From Java to Jaffna: Indonesian exiles, soldiers and scribes in Sri Lanka

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics | Indonesia Project

Event details

Indonesia Study Group

Date & time

Wednesday 16 May 2012


Seminar Room B, Coombs Building, Fellows Road, ANU


Ronit Ricci (School of Culture, History & Language, ANU)


Indonesia Project
+61 2 6125 3794
The community known today (in somewhat of a misnomer) as the Sri Lankan Malays, whose ancestors came to the island predominantly from across present-day Indonesia beginning in the late 17th century, has a fascinating yet little-studied past and a challenging present.

Thinking about the Malays of Sri Lanka means going beyond some conventional spatial and temporal categorizations and considering a range of interactions and crossings: Malay exiles and soldiers crossed the Indian ocean to arrive at an unfamiliar land; they “crossed” from Dutch to British rule; they were Muslims in a predominantly Buddhist and Hindu region, preserving their Austronesian language, the lingua franca of Southeast Muslims while living in South Asia and interacting in Tamil, Sinhala and English in their daily lives. As soldiers in colonial armies they lived and fought in Sri Lanka and South India while looking to the Indonesian/Malay ‘heartlands’ and the Middle East for historical and religious inspiration.

In this paper I present some thoughts and findings based on research conducted in Indonesia and Sri Lanka over the past two years. In particular I focus on my British Library-funded project to survey and document surviving Malay manuscripts and books in Sri Lanka, materials that hold a wealth of information about a remarkable diasporic Indonesian community.

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