Daily Archives: December 25, 2016

10 posts

Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Benjamin C. MCLELLAN


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Keeping Cool in Southeast Asia: Energy Consumption and Urban Air-Conditioning
Marlyne Sahakian
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, x–xviii+229p.

This book offers insights into some critical areas of social and environmental aspects of the sustainable development paradigm. While being focused on south-east Asia (SEA), and in particular on the Philippines, the book has relevance to other areas of the world where growing urbanization, economic development, and the current and potentially-exacerbated effects of climate change are likely to have cumulative non-linear effects on energy consumption (the impact of which will not be equivalent to the sum of the individual components of change).

The book is largely based on interviews with a variety of general and institutional stakeholders, which lends a personal touch to the case studies. Quantitative statistics and evaluation are not widely used. There are sections including good precis of historical developments leading to the current situation, although brief. As a book that seeks to engage the reader in understanding a variety of social contexts and influences in the usage of air-conditioners and other cooling devices in the Philippines, the book succeeds. However, in building a quantitative and cross-country comparison, it has some shortcomings. The following paragraphs review the book chapter-by-chapter in brief, highlighting particular points of strength or weakness.

The introduction of the energy situation in Chapter two, the author tries to contextualize the energy consumption in the region, and the importance of some specific climatic and socio-economic and political factors. While nominally discussing “consumption,” the chapter in fact focuses to a large extent on the production or generation side, mainly examining electricity. The quantitative drivers for consumption are not well-examined, as there is little discussion of the split between sectoral demand. While this is not the focus of the book per se, it leaves some of the correlation between increased cooling load, energy consumption, and environmental impacts on a weaker footing. While discussing some of the major drivers in the residential sector, acknowledgment of commercial and industrial demand would have been welcomed. Moreover, the limiting factor of resource potential—for both conventional and renewable resources—would have been a useful point to consider in the comparison of various SEA nations.

Chapter three provides a good, if brief and perhaps a little outdated (given the publication date, much of the literature cited is from the 1980s–90s, while developments in the 2000s are minimally-addressed) overview of the historical introduction of air-conditioning, the socio-economic disparities in its utilization, and cultural variations in usage. The importance of built-environment and passive cooling is somewhat understated, although the technological lock-in associated is an important concept raised in this context.

The fourth chapter is one of the most useful of the book, with an overview of some of the main reasons for people (in the Philippines) utilizing air conditioning. Briefly, these are summarized as: sleeping better at night, health and safety, preparing and caring for a child, personal cleanliness, as a status symbol, enabling or driven by apparel fashion, air-conditioning at work, and the use in public spaces. Most surprising, perhaps, is the use for health and cleanliness—by the purification of polluted-air, particularly in urban environments. While this is somewhat decoupled from energy (in the sense that the pollution is largely from transportation), it is an interesting consideration for other contexts where there may be more of a feedback loop between increasing demand from air-conditioning leading to greater pollution from power generation.

The fifth chapter addresses the highly important issue of buildings—from the history of the influences on Philippine architecture to the preferences of consumers and the competing forces in the endeavor to develop sustainable, green buildings. Two particular points are clear from this discussion—firstly, that there has been a strong westernizing tendency in Filipino architecture, which has perhaps led to poorly-adapted building stock constructed based on inspiration from temperate western countries that perform inadequately in tropical environments. Secondly, that globalization has reinforced this tendency, with these western-style buildings having a fashion status value attached—as opposed to the native styles. In effect, this has contributed significantly to the locked-in need for air-conditioning.

The last two chapters discuss some of the “opportunities for change through social learning.” This describes some of the broader landscape of political, cultural, economic, and specifically educational requirements and current constraints on environmentally-oriented social-behavioral change. Despite some contextually-specific elements (for example the influence of the Catholic church and a focus on one of the domestic energy companies), much of these sections is very general. As a positive, this means that the concepts discussed are likely to be widely applicable. To take a negative stance however, this leaves a gap—what is the specific and contextually essential component of social learning in SEA, particularly the Philippines?

From the overall perspective, it is hard to say that this book lives up to its title. There are a few immediate reasons for this. Firstly, while the book title includes Southeast Asia, the majority of the content focuses on the Philippines. More could have been done to extend the contextual correlation with other SEA nations. Secondly, by the final two chapters, the focus on urban air-conditioning and energy consumption also becomes highly diluted and diminished. What is the overall relevance and applicability of the social learning to energy usage and air-conditioning? What is and will be the overall potential impact? These types of questions remain unsatisfactorily unanswered, at least for this reader.

Benjamin C. McLellan
Graduate School of Energy Science, Kyoto University


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, NGUYEN Thi Le


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Frontier Livelihoods: Hmong in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands
Sarah Turner, Christine Bonnin, and Jean Michaud
Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2015, 223p.

By choosing to work on the livelihoods of one ethnic group, the Hmong, on both sides of the international Sino-Vietnamese border, this study focuses on how these people make and negotiate livelihood decisions in their complicated geographic, socioeconomic, and political contexts. The study provides a vivid description of a myriad of activities in the everyday lives of Hmong on the fringes as they make their living in the sectors of agriculture, livestock transactions, locally distilled alcohol, cardamom, and the textile trade. These livelihoods have been shaped by various integrations and negotiations between their own background of environment, culture, local knowledge, and identities, and agents and institutions of the state.

In the first two chapters, “Upland Alternative: An Introduction” and “Frontier Dynamics: Borders and the Hmong,” the authors clarify the borderlands as a “third space” and suggest a theoretical framework to approach and facilitate a more comprehensive insight into how the Hmong people are “making a living and trying to maintain their cultures and identity” (p. 15). This “third space” is the area on both sides of the Sino-Vietnamese border, Yunnan in China and upland northern Vietnam, which has been attracting a range of development schemes and policies issued on both sides in the name of speeding up the economic development of this undeveloped region. Tracing other associated political reasons, the authors view these state efforts as part of an “internal colonization scheme” (p. 27) that has an effect, direct or indirect, on Hmong livelihood decision making. On the other hand, using a bottom-up approach, the authors offer a “locally adapted, nuanced analysis of livelihoods” (p. 7) with the Hmong people passively acting as a local agency to “navigate, rework, contest and appropriate specific facets of identity, modernity, market integration, and nation-state building as they go about creating resilient life-worlds and everyday livelihood” (p. 7).

Chapter 3, “Borderland Livelihoods: Everyday Decisions and Agrarian Change,” focuses on the most important livelihood activity of Hmong on both sides of the Sino-Vietnamese border, the agricultural sector. This sector has changed a lot under the effect of state development schemes, especially through sedentarization programs that aim to reduce the use of “slash and burn” methods—a traditional agricultural practice among the Hmong—in favor of intensification agriculture, even though this agrarian change significantly affects Hmong lives and livelihoods. Hybrid seeds were introduced and quickly adopted in this area thanks to their heterosis as well as the pressure on limited land and concerns over food security. This unavoidable situation placed Hmong people in a vulnerable financial situation: due to the additional costs of buying new seeds every planting season, fertilizers, pesticides, and investing in more stable irrigation, they are more dependent on the government’s subsidies and development programs. However, local people still maintain their old practice of swidden agriculture in some places where governments cannot exercise control; they persist in planting traditional rice on available land and try to avoid over-reliance on the state by buying seed from private traders rather than waiting for subsidized bureaus. These active responses on the part of Hmong people are “the best, most resilient tactic” (p. 58) and “forms of everyday covert resistance and small acts of reinterpretation that take place in the context of a marginalized group” (p. 11).

The next four chapters provide interesting insights on non-agricultural livelihood activities of Hmong people in the borderlands: “Livestock Transactions: Buffalo Traversing the Borderlands,” “Locally Distilled Alcohol: Commodifying an Upland Tradition,” “Farming under the Trees: Old Skills and New Markets,” “Weaving Livelihoods: Local and Global Hmong Textile Trades.” The authors show that these sectors are not totally new consequences of the need for cash in the context of new market expansion but are shaped by combining the existence of small-scale barter and trade when and where needed for generations of Hmong people with new constraints of cash income and economic opportunities. Putting Hmong into the center of analysis and treating them as key actors, these chapters clearly show how they use their economic, social, and cultural capital to gain benefits from the marketplace and actively make their own decisions over when and where to engage or disengage from the market economy. On the other hand, the authors also show how in some cases Hmong people have to deal with challenges and vulnerability, for instance, “distillers in Vietnam appear to reap the least economic benefit relative to other actors in these commodity chains” (p. 103).

The position of Hmong people in this matrix of livelihood activities is discussed further in the last chapter, “The Challenge: Making a Living on the Margins.” However, according to the authors, going beyond all their struggles and difficulties in making a living in the marketplace, Hmong people use their agency as best they can and “do things their own way” (p. 153), as their habitus, to maintain their own identity. From the authors’ point of view, even though Hmong people adopt hybrids, they prefer to cultivate traditional Hmong varieties because they dislike the taste of hybrids and find the taste of traditional rice superior. They continue planting indigenous varieties to keep them alive, to let cultivation knowledge survive, and to maintain their culture (pp. 53, 154). For cash-earning activities, Hmong people are alert to outside opportunities but “with a careful eye on the household labor available and the risks entailed vis-à-vis agricultural needs and responsibilities” (p. 164). In that way, Hmong people can create their own “life project” and “make livelihood decisions that are entirely rational while rooted in their cultural context” (p. 170).

Despite a slight imbalance in research between the two sides of the border, with a greater focus on the Vietnamese side than the Chinese, this study remains an academic achievement and makes a significant contribution to anthropological studies on the livelihoods of people on the frontiers of the Southeast Asian Massif. The research embraces an actor-oriented livelihood approach and strongly confirms the active agency of Hmong people in dealing with and making the best of an adverse situation. This is a representative case of “indigenization of modernity” (Sahlins 1999). The study also raises several research ideas, such as questions on ethnic minority: “The mere fact that the Hmong in Asia number roughly the same as the whole population of Laos should prompt critical thinking on the very notions of nation and minority” (p. 16). Tourism and hiking in Lao Cai, on the Vietnamese side—emerging livelihood activities that have an influence on Hmong society—need to be further investigated.

Nguyen Thi Le
Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University


Sahlins, Marshall. 1999. What Is Anthropological Enlightenment? Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century. Annual Review of Anthropology 28: i–xxiii.




The Khmer Lands of Vietnam: Environment, Cosmology and Sovereignty

Philip Taylor

Singapore: NUS Press, 2014, 350p.

The Khmer minority of Vietnam, which is indigenous to the Mekong Delta, has long been a bone of contention between the Vietnamese and Cambodian states. From the perspective of the Vietnamese, the delta region was a wilderness which was only tamed when they began to colonize the area and build a productive economy—something which has benefited everyone, including the local Khmers. On the other hand, this historically Khmer-speaking territory, now firmly in the possession of Vietnam, is, for many Cambodians, a historical injustice in need of redress, as well as an ominous reminder of just how weak the Cambodian state is compared to its neighbors. Academic, journalistic, and polemical writings on this issue typically address issues of human rights in Vietnam or political relations between the two countries, but Philip Taylor’s book looks at the situation from a different angle, neither from the point of view of Hanoi or Phnom Penh, but rather from the perspective of the Khmer Krom people themselves without subordinating their voices to those of state-level actors.

Taylor’s presentation of the Khmer Krom understanding of history, engagement with the economy, and orientation toward the future negate the notion that the Khmers of southern Vietnam are merely an extension of the Cambodian body politic whose interests might lie in a reunification with it. At the same time, Taylor effectively undermines the official Vietnamese narrative that the Khmer inhabitants have failed to develop the region prior to the arrival of the Vietnamese because of their indolence and backwardness, by showing how the Khmers have in fact been very successful in adapting themselves to an inhospitable environment. The book itself is organized into seven chapters describing in detail the ways in which Khmers conduct their social, economic, and religious lives in each of the ecological regions in which Khmers live. These are the coastal dune belt, coastal river-dune complex, freshwater rivers, saltwater rivers, flooded mountains, ocean-side mountains, and the northeast uplands.

Far from being backwards, the Khmer Krom are resourceful engineers who have succeeded in building communities in a land vulnerable to seawater incursions and where groundwater is often undrinkable. The reader truly appreciates the exquisite nature of these adaptations to each different type of hydrological environment in the delta, and the degree to which the contemporary land and economy, which the Vietnamese narrative attributes to the modern and forward-thinking character of the government, has only been possible through the introduction of machinery and technology that would first have arrived in the French colonial period. The transformations of the eco-scape with a view to intensifying production continued into the post-independence period and into the late 1990s, and displaced large numbers of Khmers, making their traditional livelihoods more precarious or ending them completely. In each chapter, we see the diverse strategies by which Khmers alter their lifeways to meet the challenges and opportunities that present themselves in each region.

Taylor presents the Khmer Buddhist moral cosmology as the lens through which Khmer Krom construct history and make sense of these present-day circumstances. In this vision of the world, decay and degeneration are relentless forces and it is incumbent upon each Buddhist to preserve himself against them by rejecting the primacy of political life and remembering the signs of moral history inscribed in the landscape. Kampuchea Krom is a land where Buddha statues miraculously float upriver to a new temple, retracing the path of Khmer refugees who abandoned their homes in the Indochina wars. Magic boats sink beneath the waters and hide themselves along with their treasures while their spirits enforce proper standards of morality on people traveling in the area. A Khmer queen flees Cambodia only to drown on her way to the sea where her dying body gives form and life to the multitudes of plants and animals found in the region today.

These conceptions of the past are productive in engaging with the current political realities and in crafting community and personal identities in response to the environmental, social, and political exigencies that Khmer Krom face. The Khmer Krom understand themselves to be the cradle of modern Khmer culture. Speaking and writing Khmer and practicing Theravada Buddhism, they have married this culture to modernity in a way that has not quite happened in Cambodia. The success of this openness to the modern is manifest in the considerable influence that Khmer Krom such as Sơn Ngọc Thành, who founded the first Khmer-language newspaper in 1936, have had on the culture of Cambodia in the past century in the fields of government, religion, and the arts.

Yet even this commitment to making Khmer culture live in a modern context varies from region to region and is naturally subject to variation at the personal level. While Khmer Krom maintain an attachment to their language and religion, they are of different minds when it comes to their embrace of the cosmopolitan quality of life in the delta with its mix of Vietnamese, Khmer, Cham Muslim, and Chinese populations. The Buddhist wat (temple) which has long served as the locus of Khmer learning is still important to developing a local Khmer intellectual life in areas like Preah Trapeang, but the large number of Khmer students residing in the wats of Ho Chi Minh City belies the fact that the majority of these young people are actually there to avail themselves of the opportunities for study available in the metropolis, which are exclusively Vietnamese.

Khmer Lands is an important book on the problem of Kampuchea Krom because it places local agency and creativity in the foreground of events. Its treatment of the interaction between peoples and institutions mediated by geography and economy, and resulting in an ethnic Khmer identity that is resilient but flexible in the face of changing circumstances makes this work indispensable to anyone interested in understanding Khmer-Vietnamese social relations, and an important contribution to the literature on state minorities in the Southeast Asia region.

Alberto Pérez Pereiro
Breogán Consulting


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Laurens BAKKER


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Beyond Oligarchy: Wealth, Power and Contemporary Indonesian Politics
Michele Ford and Thomas B. Pepinsky, eds.
Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2014, x+178p.

The end of the Suharto regime in 1998 liberated Indonesia’s population in a variety of ways: it opened the door to democratic governance and the development of a critical and outspoken civil society, and saw a new government retract the strong grip the state held on numerous aspects of civil, political, and economic life. The regime’s end also “liberated” a small group of extremely rich and well-connected individuals. These individuals, risen to wealth and influence under Suharto’s protection but not having gone down with him, applied their capital to setting themselves up in the leaderships of the nations’ new political parties, to expanding their grasp on resources and industries, and to building a public image sustaining these activities through the television channels and newspapers they owned. The rise of these oligarchs in democratic post-Suharto Indonesia has been worrying and intriguing observers, particularly regarding their influence on democracy, rule of law, and the protection of Indonesia’s market to foreign competition. It also raises numerous questions regarding their strategies and modus operandi. Should we understand them as a mutually-supportive class with shared interests, or as individual actors with shared characteristics? How are they placed vis-à-vis other power holders, how do they obtain popular support?

While research and publications on the role and influence of oligarchy in Indonesia has been undertaken, most notably the works of Robison and Hadiz (2004) and Winters (2011), the number of publications remains limited and contains but little debate. Beyond Oligarchy is making an important difference here. The contributors seek to start a discussion between proponents of the “oligarchy framework” (see below) and scholars drawing on other theoretical traditions, exchanging views on starting points and emphases in understanding and explaining the role of oligarchs in Indonesian politics. This discussion has strengthened the debate and avoided the specter of a “collection of inward-looking scholarly camps” (p. x) with a weak collective capacity for understanding Indonesian politics. Furthermore, they aspire to take this debate beyond Indonesia and combine their own expertise with broader scholarship in order to refine theories and concepts and generate new insights.

The discussion element has come out very well indeed. The authors read each other’s chapters and address their colleagues’ criticisms and theories in relation to their own ideas. To this reviewer, this is already a very valuable contribution to the debate because it makes the book stand out among so many other edited volumes that do not get beyond a collection of thematically-similar papers. This great result is likely due to the fact that the contributions are based on conversations taking place between the authors during two meetings in 2012 and 2013, thus allowing for reflection and reconsideration.

The book consists of nine chapters which, after the introduction by Michele Ford and Thomas Pepinsky, can be seen as falling into three parts. First are two chapters by, respectively, Winters, and Hadiz and Robison in which they outline their theses of the role of oligarchy in post-Suharto Indonesia. Both chapters, albeit differing in various other aspects, place oligarchs in a position of having captured Indonesia’s political institutions for the accumulation of private wealth and social power and as a strategy of wealth defense. These chapters constitute what is referred to as the “oligarchy framework” of analysis (given the differences in analyses it might perhaps be more illuminating to speak of “oligarchy frameworks”). The second part of the book consists of chapters by Liddle, Pepinsky, and Mietzner who argue for a study of Indonesian politics that uses broader approaches than the oligarchy frameworks do, and include a greater variety of power resources, interests, and actors. The third and last part consists of the chapters by Aspinall, Caraway and Ford, and Buehler, that are united by their emphasis on contestation through mobilization and social agency.

The central subject of the chapters is the variety within the conceptual understanding of oligarchy and its relation to contemporary Indonesian politics, as given through the authors’ approaches. All the contributors after Winters’ and Hadiz and Robinson’ chapters, furthermore, present their take on the insights and theories put forward by these three authors, who do, however, perhaps differ as much from each other as that they share views. The richness of these first two chapters is that the authors do not simply repeat their earlier work but explain their arguments in the context of the other chapters as well. Briefly put (as per Hadiz and Robison, p. 37), the oligarchy thesis concerns a “system of power relations that enables the concentration of wealth and authority and its collective defense.” To Hadiz and Robison oligarchy should be understood in the context of capitalist development, the formation and maintenance of a collective interest of oligarchs, and considered from a larger theoretical framework of structural political economy. For Winters, oligarchs’ politics, place and relation vis-à-vis each other and other elites is the point of departure. Class interests and joint actions are a possible but not necessary outcome. The authors accept that electoral democracy and oligarchic rule can coexist and that democracy can impact oligarchic rule, but do not consider competitive elections to automatically diminish the power of oligarchs.

The contributions that follow all add to and critique Winters, and Hadiz and Robison. Liddle finds the focus on great material wealth too limited, and proposes a theory of political change focusing on the actions of key individuals. Pepinsky likewise seeks to expand the explanatory capacity of the frameworks outlined by Winters, and Hadiz and Robison. He argues that pluralism, studied through distributional politics, offers an approach that can explain variation in policy outcomes beyond the direct interests of oligarchs. Mietzner presents an analysis of oligarchs in which he distinguishes five subgroups by motivations and interests, and finds that the difference between oligarchs is an important, but overlooked factor in understanding their role in Indonesian politics. Aspinall, looking at a potentially reforming left, electoral populism, and the rise of an Indonesian welfare state critiques the absence of popular forces and the emphasis on material wealth. He argues that subordinate groups and their organization must be included in the analysis of Indonesian politics.

The next chapter by Caraway and Ford connects nicely to this theme as it deals with the labor movement’s capacity to mobilize socially—for minimum wages—and politically in local elections. The authors question whether the oligarchy theories are sufficiently robust to deal with the implications of local differences and nuances. In the final chapter, Buehler looks at the adoption of Sharia law in South Sulawesi to argue that the new political situation in Indonesia has made elites susceptible to the demands of societal groups and, in doing so, finds that vested interests are not those of oligarchs, but of elites. Opportunities for change arise through the changing relations between elites, but elites maintained their dominant positions in society.

The different authors do not seek to arrive at a shared conclusion, but highlight their individual thoughts and theories in relation to those of their colleagues. This presents the reader with an interesting overview of ideas, and leaves us to agree, critique, or question. The book clearly is a much welcomed addition to the field of study of Indonesian politics, but, to this reviewer, also has two weak points. First is the broad scale of statements and conclusions, which rarely (Caraway and Ford, and Buehler are exceptions) go beyond the national level at any depth. The strategies, effects and power relations in regional politics differ markedly in, say, Aceh, Jakarta, Bali, or East Kalimantan. While the importance of such variety is mentioned by several of the authors, it is poorly visible in the discussion and poses the risk of theories coming across as intended to have national, uniform validity. As a related point, the study of oligarchy can benefit from the inclusion of researchers from disciplines beyond political sciences. Social economy, history, anthropology, and other fields have members working on Indonesian politics, bringing in their insights could contribute to an even more complete understanding (or more complexity) of the subject.

Laurens Bakker
Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam


Robison, Richard; and Hadiz, Vedi R. 2004. Reorganizing Power in Indonesia: The Politics of Olgarchy in an Age of Markets. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Winters, Jeffrey A. 2011. Oligarchy. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Rajesh DANIEL


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Tamils and the Haunting of Justice: History and Recognition in Malaysia’s Plantations
Andrew C. Willford
Singapore: NUS Press, 2015, 336p.

In Tamils and the Haunting of Justice, Andrew Willford explores the questions of justice and retribution confronting Malaysian Tamils as they face eviction from their homes and the demolition of their community structures in the former plantation districts in Kuala Lumpur by real estate developers.

With urban development becoming hugely more profitable than rubber plantations in Malaysia’s inner city districts, owners sold their plantation lands to lucrative housing developments. But these were lands in which thousands of Tamil residents have lived since the late nineteenth century, and where the British companies in colonial Malaya built their community-based model of rubber plantation production. Even as the Malay government razes the community structures of the Tamils—the schools, temples, churches, and community halls—it also views them as merely ex-laborers to be classified as “squatters” and evicted. Tamils feel compensation for their lands is insufficient and desire recognition for their longtime presence as important for achieving justice.

Willford’s study of Tamil plantation workers shows them resisting resettlement before negotiating compensation with notions of compensatory justice grounded in a desire for recognition. In attempts to prevent demolition of their temples and community buildings and “the erasure of their associated memories,” “historiographic recognition” becomes a kind of compensatory justice (p. 5).

A key argument of the book is that the transformation of land usage in Malaysia cannot be separated from its inextricable links to religious-ethnic politics in nation-building, and the deliberately measured politicizing of Islam and Malay rights. The book makes substantive and lengthy use of the French philosopher Derrida’s work to show that as a sense of victimization takes hold of an aggrieved minority, the Malaysian Tamils, the “force of law” that “marks and sustains such dissonance becomes more visible, indeed deconstructible” (p. 8). For Derrida, the logic of “haunting” is an important way of understanding justice (O’Riley 2007, 18). The spectral or haunting presence of past events, in this case the demolition of Tamil ancestral lands and religious structures, disrupts and brings into question present history and events.

Willford’s extensive citing of Derrida’s work forms the essential strands of the book’s critique of Malaysian ethnic nationalism, the racialized landscape within which these events unfold, and how the seeking of justice by Tamils goes outside and beyond the juristic or civil order, and even exceeds reason or logic to cross over into the divine or sublime.

The Tamil Sense of Cultural Historicity and Justice

Based on 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork in plantation areas between 2003 and 2009, Willford shows how ideas of race and ethnicity are produced, imagined, and negated within a political, material, legal, and discursive field. As they struggle for compensation and ultimately justice, the book portrays the sense of hurt and betrayal felt by the Tamils as they are labeled as “squatters” despite their long community presence in the area.

The Tamil sense of justice goes beyond the law. The strength of the study is showing how the notions of justice as imagined by the marginalized and betrayed Tamils complicate legal demarcations of ethnic differences in post-colonial states (p. 6).

The book provides a critique of the development ideology of the state, with its quite implicit cultural, nationalist, ethnic, and religious face. Malaysia’s development politics have forced dramatic shifts in the ethnic composition of Malaysia’s industrial heartland, which as Willford notes “was the intended goal all along” (p. 34). As Willford says: “To develop the nation’s core identity, politically constructed around Malay ethnicity and Islam, the two being increasingly synonymous, Malays, it was argued, had to be united and strong—particularly at the center” (p. 35).

The book’s long-term value is that it does not stop at exploring economic or ethnic interests but dives into the complexities of the historiography of “victimhood within a matrix of power” (p. 10). The Tamils’ growing sense of historicity and their growing sense of resentment and anger grow from their knowledge that although the labor of the plantation communities contributed to the growth of the cities of Kuala Lumpur and Klang (along with Chinese tin mining and business), now they are facing resettlement and evictions from the twin pressures of urban development and ethnic policies (and politics).

There was no unified, homogenous Malay culture or polity across the peninsula in the nineteenth century, and what was self-identified as “Malay” were in fact a plurality of groups and the peranakan or mixed origins. The “Malay” ethnic category was constructed and reinforced by both Malay language and Islam.

Census figures show that Indians were a bigger population than Malays in many parts of the peninsula in the 1900s. For example, in 1911 in Selangor, a former plantation heartland and the industrial center of Malaysia today, Indians numbered 74,067, while Malays and Chinese were 65,062 and 150,908 respectively (p. 34). Demographic evidence also shows that a large percentage of “Malays” are recent immigrants from Indonesia or have married into the community.

The study argues that this growing Tamil historicity takes on a “victim’s narrative” (p. 34) among the Tamil poor and working class in its search for justice. The Tamils’ emergent sense of justice and compensation is grounded in an equally emergent historicity of cultural recognition, defined against the politics of ethnic exclusivity.

Archive Fever, Seeking Justice

Using Derrida, the book delves into the “fever for the archive” (pp. 12–13) among the Tamil communities. An archive fever, according to Derrida, materializes a hope for an authorized knowledge and truth claim. The Tamils succumb to this archive fever as they try to provide the documentary evidence to protect their lands against the developers. Once when the author visits a Tamil temple, he is shocked to find an entire community waiting for him, thinking he was a journalist and hoping he can help them in documenting the historical presence of their temples and schools. But as Willford notes in semi-despair, the hope they were investing in this documentary form of evidence “outweighed its legal fecundity in the Malaysian context” (p. 57). Willford says his study is inspired by the works of Derrida to probe into “archive” and “archive fever” to understand the production of knowledge that both authorizes the Law and those subject to it.

Justice as expressed in Tamil Hindu terms, says Willford, “is possessive, perhaps punitive, and at the edge of reason and order” (p. 58). As the book shows, it is the defilement of the Tamil goddess within her sacred landscape of the temple that produces the haunting call for justice. Derrida’s notion of justice is its function of both melancholy and mourning, a haunting that leads to a striving for some practical and redistributive justice (O’Riley 2007, 17–19).

The book narrates how this haunting is the compelling force for the Tamils as they seek justice for their dispossession, struggling against all odds to fend off the violence of the development state and its overtly Malay ethnic agenda.

The book needs some wading into and grappling with terms like archive fever in its initial chapters. It certainly helps if the reader has some knowledge of the French philosopher and of continental literary and psychoanalytic theory. The frequent and lengthy citations of Derrida’s works and words may add literary heft to the book’s foundations, but more often become an impediment to the reading of this compelling story of the Tamil plantation communities in Malaysia. In fact, some editorial intervention to move some of the philosophical references and musings to footnotes would have made for a smoother read.

The author shows how the Tamils employ a variety of strategies and collaborate with many advisors and nongovernmental groups to understand and fight Malaysia’s legal system and its racialized landscape. Often enough, these strategies spill over beyond the law as religious symbols and symbolism as well as Tamil Hindu rituals become part of their weapons for seeking justice and recognition. It would have been interesting to also know how the other religions among the Tamils (Catholic/Christian, Muslim) deal with these challenges, since the book focuses solely on the Tamil Hindus.

Conclusion: Pinned against a Landscape of Ethnic and Religious Tension

The developments and evictions in the former plantation areas take place in a landscape of Malay-Islamic cultural nationalism and the Tamil-Hindu community faces cultural and existential barriers to political recognition even as their difficulties are compounded within a legal system where they do not have permanent land titles to plantation areas or community and residential structures.

In the eyes of Malaysian law, former land use is not a significant rights-based claim, and despite their ancestral presence in the lands as lifelong contract laborers, the Tamils have no legal claim to their home, land, or community structures and even 100-year old temples and schools, and are viewed as merely (ex-) laborers. Willford’s study situated in the early 2000s provides an inner look at how Malaysia’s development “of the prime industrial and subsequent residential heartlands . . . have taken on an ethnonationalistc urgency, given the politics of identity in the nation” (pp. 11, 123–124, 235).

Given Islamic identity’s structured dominance, the most visible aspect of marginalization of the Tamils is in their struggles to protect the sacredness of their own religious spaces. The author narrates the case of a 100-year old plantation temple in the Bukit Jalil Estate, a temple that was the focal point of the community identity—that the Tamils feared would be razed down, and the community tells that it is keen to document the temple’s historical presence.

Malaysia’s nation building was deliberately structured with separateness and differences in rights and privileges accorded to Malays, Chinese, Indians, and others. Even though the citizenship rights of all Malayans regardless of ethnic origin is given recognition, the law has enshrined special provisions protecting ethnic Malay political supremacy as “identities were created and rendered through the law and supplemented through archival measurements of race and culture” (p. 266). Willford writes that: “Malaysian nationalism was built out of negative and dissonant discourses of the other that had to be held—indeed reinforced—by legal means and supplemented by a racialized political and cultural landscape” (p. 8).

The combined effects of postindustrialism, postmodernism, and globalization are generating a “crisis of integration” in contemporary societies (Richmond 2003, 90–92). In polyethnic Malaysia, we can add post-colonialism to the mix.

By looking at ethnicity as social construct, we can regard it for what it is: essentially a work in progress that is not yet done, and so focus on the processes of the production especially the cultural content of ethnicity in particular where it joins religion.

The book offers important insights into the production and emergence of ethnic politics and the heightening of ethnic and religious tensions in Malaysia. The book is of critical relevance in our present time as growing resentment and dissatisfaction against the anti-democratic nature of economic development is manifesting in rising currents of ethnic and religious tensions and conflicts.

Rajesh Daniel
Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia, Bangkok


Richmond, A. H. 2003. Post Industrialism, Postmodernism, and Ethnic Conflict. In Race and Ethnicity: Comparative and Theoretical Approaches, edited by John Stone and Rutledge Dennis, pp. 83–94. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

O’Riley, Michael F. 2007. Postcolonial Haunting and Victimization: Assia Djebar’s New Novels. NY: Peter Lang.


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Mark Iñigo M. TALLARA


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions & the Making of a Filipino Universal
Deirdre de la Cruz
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015, 320p.

In March 1989, a transgender woman named Judiel Nieva reported that the Virgin Mary appeared to her atop a guava tree in the town of Agoo in the Philippine province of La Union. After much initial fanfare, a theological commission of the Roman Catholic Church declared the apparition as Constat de Non Supernaturalitate, or “clearly evident to be not supernatural.” In the 20 years since then, however, Filipino devotees to the Virgin Mary have continued to flourish, with some even making pilgrimages in different Marian shrines in and outside the country. Based on the Catholic Directory of the Philippines, more than 800 parishes nationwide are dedicated to the Virgin Mary as its titular patron. It is perhaps too simplistic say that the Marian devotion in the Philippines has persisted simply because of the intensity of Filipinos’ religious faith. What underlies the continued devotion to the Virgin Mary in the largest Roman Catholic nation in Asia?

Deirdre de la Cruz’s Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions & the Making of a Filipino Universal is a meticulous historical and ethnographic examination of the devotion to the Virgin Mary. It is published at a time in which the Catholic Church in the Philippines is embarking upon a 9-year spiritual journey that will culminate in the commemoration of the 500 years of Catholicism in the Philippines (Palma 2012). The book’s publication also finds resonance amidst Pope Francis’s radical new evangelization, which places great emphasis on the vibrancy of religious life among Catholic communities in the Global South.

This book has many important and significant key points which are approached from a number of angles using close textual analysis of church records and other historical documents. One important theme is the interaction between religion, the mass media, and lay actors in shaping Marian devotion in the Philippines. This discussion unfolds throughout the book’s three main parts, which are framed under the headings “images,” “visions,” and “mass movements.” From the outset, De la Cruz offers a very clear explanation of how the chapters are organized. And with her extensive fieldwork, she shows how passionately she is involved in her research, which involved her traveling widely to various churches, convents, libraries, and archives around the Philippines, Spain, and the United States.

Aside from a very useful introduction that outlines the framework and structure of book, the first two chapters recount the historical episodes and contemporary relevance of Marian apparitions and the devotion to the Virgin Mary. Chapter 1 examines the tripled meaning of the word “image” through a discussion of the physical appearance of religious imagery and its resemblance to published apparition stories and miracle narratives during the nineteenth century. The “appearance,” “disappearance,” and “(re)discovery” allegories are parts of the complexity of many apparition stories like in the case of Our Lady of Caysasay or the story of Our Lady of Manaoag, both of which have similarities and differences to actual images. This chapter also examines the role of missionaries and mestizo assistants called ladinos on the production of hagiographies, sermons, prayer books, popular romances, and spiritual manuals (p. 27), particularly during the period of expanding print culture in that century.

Chapter 2 emplaces the apparition stories in their historical context, looking back at the rich Catholic history of the post-revolutionary Philippines. It traces how double translation takes place through the quasi-divine figure of the Virgin Mary and through the globally circulating concept of the nation, Inang Bayan (Mother Country or Motherland). With anti-Spanish forces growing in strength, Gregorio Aglipay, a former Catholic priest and the supreme bishop of the Philippine Independent Church, propagated the tale of Inang Bayan as the localized version of the Virgin Mary. The story of Inang Bayan first appeared in Aglipay’s Novenario de la Patria (Novena of the Motherland) published in 1926, a prayer text that pays homage to the origins of the Philippine nation. The tale and the novena lay out the conditions for understanding the transformation of Marian devotion in the context of late colonial modernity (p. 60), which resonates with Vicente Rafael’s (1988) work on how unique forms of Filipino ideas and practices emerged through the reinterpretation of symbols and signs.

Chapter 3 is about the apparition of the Virgin Mary in a Carmelite monastery in Lipa. The chapter narrates how the apparitions and miracles happened through the story of Teresita Castillo, a former Carmelite novice in a monastery of nuns in the province of Lipa. It also reveals some disturbing historical narratives in the history of the Lipa monastery site, including the account of how 500 male civilians were bayoneted and their bodies dumped into the brook near the newly built seminary during the 1945 Japanese Occupation. The seminary was subsequently burned to the ground and on that burned plot of land now stands the Carmelite monastery built in 1946. The massacre was linked to why some people did not believe Teresita’s account of it was the Virgin Mary that appeared before her. According to De la Cruz’s interview: “All those that were killed by the Japanese there behind Lipa monastery, their spirits, maybe that’s what appeared to Teresita” (p. 90).

The cover image of the book is a photograph of the 1948 miracle rose petal from Lipa, bearing the image of Mary and the infant Jesus. Transformed into a public event, chapter 4 examines the story behind the showering of petals and the 15 consecutive days of Mary’s apparitions including coverage of its worldwide reception. There are claims that several petals yielded holy images and its wondrous potency is believed to cure illness by applying petals directly to the body or administering petal-infused water and petal-infused estampitas (p. 50). Like other sacred objects, whether mass-produced as souvenirs or as objects of veneration, the petals portray the accessibility of spiritual energy inherent in religious material culture (Bautista 2010). According to De la Cruz, “the petals were not ephemeral rumors or stories that would circulate by word of mouth. They are proofs of a most material sort, witnessed and possessed by not just one but by many. They were artifacts that appeared mysteriously in different conditions, that posed the greatest treat to the church effort’s to contain what was rapidly becoming a mass phenomenon, making the showering of petals were made the focal point of the verdict” (p. 151).

Chapter 5 is about the Family Rosary Crusade (FRC), a church apostolate that became a source of a new form of appearance of Mary in the Philippines. “Please pray the rosary” is a public service announcement on national television networks in the Philippines produced by the FRC. Perhaps one of the longest running Catholic-theme television programs in the Philippines, the history of FRC is a history of localization in the age of the mass media, according to De la Cruz. Founded by Patrick Peyton, an Irish-American priest and miraculously cured by the Virgin Mary of his tuberculosis, FRC had grown into a full-fledged media Catholic ministry in the United States and in 1951 in the Philippines. Made accessible to millions of Filipinos, FRC used mass rallies, television, radio, public advertising, and films to propagate the devotion to the Virgin Mary through rosary prayer, transforming the mediascape of the Philippines. During the 1980s some Catholic charismatic movements used the same format of extensive reaching to followers, combining the unique interplay of mass media and community (Wiegele 2005).

The final chapter examines how and why Filipino Marian devotees have “gone global.” This chapter clearly illustrates the importance of lay actors in the growth of the devotion to Mary, particularly after the 1986 People Power revolution. Some of the most important personalities and their Marian-related initiatives are discussed, including the likes of Maria Luisa Fatima Nebrida, founder of the Mary’s Army to Save Souls (MASS) and also the organizer of the fluvial procession of Marian images in Pasig River that served as the model to the World Marian Regatta in New York City. There was also Lydia Sison, the founder of Rosary Theater, the world’s first animated diorama on the life of Jesus, and June Keithley Castro, a Filipina journalist documentary film maker who produced a full-length feature on the apparitions of Mary in Lipa. Although many Filipinos continue to advocate for Mary as a universal figure and less in her specific and local manifestations, De la Cruz argues that this universalism is distinctly Filipino. And with the increasing popularity of the devotion to Mary in Lipa, the Philippines could play an active role in propagating the fifth Catholic dogma to the Virgin Mary under the title Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate.

This book could reshape or revision the investigation into Marian apparitions in the Philippines, particularly in the more than 60 years since the Virgin Mary was said to appear to Teresita Castillo. The book offers much needed context to the recent four-page document by Filipino Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles which officially confirmed the apparitions to have a “supernatural character” and “worthy of belief.” Significantly, this was the first approval by the local church of the apparition after the official statement delivered in 1951 by the church commission, stating that the evidences and testimonies exclude any supernatural intervention in the reported extraordinary happenings—including the shower of petals—of the Carmel of Lipa (p. 151). When Arguelles was appointed archbishop of Batangas, one of his immediate actions was to lift the ban on the devotion to the Virgin Mary under the title Mediatrix of All Grace. Based on the Council of Trent (1545–63), the local diocese is the primary authority to judge and declare the authenticity of apparitions of the Virgin Mary, on which the Vatican may later release an official declaration.

Overall, this is an excellent book for researchers and anyone interested in various investigations on the apparitions and miracles of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines. This book not only recounts the basics of each apparition but also puts them in their historical and ethnographic context. Mother Figured is a very important contribution to the study of Marianism in the Philippines and to the worldwide devotion to the Virgin Mary more generally.

Mark Iñigo M. Tallara
Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore


Bautista, Julius. 2010. Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of the Santo Niño de Cebu. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Catholic Directory of the Philippines. 2014. Manila: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. 2002. Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Keithley, June. 1992. Lipa: With the Original Account of the Events at Lipa Carmel in 1948 by Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus, O.C.D. Manila: Cacho Publishing House.

Palma, Jose. 2012. Live Christ, Share Christ: Looking Forward to Our Five Hundredth, CBCP Pastoral Letter on the Era of New Evangelization. Manila: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Rafael, Vicente L. 1988. Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Wiegele, Katharine L. 2005. Investing in Miracles: El Shaddai and the Transformation of Popular Catholicism in the Philippines. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.




Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts
Farouk Yahya
Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015, xxvii+349p., 308 illus., 2 maps

A fully developed scholarly source for illustrated manuscripts dealing with humans, life, the future, beliefs, death, and so on, is much needed by arts, religious, cultural, and ethnical studies scholars. Globally speaking, studies on the history of divination, talismans, and amulets suggest that there is a connection between magic and medicine notes in the eastern and western parts of the world. However, access to a comprehensive collection of Eastern illustrated manuscripts including magic, divination, medicine, and sorcery notes is implausible. There is also a dearth of studies related to such collections in Arab countries and particularly in Persia.

Farouk Yahya considered about 96 published and non-published manuscripts in the Malay-Indonesian world chiefly since the late eighteenth century in an attempt to fill a part of this blank space. Yahya’s book thus encourages other Asian scholars to produce similar works about their cultural heritage. He draws our attention to the fictional characters, popular customs, and local knowledge of magic, divination, and medicine of a region where people used to have great respect for magic and magicians. This book is divided into two parts and eight chapters.

The first part comprises an Introduction and Background, whereby the author simultaneously considers three approaches in his study, including (a) a general survey of the manuscripts, (b) an analysis of a particular illustration and note on magic/divination, and (c) an assessment of a specific manuscript. Some Malay manuscripts are unknown and sometimes undated. Apart from the destructive influence of Southeast Asian climates in wrecking the colophons, I recollect a discussion I had with colleagues in Malaysia a couple of years ago regarding many local manuscripts, particularly dealing with Islamic teachings, rituals, and customs, which are anonymous because they were written for the sake of God and not for fame. The first datable (and illustrated) manuscript considered by Farouk Yahya is from 1775 and the latest is from 1933, although there are a few sixteenth and early seventeenth-century manuscripts in European collections (refer to chapter three of the book).

The author promptly highlights the importance of his study to art studies. He also provides readers with hints of whether pre-Islamic and ancient paintings are manifested in the Archipelago. To offer some insight into the application of divinatory and magic notes occasionally written incompletely in the manuscripts, Yahya also conducted interviews with four male practitioners. It is certain that through the use of various methodologies this study addresses different scientific disciplines.

The next section of part one starts with “the Malay spirit world” that helps readers comprehend how various foreign fictional and supernatural elements have entered Malay magic and divination works. This section sheds light on the thought that as long as the language of a community is filled with loaned terms, its cultural heritage is to some/large extent impressed.

Subsequently, Yahya provides additional information about the tools applied by a Malay magician, which are divided into four groups: (a) oral tradition written in manuscripts, such as supplications and incantations; (b) particular objects such as the keris (dragger) and magic-medicinal bowl (mangkuk penawar); (c) goods and materials including water, candles, lime, eggs, betel leaves, toasted rice, etc.; and (d) effigies of humans and animals. Although magicians in other Asian and Muslim communities apply many of these tools, it seems there is no comprehensive prescription of the ingredients in materials. For instance, I observed a religious quasi-Sufi Persian practitioner who wrote some Arabic and Persian notes using liquid saffron, a plant growing extensively in Iran, inside a bowl. He put the bowl in the kitchen to bestow blessings and wealth upon the people of the house (ahl-i khāna/manzil). However, as far as I know saffron was/is not used by Malay magicians or fortune-tellers because it was/is not cultivated there. This implies that geographical context does influence the reception of foreign elements.

Likewise, Yahya displays the parallel role that both magicians and mosque Imams had for some time, to physically or metaphysically guide orang Melayu. Logically speaking, the authority of Imams reinforced or increased with the start of another Islamization wave in Southeast Asia, with particular emphasis on orthodox Islam in the very beginning of the twentieth century which led to diminishing the importance of magic culture among Malays; the opposite is expected in other societies, with the more contact that Muslims had/have with widespread so-called unorthodox teachings, the more familiar with magic treatments they will be.1) Later on, the Malay-Indonesians’ links with Middle Eastern oil kings, the re-emergence of a devoted Shīʿī authority in Iran in 1979, and the scrambling Arab governments to re-capture the Muslim world’s economic-political power, and so forth have all significantly affected the slow (and occasionally secret, non-official) handing down of Malay magical heritage to next generations.

The second part of the book deals with Manuscripts, where Yahya explains there are European manuscript collections, but only a small share of Portuguese collections include Malay manuscripts:

In fact, apart from a couple of letters that were sent to them by local rulers, Malay manuscripts are rarely found in the Portuguese collections. This could probably be explained by the antagonistic views held of non-Catholic cultures, especially that of Islam. Additionally, the lack of Malay manuscripts in Portuguese archives is also partly due to the survivability of the evidence, as many records were lost when the Casa da India in Lisbon was destroyed by earthquake and fire in 1755. (p. 42)

The author also describes the physical features, materials, formats, and colors used in the manuscripts. As there is vague understanding of some manuscript images, in chapter five Yahya draws the readers’ attention to the connection between text and images. Yahya’s attempt to find different samples of divination manuscripts is obvious. He introduces Ketika Burung and Burung Malaikat, both of which are based on depicting a bird, something that is rarely studied by contemporary scholars. Tables, diagrams, and some hints to help discern between Arabic, Jawi, and Pegon letters are presented as well. Fāl al-Qurʾān, or divination by the Qurʾān, are originally from the Middle East and (more or less) South Asian regions but are often found in the Malay world as well. Some Fāl al-Qurʾān that are ascribed to an important Shīʿī and Sufi figure, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq have been analyzed and a connection is pointed out between the structure and procedure of Persian, Ottoman and Malay Fāl al-Qurʾān.

Other techniques of expressing the human state and seeing the future are augury and physiognomy. According to Yahya, the first deals with interpreting signs in nature, which can be done by referring to earthquakes, eclipses, lightening, dreams, human limb movements, and so on. The latter (physiognomy) is also known as firasat and it is “to decode the inner character by developing a grammar of observable bodily features” (p. 151) and it covers humans, animals, and objects. The iconography part of the book essentially motivates readers to decode the secrets of signs and paintings that are extensively used in manuscripts. The relation between Chinese motifs and the Malay magic and divination culture is evident, as Yahya highlighted “A Chinese porcelain saucer with a 4 × 4 magic square in the bottom [produced at the] Jingdezhen, Jianxi province [of] China.”

Chapter seven is also interesting as it refers to magicians and gender. In the section “Female Magicians,” readers discover the importance of introducing Muḥammad’s household (e.g. Fāṭima, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn) into talismans. It should be noted that the importance of the four Rightly-guided caliphs of Islam (Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, ʿUthmān, and ʿAlī) are displayed in other Malay manuscripts by placing them far from each other (in the corners of the page) often in separate polygons, flowers, circles and ovals (see Fig. 47, p. 71; Fig. 254, p. 218; Fig. 285, p. 246). It recalls the ottoman rulers such as Bayezid II (r. 1481–1512) and his son Selim I (r. 1512–1520) who ignored Persian-Shīʿī Safavid officials’ cursing the first three caliphs by adding their names (Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, and ʿUthmān) and symbols to their banners (See Yürekli 2015). Also, I understood that the “calligraphic lion on scroll of Mehmet II” (1458 AD) preserved in the Topkapi Serai Library resembles—in terms of designation only—the “calligraphic lion on the standard of Sultan Muhammad IV of Kelantan” (r. 1899–1920) appeared on page 192 of Yahya’s book (See Shani 2011, 123). It signifies that Middle Eastern Islamic traditions and religious-political movements had impact on Malay folk prose as well as Malay notes on magic. Yahya indicates that selusuh Fatimah, which served to facilitate childbirth, belonged to (possibly) after the mid-nineteenth century; it coincides with the (re-) writing of several Malay hikayat dan buku that include Islamic (Sunni, Shīʿī and Sufi) elements (See also: Wieringa 1996, 93–111). However, Yahya claims that:

The manuscripts are therefore not only an important resource for a study of Malay visual art and magical and divinatory practices, but also for an understanding of the production and consumption of Malay manuscripts in general. The private and personal nature of their contents means that the manuscripts are different to Malay manuscripts of other textual genres such as poetry, literary and devotional works, which are often recited aloud in public. (p. 296)

The process and printing of magical and divination notes after the twentieth century along with their current status, for example in Malaysia today, form the last part of this book. To finalize his discussion, Yahya concludes that rather than manuscripts written and owned by magicians, the most illuminating manuscripts usually belonged to the religious and royalty classes of society, and more beautiful and high quality manuscripts “were commissioned by European patrons.”

This comprehensive book resembles a well-written encyclopaedia in targeting every aspect of Southeast Asian notes on divination and magic, and can be supplemented with the detailed manuscript catalogues written by Wieringa (1998), Iskandar (1999), and also Skeat (1900). Yahya’s effort suggests that the descriptive works on Malay culture are no longer effective. He also reminds enthusiastic scholars that now is the time to use his book in order to select a type of note on magic and divination and trace its development, and following Winstedt’s analytical view, attempt to answer what for/how these magical notions entered and connected with the Middle East, South Asian and the Malay-Indonesian world.

Majid Daneshgar
Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, New Zealand


Iskandar, Teuku. 1999. Catalogue of Malay, Minangkabau, and South Sumatran Manuscripts in the Netherlands, Vols. 1–2. Leiden: Documentatiebureau Islam-Christendom.

Shani, Raya. 2011. Calligraphic Lions Symbolising the Esoteric Dimension of ‘AlĪ’s Nature. In The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism: Iconography and Religious Devotion in Shi’i Islam, edited by Pedram Khosronejad, pp. 122–158. London and New York: Pedram Khosronejad.

Skeat, Walter William. 1900. Malay Magic: Being an Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula with a Preface by Charles Otto Blagden. London: Macmillan.

Wieringa, E. 1996. Does Traditional Islamic Malay Literature Contain Shiʿitic Elements? ʿAli and Fātimah in Malay Hikayat Literature. Studia Islamika 4: 93–111.

Wieringa, E. P. 1998. Catalogue of Malay and Minangkabau Manuscripts in the Library of Leiden University and Other Collections in the Netherlands, Vols. 1 and 2. Leiden: Legatum Warnerianum, Leiden University Library.

Yürekli, Zeynep. 2015. The Sword Dhū’l-faqār and the Ottomans. People of the Prophet’s House: Artistic and Ritual Expressions of Shi‘i Islam, edited by F. Suleman, pp. 163–172. London: Institute of Ismaili Studies and Azimuth Editions.

1) Many Shīʿī and Sufī produced their own magic and divination notes by employing Islamic, local, and cultural elements. Likewise, they had a significant influence on Malays before the twentieth century.


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Portia L. REYES


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Luzon at War: Contradictions in Philippine Society, 1898–1902 (with an introduction by Vicente L. Rafael)
Milagros Camayon Guerrero
Quezon City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2015, 295p.

Luzon at War has been long in coming. As a dissertation at the University of Michigan in 1977, it has eluded Filipino historians for years; that it is finally out as a book is a happy occasion. Prior to the writing of Luzon at War, its author—Milagros Guerrero—has co-written with the celebrated Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo the highly influential History of the Filipino People, and has also worked with renowned historian Renato Constantino in the edition of the five-volume compendium The Philippine Insurgent Records. As such, when she arrived in the United States for her graduate studies, wrote Vicente Rafael, she “was already known” as a scholar of the Philippines (p. 3). She has delved into the genre of “history from below” and studied the tumultuous period of the Philippine Revolution and the nascent republic from the perspective of the periphery and the marginalized. She has looked beyond the political developments in social and political centers of Malolos and Manila, examining the social realities of the Revolution among the masses in the provinces instead. Using declassified sources on the Filipino state, taxation, landownership, and popular movements in particular, Luzon at War illustrates the variegated discord in society from 1898 to 1902, as the Spanish colonizers exited and the republic fought for its existence by warding off the onslaught of the American imperialists on the islands and its people.

Five chapters comprise the book. Guerrero painstakingly provides a “serious and realistic analysis of the mechanisms of political and social change outside Manila and Malolos” and introduces her readers to the difficulties of both the government and the governed during the birth of the Philippine nation state (p. 23). She claims that in 1898 the Tagalog provinces of Luzon welcomed the Revolutionary Government by Emilio Aguinaldo. Townsmen organized militias, which attacked Spanish outposts and welcomed state envoys and other insurgent troops. To underline the country’s independence and prove that Filipinos could govern, Aguinaldo called for a nationwide reorganization. In response Manila, still at a quandary from the occupation of American and Filipino forces and nearby provinces elected prominent members from the cacique ilustrado or principalia (landowning, educated or privileged) class. Conflict characterized the transfer of power—civilian appointees contended with military commanders, who were uneasy to share powers or refused to accept their subservience to civilians. Free from the constraints of the outgoing colonial regime, which they also served, and far from the central Aguinaldo government in Malolos, new provincial officials collected taxes and rents and maintained peace and internal security with impunity. Long-entrenched ruling families used their new position to demand personal services, extort old and new taxes, and embezzle public funds, earning the ire of the masses who expected real and lasting change following the Spanish colonizers.

In Luzon support for the revolution, according to Guerrero, rested on people’s opposition to the colonial taxation and friar control of political and social life and vast tracks of arable land. Correspondingly, upon its ascent to power, the Aguinaldo government abolished forced labor and took control of friar lands. To support itself and its ongoing war with the Americans, the Aguinaldo government enforced a war tax on every citizen, required those who could not pay to serve either in civil or military public works and demanded rent from the use of agricultural land. It disbanded militias and encouraged citizens to return to cultivation. The economy stagnated, nonetheless. From 1898 to 1902 typhoons, floods, and epidemics like malaria and rinderpest repeatedly hit Central Luzon, its people, and animal resources. Restrictions on commerce between Manila and the provinces paralyzed agriculture, shattering interdependency among provinces and steadily dwindling supply of food and staple commodities. Meanwhile, to administer land use and ownership, the government ordered tillers to register their plots. Illiterate peasants sought assistance from escribanos (writers), some of whom unscrupulously register the illiterate farmers’ lands as their own. Other peasants, fearing the imposition of land tax, ignored the new regulation and, hence, the opportunity to legally own their plots. Also the kasama (sharecropper) who tilled the land for the small inquilino (landowner) were neglected, leading to their further impoverishment and even displacement from the farming industry. Increasingly the ilustrado and cacique minority “emerged as the true victors in the Philippine revolution, politically, socially and economically” (p. 164).

Peasant leaders, narrates Guerrero, realized early that the Spanish colonial government would not impose the social change they longed for. Their brief hope upon allegiance with Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan1) was snuffed by Aguinaldo’s government which, like the colonial regime it replaced, also imposed burdensome taxes administered by corrupt officials. Widespread indignation exemplified in social revolts Panasacula, Santa Iglesia, Guardia de Honor, and the Colorums erupted, underscoring cleavages in the Revolution. In the provinces, ilustrado and military leaders undermined peasant leaders like Teodoro Panasacula and Felipe Salvador and refused to recognize their groups as parts of the revolutionary force. Similar to the country’s colonizers, the elite equated peasant movements with troublemakers, savagery, banditry, and fanaticism, forcing them to flee to the mountains where they waged guerrilla warfare. Heavily influenced by religion, the guerrillas assassinated and raided towns and/or large farmlands, whose leadership, frustrated from the Aguinaldo government’s inaction, turned to American colonizers for protection. The arrest and execution of peasant leaders and the disbandment of their societies suppressed the movement; and the newly established American regime alleviated some farmers’ plight, but failed to resolve the “the age-old problem of social inequality in Philippine society” (p. 265). Years after independence peasant demands continued, because the social regeneration promised to them in the Revolution remained unfulfilled.

The discernible fissures in Filipino society and the persistent poverty and want among their peasants could indeed be traced back to the birth of the nation state. And Luzon at War could have delved deeper in unpacking these complex and multi-faceted contradictions. For instance it could have unraveled the idea of the educated and landed elite as a monolithic class and illustrated the cleavages brought about by politics and self-interest among their rank. It could have been enriched with further inquiry into the world of the underprivileged members of social movements—it could have amply established their particular relationship with Bonifacio’s Katipunan, their culture, their philosophy, and their enduring popularity. Also the allegiance between some members of the elite and the Americans could have been better elucidated. Lastly it could have been aptly reworked as a book—that it is a dissertation in print might be charming, but updating it would certainly not have hurt. Still it should be stressed that Guerrero’s Luzon at War provides a good overview of the social realities behind the conflicts among Filipinos during the turbulent birth of the nation state. It is an important contribution in Philippine history and a revelation of the historiography of its time; scholars of the Philippines and Southeast Asia must read it.

Portia L. Reyes
Department of History, National University of Singapore


Agoncillo, Teodoro. [1956] 2005. The Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Agoncillo, Teodoro; and Guerrero, Milagros. [1970] 1986. History of the Filipino People. 3rd to 7th ed. Quezon City: Garotech Publishing.

Ileto, Reynaldo C. [1975] 1998a. Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840–1910. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

―. 1998b. Filipinos and Their Revolution: Event, Discourse and Historiography. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Llanes, Ferdinand, ed. 1994. Katipunan: Isang pambansang kilusan [Katipunan: A national movement]. Quezon City: ADHIKA Inc. and NCCA.

Taylor, John R. M. 1971. The Philippine Insurgent Records against the United States. 5 vols. Pasay City: Eugenio Lopez Foundation.

Totanes, Vernon. 2010. History of the Filipino People and Martial Law: A Forgotten Chapter in the History of a History Book, 1960–2010. Philippine Studies 58(3): 313–348.

1) Shorthand for the secret anti-colonial society Kataastaasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Greatest, Most Venerable Union of the Children of the Nation), which fought wars of independence against the Spaniards and the Americans.




Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

A Sarong for Clio: Essays on the Intellectual and Cultural History of Thailand, Inspired by Craig J. Reynolds
Maurizio Peleggi, ed.
Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2015, 208p.

When a stellar cast gathers for the festschrift, the result is both a thoughtful reflection on the past oeuvre by Craig J. Reynolds, who inspired the essays, and a peek into the various issues and debates that will characterize the future of Thai studies.

If not directly mentioned, Reynolds’ influence and carefully crafted concepts from his decades-long career in Thai and Southeast Asian Studies pervade the book. This can partly be attributed to the contributors’ association with Reynolds as his students, colleagues, and friends. However, it would be wrong to assume that the volume represents a closed academic circuit. Reynolds’ opuses span from the 1970s to the 2010s and counting. His seminal works illuminate important aspects of these often turbulent decades, such as the analyses of Buddhist and Marxist writings in Thailand and beyond, the charting of previously under-explored terrain of historiography in Southeast Asia, the clearing of the ground for intellectual and social histories in the area, the probing of the ideas of national identity and globalization, and the meditation on varied aspects of power, including its unorthodox linkage with magic and local knowledge. All the while, he widely borrows conceptual tools from, inter alia, semiotics, feminism, structuralism, and post-structuralism, but always subjects them to scrutiny and test in the Southeast Asian weather. The editor Maurizio Peleggi’s introductory chapter well captures this across-the-board and seasoned nature of Reynolds’ works and thoughts.

In the essays that follow, three Reynolds’ leitmotifs emerge quite clearly, namely: (1) power in its multifarious manifestations, (2) an emphasis on the outcasts of Thai history, and (3) knowledge, especially in its written forms of manual and historiography. All three permeate the chapters, although some bring each of these themes out more evidently than others.

One common ground of all authors is that power operates in many fields. It operates in art historiography, in artifact of museological practices, in Buddha statues, and in beauty. Rather than in the eye of the beholder, according to Peleggi in his own essay (Chapter 4), Thai art is a discursive field of power, an intense playground of national myth and colonial rule. Power also operates in the visual sense as art history (and arguably all histories) works “to make the past synoptically visible” (p. 92), especially through classifying and inscribing meaning in objects. In Chapter 7, Yoshinori Nishizaki argues along the same line, though in a different context, that visibility is a matter of power. In his analysis, it is inscribed in a grandiose observation tower in the provincial city of Suphanburi, the public work that has become a symbol, a source of collective pride and social identity.

We can also approach power via semiotics and politics of translation, as Kasian Tejapira illustrates in Chapter 9 where he discusses the term “governance” in Thailand in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis and the “shock doctrine” of neoliberalism. Kasian skillfully traces the transformation of the IMF’s notion of “good governance” as part of its liberalization and privatization package imposed on crisis-ridden economies, to its Thai translation as thammarat, which was picked up and used by several groups with various intentions, be it liberal, communitarian, or even authoritarian.

The collection also demonstrates that power exists in all levels of a society: it is concentrated in the elites’ hands, but also practiced by the subalterns. When these forms of power clash, various mechanisms are called forth to resolve the tension, and they can be brute, hegemonic, discursive, or emotional. This formulation of power is encapsulated in a number of essays in the volume.

In Chapter 1, Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit weds the figure of an outcast with the complexities of knowledge/power through the story of Khun Phaen. Based on classic folk literature previously translated by the authors, the essay distills basic Thai modalities of power, arguing that it can mean many things for different people in different contexts. Even the most common conceptualization of power as authority can have varied meanings. When viewed from the apex of society, it can mean the delivery of order, stability, and protection. When viewed from below, however, formal authority, protective as it might be, often causes alarm since it can inflict distress, violence, and even sudden death on ordinary people. But Baker and Pasuk also characterize power in another mode for our hero in the story: mastery. Khun Phaen derives power through a mastery of skills, magic, spirits, forces of nature, and himself—in short, the mastery of knowledge, or lore, acquired through learning and practice, which stood in contrast to authority originated in birth and hierarchy. Mastery protects Khun Phaen and his loved ones against danger; it even enables him to defend his country for the king. These two bases of power—authority and mastery—eventually collide in the climax of the tale. But the whole legend can also be read as having built upon the tension between them.

In light of Reynolds’ previous study of Thai “how-to” manuals, the tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen can also be seen as a manual that offers guidelines for living—how to understand the world, how to behave and deal with others, as well as how to approach power and politics. Diachronically, Villa Vilaithong’s essay (Chapter 8) exemplifies the implications of manuals relating to the management of oneself. Here, Khun Phaen becomes a 1980s businessman who found himself in the dizzying world of globalized competition. Yet, he could find solace in Khoo Khaeng (Competitor) Magazine, through which he could learn the lore (e.g. marketing data and statistics), practice magic and charms (marketing and advertising techniques), protect himself against danger in war-like situations (as described by the magazine), and hope to win the battle (beating competitors). Of note is Villa’s discussion of Khoo Khaeng’s role in the making of the “corporate man,” subjectivated through embellishment of consumer goods, “dress for success,” and lifestyles that reflected “notions of refinement, self-discipline, and Westernization” and “transformed middle-class corporate men’s appearance both at work and play” (pp. 177–178). The “beautiful apparition” in the tale of Khun Phaen meets its counterpart in Khoo Khaeng. Villa traces this manual from its inception until the expiry of its shelf life, ironically as a “victim,” and not a corporate “last man,” of the 1997 economic crisis.

The theme of the outcast in Thai society continues in four more essays, although each contains its own distinct flavor. The most seditious would be Patrick Jory’s genealogy of republicanism in Thailand in Chapter 5. In a country usually considered monarchical and conservative, proudly brandishing its long tradition of royalism, Jory argues against the grain that republicanism has enjoyed an underground following for at least 130 years, can be traced in both liberal and communist camps, and found among such diverse groups as princes in the days of absolutism, commoners, literati, politicians, military officers, political parties, and mass movements.

In contrast, the other three outcasts are individuals who are less out-and-out rebellious than those in Jory’s piece, yet no less anti-establishment and, as a result, they also suffered from various forms of punishment and discipline. One such individual is the audacious Cham Jamratnet, a member of parliament from southern Thailand, whose life experiences directly fluctuated with the ever-shifting political landscape in the wake of the 1932 revolution. Cham’s politics is difficult to categorize in ideological terms, but his colorful actions both inside and outside of the parliament can be interpreted as siding with the poor and the voiceless. His daring performance as a “common-man MP” earned him five successful elections, coverage in national media, and an affectionate commemoration in his hometown. But it also landed him in prison and resulted in an investigation of his sanity. In Chapter 6, James Ockey aptly links the curious case of Cham with the rise of psychiatry in Thailand after the 1950s and contends that the scientific discourse was in itself a power that suppressed as it was listed to the side of authority to relegate those who dared challenging the norm.

Another paramount example is Prince Prisdang Chumsai, the “renegade royalist,” who was reluctantly rebellious to King Chulalongkorn when, in 1885, the prince led a group of royals and demanded a constitutional monarchy at the time when centralization process was only at its nascence. In a series of backlashes, Prisdang found himself ignored, shamed, marginalized in the new bureaucracy, exiled for 20 years, blacklisted and harassed after he returned to Siam towards the end of his life. Amidst all of these, he was ridiculed, rumored to be mad, and murdered historiographically, that is, assigned to oblivion. I consider Tamara Loos’s analysis of Prisdang (Chapter 3) most innovative in terms of approach. Loos draws attention to the hitherto little known place of emotion in Thai history, to the “regime of emotion” that sanctioned against individuals through rumors, gossip, discrediting, favoring and disfavoring (rather than through, say, law), and emotional suffering, the ambiguous angst one bears throughout one’s life. As such, Loos brings to light the abstruse interstices of power and expands its notion in the Thai context, beyond power as authority, knowledge, discourse, or simple disciplining.

In the same text, Loos examines the genre of autobiography, a new mode of writing in the time of Prisdang. Autobiography is not “an objective and disinterested pursuit but . . . a work of personal justification . . .” (p. 75), and for Prisdang, who was consigned to the disgraceful corner of history, it was particularly urgent to write back. Autobiography allowed him to engage in “a historically situated practice of self-representation,” in which he can perform and construct “his identity through the narration of his own life” (p. 76) and to negotiate his place in history. In this sense, history has been inimical to an awful lot of people. And it is arguably more so for commoners than members of the elite like Prisdang. The fourth outcast, KSR Kulap (1835–1922), is a literatus and probably the first commoner whom we can call a “historian” by trade (although the term did not exist in his time). Like Prisdang, he engaged in writing to counter the weight of history. But rather than writing against history, he wrote another history. Or, rather, a different historiography and method: as Thongchai Winichakul points out in Chapter 2, Kulap wrote at a time when the sense of historicity and its writing was being drastically rethought, and Kulap’s methodology represented an older mode of historiography. The price of being outmoded was high: he was charged several times by the royals, imprisoned, and his sanity was called into question. “Fabrication, stealth, and tainting of historical records” were the charges but all these were, according to Thongchai, based on modern criteria of historiography. Previous studies of Kulap, including Reynolds’, point to the exclusivity of historical writing in the aristocratic circle and Kulap’s transgression into it. Thongchai makes a larger claim: this was an epistemic clash between two modes of historiography, and Kulap was on the losing side.

The formal charges were accompanied by denigration and ridicule: for instance, the word ku, from Kulap, was associated by the royal elite with “inventing a fact” and exaggeration, and it still has the same connotation in today’s vocabulary. A chilling point that comes forward from these essays is that formal authority is akin to fire: it can protect one against coldness, but it can also burn. And when it wants to burn, it summons instruments of suffering: brute force, legal charges, imprisonment, accusation of madness, forcing into oblivion, shaming, discrediting, harassment, rumors, and ridicule. The result can vary from death, despair, exile, voiding of subjectivity and meaning by being ignored, silenced, or emotionally tormented. Today’s Thailand is, once again, turning towards authoritarianism and this pattern of suffering is all too eerily familiar.

The only thing I miss from reading this otherwise brilliant collection is its comparative aspect, which would have allowed it to live up to its title, a sarong for Clio. Hidden here and there in the articles, comparison with other areas could be brought out more forcefully, and its implications for the discipline of History, and not only Thai history, could be more engaged with and debated. Nonetheless, the essays are a pleasant read and a must for scholars working on Thailand and Southeast Asia. Above all, the authors in the book have composed a worthy tribute to Craig J. Reynolds by building upon his works and taking them further afield.

Sing Suwannakij สิงห์ สุวรรณกิจ
Department of History, Faculty of Humanities, Chiang Mai University


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, R. Michael FEENER


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 



From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia
A. C. S. Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop, eds.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, xvi+348p.

This edited volume in the Proceedings of the British Academy series is comprised of 14 chapters covering interactions between the two regions from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. Its various chapters were developed out of papers originally prepared for a workshop held at the International Centre for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies (ICAIOS) in Banda Aceh in 2012 as part of a collaborative project between the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara (BIAA) and the Association for South-East Asian Studies in the United Kingdom (ASEASUK) on “Islam, Trade, and Politics across the Indian Ocean.” The editors have done a remarkable job here in bringing together the work of historians and philologists to produce a volume of studies tightly focused along clearly defined axes of interaction between the two regions. Their efforts have produced a book that makes significant and meaningful contributions to our understandings of these trans-regional dynamics in the history of Southeast Asia. In this it both complements and substantially enriches a growing library of work focused on analogous vectors of the historical connections of Southeast Asia with the Arab Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia.1)

The editors’ very fine introduction to the collection presents an engaging overview of the field, highlighting the ways in which the various chapters contribute to developing richer and more nuanced understandings of diverse modalities of connection between the two regions. It is followed by a chapter from Anthony Reid, whose pioneering work stimulated a growing body of research on this field since his first publication on connections between the Ottomans and Aceh in 1969. In his chapter for this volume, Reid has produced a new essay that provides rich contexts for understanding the findings of this more recent scholarship in a magisterial overview of ways in which understandings of both the historical and imagined relationships between the two regions have developed over more than four centuries.

The remainder of the volume is comprised of a series of focused, in-depth case studies of particular examples of political, religious, economic, and literary connections between the two regions—including the presentation of new work on a wide range of archival sources. Jorge Santos Alves begins by introducing a previously little known dimension of sixteenth century Ottoman-Southeast Asian interactions in the role played by Jews of Portuguese origin (who had lost much to both the Inquisition and the Estado da India) that were active at Istanbul in supporting a stronger anti-Portuguese stance in the Indian Ocean. The economic focus is also central to Andrew Peacock’s own chapter, which highlights the importance of looking beyond diplomatic connections to the particulars of both trade commodities and the careers of individual merchants to develop more fine-grained depictions of connections as embodied in the people and things that moved between the two regions.

Diplomatic and political relations return to center stage in several of the chapters that follow. Jeyamalar Kathirithamby-Wells takes as her focus the Hadrami diaspora in the Netherlands Indies with an examination of both their pragmatic collaboration and resistance in light of appeals to their rights as Ottoman citizens. Isaac Donoso’s chapter presents us with yet another case in which colonial views of the ties binding Muslims in Southeast Asia to the Ottoman Empire and the heartlands of Islam factored into diverse political projects. The other chapter in this volume focusing on the Philippines, by Gervase Clarence-Smith, opens up a window onto new dynamics introduced under American colonial rule and the remarkable experiments of this new colonial power with engaging the Ottomans as part of policies designed for the management of their Muslim subjects in Southeast Asia.

The potential role of the Ottomans to influence the religious and political landscape of the region was, however, not purely the product of Western imaginations. One of the real highlights of the volume is the chapter by İsmail Hakkı Kadı, in which he provides a provocative critique of dominant scholarly understandings (based to a considerable degree on colonial notions) of the centrality of Abdülhamid II as the driver “Pan-Islamism.” In contrast to a vision of trans-national Islamic ideology and activism centered on the Ottomans, Kadı argues that interest in Southeast Asia in Istanbul was “not inaugurated by the Ottomans, but was prompted by various initiatives from the region” (p. 152). Further evidence of Southeast Asian initiative in these developments is presented in İsmail Hakkı Göksoy’s discussion of the visit of the Ottoman frigate Ertuğul to Singapore in 1890. In this chapter Göksoy continues his ongoing explorations of the Ottoman archives to present here new letters from the late nineteenth century documenting the interest in Aceh within “official circles” at Istanbul—as well as the ongoing attempts of Acehnese and those claiming to represent them to pursue Ottoman support.

The historical progression is followed through the twentieth century in the chapters that follow. Amrita Malhi’s chapter opens a window onto previously under-appreciated dimensions of anti-British uprisings in early twentieth-century Malaya through her explorations of the “subterranean symbolic life” of the Ottoman Empire in Muslim Southeast Asia—and in particular in the ritual and political imaginations of Malay “secret societies.” Chiara Formichi’s contribution sheds some stimulating new light on yet another little recognized, but very different, sphere in which developments in Anatolia inspired anti-colonial visions in Southeast Asia. Here the focus is on the impact of late and post-Ottoman secularizing projects, and the way in which some Indonesian nationalists came to perceive Kemalism as a “middle way” facilitating “progress” at a critical juncture in the country’s history.

The last three chapters of the volume shift gears from political and economic history to literary and religious connections. Vladimir Braginsky begins by taking up another thread from Reid’s early work on Ottoman-Southeast Asian relations to explore literary imaginations of “Turks” in Malay literature. Drawing on his extensive work in this field, Braginsky provides us here with an illuminating overview and typology of a wide range of pre-modern texts across various stages of Malay literary history. Oman Fathurahman’s chapter turns attention toward aspects of intellectual and religious history as evidenced in a selection of important Malay and Arabic texts in genres ranging from Qurʾānic exegesis to sermons. Here, he reminds us, the major center of gravity was not Istanbul, but rather the holy cities of Arabia where Kurdish and Sumatran Sufis and scholars came together around a shared textual corpus—as most perhaps most famously demonstrated by Anthony Johns in his 1978 portrait of Ibrāhīm al-Kurānī and Abd al-Raʾūf Singkel as “Friends in Grace” (in Udin 1978). Another modality of religious connections between the two regions is the focus of the last chapter in the volume, in which Ali Akbar presents a very perceptive overview of the influence of Ottoman traditions of Qurʾānic calligraphy and codicology on the production of manuscript and early print Qurʾāns in Southeast Asia. These examples provide a compelling case for the continuing importance of these religious and cultural connections that transcend the limits of direct political or economic relations between the two regions.

As with most edited collections, there is of course some variation in the quality of the individual chapters, but overall the work is of a very high standard. The editors and contributors are to be commended for producing a fine work that will serve to set the state of the field in studies of connections between these two regions, and should inspire further work on diverse dynamics of trans-regional history. If there is one shortcoming of this collection it would be one of omission. Of course, it is never possible to cover all that one may wish in any book. However, given the extensive coverage of Aceh across the volume, and the specific mention of this toponym in its alliterative title, it is something of a surprise that it did not include an essay on the re-invigoration of connections between Aceh and Turkey in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. Nevertheless, this fine volume will certainly serve as an important resource for work on this and other aspects of connection between the two regions in the future.

R. Michael Feener
Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Oxford


Feener, R. Michael; and Sevea, Terenjit, eds. 2009. Islamic Connections: Muslim Societies in South and Southeast Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Tagliacozzo, Eric, ed. 2009. Southeast Asia and the Middle East: Islam, Movement and the Longue Durée. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Udin, S., ed. 1978. Spectrum: Essays Presented to Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana. Jakarta: Dian Rakyat.

Wade, Geoff, ed. 2007. Southeast Asia-China Interactions. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

1) These areas have each been the subject their own edited volumes appearing over the past decade: Eric Tagliacozzo (2009), R. Michael Feener and Terenjit Sevea (2009), and Geoff Wade (2007)—the last of these drawing in constructive ways on material published earlier elsewhere. These collections both reflect and have themselves stimulated broader developments in historical work on Southeast Asia from trans-regional perspectives, as seen in the proliferation of individual journal articles and monographs on the topic over recent years.