Sunday, 28 August 2016


     I've decided to start a new blog on history and prehistory in Indonesia and the southwestern Pacific. My earlier blog, West's Ancient World, included lots of material on Amazonia, Africa, and Australia, as well as plenty of other tangential topics. This one is exclusively about Indonesia, New Guinea, and the surrounding area. I'm starting a master's degree in Southeast Asian Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands in a few days, so concentrating on Indonesia - not just academically but also online - seems like a good idea at this point.

    I'm particularly interested in eastern Indonesia, mainly the Indonesian provinces of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), Maluku, and Maluku Utara - but I have plenty of material on the western islands too (Java, Sumatra, etc) and New Guinea (which is often considered separate from Indonesia). I'll also have a little to say about early Islamic culture, so the focus here isn't exclusively 'Hindu-Buddhist' or 'animist' Indonesia. At the moment I'm looking a little at village confederations in eastern Indonesia, and one of the most important primary sources on that subject is the Hikayat Tanah Hitu, a seventeenth-century historical piece written in Malay in the Jawi script (an Arabo-Persian-based writing system) in Ambon, far in the east of Indonesia. It's simultaneously an indigenous and a Muslim account, written in a script brought by Muslim traders but concerned with non-Islamic native history from the fifteenth century on. It's all connected, and to separate Islamic history from the rest just seems arbitrary.

    The name, Nirleka, is the Indonesian pronunciation of a neologism based on the Sanskrit words nir ('no', 'non', a negative) and lekha ('writing'), and is sometimes used as a synonym for 'prehistory' (prasejarah) in Indonesian (see e.g. Wikipedia). I don't like to think too much about titles - I once heard someone criticise Derek Freeman's Report on the Iban (1970) for having a crap title, for being too descriptive, but it seems fine to me to just say what the contents of the book are. However, prehistory, Sanskrit, and Malay are all mashed up in early Indonesian history, and to be able to express that melange in three syllables is a rare boon.

     My main aim with this blog is to attract an English-speaking audience in Indonesia and Malaysia as well as in America, Britain, Australia, &c. The old posts on Indonesian history got plenty of hits from Indonesia and I'd like that to become a regular thing. I am, of course, living in the Netherlands now, and I'm back in an academic setting, so I should have plenty of material to put up on here. I live less than five minutes from the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (the national archaeology museum of the Netherlands) and the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde (the anthropology museum) is literally around the corner from the flat. There's also a superb botanic garden (the Hortus Botanicus) with lots of Indonesian plants in it - it also has a great place to sit and study inside the greenhouse. I don't think I'm going to have any problem coming up with things to post, and now I'm no longer working full-time I should have the time to do it. I'm going to start by migrating my old Indonesian posts over here, maybe with a few tweaks.

    In other news, I got married a little over three weeks ago at a small ceremony in Gibraltar. We got married there for visa reasons (my wife is American and was on a student visa in Britain, and new rules mean that we would have needed permission from the British government to get married in the UK - things are getting pretty right-wing anti-immigration alt-rightish over there these days...). We've both been extremely busy getting ready for the wedding and the move and things are only now calming down. The Netherlands is really nice but it's a little bureaucratic (in a way the Anglophone world generally isn't), so there's still more to do here. And I'm getting a bit tired of constant mandatory table service in bars and cafes. But I'm sure we'll settle in properly within a few months, especially once my course starts.

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