New Terrains in Aceh’s History: Rereading Texts, Objects, and Practices
Part 1Session 2
Wed 14:00-15:30 Room 3.08
Part 2Session 3
Wed 16:00-17:30 Room 3.08
- Jessica Rahardjo Oxford University
- Zacky Khairul Umam School of Oriental and African Studies/University of London
Save This EventAdd to Calendar
Documents from Islamic chanceries in Southeast Asia: eseuteumi/sitemi in Aceh
Annabel Gallop British Library
Malay epistolography or letter-writing has been well studied since the early 19th century, with scholars from Marsden (1812) onwards highlighting the remarkable consistency in formal protocols across the archipelago which were perpetuated through four centuries. The study of Malay letters has benefitted from an abundance of primary sources, albeit it should be cautioned that most of the letters represent one particular strand of relationships only, namely between Malay rulers and nobles and European officialdom.
Intellectual tradition in 18th century Aceh: picking fragments out of a codex
Zacky Khairul Umam School of Oriental and African Studies/University of London
There are numerous studies on the intellectual culture in Aceh in the 17th century, despite many new archives and perspectives that need further research. In the following century, when the Sultanate of Aceh was ruled first by the Hadrami and then by the Buginese, literary and intellectual culture seems to have declined greatly. The over-emphasis on the ‘major figures’ from Hamzah Fansuri (d. ca. late the 16th century) to Abd al-Rauf al-Fansuri (d. 1693) and the lack of information on other names and their writings have resulted in potential figures and their cultural milieu being marginalised.
This study attempts to fill this gap by reconstructing some literary and theological treatises authored and scribed during the reign of Sultan Alauddin Johan Shah (r. 1735-1760). The central question of this paper is: to what extent can we get a picture of Acehnese scholarly culture in this period from an extant codex?
The Sultanate of Aceh and Hierarchy in International Society: Rethinking Aceh-Ottoman Relation in the 19th Century
Baiquni Hasbi University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill
Many scholars portray the 19th-century Aceh-Ottoman diplomatic appeal as a natural continuation from the 16th century, on account of the two states shared Muslim identity. Conversely, I argue, the British empire would have been a more ‘natural’ ally for the Sultanate of Aceh as exemplified in Aceh-British treaty in 1819. But why since the late 1830s in response to the encroaching Dutch empire in Sumatra Island, Mansur Shah, the sultan of Aceh, started to see the Ottoman empire as his promising ally? Differed significantly from the 16th century diplomatic letter, why did Sultan of Aceh, in the letter to Ottoman Sultan in 1850s, represent himself as the legitimate regional Muslim leaders and described Dutch Empire as a Christian group? The answer lies in the specific character of the 19th century international society. As opposed to the 16th century, the international society in the 19th century was ordered in hierarchical and unequal relation between the ’civilized’ and less ‘civilized’ state. It was in this context that the Sultanate of Aceh ‘naturally’ requested protection from the British Empire, as the leader of the ‘civilized’ empire, in 1819. By the second quarter of the century, however, the paradox practices of Dutch Civilizing Mission in Indonesian archipelago and the idleness of British Empire after London Treaty in 1824 forced Mansur Shah to perceive the hierarchical ordering of the international society had benefited more the Christian European Empire like the Dutch empire. Hence, the Sultanate also altered its view to Ottoman Sultan, as a ‘civilized’ Muslim European empire.
Water, white ants, and war: reconstituting Acehnese manuscripts libraries
Mulaika Hijjas School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
In the 1901 proceedings of the Bataviaasch Genootschap, the Islamologist Snouck Hurgronje writes of a collection of 315 manuscripts seized by Captain van der Maaten in the course of a military action in Keumala, Aceh, praising the age of some of the books as “exception[al] for these regions, where moisture, white ants and carelessness of the owners only rarely grant a book an age of 100 years” (1901: cxxii). The role of the Dutch colonial army in shortening the lives of Acehnese books and their owners naturally went unmentioned in Hurgronje’s account. Beyond these manuscripts, now in Perpustakaan Nasional Indonesia, Witkam (2019: 96) has noted over 70 Acehnese manuscripts in Leiden University Library as a result of the war. In this paper I will compare these manuscripts collections with those that remain in private hands in Aceh today, documented through EAP329 (drawing on the work of Zacky Umam). Is it possible to even partially reassemble the manuscripts in colonial archives back into their original libraries? Are there differences—of age, genre, topic, authorship, language, materiality, or patterns of ownership—in the manuscript collections seized in the late 19th century and those that still exist in the field today? I will discuss this in the context of my work in progress on manuscript libraries of Sumatra, with a focus on the effects on colonial intervention on the manuscript tradition and the changing articulation of Islam within it over the 18th and 19th centuries.
A 15th-century Persian Inscription from Aceh
Majid Daneshgar University of Freiburg
R. Michael Feener Kyoto University
Aceh has long been recognized as a major historical center of Islamicate culture in Southeast Asia, and its rich surviving source base of manuscripts, gravestones, and other standing monuments have attracted the attention of junior and senior scholars in the field for more than a century. And there have been long debates about the influence of Persian on Malay inscriptions. Some inscriptions, or the important ones, were those produced in India. Recent studies also touched upon some original but quite short Persian inscriptions from north Sumatra. However, our knowledge about the existence of other Persian inscriptions, their history and influence is limited. This paper aims to go through a 15th-century Persian inscription in Aceh whose existence has the potential to revise former literature about the formation of Sufism in Southeast Asia.
Islamic Epitaphs in Maritime Southeast Asia: Batu Aceh inscriptions
Jessica Rahardjo University of Oxford
The history of batu Aceh (Malay for ‘Aceh stones’) has become synonymous with the Sultanate of Aceh (c. 1520–1903). This tradition of Islamic carved tombstones emerged in the mid-fifteenth century in northern Sumatra and subsequently spread across maritime Southeast Asia. By the nineteenth century, batu Aceh could be found in Pattani in southern Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, to South Sulawesi in Indonesia. The batu Aceh corpus has received a great deal of academic attention, having been studied by scholars such as Othman Mohd. Yatim, Daniel Perret, Ludvik Kalus and Claude Guillot.
From the beginning of the tradition up to the end of the sixteenth century, batu Aceh were inscribed. In addition to dates and names of the dead, epitaphs on batu Aceh contain quotations from the Qur’an, aphorisms, and even verses of poetry. These types of texts, which are found on funerary inscriptions elsewhere across the Islamic world, have historically been overlooked in studies of Arabic epigraphy as they are considered formulaic and are therefore of little or no historical value. In this paper, I will demonstrate that these texts shed light on different eschatological notions in circulation, the mobility and transmission of such ideas, as well as the function of such texts in funerary practices.
The History of the Universe: the oldest surviving Islamic text from Southeast Asia?
Peter Riddell School of Oriental and African Studies/University of London
In 1600 the Sultanate of Aceh was not only a regional political superpower but it was also arguably the very centre of Islamic thought in Southeast Asia. Much scholarship has been devoted to the influence of the Ibn Arabi tradition of wahdat al-wujud on Acehnese Islamic scholarship around the turn of the 17th century. But wujudi theological reflection was not “the only game in town”, as it were.
The years following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami have seen an upsurge in interest in the Acehnese past. These recent studies of Aceh – in keeping with the trend towards global history – have emphasised not only broader Islamic connections, but also European relations with the Acehnese sultanate especially before the 19th century. New sources, such as recently digitised manuscripts and archaeological surveys, have enabled us to look afresh at the history of the people, religion, and culture of Aceh. New approaches, which include the study of Aceh through the lens of gender, the study Islamic history from a Southeast Asian perspective, and seeing Aceh within a north Sumatran and Indian Ocean context, have also greatly enriched our understanding of the region.
This panel aims to bring together these new sources and approaches to the study of Aceh in its broadest sense, from the inside and the outside, from the micro to the macro. We invite presentations on new and understudied historical sources, as well as new approaches – textual, material, anthropological etc. – on existing sources.