Tag Archives: Arabic

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

Journal Article: Qur’anic readings and Malay translation in 18th-century Banten Qur’ans A.51 and W.277

“This article examines two copies of the Qur’an from 18th-century Banten, A.51 and W.277, that contain interlinear Malay translation, focusing on two aspects, i.e. Qur’anic readings and Malay translation, to reveal Qur’anic pedagogical practices in the region…”

(2020). Qur’anic readings and Malay translation in 18th-century Banten Qur’ans A.51 and W.277. Indonesia and the Malay World. Ahead of Print.

Read more at: Qur’anic readings and Malay translation in 18th-century Banten Qur’ans A.51 and W.277

Early Vocabularies of Malay – the British Library

“Among the Malay manuscripts in the British Library which have just been digitised are a number of vocabulary lists and dictionaries in Malay, compiled by visitors to the region as aids to learning the language. The study of Malay in Europe dates back to the …” (read more)

Source: The British Library’s Asia and Africa Blog Early vocabularies of Malay

Letter of Sultan Zayn al-‘Abidin to Afonso de Albuquerque, 1516

Love and affection from Sultan Zayn al-‘Abidin, ruler carrying out the commands of Almighty God, to the Governor-General at the fortress of the King of Portugal who binds all countries in his kingdom,

Be it known,

When we saw the letter from you which Giovanni brought we were filled with joy and happiness at the depth of the good relations between us. And when the Portuguese envoy arrived from Kollam or Malacca we welcomed him warmly and provided him with everything available in our country. Be assured our love for you has not wavered from the beginning until now.

After this, there arrived here one Manuel Falcão, a most immoral character.

First, when a ship arrived at Samudera from Pariaman with many people from Samudera on board, he took thirty gold dirhams. And he sold the crew and the rest were murdered.

Second, on the arrival of a ship from Bengal he took two hundred and twenty dirhams and one servant woman. Also, a cargo ship from Bengal which should have come to Samudera he commandeered to Malacca along with a great deal of cargo belonging to people from Samudera which was on board the ship.

Third, he took cargo from another ship and more people were murdered.

Fourth, he demanded from us one hundred and twenty dirhams by force and twenty items of cargo.

Fifth, he kidnapped fifty male and female servants from among the servants of the people of Samudera and shipped them to Malacca.

Sixth, he demanded from us fifty bails of pepper by force.

After this, Gaspar Machado also arrived here. He too is a very evil person.

The first thing he did was, on the arrival of a cargo ship at Samudera from Diu, he took from them two hundred dirhams by force.

Second, when a cargo ship arrived at Samudera from Cambay which was owned by the King of Cambay captained by ‘Ali Khan he took from them one hundred dirhams.

Third, when a cargo ship arrived at Samudera from Pulicut which is Nati carrying cargo owned by people from Samudera, he took one hundred dirhams from them by force and violence.

Fourth, when a cargo ship arrived at Samudera from Nawur that is Nati he took one hundred and twenty dirhams,

Fifth, when a ship arrived at Samudera from Barus containing a cargo belonging to the Sultan of Bengal he took one hundred quintals of tin and 4000 incenses and he sold the whole crew on this ship.

Sixth, many are the people of Samudera whose wealth he has taken by force and violence, and many are the judges and officials who have been enraged by him because of this behavior.

For these reasons, we lay before you our situation as we sincerely believe that this has not been ordered by the King of Portugal or by you. The King does not even know about the behavior of Manuel Falcão and Gaspar Machado because we are firmly convinced that the King and yourself as Governor-General do not want to damage your own port because our port is your port, and so we seek your protection.


This is an imaginative translation based on the translations of A.C.S. Peacock (2016): “Three Arabic letters from North Sumatra of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”, Indonesia and the Malay World, DOI: 10.1080/13639811.2016.1153219 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13639811.2016.1153219 and Taqiyuddin Muhammad, “Naskah Surat Sultan Zainal ‘Abidin (Wafat 923 H/1518 M)” http://misykah.com/naskah-surat-sultan-zainal-abidin-wafat-923-h1518-m-2/.

Peacock (2016) writes on the various manuscripts:

“The letter from Sultan Zayn al-‘Abidin IV of Samudera-Pasai, 1516–17. Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo, Lisbon. Colecção de cartas, Núcleo Antigo 891, mç. 1, n.° 59. Previous publications: Arabic text and Portuguese translation with significant differences from that presented here in dos Santos (1790: 127–30); translation only reprinted with additional notes in Alves (1999:228–30); Arabic text with a number of differences from that presented here and Indonesian translation in Muhammad (2013). Taqiyuddin Muhammad’s text is based on a poor quality image of the letter which accounts for most of the variations between his text and mine. It has not therefore usually been thought useful to record his variant readings. Help has also been provided by the Portuguese translation probably made in Malacca in 1516–17, presented in full in Appendix 1c. Although the translation is often imprecise, omitting crucial elements of the Arabic and sometimes supplementing it with additional information, it has the advantage that the translator was himself aware of the events referred to; it can therefore help clarify the frequently obscure Arabic text.”