Raffles in Southeast Asia: A multilayered exploration of the man, colonialism and re-looking our past

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Last week while I was back in Singapore I took the opportunity to visit the Raffles in Southeast Asia exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum. The exhibition coincided with Singapore’s bicentennial celebrations, a “celebration” that has been met with mixed reception because it commemorates the arrival of Raffles to Singapore, and hence the colonial period of Singapore.

The arrival of Raffles has traditionally been the start of beginning of the history of Singapore. This view has softened somewhat, due in no small part to Prof. John Miksic’s work on the archaeology of Singapore. With the discoveries at Fort Canning, school history books now acknowledge the Temasek period. Still, the idea of Raffles as founder of modern Singapore carries an air of preeminence and prestige, and some of the country’s top schools and institutions bear the name of Raffles.

The bicentennary, Raffles, the discourse of (de)colonisation and rejection of the ‘Big Man’ myth of Raffles all come together in this one exhibition. On one level, Singaporeans only learned about the Raffles who came to Singapore in 1819 but never knew the Raffles who was Governor of Java and his role in the rediscovery of Borobudur. Raffles never actually went to the now-Unesco world heritage site, but he commissioned the survey and is now credited for its discovery. This unearned claim to fame would be a recurrent theme in his career.

Plan of Borobudur, donated by to the British Museum by the great-grand-niece of Raffles but probably prepared by Hermann Cornelius, the Dutch engineer sent by Raffles to uncover the stupa.

The exhibition, through the lens of Raffles’ seminal History of Java and the items collected by Raffles and his contemporaries show a bias towards ancient Hindu relics but pay little attention to Muslim culture.

A collection of rare three-dimensional puppets which were owned by Raffles but not mentioned in The History of Java.
Painting of Candi Sukuh in East Java by T. C. Watson, during the time Raffles was Governor of Java. The Europeans at the time did not believe that the native Javanese were capable of building structures like these, and thought they might be related to the Egyptian civilization which is reflected in the painting.

Some of Raffles’ personal flaws also come through, now with 200 years of hindsight and other historical sources to draw upon. This story of the tapir publication is quite telling about Raffles’s conflict with his second, William Farquhar. Farquhar arguably should be credited as the actual founder of the Singapore settlement (having done the actual legwork) but even the named after him was erased in the 1990s, a victim of Singapore’s urban redevelopment. William Farquhar’s legacy was more recently redeemed in Nadia Wright’s book, William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow

Juvenile Malayan tapir from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore
I love this caption basically says Raffles was a dick.

Raffles in Southeast Asia was enjoyable in many layers. For many Singaporeans, it was an eye-opener to the influence of Raffles on the rest of the region and not just the country he ‘founded’. The exhibition can also be seen as a critique to the legacy of colonialism, and how its perspective was selective in many ways.

Raffles in Southeast Asia is on display at the Asian Civilisations Museum until 28 April 2019. Admission fees apply.

[Paper] Newly discovered cave art sites from Bukit Bulan, Sumatra

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Black rock art from West Sumatra by Fauzi et al. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2019.01.001

via Journal of Archaeological Science, 22 January 2019: New rock art discovered in Sumatra, black drawings which are highly reminiscent of the rock art of the Lenggong Valley.

Until recently, the number and distribution of cave art sites in the western Indonesian Archipelago has been somewhat limited, hindering our knowledge of the character and development of cave art in the area. However, the recent discovery of seven new cave art sites in the karstic area of Bukit Bulan (Sumatra) provides an opportunity to augment current knowledge. Descriptive analyses performed on 84 cave art images from Bukit Bulan demonstrates their similarities with those found in the eastern part of Indonesia, including the similar depictions of humanlike (anthropomorphic) figures drawn in black. Our discoveries in Bukit Bulan not only corroborate the extensive distribution of cave art in the wider Indonesian Archipelago, but it also aligns Sumatra as the westernmost region of Indonesia into the discourse of prehistoric cave art in Indonesian prehistory.

Source: Newly discovered cave art sites from Bukit Bulan, Sumatra: Aligning prehistoric symbolic behavior in Indonesian prehistory – ScienceDirect

Cerita Makhluk Hidup dan Alam Papua di Situs Megalitik Tutari

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via Mongabay, 04 December 2018: A travel piece about the Tutari Megalithic site in Papua. Article is in Bahasa.

  Seputar cerita manusia, dengan satwa dan alam ada di situs Megalitik Tutari ini. Berikut  foto-foto dan videonya.   Ada gambar manusia, manusia setengah ikan, ikan, kura-kura, kadal, tikus tanah,…

Source: Cerita Makhluk Hidup dan Alam Papua di Situs Megalitik Tutari : Mongabay.co.id

Categories: Indonesia Megaliths

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BPCB explores prehistoric rock art in Kisar

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Rock art from Kisar. Source: Antara 20181124

via Antara News, 24 November 2018:

Rock art from Kisar. Source: Antara 20181124

Rock art from Kisar. Source: Antara 20181124

North Maluku Cultural Heritage Preservation Agency (BPCB) explored the legacy of prehistoric rock art in the form of hand-drawn paintings and other motifs on walls of caves on Kisar Island, Southwest Maluku District, Maluku Province.

“We trace the rock art paintings` record and register them as national cultural reserves, so that they can be maintained, for they are the proof of the cultural value of prehistoric civilizations,” North Maluku BPCB Head Muhammad Husni remarked in Wonreli recently.

Based in Ternate, with a working area covering the provinces of Maluku, North Maluku, Papua, and West Papua, the BPCB began the search for prehistoric cultural paintings on Kisar Island since November 17, 2018.

Source: BPCB explores prehistoric rock art in Kisar – ANTARA News

Categories: Indonesia Rock Art

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The Archaeology of Sulawesi (Terra Australis 48)

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Archaeology of Sulawesi by O'Connor et al

via ANU E-press: New free E-book on the archaeology of Sulawesi edited by O’Connor et al.

Archaeology of Sulawesi by O'Connor et al

Archaeology of Sulawesi by O’Connor et al

The central Indonesian island of Sulawesi has recently been hitting headlines with respect to its archaeology. It contains some of the oldest directly dated rock art in the world, and some of the oldest evidence for a hominin presence beyond the southeastern limits of the Ice Age Asian continent. In this volume, scholars from Indonesia and Australia come together to present their research findings and views on a broad range of topics. From early periods, these include observations on Ice Age climate, life in caves and open sites, rock art, and the animals that humans exploited and lived alongside. The archaeology presented from later periods covers the rise of the Bugis kingdom, Chinese trade ceramics, and a range of site-based and regional topics from the Neolithic through to the arrival of Islam. This carefully edited volume is the first to be devoted entirely to the archaeology of the island of Sulawesi, and it lays down a baseline for significant future research.

Source: The Archaeology of Sulawesi (Terra Australis 48) – ANU Press – ANU

Categories: Books Indonesia

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Tim Arkeologi Temukan Sisa Bangunan Kayu di Situs Liyangan

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via Tempo, 3 November 2018

via Tempo, 3 November 2018: A team of archaeologists discover the remains of wooden buildings in Central Java. Article is in Bahasa.

via Tempo, 3 November 2018

via Tempo, 3 November 2018

The research team at the Liyangan Archaeological Center in Yogyakarta discovered a unit of the remaining wooden buildings on the site Liyangan, Temanggung, during the research period October 18 to November 4, 2018. The former building was found outside the Liyangan Temple area in Liyangan Hamlet. Purbasari Village, Ngadirejo District, Temanggung Regency, Central Java.

The researchers found fibers, bamboo, and wood, all of which were shaped like charcoal and weathered. The rest of the building was buried with material from Sindoro Mountain which was known to have erupted violently and catapulted thousands of material cubes in the 11th century.

Source: Tim Arkeologi Temukan Sisa Bangunan Kayu di Situs Liyangan – travel Tempo.co

Penelitian Geoarkeologi Situs Pulau Sawah, Buktikan Masyarakat Dharmasraya Abad 8-13 M Sudah Maju dalam Penentuan Lokasi Permukiman

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Arkeolog Papua temukan arca di Situs Srobu

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Source: Antara Papua 20181031

via Antara News, 31 October 2018: Inscribed megaliths found in Papua. Article is in Bahasa.

Source: Antara Papua 20181031

Source: Antara Papua 20181031

Tim peneliti dari Balai Arkeologi Papua menemukan dua patung arca megalitik dengan langgam polinesia di Situs Gunung/Bukit Srobu, Kelurahan Abepantai, Distrik Abepura, Kota Jayapura, Papua.

“Nah di tahun ini, kami lahirkan suatu penemuan spektakuler bagi kami yakni dua patung arca megalitik dengan langgam polinesia, tapi saya lebih senang katakan itu sebagai arca megalitik Srobu Papua, dan ini sangat luar biasa dan unik karena memiliki perbedaan dengan arca-arca lainnya yang pernah kami temukan ada di wilayah lain Papua,” peneliti dari Balai Arkeologi Papua Erlin Novita Idje Djami di Kota Jayapura, Rabu.

Source: Arkeolog Papua temukan arca di Situs Srobu – ANTARA News Papua

Categories: Indonesia Megaliths

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