollywood gorilla, King Kong. A Japanese aristocrat "hunter-gatherer" features in the next essay by Mikihiro Moriyama, who explores the role of Lord-Hunting-Tiger, or Marquis Yoshichika Tokugawa, in the study of the Malay language in Japan. His decision to convalesce in the Lands to the South had far-reaching consequences for the big-game hunting Marquis and consequently for relations between Japan and the Malay World. Amin Sweeney shows that not all expeditions were successful or heroic. In his contribution he compares two accounts of the death of the explorer H. M. Becher; one a speech by the President of the Royal Geographical Society and the other a short story by Hugh Clifford entitled "Albert Trevor". The eulogy on the sad demise of "a Martyr of Science" given by the Society's President is juxtaposed with Clifford's "ripping yarn" about Trevor's, alias Becher's, expedition and the less than heroic death of "a Gaseous Windbag of Colossal Ignorance".

Lost Times and Untold Tales from the Malay World
begins with a series of papers related to time and royal myths. Proudfoot's own penetrating and mathematical work on time, its cyclical and linear quantification and the cultural significance of calendrical values are reflected in two pieces by Ricklefs and Kumar. Merle Ricklefs corrects a previous scholarly error about the date of the founding of Surakarta and presents a fascinating glimpse into Javanese chronograms. Using the Christian calendar as a counterpoint, Ann Kumar explores different dimensions of time in the Javanese calendar and the dominance of royalty in its myths. John Miksic also considers issues of royalty and time by investigating shining or investiture stones and their cultural continuity which links the present with the prehistoric Indonesian tradition.

Transformations in textual genres, different types of texts, their performance contexts and their cultural embeddedness, understandings of what a text is, as well as identifying key figures in and behind texts are central themes in Proudfoot's work and are themes reprised in the next series of papers in this volume. Mary Kilcline Cody discusses the advertised "testimonials" of a number of ailing colonials who claimed to have been cured by the universal remedy of Dr William• Pink Pills for Pale People. She traces these advertisements or pieces of infotainment back to Dr Williams himself while also looking into medical discussions about the remarkable range of ailments experienced by Europeans in Malaya. Paul Kratoska turns his attention to the cloak and dagger world of Allied propaganda in Sumatra and Malaya towards the end of World War II. His analyses of radio broadcast scripts, pamphlets, postcards and matchboxes offer intriguing insights into Allied understandings of' the Malay world. Jan van der Putten considers another type of text issued by colonial law enforcement agencies to physically hunt down fugitives. Wanted posters were used to try to capture suspects but also had the unwanted side-effect of causing a rise in corruption and boosting the suspect's reputation. This may be one of the reasons why the genre seems to have had little success in Southeast Asia, especially if it concerned a "political" fugitive.

The search for Fatimah, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, in a wide array of texts in several languages of Insular Southeast Asia organised by Wendy Mukherjee yields a fascinating result about the "mundane" and "cultic" representations of this revered and prominent member of the House of Muhammad (Ahl al-Bait). Michael Laffan provides a thought-provoking philological exploration into the contextual nature of the term "Jawi" as the Arabic appellation of place of origin (nisba), which ends in the identification of one of the four key players in a religious controversy taking place at the Acehnese court in the seventeenth century. Another of these key players, Shams al-Din, is discussed by A. H. Johns, who calls for a reappraisal of his scholarship, while Mark Emmanuel tries to draw Muhammad Yusuf, a key figure behind Maialah Guru, out of the shadow cast by his older brother Zainal Abidin, better known as Za'ba. Unveiling hitherto unknown or overlooked figures and their works is also the main theme in the two following contributions in which Anthony Reid traces the printing activities of the Catholic Priest, Fr. Pecot in early nineteenth-century Penang, while Edwin Wieringa sheds light on a marginally printed work by the prolific and well-known Islamic scholar and supervisor of the Malay press in Mecca, Ahmad al-Fatani.

Transformations in social and performative contexts are key themes in the next series of papers. Julian Millie's social history of the karamat ritual in West Java traces its evolution and explores how the karamat reading tradition holds authority in different social contexts. Helen Creese examines the reasons for the continuing popularity of oral performances in what should be the print-literate society of Bali and transformation is also a key notion in Holger Warnk's essay, where he follows the peregrination of Faust as represented in different genres of Southeast Asian performance. While Muhammad Haji Salleh looks for love and its representation in older Malay texts, Christine Campbell has found it in the early-twentieth century novel Hikayat Faridah Hanom by Syed Sheikh al-Nadi. Muhammad argues that while unveiled descriptions of romantic relationships are rare, there are still many literary examples that feature love, and he discusses the different stages of the affair as discernible in one text. Christine analyses the early Malay novel from the unconventional perspective of erotic tension that is caused by the delay of sexual union between the two lovers. She notes a special role for objects of modernity such as letters, carriages and a pistol, which tend to lead a life of their own in the erotic plot of this novel that is most often analysed from Islamic reformist and feminist perspectives.
The social and political significance of certain artefacts of modernity form the core of the essay by Kees van Dijk. The introduction of the bicycle had far-reaching consequences for the emancipation of women, for workers, as well as for the indigenous population of the colonies. Inevitably, the introduction of modern technologies also caused tensions, including the danger of accidents caused by bicycles, tram ways and, of course, cars. Nico Kaptein takes up this transport theme in his perusal of the letters of Sayyid 'Uthman and offers insights into aspects of modernity, particularly of the danger of the proliferation of cars in colonial Batavia.

Colonial intrusions also motivated scholarly research into a bouquet
of Southeast Asian cultures and literatures, thereby systematising them, distorting their texture and destroying connections between them. Ulrich Kratz considers these distortions that have triggered the compartmental­isation of cultures into different categories, destroying relations that
were in place before the advent of Western powers in Southeast Asia. He discusses the Jawi writing tradition that cemented the relations of Islamic polities with the wider Muslim World and calls for a study of the remains of the writing tradition in the Southern Philippines. Campbell Macknight also wants to rescue something from oblivion: the whale of Bugis scholarship in the form of Matthes's monumental Bugis­Dutch dictionary is washed ashore on the beaches of Sulawesi, and it is Macknight's plan to doctor it up and tow it back to open waters so that many scholars are given the chance to use it. In his contribution, he outlines a programme of action for a major revisiting and translation of this work with a view to setting it free in the virtual ocean of the Internet, along the lines of Proudfoot's inspirational MCP.

Annabel Gallop revisits Ian Proudfoot's article on a Malay manuscript
of the Cunning Mousedeer story that was erroneously categorised as "Chinese" because it was brought back on a return voyage from China and the French savants at the time could not understand the script. This has inspired Gallop to trace Chinese influences on the illumination patterns of Malay religious manuscripts. She picks here a lotus flower, there a chrysanthemum motif from the Malay garden, which may suggest that Proudfoot's Mousedeer may have been Chinese after all, at least in its illumination. The finale to the Malay garden of knowledge theme is provided by Virginia Hooker who considers how some of these gardens were designed, constructed and represented in the literary imagination. In the concluding essay to this volume, she sets off on a lyrical foray into the significance of Malay literary representations and conceptualisations of the garden, starting from the garden as pleasure grounds for the dead as it is described in the Qur'an. This conceptual garden has inspired Muslim peoples to design gardens reflecting Paradise, while it was also taken up as metaphor for books and institutions to teach the believers about their tasks in terrestrial life. One of the most important tasks in this conception is to seek knowledge.

Proudfoot's career is defined by an abiding interest in the value of
knowledge for knowledge's sake, which makes him a scholar of the old school. Nothing is more alien to this scholar than a notion that there may be certain things that are unworthy of study. His absolute confidence in the intrinsic value of the scholarly enterprise is matched only by his disdain for the mutable trends and fashions that sometimes and perhaps increasingly dictate scholarly activity. His reserved nature conceals a resolute insistence on approaching things on his own terms and
these characteristics explain his status as a respected colleague and an inspiring role model for many generations of students.
A teacher and mentor, Ian Proudfoot has trained and inspired many active scholars in Australia, the United States, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Britain. His intellectual brilliance, unfailing courtesy, great humanity, and generosity to colleagues and students in his over 30 years at the Faculty of Asian Studies at the Australian National University are legendary. Although his interests sometimes may at first glance appear quirky and offbeat, he brings to bear great expertise, thoroughness and that rare ability to make material speak volumes about culture and society. The Malay Garden of Knowledge is indeed ably tended by the range and depth of this quiet scholar's interests and his perceptive uncovering of its lost times and untold tales represents a remarkable and enduring legacy. 

From Lost Times and Untold Tales from the Malay World, By Jan van der Putten, Mary Kilcline Cody, NUS Press, 2009. A preview of the book is available at Google Books