Category Archives: Journal Article

Journal Article: Diplomatic Desperation of a Small State

Indonesia and the Malay World:

Raja Bersiong or the Fanged King

The abject of Kedah’s geopolitical insecurity

By Tan Zi Hao tanzihao@gmail.com

“Raja Bersiong, the Fanged King, is a cannibal monarch in the Kedah epic literature Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (HMM). By looking closely into the character of Raja Bersiong, this article examines the underlying ambition of the Kedah Sultanate in commissioning the HMM as a rhetorical statement of power, presumably around the early 19th century. By the late 18th century, Siamese predation had greatly destabilised Kedah. Lacking military capacity to deny Siamese suzerainty, Kedah plunged into double-dealing: through writing, the HMM downplays Siamese power by masking Kedah’s subordinate status to Siam as a relation of kin, and by considering Siam as an offshoot of Kedah’s royal legacy. Adopting an approach informed by Hendrik Maier, this article interprets the HMM as an ambiguous text that alludes to the diplomatic desperation of a small state. Such critical lens enables a more complex understanding of court writing as a historical source. In the face of geopolitical insecurity, Raja Bersiong figures as the abject, the symbolic surrogate for Siam to be expelled from Kedah, embodying a dialectics between Kedah and Siam, self and other, civility and savagery.”

Read more at Indonesia and the Malay World: Raja Bersiong or the Fanged King, The abject of Kedah’s geopolitical insecurity, By Tan Zi Hao tanzihao@gmail.com

Featured image credit: Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa 10 stars!!! by Siqah Hussin