Tuesday, 22 December 2015

More Anthropology Bullshit

       Anthropology is beyond parody these days. I don't know if young anthropologists realise how silly they look - I assume they don't, or they'd stop doing what they do.

      Take a look at some of these peculiar bits from a piece by University of Minnesota anthropologist Stuart McLean on the group anthropology blog, Savage Minds:
If anthropology too is an art, what kind of art is it? An amphibious and metamorphic one to be sure, an art that plays – with great absurdity and seriousness – at the interface between differentiated human worlds and at the theshold [sic] of their making and undoing. Far from being the holistically conceived study of humanity – as some would continue to have it – anthropology as a creative practice is marked by a constitutive inhumanity. [...]

As Saturday afternoon drew to a close, Rick, the festival’s Philosopher in Residence, asked Frog King whether he still subscribed to the view that Art is Life, Life is Art? Frog King – or was it Kwok Mang-ho, or both? – answered that he had once considered that to be the case – “But now I realize, Art is Frog.” Art is Frog. I can currently think of no better answer to the question: what is anthropology?
       I am convinced that nobody understands any of this, including the writer. It's just nonsense. And it's fairly typical of the insane bullshit you find among young anthropologists these days; the corporate culture of anthropology departments has turned them into bullshit-bots, incapable of expressing themselves clearly or even of having worthwhile ideas to express, clearly or otherwise. I know quite a few young anthropologists, of course, and they're not jabbering morons in person. They all struggled through bullshit like this when they were students, so they can identify and reject it. But there are powerful currents in the academy telling anthropologists not to do that, in the same way that junior employees in predatory corporate jobs know that what they're doing might be wrong but can't stop for fear of being pushed out.

       Anyway, if you can't think of a better answer to the question 'what is anthropology?' than 'Art is Frog', then perhaps you shouldn't be an anthropologist. And does anyone have an inkling what an 'amphibious and metamorphic' art might be?

       And, yes, this is a mean-spirited thing to post right before Christmas, but it really annoys me that a potentially valuable and worthwhile discipline is being turned into such a clown show, and in such a sanctimonious way. As I've said several times before, of course.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Name Change

       So I changed the name of my blog to West's Ancient World. I think that's a more accurate reflection of its contents. I thought about West's Ancient Indonesia, but I'm going to carry on posting about non-Indonesian topics in the near future and I already have plenty of non-Indonesian posts in the archive. The other big area to cover is Amazonia, which I've previously written about here, here, here, and here. I've also got some reviews to write, and I certainly won't restrict myself to books on Indonesia.

     Posts will slow down over Christmas and New Year, I expect, although I'll try to have more lined up for January. I'll see about putting up photos of my attempts at Jawi texts instead of just relying on Rumi transcription of Malay as well - I think my handwriting is getting pretty good now, and at least as good as some of the nineteenth-century Jawi letters I've seen.

     Speaking of Jawi, here's the latest blogpost by Annabel Gallop on the British Library Asian & African blog, on the Malay artist Datuk Muda Muhammad of Perlak.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Albuquerque on Lances vs War Elephants

       I'm reading Thomas Trautmann's new-ish book on war elephants, Elephants and Kings, on my Kindle. It's a brilliant book, full of well-written and totally reasonable analysis of historical texts, and I find Trautmann's fundamental thesis - that war elephants were 'invented' in Iron Age India alongside the institution of kingship - convincing. I think he's also right to see the use of war elephants in Southeast Asia and Africa/Europe as derivative of Indian practice. It also has worthwhile digressions on the history of chess and the Buddha's flight from his home. My readers would probably get a lot out of it.

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Mongol Invasion of Java in the Desawarnana

      The main sources for the Mongol invasion of Java are the Chinese ones, primarily the dynastic history of the Yuan. However, as I noted before, the attempted conquest made ripples in Europe, and of course there are several mentions in Indonesian sources, most (naturally enough) in Javanese. This includes a brief mention in canto 44 of the Desawarnana, the Old Javanese poem written by Mpu Prapanca in 1365 detailing the extent and history of Majapahit.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

When Did Horses Come to Indonesia/ISEA?

       Horses (Equus ferus caballus) are not native to Indonesia or Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) and their bones are not commonly found at archaeological sites in the archipelago. They were first domesticated on the Eurasian steppe, with the earliest known sites discovered in Kazakhstan, and were introduced to Indonesia at some point in the last few thousand years. Precisely when is difficult to ascertain, although horses appear in inscriptions and texts from fairly early periods.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Eastern Indonesia in the Desawarnana

       The earliest written documentation of several Indonesian islands occurs in canto 14 of the Desawarnana, the East Javanese topogenic poem of 1365. There's been a lot of academic discussion about which names refer to which places, especially in the case of some particularly obscure ones, but it's generally easy to tell which part of Indonesia or Malaysia is being described. It's rather harder to tell whether the text accurately depicts the actual realm of Majapahit, though. In any case, the full text of the fifth stanza of the fourteenth canto goes like this (Robson's 1995 translation):
Taking them island by island: Makasar, Butun and Banggawi,
Kunir, Galiyahu and Salaya, Sumba, Solot and Muwar,
As well as Wa
an, Ambwan, Maloko and Wwanin,
Seran and Timur as the main ones among the various islands that remember their duty.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

An Armenian Source on Medieval Sumatra/Srivijaya

        There aren't many Eastern Christian sources on ancient Indo-Malaysia/Nusantara, but there's no reason to neglect them nor to believe that they're less valuable than Marco Polo. In a short article written in 1998 and published in the Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde (a journal familiar to all Indonesianists), Vladimir Braginsky, one of the world's foremost experts on classical Malay literature, highlighted two such eastern Christian sources, one in Armenian ('Description of cities, Indian and Persian') and one in Old Russian ('A Journey Beyond the Three Seas' (Хождение за три моря) by the relatively famous fifteenth-century Russian explorer Afanasiy Nikitin). I want to take a look first at the Armenian text - I'll leave Nikitin for another post. I'm not going to do much more than summarise part of the article this time, so if you have JSTOR access I'd recommend reading the whole piece there.

Monday, 7 December 2015

The Arrival of the Portuguese - Malay Annals

       You may remember that I've been working on my Jawi script - the Perso-Arabic-based writing system used by Malay speakers to write their language from the fourteenth century up to the twentieth. The main book I'm using is A Handbook of Malay Script by M. B. Lewis (London: Macmillan, 1954), which was written when Malaysia was still part of the British empire and when the script was still in use. It isn't an easy script to learn because the structure of Malay is nothing like that of Arabic and the writing system is, for that reason, not terribly good at recording the sounds of Malay. The best way to learn it is to read a lot of it and get used to the peculiarities 
of the spelling.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Pigafetta on the Cannons of 'Burne'

        Antonio Pigafetta visited Borneo in July 1521 during the first circumnavigation of the world, immediately after Magellan's fatal encounter with the Filipino chieftain Lapu-Lapu at Mactan in the Visayas (where Mactan-Cebu International Airport now stands). Given that Pigafetta was one of the first Europeans to document the islands of Indonesia in real detail (at least those parts of them that he visited), as opposed to the rather vague hints found in other European texts and the martial orientation of Afonso de Albuquerque, his is one of the more vital and illuminating European pieces for understanding Indonesia on the cusp of serious European influence. Pigafetta's manuscript was finished in 1525; there are three extant versions in French and one in Italian, Pigafetta's native language. I'll mostly be using the Italian one, because that's the one I've got.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Ralph Fitch on Malays

      Ralph Fitch was one of the first English people to visit Melaka in the late sixteenth century. His plan had been to voyage further east by sea, to China and eastern Indonesia, but his account (which you can find in Hakluyt's The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoueries of the English Nation (1589-1600)) tells us that the Portuguese officials in Melaka stopped him from proceeding (it's notable that other English adventurers got to eastern Indonesia by going the other way, across the Pacific). In any case, Fitch was one of the more methodical and cautious adventurers of the sixteenth century, taking notes on the prices of goods in different ports and not getting into too many scrapes with the locals.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Artillery in Melaka, 1511 CE

       In 1511, a Portuguese force under Afonso de Albuquerque successfully invaded the city-state of Melaka on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula. At the time, Melaka was one of the world's foremost emporia. Peoples from throughout Eurasia appear in the Portuguese accounts of the conquest, including various groups from India, Java, China, Myanmar, and the Muslim world (likely grouped together as mouros in the Portuguese accounts). The capture of the city, followed by the construction of a fortress on the Straits, was intended to take the Eurasian spice trade out of Muslim hands.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Marco Polo's Unicorn

      We've looked at a few of the marvels recorded in Polo's Devisement and Odoric's Relatio over the past couple of weeks. It's important to bear in mind that marvels are what the European travellers were interested in: accurate commercial and political information was considered less important than a good marvel, at least until some point in the fifteenth century, when Western European exploration became serious business. Before that, marvels were travel-writing gold.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Kutai Inscriptions - Introduction

     The earliest inscriptions from Indo-Malaysia are generally considered to be the Kutai inscriptions from eastern Borneo (now a national park), dated on stylistic grounds to the fourth century CE. There are inscriptions in a similar script from West Java from around the same time, documenting the existence of the state of Taruma (or Tarumanegara), but they are generally considered to be slightly younger than the Kutai stones - from perhaps the fifth or sixth century, apparently. I'm not sure what evidence is used for this, as the scripts in both sets of inscriptions are similar, although I expect the experts are right.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

'Lamori' & 'Lamuri'

      A short while ago, I wrote that Odoric of Pordenone's name for the north of Sumatra, Lamori, came from the Arabic al-Rāmnī, a name commonly given to Sumatra as a whole by Arab geographers. This was Henry Yule's supposition, and it seemed fairly reasonable to me.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Mpu Prapanca and the 'Desawarnana'

      It was my birthday yesterday, and my lovely girlfriend bought me a copy of Stuart Robson's translation of the Desawarnana, the famous Old Javanese kāvya, or poem, of 1365 that gives us a lot of useful information about medieval Java. Also known as the Nagarakertagama (Desawarnana is the original title), the poem was written over the course of about six years by a guy named Prapañca, commonly known as Mpu Prapañca. It doesn't seem to have been a particularly popular kakawin poem despite its historical importance, and the few manuscripts in existence all come from Bali and Lombok (and not Java, where it was written). I first read Robson's translation when I was studying for my master's, but it's nice to have my own copy. The introduction is short but very informative, the translation is surprisingly easy to read, and the notes are comprehensive. It's a great book.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Polo & Odoric on the Pole Star

        One of the many marvels noted by both Odoric of Pordenone and Marco Polo is the disappearance of the north star, presumably Polaris (α Ursae Minoris), when going south across the equator along the Sumatran coast. In the context of his/their general discussion of Sumatra ('lille de iana la menour'), Polo/Rustichello says:

Monday, 16 November 2015

'Monsoon Marketplace' vs. 'Silk Roads'

      I want to look again at the importance of Southeast Asia in world history, which I do with some regularity on this blog. Peter Frankopan's view of Central Asia and the Middle East as the 'central nervous system' of our world seems totally wrong to me. I'm sure a more nuanced view is presented in his book (I now have a copy), but in any case the view that the stretch of land between Mesopotamia and Xinjiang is of utmost importance to the world is surprisingly common. Central Asia is prominent in world histories, and the Middle East even more so; they take up pages and pages, while Southeast Asia barely gets a mention. I was amazed looking through the index of Andrew Marr's popular History of the World that Angkor, the world's largest preindustrial city (by area), was totally absent. That's an extraordinary absence.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Industrialisation Was A Big Change - Anthropology/Sociology

       There was a brilliant article on Aeon recently about male tears in European history and how men appear to have wept just as much as women until only a couple of centuries ago. The writer, Sandra Newman, tells us that medieval and pre-industrial men and women across Europe were expected to cry in all manner of situations, and that men experienced no embarrassment at weeping openly. The exception to this was Scandinavia, where (presumably) men had a different view of stoicism and masculinity to the rest of Europe. What's remarkable is that there seems to have been a huge cultural change over the course of the eighteenth century, unnoted except post-hoc, whereby male tears became shameful and unmanly, leading to the present unlachrymose state of things.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Anthropology != Ethnography

      I was talking in the pub about the fundamental nature of anthropology with one of my classmates during my master's course a few years ago after a departmental seminar. I said that I didn't think ethnography could be the only method employed in anthropology because a) part of the subject matter of anthropology is human cultural diversity and b) people's activities were significantly more diverse in the past than they are today.

      And she said that people do all kinds of stuff now - just look at Japan (a place she studied and is still studying). Look at kawaii culture, all of the sub-cultures, all the responses to American movies and animation and so on. The world is full of people, and it's bound to be diverse because they're all exposed to different things.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Peter Frankopan's 'The Silk Roads' - a talk at Blackwell's

       Yesterday afternoon I went to Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford to see the Byzantinist Peter Frankopan talk about his new book, The Silk Roads, which seems to be a really excellent piece of work. The gist of the talk - I can't comment directly on the book, as I haven't read it - was that:
  1. History as taught in British schools has tended to focus on events in Britain which, on a global scale, meant very little
  2. The real heart of civilization and of great events is much further to the east, closer to the eastern Mediterranean, Iran, Central Asia, and northwestern India than to Britain and western Europe
  3. That's because our languages (Indo-European, Semitic (Afroasiatic?), even Sino-Tibetan) all come from or meet there, our religions come from there, food products and domesticates, and so on
  4. Control of this 'heart' has been a determining factor in the foreign policy of both ancient and modern states and empires, including imperial Britain, Russia, the United States, and China

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Java and Mongols in the Medieval European Sources

       In 1292, towards the end of his reign, Khubilai Khan sent a fleet of ships from Quanzhou in southern China to invade East Java, then governed by a king named Kertanegara, ruler of a state now known as Singasari (Singosari/Singhasari). Kertanegara had imperial ambitions, seeking to control not only the entirety of Java but also the Melaka Strait and the spice trade from eastern Indonesia.

       In 1289, Khubilai had sent ambassadors to request tribute from him, and Kertanegara felt insulted by the request. To demonstrate his displeasure, he had the ambassadors' faces disfigured before sending them back to the Khan. It is then claimed that Kertanegara attacked Malayu, a powerful successor state of Srivijaya based on the east coast of Sumatra. Malayu had had good relations with the Chinese/Mongols, so this attack and the disfigurements led eventually to the attempted Mongol conquest of Singasari in 1292/3.
Candi Singosari, a Majapahit-era temple dedicated to the kings of Singasari, Malang, East Java. h/t Edi W.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Odoric on Sago

      Last week I wrote a post about sago (Metroxylon sagu), one of the most important tree crops in Indonesia, especially in Borneo, parts of Sumatra, and the east (including New Guinea). It was considered a 'marvel' by Rustichello da Pisa, although we can't know Marco Polo's true opinion of it (Rustichello had a tendency towards exaggeration).

Monday, 9 November 2015

Chinese Sources on Indonesia - Romanisation!

       Perhaps the most important language for working out a narrative history of ancient Indonesia and Malaysia, besides Malay and Javanese, is classical Chinese. It might actually be the most important overall, and the ability to read classical Chinese, or even to understand something of the intricacies of Chinese pronunciation, is certainly useful. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it's a skill most modern scholars of Indonesia are lacking. That's fairly obvious from the books that get written about ancient Java: it's rare to find one in which pinyin romanisation is used consistently. Actually, it's quite rare to find one in which any proper system of Chinese romanisation is used consistently. That's a problem.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Marco Polo on Sago (Metroxylon sagu)

      There is no single authoritative edition or manuscript detailing Marco Polo's travels. The consensus is that the first editions of what became Le Devisement du Monde were composed by a man named Rustichello da Pisa, whom Polo met in prison after fighting the Genoese on his return to Venice at the very end of the thirteenth century. Rustichello was a writer of romances in Old French, and he carried a lot of tropes from the medieval romance over into his narrative of Polo's adventures, but as soon as the work was published it was augmented with commentary and additions that reflected western European understanding of Asia at the time. Polo continued to live for another twenty-five years or so after the initial publication, so he could certainly have influenced the way the story developed afterwards, but the manuscripts we have tell us that it soon took on a life of its own. Editions were eventually published in all of the languages of Europe, although the Old French and Latin versions were most widespread. Christopher Columbus took a Latin edition with him on his first voyage.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

De' Conti on the Durian

        Yesterday I said that Niccolo de' Conti was perhaps the first European to write about the durian (Durio sp.), a fruit native to the Malay Archipelago and known internationally for its strong odour. It's also a little less famous for its hard outer rind, which is covered in tough spines.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Niccolo de' Conti (and others) on the Lontar Palm

      Yesterday I put up a post about Niccolo de' Conti, one of the more interesting Europeans to visit Indonesia before the sixteenth century. His account is useful because he wrote about things no one else noticed, and so we know he wasn't copying any other European travellers. Unlike Odoric of Pordenone and even Antonio Pigafetta, he doesn't seem to have been influenced much by Marco Polo (except in a few details). 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Niccolò de' Conti on Malays

      Niccolò de' Conti was a fifteenth-century Italian traveller who visited parts of what is now Indonesia, including, apparently, Badan, probably meaning 'Banda', the small archipelago in eastern Indonesia where nutmeg and cloves grow. He would have visited the area in the 1420s, and I suppose that would make him the first European to visit that part of the archipelago if the account is true. De' Conti travelled in the guise of a Muslim trader in order to avoid trouble, which was a technique used by some later travellers (including Richard Burton).

Monday, 2 November 2015


       I like spiders a lot. I think they're brilliant: not only do they look gorgeously primeval, they help to keep the house free from flies and mosquitoes, and if the spider population gets too large they tend to get in fights and eat one another, and it seems like a sensible group of creatures that can perform such population-reducing strategies without excessive emotion. Spiders don't tend to spread diseases and they're relatively clean creatures.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

European Primary Sources for Ancient Indonesia

     I've recently been delving into the European primary sources on ancient Indonesia, including Pliny the Elder, Marco Polo, Niccolo de' Conti, Antonio Pigafetta, Afonso de Albuquerque (the elder and the younger), Odoric of Pordenone, and Tome Pires. It's actually quite easy to find most of their works in the original languages, or at least an early version if there's no single original language edition (Pigafetta is supposed to have written in French and only afterward published an Italian edition, but actually it's easier to find the Italian).

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Plagiarism Accusation Retraction

    I received an email from James Scott ('Seeing Like a State', 'The Art of Not Being Governed') yesterday, asking me to back up an allegation of plagiarism against him which I had made almost two years ago in a comment on the anthropology blog Savage Minds. I implied that Scott had copied a section of Wikipedia in writing part of a review of Jared Diamond's last book, which doesn't seem to be the case.

   Specifically, I said:
Borneo was indeed settled ‘more than a millennium ago’, in the same way that I was born more than a second ago. In fact, archaeological evidence of human occupation goes back at least 45,000 years, and its original occupants certainly didn’t speak an Austronesian language. Trade with China was probably not high on the indigenous Bornean to-do list. Austronesian migration to Borneo would also have had very little to do with trade with China, or with any state, for that matter – there isn’t any indication of states in China until the mid-second millennium BCE, a little after Austronesian settlement of Borneo, and no evidence of trade between Borneo and any state until considerably later than that. And yet there is archaeological evidence of weaponry and plenty of comparative linguistic and cultural evidence for non-state warfare.
Also: Scott’s words bear a remarkable likeness to this section of the Wikipedia article on Borneo, which is a bit strange.
     It's not a straight-up accusation of plagiarism, but it definitely implies that Scott copied Wikipedia rather than the other way around, and that's not fair or accurate as far as I can tell.

    I later said:
The wiki article is fine – it just felt a little like Scott had used it as his only source on pre-colonial Borneo. I’m sure he didn’t, but there’s still an odd resemblance between his words and the article.
 The reason it struck me as odd is that the same error or omission is repeated in both - that Borneo was settled for trade in fairly recent times, rather than having a human history stretching back to the Pleistocene. There's no reason to believe that Scott stole from Wiki, and according to his account he got the information from Anna Tsing, and I see no reason not to trust him.

   Plagiarism is obviously a serious accusation in academia, and I certainly wouldn't want anyone to have their reputation damaged by my careless words, so I'm happy to retract the implication/accusation here.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

I'm in a book

    I was looking in Blackwell's bookshop the other day - the big famous bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford - and I came across The Indo-European Controversy by Asya Pereltsvaig and Martin Lewis in the linguistics section. The book is about the controversy surrounding Indo-European origins (unsurprisingly), and more specifically about some of the sillier articles on the subject and their coverage in the media. Pereltsvaig and Lewis covered the same topics on their (former) joint blog, Geocurrents, which I strongly recommend. There's some great stuff there.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Why I Like Ancient History

    It would be fair to say that, of all the things in the world, I am most interested in the human lives that were lived before about 500 years ago. I'm not completely uninterested in the modern world, or in the Columbian Exchange, or in the industrial revolution, or the impact of the various European empires on the world since 1492. It's just that I'm significantly more interested in the world before European domination. I'm not uninterested in natural history, either: I'm just a bit more interested in understanding sentient life.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Some more zany anthropology stuff

    I've been trying to carry on the discussion over at Savage Minds on the post I highlighted the other day, but they don't like you commenting on old posts over there. That's their policy and that's alright, but there's still stuff to say, so I thought I'd post my final comment here instead of letting the discussion end there.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Spooky Nonsense on Domestication

    I subscribe to an anthropology blog called Savage Minds - you can find it in my sidebar, I've been reading it for years, and I quite like some of their content some of the time. It's a group blog written mostly by professional anthropologists for professional anthropologists, even if they like to talk about having a public image and public impact. The two mainstays of Savage Minds, Alex Golub (aka 'Rex') and Kerim Friedman, both seem like smart guys and they've written some interesting things over the years, so I carry on reading the thing hoping to find the odd gem, and sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised.

Friday, 20 March 2015

'Are Religion and Science in Conflict?'

   Scientific investigation could have revealed that our universe is full of meaning and purpose. It could have told us that we are at the centre of the entire cosmos - that everything literally revolves around us. It could have told us that, unique among the world's creations, humans are ensouled rational beings; that the entire universe is only a few thousand years old and on a scale comprehensible to the human mind; that our lives have an innate dignity and cosmic importance; that all life is directed towards goodness and cooperation; and that there is some universal order that humans would find emotionally satisfying and inherently appealling.

    It could have told us that there's more to objects than mere assemblages of elementary particles and their properties and it could have told us that human concepts have a direct one-to-one connection with reality.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Killing People is Always Wrong (Andrew Chan & Myuran Sukumaran)

Indonesia is about to execute two Australian men, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, for trafficking drugs. They were arrested in 2005 after a tip-off from the Australian police, and they were actually trying to get their heroin into Australia, not Indonesia. They were nevertheless arrested and tried in Indonesia, where drug smuggling is a capital offence, and it seems that they operated in a gang with seven others, now known as the 'Bali Nine'. Sukumaran and Chan were considered to be the ringleaders, and their death sentences have not been overturned; the rest are serving long prison sentences. The Australian government has been pleading with Indonesia not to kill them, but there doesn't seem to be any hope now. They will probably be shot to death in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, 9 February 2015

'Colloquial Malay'

I bought Colloquial Malay, the book I'm using to study Jawi, for £3 at a second-hand bookshop in Oxford. I want to say a few words about it because it's like a magical window into a horribly unequal racist past where moustachioed white men shot elephants and surveyed the land while barking orders at sycophantic Malay trackers and house-boys. Colloquial Malay was written by renowned scholar of Malaya, R. O. Winstedt - or, as it says on the cover, 'Sir Richard Winstedt, KBE, CMG, DLitt (Oxon), Reader in Malay University of London' - and originally published in 1916 (my edition, 'new' and 'revised', was published in 1945). It has a very useful section on Jawi, although it's only twenty pages long and sandwiched between the main content of the book (bizarre parallel text conversations) and an addendum of 'technical terms for airmen', which, to put it mildly, isn't as useful these days as it once was.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Jawi Script

I'm learning classical Malay (that is to say, the language used in Melaka and the Malay world at the time of the Portuguese conquest) and I'm starting with the script, known as Jawi. It's a modified form of the Perso-Arabic abjad, with a few extra letters for velar nasals and other things Arabic doesn't have. I've studied Arabic script before, so I'm kind of familiar with it and it isn't especially hard going. On the other hand, the Arabic script is useless for writing languages that aren't Arabic.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Island Southeast Asian Geology & Volcanic Explosions

I've been trying to read as much as I can about the geological history of Southeast Asia for the book I'm working on. It's a fascinating topic: island Southeast Asia is tectonically complex and volcanically volatile in a way few regions are. There's a whole mess of plates crashing and bumping together between Malaysia and Australia, and some of the most famous and powerful eruptions in recent earth history happened in the area - Krakatoa (Indonesian: Krakatau) (1883), Tambora (1815), and Toba (c.70,000 years BP) in particular.

There are some crazy looking islands, like Sulawesi and Halmahera, that have resulted from different pieces of different plates coming together to form contiguous wholes, and there are some, like Timor, that were seabed until only a few tens of millions of years ago (in parts of Timor and New Guinea the uplift is so recent that different coral species can be identified from the exposed rocks).