Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Now Posting on Medium (Medieval Indonesia)

It's been a while since I've updated this blog, but I wanted to let any readers/subscribers know that I'm now writing on Medium under the name Medieval Indonesia (twitter account: @siwaratrikalpa). I'm re-posting some articles from this blog over there, giving them an update in the process, and I've added some new content as well. The new pieces include:

There's more! Follow me on twitter or Medium for updates. I'm also tweeting Old Javanese and Old Sundanese vocabulary on a daily basis, so if that sounds good then give me a follow. (On the other hand, I occasionally use twitter to rant about fascism, but, well, it's 2017. Everybody's doing it.)

Incidentally, I did pretty well in my Leiden MA - my thesis on Bujangga Manik (a fifteenth-century Old Sundanese text) got 9.3 out of 10 - a very high mark at Leiden, so they say. The readers even called it 'ground-breaking', which is nice. If you email me nicely then I can send you a copy. I'm hoping to continue working on Bujangga Manik in future for a PhD, but let's see how the funding search goes. Regardless, I'm working as an English teacher in The Hague to make some money on the side.

This blog isn't entirely defunct - I'll keep everything up and will check on it occasionally. But for all intents and purposes my online presence is now over on Medium. Hope to see you over there!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Some Old Javanese/Old Sundanese Resources

Halo semua! It's been a while. Things have been a bit hectic.

    I got married in Gibraltar last August and moved to the Netherlands with my wife, who now has a residence permit and a job (and who recently passed her DPhil at Oxford!). Moving took time, but we're all set up here in Leiden in a nice apartment very close to the main train station. We're fifteen minutes from Schiphol, about half an hour from Amsterdam, ten minutes from The Hague, and three minutes' walk from the centre of Leiden. The Netherlands' national anthropology museum, Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, is literally just across the canal, and it's free for Leiden students. It's a pretty good set-up. We even have a little garden with a bird feeder. There are parakeets all over town. People are a little brusque and the beer has far too much alcohol in it (starts at 6%!), but we're happy.
Leiden in the snow - on the Beestenmarkt, a few minutes from our flat.
    I've been working pretty hard on my courses so I haven't had the time or inclination to blog about anything. I'm taking the MA in Asian Studies; it's supposed to be an MA in Southeast Asian Studies, but that's just a branch of Asian Studies and, frankly, there aren't enough Southeast Asia-related courses to justify calling it that. Quite a step down from the Leiden of old, where there used to be a dedicated Indonesian Studies course complete with classes in Indonesian, Javanese, and Old Javanese. No sense in complaining, though.

   I would say I'm doing fairly well; I topped the class in the core module at the start of the year (Introduction to Asian Studies) and again in the thesis proposal, and I even managed to get a couple of 10/10s along the way (marks are out of 10 here; they said 10 is impossible to get, but, well, apparently not). I expect I'll graduate cum laude, but you never know with these things, and I'm not really motivated by grades. It's also a little easier for me as a native English speaker on a course full of Dutch people and Italians.

   I wrote a paper back in January on kinship terminologies in Timor-Alor-Pantar languages based on raw data from the field, and Marian Klamer liked it enough to help me polish it up for publication, so we'll see how that goes. The gist of the paper is that there is no support in TAP kinship terminologies for the hypothesis that prescriptive marriage alliance is native to eastern Indonesia, and that's an important thing to bear in mind when coming up with hypotheses for the prehistory of the region. I'm working on a paper on so-called 'Kadiri quadratic' script - a set of interesting decorative writing systems from the East Javanese period (10thc. onwards) - for another class, and that's fairly interesting too. My thesis is all lined up: I'm analysing Bujangga Manik, one of the most famous pieces of literature from pre-Islamic West Java, in its Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian context.

    I'm also indulging another interest, in plant domestication in Amazonia, by taking a course in Amerindian Foodways run by the archaeology department. I'm presenting on the Tupian language family next week. I'm doing it mostly because there weren't enough Southeast Asia courses but also because it's interesting and fits with the number of credits I need. So: I'm pretty busy.

    Anyway, I've been learning Old Sundanese to work on the poem for my thesis, and that has also necessitated learning Old Javanese as well (a lot of Old Sundanese literature makes use of Old Javanese vocabulary and syntax, although they're very different languages). Old Javanese is quite complicated but rewarding. If you know Malay/Indonesian then Old Sundanese isn't too tricky. They're mostly difficult to learn because learning resources are hard to find, so I've decided to help remedy that by posting some links here:

1) An Introduction to Old Javanese - a free textbook by Willem van der Molen. I completed it in the autumn and I've been working through the vocabulary and primer since then. It's simple and easy to use, although the language is quite complex. It's not really hard to learn compared to, say, Sanskrit, but compared to Indonesian it's not easy. You will need a dictionary when working with the textbook because not all the vocabulary is supplied. That's okay, though, because there's:

2) ...an Old Javanese-English dictionary, based on P. J. Zoetmulder's 1982 dictionary, free and searchable online. It's very easy to use once you get used to it. Check the FAQ to make sure you enter the inputs correctly and you're good to go.

3) I also made a course on Memrise to teach Old Javanese vocabulary, but it's really only useful if you've already studied the language with the textbook. It's useful for me, though, and it should help long-term if you're learning the language properly. The words are in a bit of a random order - I had assumed it would be easy to adjust the order once the words were in the system, but that's not how Memrise works.

4) I also made a Memrise course to teach Old Sundanese vocabulary, and because Old Sundanese is much simpler morphologically than Old Javanese I'm fairly confident you could learn to read it just by working through the course. I also structured it a little better by putting more fundamental vocabulary in the earlier lessons. If this had existed back in November I would have had a much easier time learning the text, but studies of Old Sundanese are very much in their infancy, so... Anyway, if you have an interest in this area do give it a go and let me know what you think.

    That's all for now. I probably won't be posting much until the summer, but I thought somebody out there might benefit from these things, and some feedback on the Memrise courses would be good.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

New Site - Nirleka, an Indonesian history & prehistory blog

    I've started a new blog specifically about Indonesia. It's called Nirleka, and I'll be migrating some of the posts from this site over there over the course of the next few weeks. There's more news, too! Check it out, subscribe, and I'll hopefully be able to update it fairly frequently over the course of the next year. See you over there!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Tim Hannigan's 'A Brief History of Indonesia'

I'm in two minds about Tim Hannigan's A Brief History of Indonesia (2015). Part of my brain is cruelly happy that Hannigan's book is so deficient in covering the early period of Indonesian history (which it indubitably is), because it means that the gap in the market that I'm hoping to exploit with my own book is still open. The other part is simply sad: yet another reason to consider Indonesia neglected and poorly served by history books.

Monday, 4 January 2016

2016 - Writing

      So it's now 2016 and all that, and apparently that means you've got to wrap up the previous year and make a change and so on. A change in the date seems like an arbitrary basis for major life alterations and I don't have too much to say about 2015. It's hard to summon an opinion about a block of 365 days.

      However, I do want to finish my history of ancient Indonesia before the spring. I suppose that's my resolution. I changed the plan I outlined a while ago by beginning the narrative with the Portuguese invasion of Melaka. I don't want to turn it into a Eurocentric book, but the idea is to give people who know nothing about Indo-Malaysia a handle on the issues that will come up in the text, including the Austronesian expansion, the global spice trade, Indianization, the introduction of Islam, and the spread of the Malay language across the archipelago.

      It's also an exciting place to begin, with javelins and elephants and gunfire, and it represents the end of the period under discussion anyway. I think of it like starting a history of Mesoamerica or ancient South America with the Spanish conquests.

      I'll let you know if it gets published at any point - it's my first book, so I really need to finish it before an agent will take me on. I am starting a Patreon page for this blog in the meantime, although I don't expect great returns from it. I suppose that's not the point. I'll link when it's all set up and make a dedicated post for it.

      I see in my hits that this blog is appreciated, and I'm getting a good few hits from Indonesia which is very gratifying. I want to keep producing content you want to see, so let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions.

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.