Konfrontasi

by Goh Yoke Tong

The Indonesian-Malaysian or Borneo confrontation was an undeclared war, from 1962 to 1966, that stemmed from Indonesia’s opposition to the formation of Malaysia. The term ‘Confrontation’ was coined by Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Dr Subandrio, in January 1963, and has come to refer to Indonesia’s efforts to destabilise the new federation, with a view to breaking it up. The conflict resulted from Indonesia’s President Sukarno’s belief that Malaysia, which became official on 16 September 1963, represented a British attempt to maintain colonial rule behind the cloak of independence granted to its former colonial possessions in the South East Asian region.

Headlines, Sabah Times, Wednesday, September 4, 1963. Photographed at ‘One Malaysia One Story’ exhibition at Muzium Negara in August 2016.

In the late 1950s, the British Government had begun to re-evaluate its force commitment in the Far East. As part of its withdrawal from its South East Asian colonies, Britain moved to combine its colonies in Borneo with the Federation of Malaya (which had become independent from Britain in 1957) and Singapore (which had become self-governing in 1959). In May 1961, the British and Malayan governments proposed a larger federation called Malaysia, encompassing the states of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore.

By the close of 1962, Indonesia had achieved a considerable diplomatic victory, which possibly emboldened its self-perception as a notable regional power and thus its ability to extend its dominance over its weaker neighbours in the region. It was in the context of Indonesia’s success in the Netherlands’ West New Guinea dispute that Indonesia cast its attention to the British proposal for the formation Malaysia. Opposition to Malaysia also favoured Sukarno politically by distracting the minds of the Indonesian public from the appalling realities at home as evidenced by gross mismanagement, nationalistic policies that alienated foreign investors and rife corruption. Everyone in Indonesia felt the hardships of high inflation and food shortage. Sukarno also had dreamed of an Indonesia that was like the glorious ancient Srivijaya and Majapahit empires.

The ‘Ganyang Malaysia’ or ‘Crush Malaysia’ campaign was initiated by Sukarno on 27 July 1963.

Sukarno argued that Malaysia was a British puppet state, a neo-colonial experiment contrary to that of revolutionary Indonesia, and that the creation of Malaysia would perpetuate British control rather than ending its colonial domination over the region. He argued that this had serious implications for Indonesia’s national security as a sovereign nation especially in light of the fact that Britain would continue to have military bases in Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore, which are a stone’s throw away from Indonesia’s backyard.

Similarly, Philippines made a claim to North Borneo or Sabah, arguing that they had been historically linked through the Sulu Sultanate. Manila maintained that the area was once owned by the Sultan of Sulu, and because Sulu is now part of modern Philippines, that area should therefore belong to Philippines through the principle of extension. While Philippines, under President Macapagal, did not engage in armed hostilities with Malaysia unlike Indonesia, diplomatic relation was severed after the former deferred in recognising the latter as the successor nation of Malaya.

As for Brunei, Sultan Omar was undecided on whether he would support joining Malaysia because of the implied reduction of his influence as the head of state and significant amounts of Brunei’s oil revenue being diverted to the federal government in Kuala Lumpur to be shared among the proposed states of Malaysia. Brunei was to be the tenth state of Malaysia, whose sultan would be eligible to be the king of the country on a rotational basis for a five-year tenure and the sultans of Malaya had made it clear that he would have to wait his turn. This did not go down well with him as he could not foresee the prestige of being a king in his lifetime due to his place in line. Furthermore, AM Azahari, a Brunei politician and veteran of Indonesia’s independence movement who was against colonial rule, also opposed joining Malaysia on similar grounds as Indonesia.

Malay women pledging to defend Malaysia in 1965. Photo taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesia%E2%80%93Malaysia_confrontation

In December 1962, Brunei faced a revolt by the North Kalimantan National Army (NKNA), which was backed by Indonesia and was pushing for Brunei’s independence instead of it joining Malaysia. In response to the revolt, the British and other Commonwealth troops were sent from Singapore to Brunei, where they crushed the revolt within days by securing Brunei’s capital and ensured the Sultan’s safety. The insurrection was an abject failure because the poorly trained and ill-equipped guerillas were unable to seize key objectives such as capturing the sultan of Brunei, seize the Brunei oil fields or take any British hostages.

Following NKNA’s military setback in Brunei, small parties of armed insurgents began infiltrating Malaysian territory along the Indonesian border in Borneo on sabotage and propaganda missions. The first recorded incursion of Indonesian troops was in April 1963 when a police station in Tebedu, Sarawak was attacked. After the formation of Malaysia in September 1963, Indonesia declared the ‘Crush Malaysia’ campaign leading to the escalation of cross border incursions into Sabah and Sarawak, which had then ceased to be British territories. Indonesia also began raids in the Malaysian Peninsula and Singapore in 1964. To repulse the infiltrators and prevent their incursions, the British and other Commonwealth troops remained at the request of Malaysia. Together with the Malaysian troops, they engaged in successful offensives against the Indonesian troops.

The intensity of the conflict began to subside following the events of the ‘30 September Movement’ and General Suharto’s rise to power in Indonesia. On the night of 30 September 1965, an attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party took place in Jakarta, which was successfully put down by Suharto. In the ensuing confusion, Sukarno agreed to allow Suharto to assume emergency command and control of Jakarta. The train of events that were set off by the failed coup led to Suharto’s power consolidation and Sukarno’s marginalisation, who was placed under house arrest soon after the transfer of power was completed. Peace negotiations were initiated during May 1966 before an agreement was ratified in August 1966 with Indonesia recognising Malaysia and officially ending the conflict. In March 1967, Suharto was able to form a new government in Indonesia that excluded Sukarno.

Jakarta, 12 August 1966: The peace treaty was ratified by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, and the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Adam Malik. Photograph taken from http://indonesia-zaman-doeloe.blogspot.my/2014/09/penandatanganan-normalisasi-hubungan.html

REFERENCES:

  • Genesis of Konfrontasi : Malaysia, Brunei & Indonesia 1945 to 1965 – Greg Poulgrain (1998)
  • Crossroads : A Popular History of Malaysia & Singapore – Jim Baker (2014)
  • Chronicle of Malaysia – Philip Mathews (2007)
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Dato’ Kong or Na Tuk Kong or La Tuk Kong or Dato’ Keramat or 拿督尊王, who are they?

by Jean-Marie Metzger

Wherever you go in Malaysia, be it countryside, villages, cities, or golf course, you will often encounter little red shrines on the side of the road, or at the entrance of houses or temples, or at the boundaries of a land plot.  Sometimes these shrines are empty with only some inscriptions that, of course, unless you are fluent in Chinese, you will not understand. However, even if the shrine is empty of any statue, offerings are still present, which are witness of a cult to some kind of deity or spirit. Fortunately for the layman, mostly if he is not Chinese, a statue will be present and…surprise! It is clearly a Malay figure. So who is he? How comes a Malay is present and worshipped in a Chinese shrine?

“Empty” shrines in Penang (©J. M. Metzger 2017)

It seems this is a direct legacy of early animism that infused Malay and Chinese religions. Called Dato’, or Datuk, in Malay, often associated with the word keramat, it represents a spirit of the place. Dato’ means ‘grandfather’ in Malay and the earliest presence of this word dates back to Srivijayan times. What does keramat mean? It is related to the miracles accomplished by Muslim Sufi saints or more generally to “high places” (places of worship according to Mr Bellamy in the Selangor Journal, quoted by W. W. Skeats, “kramat may be roughly translated prophet or magician”).

Altogether, the Dato’ can be associated with either early pre-Muslim animism, to Sufi Islam, or to Chinese Taoism, some also relate it to Hindu-Buddhism.

When the first Hakka immigrants arrived in Malaya in the early 15th century, they paid respect to all the ‘earth spirits’ (tree, water spring, rock or hill – the penunggu of early Malay culture) that were worshipped by the locals. This was not far different from the practice of Taoism which, linked to nature, worships its different spirits (the shen). The Dato’ Keramat, either legendary figures once human, or prominent persons, such as famous silat warriors, pious Muslims, or even shamans (bomoh), later become deities. This was very similar to the Taoist practice by which a famous figure may become a shen and worshipped as such (for example Guan Di –general of the Three Kingdoms–, or much later Sin Sze Ya).

Therefore, it was not difficult for the Chinese immigrants to adopt local practices which led to worshipping a Malay-Muslim figure in a typical Chinese shrine.

While the Dato’ Kong (Na To Kong or La To Kong in Chinese), which means  ‘great Grandfather’, is generally associated with trees, or more generally is considered the protector of the place where it stands, the tradition of Dato’ Keramat, often also called Datuk Panglima, lists nine of them:

  • Datuk Panglima Ali (Ali)
  • Datuk Panglima Hitam (Black)
  • Datuk Panglima Harimau (Tiger)
  • Datuk Panglima Hijau (Green)
  • Datuk Panglima Kuning (Yellow)
  • Datuk Panglima Putih (White)
  • Datuk Panglima Bisu (Mute)
  • Datuk Panglima Merah (Red)
  • Datuk Panglima Bongsu (Youngest)
Datuk Panglima Putih, with DP Merah, DP Kuning and DP Hijau (©Shih Perng Liew)

Associating colours with the deities is a legacy of Hinduism, while the Tiger attribute may refer to Shiva; colours could also refer to the five elements and directions in Chinese belief: white=metal/west, red=fire/south, yellow=earth/centre, green=wood/east, black=water/north.

Apart from these, there are numerous Datuk. Some consider that there are 108 Datuk, identifying them with the 108 Ruesi of Hindu-Buddhism, characters who are gifted with spiritual and magical powers (Buddha, as well as Shiva, are considered Ruesi).

At the KDE Golf club in Ampang, there is a Datuk Panglima Hussein shrine. This shrine may be related to Nakhoda Hussin, quoted by W. W. Skeat in Malay Magic as a jin presiding over water, rain, and streams, who has a kramat, or holy place, in Bukit Nyalas (Johor). This would be consistent with the fact that a stream runs across the premises of the club.

Datuk Panglima Hussein at KDE Golf club in Ampang (©J. M. Metzger 2017)

Dato’ Kong shrines are generally situated outside buildings, be it a temple or a house. In some cases, it may be placed inside a tower, but often at the entrance of the car park, as is the case with Integra Tower in KL (is this because fortune flows in at the toll barrier?). When the statue of the Dato’ Kong is present in the shrine, which is the most frequent situation, it cannot be mistaken for any other deity, as it has all the attributes of a Malay: he usually wears a songkok or a haji white hat, sometimes a tengkolok, and often holds a keris. This Malay attire does not exclude holding a Chinese gold ingot, to bring the appropriate wealth to the worshippers, or showing the long ears of Buddha as a symbol of wisdom.

In Penang and along the coast of Perak, there are female Datuk, called Nenek.

Offerings may vary (betel leaves, bananas, eggs, chicken…cigars and coffee are much appreciated by Datuk Panglima Harimau), but, of course, pork and alcohol are strictly forbidden!

Dato’ Kong, tree spirit, at Chew Jetty in Penang (©J. M. Metzger 2017)
Dato’ Kong, tree spirits, at the entrance of Guan Yin Temple in Penang (©J. M. Metzger 2017)
Dato’ Kong in the back garden of Guan Yin temple in Penang (©J. M. Metzger 2017)
Dato’ Kong in Klang (©J. M. Metzger 2017)
Private homes in Pulau Ketam (©J. M. Metzger 2017)
Dato’ Kong Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, Kuala Lumpur (©J. M. Metzger 2017)
Dato’ Kong at the entrance of the car park of Integra Tower in Kuala Lumpur (©J. M. Metzger 2017)

Now, what can we learn from the omnipresence of Dato’ Kong in Malaysia:

  • That the Chinese immigrants respected the local culture
  • That the Chinese pray to whatever may work and bring them good fortune
  • That Malaysia has always been a land of syncretism and mix of cultures throughout the centuries

Sources:

  • The Three Chinese Wisdoms (in French), Cyrille J.D. Jarry, Ed. Albin Michel (2010)
  • Malay Magic, Walter William Skeats (1900)
  • http://www.lersi.net/108-ruesi/

MRT Link: Muzium Negara to KL Sentral

The brand new MRT station, blocking Muzium Negara’s beautiful murals, links the MRT line with other rail lines at KL Sentral. An underground walkway links the two stations. Now, that is convenient. One small detail though – you pay 40 sen for the pleasure of taking this short walk. Dammed cheek! Therefore, a return journey to the museum (via LRT) will add 80 sen to your total fare. (note: the 40 sen was during the promotion period, it is now 80 sen one way. Hence, a return journey will set you back RM1.60!)

At the MRT station, walk through the barriers that takes you to the trains. However, instead of taking the escalator down to the trains, keep left towards KL Sentral. The route is well sign-boarded. You will come out on the same floor as the LRT line.

You can do it on the cheap if you do not want to pay the 40 sen. Take the underground pass to the other side of the road (in front of St. Regis). From there, you can walk to NU Sentral and, then, cross over to KL Sentral. At the MRT station, head towards ‘Pintu A: St. Regis, Jln Damansara’ to take you to this side of the road. Once you are there, just walk along the road, following the signboards for vehicular traffic.

The stations’s on the right

Islam in the Malay World

By Anne Deguerry and Jean-Marie Metzger

This article was originally written for and published in the Gazette of the Association of Francophones in Malaysia and is reproduced here with the gracious authorization of its President, Ms Elizabeth Galland; it also widely draws upon Anne’s 7 minutes presentation written for Batch 28 MV training course.

Islam started to spread all over the world at the end of the seventh century C.E, but the Islamization of insular Southeast Asia was achieved much later on, by the penetration of merchant networks and not by conquest.

Several factors have been put forward to explain the extension of Islam in the Malay world at this time. The Malay Archipelago was perfectly located at the crossroads of trade routes between East (China) and West (Europe, Middle East, India), at the reversal of the monsoon, and in shallow waters that fostered navigation. It stimulated international trade.

  • India was exporting fabrics (cotton fabrics, muslins, patola), cowries (shells used as currency collected in the Maldives and piled up in Gujarat), pearls, gemstones, and local spices.
  • China was exporting silk, ceramics, paper and copper.
  • Locally, merchants could find raw materials of great value such as precious wood, plants, resins and wax, spices (cloves from Ternate and nutmeg from Banda islands), tortoiseshell, feathers, ivory, tin, silver and gold.

The ethno-geographical group formed by the Malay archipelago and the peninsula of Malaya was, from the first centuries CE, influenced by Indian merchants whose presence favored the establishment of Malay kingdoms. These were marked by language, culture, and religion (Hinduism and Buddhism), imported from the south of India. According to Chinese texts of the 3rd century CE, nearly 100 kingdoms were known in the region. Small political entities, or often, probably, somewhat large cities of fishermen and merchants at the mouths of rivers, evolved into stronger structures and, from the 7th century, the Buddhist Srivijaya empire, based in Palembang (Sumatra), started gaining suzerainty over Sumatra and the Malayan Peninsula. From the 13th century, the decline of Srivijaya, which controlled the Straits of Malacca and Sunda, left the door open for the emergence of a new political and religious order.

The texts relating to the arrival of Islam in the region are varied, not always coherent and often written, very late, with objectives of historical and political reconstruction for the benefit of the reigning dynasties. Among these texts, the Malay Annals, Sejarah Melayu which, even today, forms the basis of much of the national story of Malaysia, was written from the 16th century and has not less than 32 different versions. The Kedah Annals or Hikayat Marong Mahawangsa, believed to have been written between the 18th and the 19th century, could have been intended to rewrite history in order to give Kedah anteriority over the Sultanate of Malacca, considered today as the founder of Islam in the Peninsula.

Islam, most likely, came from India through Muslim merchants (both Indian and Arab). Gujarat was then a very dynamic trading center. Commercial outposts were created on the coasts of Southeast Asia, and then, in the late 13th century CE, merchant sultanates arose, such as in Samudra-Pasai in northern Sumatra, in Champa in today’s central Vietnam, and finally in Malacca.

In 1292, Marco Polo signaled the presence of an important Muslim Kingdom in Aceh. Long before that, evidence of trade with the Abbasids, dating from the 9th century, was discovered in Kedah in the form of coins. A stone inscribed ‘Ibnu Sardan 213’ was also found in Bujang Valley. The Ibnu Sardan family is mentioned in different texts of the time and they were known as intellectuals, sailors and missionaries. The date 213 Hegira (Hijra) corresponds to the year 823 of our era. The Kedah Sultanate is dated to 1136 upon the conversion to Islam of the Raja who then took the name of Sultan Mudzaffar Shah.

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Stone of Ibnu Sardan – Gallery B, National Museum Malaysia

Beyond the influence of India, one must also consider the contribution of the Chinese. Admiral Zheng Ho, himself, who led seven maritime expeditions from 1405 to 1453, of which at least 4 stopped in Malacca, was a Muslim, as was his translator Ma Huan. Ma Huan, considered as one of the artisans of the Islamization of Java, took part in three of the seven expeditions and recorded the journeys. While the number of ships and people accompanying the fleets may have been exaggerated, the fleet of Zheng Ho was huge and heavily armed; it was the official symbol of Chinese diplomacy. Following Zheng Ho’s journeys, the Sultanate of Malacca placed itself under the protection of China, against the attacks of Siam and Java.

If archaeological findings or ancient texts attest to the presence of Muslims in the Peninsula since the 9th century, the first indigenous evidence of the presence of Islam in the Malay Peninsula is a granite stele, known as the Terengganu Stone, inscribed in Malay using Arabic characters -a script known as Jawi, still used in official documents or in the Northern sultanates such as Kelantan or Terengganu (it is also used on street name plates in Melaka). The stele was discovered in 1899 in Kuala Berang in the State of Terengganu. Its date is deciphered as 1303 (702 Hegira) although there are contentions on this date.

Why is this stone so important? First of all, because it is not a tombstone. The early Muslim tombstones (Batu Aceh), many of which were discovered in Malaysia and Indonesia, only show that a Muslim person was buried and often have no personal names. But the Terengganu Stone is engraved with a set of Islamic laws. It indicates an early Islamization of the northeast coast of the Malay Peninsula and the legal character of the inscription is a sign of strong anchorage in society.

Terengganu Stone or Batu Bersurat Terengganu – Terengganu State Museum

In any event, although it occurred nearly one century later than the date inscribed on the Terengganu Stone, the most important event was the conversion to Islam of the rulers of Malacca, from which they gained undeniable political and economic advantages:

  • Patronage of powerful Muslim traders
  • Legitimation against Majapahit, the largest kingdom after the demise of Srivijaya
  • Legitimation of sultanate authority, a new form of government

It is however rather difficult to determine who was the first Muslim ruler of Malacca as the sources vary, some being more literary than historical. Depending on the case, there are assertions between Parameswara, his son Megat Iskandar Shah, and his grandson.

Parameswara, a prince of Srivijaya, was said to have founded Malacca in 1400 (but this date itself is controversial!), then married a Muslim princess of the Pasai Sultanate in northern Sumatra and may have converted. But according to Portuguese sources, it is the son of Parameswara, Megat Iskandar Shah (1414-1424), that first converted to Islam. Finally, the Malay Annals attribute the conversion to the grandson of Parameswara, Muhammad Shah (1424-1444). Legend says that Muhammad Shah was visited one night by an angel in a dream; on waking up he could quote verses from the Quran verbatim. The next morning, his advisers told him about some Arab scholars debating at the port. He met with them. He was immediately struck by their learning, courtesy, and high character and he decided to adopt Islam. This is the version retained in Gallery B of Muzium Negara.

The conversion of Muhammad Shah – as per the diorama at Gallery B, National Museum Malaysia

But whatever was the conversion timeline, Islam was attractive to Malacca:

  • it emphasized the individual value of each man;
  • with the view that the ruler was seen as “The Shadow of God on Earth”, Islamic traders would regard Malacca as a safe place;
  • it provided access to the learning and sophistication of the Muslim world (continuing the intellectual tradition of Palembang, from where Parameswara originated, as a center of Buddhist studies, Malacca quickly became a famous center for Islamic studies)

Altogether, it does not matter which, Kedah, Terengganu or Malacca, or even the Malay States of the archipelago, was the first to convert to Islam, the conversion of the Sultan of Malacca was a founding act by establishing, clearly and publicly, Islam as a state religion. In this sense, modern Malaysia is certainly the heir of Malacca.

The arrival of Islam in the Malay world greatly influenced the Malay lifestyle and culture and brought a vibrant influence in the archipelago, through the development of arts.

  • Calligraphy, Arabic script (jawi)
  • Decorative applied arts (calligraphy/geometric patterns/arabesques)
    • Metal ware and jewellery
    • Ceramics
    • Carving
A Terengganu Koran with typical Malay features: eg. illuminations of central pages with triangular patterns – Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur

Borobudur Panel

by Maganjeet Kaur

The replica of a panel at Borobudur on display at Gallery B, Muzium Negara depicts a scene from the Lalitavistara Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist text. In this panel Queen Maya and King Suddhodhana, parents of the future Buddha, are shown  at their palace in Kapilavastu. The trees on the panel indicate that they are most likely seated in a garden pavilion. In this scene, the Queen has approached the King and seated herself on his right. She requests permission from the King to take a pledge of self-denial and, judging by the King’s hand gesture, he has consented to this request.

Replica of Borobudur panel at Gallery B. It shows a scene from the Lalitavistara Sutra

In the Lalitavistara text, this scene takes place in the music hall and the royal couple are seated on a throne with jeweled latticework. The Borobudur panel, on the other hand, shows ashoka trees (Saraca asoca) indicating an outdoor scene. The text also mentions that the Queen came accompanied by 10,000 women but only five of them, shown behind the Queen, are represented in the carving.

The Lalitavistara, translated loosely as ‘The Play in Full’, provides an account of Buddha’s descent into this world and how he attained his awakening. Borobudur has 1,460 bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the Lalitavistara, Jataka, and other Buddhist texts. These bas-reliefs are found in the galleries of the first four floors. Each floor has these bas-relief panels on both sides of the walls. The first floor has four series of panels, two series on the inner wall and two on the outer wall. The other three floors have two series of panels each, one on each side of the wall. This makes a total of ten series of panels; ten is an important figure in the Buddhist cosmology as it represents the ten stages of a bodhisattva’s path to awakening.

The first floor has two series of panels on each side of the wall, one series on top of the other

The correct way in which to circumambulate Borobudur is to start from the east staircase, turn left on the first floor, and walk clockwise while viewing the top series of panels on the outer wall. The visitor would then do another three rounds on the first floor while viewing the remaining three series of panels. The visitor then moves to the second floor and goes around this floor twice to view the series of panels on both the inner and outer walls. Two rounds each are again made on both the third and fourth floors. In this way, the visitor would have walked ten rounds. The Lalitavistara panels are located on the inner wall (top series) of the first floor.

Model of Borobudur. Image taken from https://www.behance.net/gallery/25154373/Borobudur-Temple

References:

Lalitavistara, The Play in Full, translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee.

John Miksic (1990) Borobudur: Golden Tales of the Buddhas, Hong Kong: Periplus Editions.

The Toraja Burial Customs

by Marie-Andree Abt

The Toraja people were originally from central Sulawesi in Indonesia. They are about 1.5 million strong but less than 500,000 live in their native land, the remainder have sought work in Makassar or Jakarta. By doing this, they can send money to their family in Tanah Toraja.

Their traditional burial customs are expensive to practice, particularly for the noble caste. The caste system is still used in Toraja society; there are nobles, warriors, traders, free men and “slaves”, the last ones being well treated and respected. A “slave” can cut tie with the family he works with at his own time and will.

When someone dies, the body is quickly embalmed but it stays at home, up to one year sometimes, so family and friends can come and see the dead who is considered “very sick” until the burial ceremony takes place. For this ceremony, the family will first buy buffaloes (one animal and up to two hundred, depending on how wealthy was the dead). The price of each buffalo depends on the marks of his robe; one with the proper “white” marks on the head can fetch several tens of thousands dollars.

Then they prepare the temporary bamboo huts to welcome the guests. The enlarged family, the friends, and all the people who have been familiar with the dead are invited; the family of the dead “gives back” to every person who has helped in one way or another to enable the dead to become wealthy.

The ceremony is now ready to take place. Generally, it lasts several days. Each day, the male slaves of the family sacrifice one to several buffaloes followed by pigs (bought at the market). They prepare the meat to feed everybody while the women prepare the drinks.

Some men dance while singing the main events of the dead’s life. All the guests bring gifts. The ceremony master states the names of the guests and their gifts. When all the gifts have been given, the dead is ready to be buried. As the earth is here to give birth, corpses cannot be buried and so the Toraja entomb the bodies in cliffs or large boulders.

It takes six months for a man to chisel out the grave from a boulder.

In addition, the nobles and warriors have the right to have their effigy sculpted in wood and displayed on a “balcony” near the grave.

If they are really wealthy and have sacrificed at least 200 buffaloes, a megalith can be raised in a specific field close to their village.

When a little baby dies, he is not strong enough to reach heaven by himself, so the Toraja entomb him in a big tree trunk so the tree can help the baby to go to heaven. The tree shall be alive and if the tree dies, a part of it is transferred to another tree that becomes the next “passeur d’âme”.

I learned about the Toraja burial practices during my short stay in Tanah Toraja, a very nice part of Sulawesi surrounded by mountains. Our guide, Otto who is part of the noble cast, was very helpful in teaching us all the customs of his tribe.

From Angkor to Bujang Valley

by Jean-Marie Metzger

“From Angkor to Bujang Valley”. That was the title of the conference which took place at Alliance Française of Kuala Lumpur on Jan 25th. And as you all know, when MVs hear the words “Bujang Valley”, they tend to flock like birds on a wire. And indeed a large audience, comprising quite a few MV docents, trainees, and trainers, gathered to listen to Dr Daniel Perret, researcher from the French School for Asian Studies. The talk was mostly oriented towards the program of research in South-east Asia and the archaeological methods employed by this unit.

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Dr Daniel Perret

The French School for Asian Studies (Ecole française d’Extrème-Orient) is a public institution under the Ministry for Higher Education and Research. It was founded in 1898 in Saigon and, therefore, started its activities mostly in what was French Indochina. Today it is established in twelve countries, with eighteen research centers, from India to Japan. In Malaysia, the Center is hosted by the Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya. It conducts research in cooperation with the University of Malaya, UKM, JMM…

A lot of research has been devoted to Indochina: it included, from 1992, the rehabilitation of many Angkor Temples, but the center has also been active in countries such as Laos (Vat Phu Temple -11th-13th century CE), Vietnam (Quang Ngai wall, a 19th century fortified wall extending for 127 km in the Champa region), and Myanmar (inventory of 2,800 monuments in Pagan (Bagan) -1044-1287 CE-).

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Temples at Bagan

Dr Perret himself has devoted a lot of his activities in Indonesia, mainly Sumatra, and in Malaysia, including in the Bujang Valley.

In Sumatra, research, which has now turned away from the exclusive study of temples and monuments, has been devoted to the evolution of three settlements, Barus (on the west coast), Padang Lawas (central Sumatra) and Kota Cina (on the north-east coast).

All research on human settlements, in the absence of temples, must be correlated with other types of data (archaeological findings – Chinese ceramics being often important for dating, local epigraphy, local literature and traditions, foreign written sources).

In the case of Barus, a Tamil inscription (1088 CE) indicates that the earliest known inhabitants were Tamils, a fact in accordance with local literature and tradition. Other sources include the “Sejarah Raja Raja Barus” (late text from 19th century), an Armenian maritime chart (12th century), the Archives Cairo Geniza (11th-13th century), Marco Polo’s writings (13th century), many Chinese and a few Portuguese and VOC sources. One of the difficulties conducting archaeological research in Indonesia is the concentration of layers which do not exceed 30 cm in depth and, hence, chronology is often difficult to establish between the different artifacts found. Nevertheless, interesting findings could relate the settlements to Indian presence and trading activities with many parts of Asia: for example pottery, analogous to Cambay Ghee pots still used in Southern India. A figurine, dated between 12th and 16th century, analogous to an Old Bahrein figurine (12th-14th century) was also unearthed. Stoneware was also found originating from China, and also Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan (in particular originating from Hizen kiln active in the first half of the 17th century).

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left: figurine found in Barus Ⓒ D. Perret; right: figurine from Bahrein

In Padang Lawas, archaeological research had been very active in the past, about 30 Hindu-Buddhist monuments and some 1,039 inscriptions (in Malay, old Sanskrit, paleo-Sumatran) had been catalogued, but nobody was interested, until recent years, in the settlements themselves. One of the astonishing findings, related again to trade activities, was a Bukhara Dirham, dated 1003-1004 CE, from the Qarakhamid/Ilek Khan Dynasty.

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Dirham from Bukhara Ⓒ D. Perret

In Kota Cina, where some Hindu-Buddhist images were found in the 1970’s, the site for digging had a particularity: there was a lot of water infiltrating the soil. That was a big problem because water had to be pumped out regularly, but also a big benefit as water better preserves organic remains. Hence, wooden construction pillars, animal remains (mostly turtles) and also human skeletons were found. The site also yielded some 160,000 pieces of earthenware (around 1,5 t), making it the biggest site in Sumatra, but also more than 1,000 coins, mostly Chinese. The dating of all these findings  ranges from the end of the 11th century till the beginning of 14th century, but analysis is just beginning.

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Fragment of jarlet from Bujang Valley Ⓒ D. Perret

Dr Perret’s research in Malaysia was devoted first to the cataloguing of Batu Aceh tombstones: 450 of them were studied in Johor. In Bujang Valley, Dr Perret studied glassware. Some 6,000 shards were categorized, many of them (about 95%) coming from jarlets (a small type of vessel, about 3 cm for the rim and the base, 6 cm for the height). A recent book has been edited by Dr Perret (together with Zulkifli Jaafar) and published by JMM, “Ancient glassware in Malaysia – The Pengkalan Bujang Collection”.

Finally, Dr Perret explained how external interference can bring some kind of perturbation to academic work and spice it up a little. When he and his team found a human skeleton at Kota Cina, although it seemed clearly to be dated a few hundred years before the discovery, it appeared it could make a criminal “cold case” as the skeleton had both hands and feet bound together…so the local police claimed the skeleton for forensic investigation! Fortunately, when a second skeleton was found the police considered they had enough with one and left it to the archaeologists…

We, MVs, are very lucky to know that the Perak Man died from a tooth infection, otherwise we could have been caught in another episode of “NCIS Lenggong Valley”!!

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Excavation at Kota Cina, taken from Dr Perret’s presentation