Politics of archaeology: The case of Sri Lanka

This interesting article from The Times underscores the politics of archaeology in Sri Lanka and the conflict between the ethnic Tamil minority and Sinhalese majority in the country. One complaint from the ethnic Tamil minority is the emphasis on finding and discovering Buddhist sites associated with the Sinhalese to bolster the claim of a Sinhalese homeland, as well as the marginalisation of minority archaeologists and Hindu sites to weaken claims against a Tamil homeland.

Archaeology sparks new conflict between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese

The Times, 06 April 2010
Continue reading “Politics of archaeology: The case of Sri Lanka”

Discussion on Srivijaya

The Hindu-Buddhist polity of Srivijaya was one of the greatest empires in the first millenium, with an influence over much of what is now Sumatra, Java and Malaysia. It played a key role in facilitating the trade between China and India. In several posts he talks about the primacy of the Melacca Sultanate over Srivijaya in Malaysian history texts

Hafiz Noor Shams, a Malaysian blogger based in the US has an interesting discussion about the Srivijaya empire on his blog, the__earthinc. The Hindu-Buddhist polity of Srivijaya was one of the greatest empires in the first millenium, with an influence over much of what is now Sumatra, Java and Malaysia. It played a key role in facilitating the trade between China and India. In several posts he talks about the primacy of the Melacca Sultanate over Srivijaya in Malaysian history texts (not an unfamiliar topic), and also about the Srivijaya’s raids on the Khmers. A sample of his posts are reproduced here:

In “On why Malacca and not Srivijaya?“:

A majority of Malays are content to look only as far as the Sultanate of Malacca in the 15th and the 16th century, apparently accepting the era as the golden age of ancient, classical or medieval Malay civilization. Thanks to the education I received through the Malaysian system, I had the same perception too and I do think even Malaysians as a society in one way or another accept Malacca was the greatest civilization in ancient, classical or medieval Malaysian history. My love for history has allowed me to delve far beyond Malaysian textbooks. While Malacca was a great empire, a greater civilization was Srivijaya, a empire that was almost forgotten. I truly believe that Srivijaya was that brilliant light that stayed bright from nearly a millennium. Malacca was a just spark, though brilliant as it may be.

In “Of the link between Srivijaya and the Khmer Empire“:

Srivijaya was one of the greatest empires in the Malay Archipelago. It lasted for possibly about 1,000 years and had interacted with so many proud kingdoms that existed during its time. The Chinese civilizations were the source of Srivijaya richness through a tributary system, which gifts were exchanged between the courts of the two emperors. The exchange was not exactly free trade but it was trade nonetheless. In the east, there was the Chola of which the great Rajaraja was king. In most cases, the two outsiders exerted stronger influence on Srivijaya culturally, economically and politically though from time to time, Srivijaya exported culture to China due to it being the center of Buddhism outside of India. Apart from that, Srivijaya left a mark on one of the great kingdoms of Southeast Asia — the Khmer Empire.

Perhaps I shall write a short primer on Srivijaya… after I finish my Many places of Singapura series.

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Sriwijaya: History, religion & language of an early Malay polity by G. Coedès and L. Damais

Corruption of our history books

30 March 2007 (Lim Kit Siang’s blog) – Lim Kiat Siang is a leading opposition figure in Malaysian politics. In this post, he features a write-up on how knowledge of Malaysia’s history is only limited to the founding of the Melaka Sultanate in the 1400s – thus ignoring the rich Hindu-Buddhist influences of the time preceding that, as evidenced by clay moulds to form Buddhist stupas and Hindu architecture in Kedah. Note: the term ‘Savarnadvipa’ might possibly refer to the regions of Burma or Sumatra or Java.

Corruption of our history books

In very recent times, the starting date for the study of Malaysian history in the schools has been conveniently fixed around 1400 C.E. It probably coincides with the founding of the Sultanate of Malacca by Parameswara.

Today, Malaysian school children only learn a little bit about the early Proto Malays and then are conveniently taken on a historical quantum leap to the founding of Malacca.

Early Indian works speak of a fantastically wealthy place called Savarnadvipa, which meant “land of gold”. This mystical place was said to lie far away, and legend holds that this was probably the most valid reason why the first Indians ventured across the Bay of Bengal and arrived in Kedah around 100 B.C.

Apart from trade, the early Indians brought a pervasive culture, with Hinduism and Buddhism sweeping through the Indo-Chinese and Malay archipelago lands bringing temples and Indian cultural traditions. The local chiefs began to refer to themselves as “rajahs” and also integrated what they considered the best of Indian governmental traditions with the existing structure.

I learnt Malayan history in the 1950s and taught it in the 1960s and 1970s in secondary schools. All the history textbooks at the time had the early Indian connection specifically mentioned in them. Teachers of that period taught about the early Indianised kingdoms of Langkasuka, Sri Vijaya and Majapahit that existed from as early as 100 C.E.

Anyone can see that Parameswara, the founder of Malacca, has a clearly give-away name that points to the Indian/Hindu influence. No one can deny this, and all our children need to know about this. They have the fundamental right to learn about this aspect of our history too.


Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Nationalism, Politics, and the Practice of Archaeology (New Directions in Archaeology) by P. L. Kohl, C. Fawcett (Eds)
The Politics of Archaeology and Identity in a Global Context (Aia Colloquia and Conference Papers) by S. Kane

Three-day seminar examines state of the nation

A mention about an archaeology paper to be presented at a three-day anthropological seminar in Thailand and the state from 28 to 30 March.

26 March 2007 (The Nation) – A mention about an archaeology paper to be presented at a three-day anthropological seminar in Thailand and the state from 28 to 30 March.

Three-day seminar examines state of the nation

With the Thai state facing various problems such as border lands, stateless people and conflict in the predominantly Muslim deep South, about 300 scholars will share their views on the situation at a three-day anthropological seminar titled “State: From daily life’s point of view” this week.

A discourse on the construction of national history will also be among the topics of discussion at the seminar, to be held from Wednesday to Friday at the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre.

Pipad, who has been studying the history and archaeology of Mae Hong Son, found that in the process of constructing a national history, Thailand adopts some non-Thai ethnic groups as part of the nation while neglecting others whose histories do not fit in with the national history.

“As a result, these latter groups are finally constructed as the stateless people,” he wrote.


Related Books:
Caves of Northern Thailand by P. Sidisunthorn

Who are indigenous Indonesians?

While this forum letter probably has a political undertone to it, it provides a concise overview about the diffusion of homo sapiens throughout southeast asia.

11 Aug 2006 (Jakarta Post) – While this forum letter probably has a political undertone to it, it provides a concise overview about the diffusion of homo sapiens throughout southeast asia.

Who are indigenous Indonesians?

Homo sapiens first reached Indonesia about 50,000 years ago, when sea levels were lower than now and western Indonesia was still part of the Southeast Asia mainland. After several millennia, early Indonesians invented what were probably the world’s first sea-going vessels and went on to settle eastern Indonesia, Australia, including Tasmania, and the Solomon Islands.

Their descendants still inhabit Papua today. However, they were eliminated from western Indonesia by relatively recent migrants. The spark for this was the emergence of crop cultivation in the Yangtze River valley in about 7,000 BC. Agriculture spread across what is now China and farming communities began to migrate into Southeast Asia.


Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Bioarchaeology of Southeast Asia (Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology) by M. Oxenham
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood
Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by P. Bellwood
The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia: From 10,000 B.C. to the Fall of Angkor by C. Higham