Rebutting the myth that Malays have the second oldest genes in the world

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Malaysia has a complex history of ethnonationalism, in which people who are identified as Malay (but more accurately native Malaysians) are given special privileges over other ethnic groups in the country. This has led to a number of social, economic and political problems but the one that I want to highlight here is the misuse of science and archaeological research to advance this agenda. Last week, a historian speaking at the ominously named “The Origins of the Malay” forum “quoted” the work of the Human Genome Organisation and said that after the Africans, the Malays have the second oldest genetic lineages in the world, even going so far as to imply that the Malays were ultimately responsible for establishing the Chinese and Greek civilizations.

DNA strand. Image by Caroline Davis2010

Image by Caroline Davis2010

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CFP: Archaeology, Heritage, and Nationalism in Southeast Asia

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Rising Voices in Southeast Asian Studies – A SEAC / AAS Initiative with Support from the journal, TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia

Submission Deadline: June 15, 2018

The Southeast Asia Council (SEAC) of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is seeking paper proposals from up-and-coming scholars to join a “Rising Voices” panel on the broad topic of “Archaeology, Heritage, and Nationalism in Southeast Asia.” We seek to recruit early career scholars from Southeast Asian countries in order to form a panel for eventual inclusion in the 2019 Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, to be held in Denver, CO from March 21-24, 2019.

The panel will be chaired by Dr. Nam C. Kim, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Once paper presenters have been selected, the chair, along with Dr. Oona Paredes, Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, will assist the panelists in preparing a panel abstract, facilitate revision of individual paper proposals, and offer mentoring and networking support to the panel participants, as needed.

With financial support from the AAS and the journal TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia, SEAC will be able to offer modest travel support to certain members of the panel with demonstrated need in traveling to the conference from Southeast Asia. It is hoped that participation in the panel will also enable scholars to obtain funding from other sources, including the individual country groups at AAS, as well as their home institutions, to stay for the whole conference. Once the panel is formed, the organizers will also make every effort to help panelists seek additional funding on the basis of demonstrated need. Upon completion of the conference, authors will be encouraged to submit their papers to TRaNS for potential publication, subject to peer-review.

Panel Topic Details

For the 2019 Rising Voices Panel, we seek to build a panel related to the broad topic of “Archaeology, Heritage, and Nationalism in Southeast Asia.” The exact panel description will be developed and refined once panelists have been selected, but the topic is designed to be inclusive enough to solicit a wide range of applicants for variant themes.

Papers should build on the recognition that notions about the recent or distant past can play an important role in the formulation of ideas around national identity, ethnicity, cultural heritage, and perceptions of inclusion and exclusion. This is especially so in post-colonial contexts. Contributors are free to present research related to these broad themes from any disciplinary angle, using materials that are archaeological, historical, or contemporary. Related sub-topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • Appropriations of the past for nationalistic or political agendas
  • Contested constructions of history or national meta-narratives
  • Identity formation and notions of ethnicity
  • Challenges and opportunities in the interpretation of archaeological data
  • Conflicts over cultural heritage materials and properties, as related to ownership, access, and management
  • Culturally significant or sacred landscapes or artifacts
  • Commodification of the past, tourism, and economic development

While an emphasis on Southeast Asia is a requisite, comparisons with other Asian regions are welcomed and encouraged.

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

We seek papers by Southeast Asian scholars who are early career scholars, or “rising voices.” Rising voices are defined here as advanced graduate students (currently writing dissertations based on original field or archival research) or untenured faculty members (including tenure-track assistant professors, adjuncts, and lecturers, or the approximate equivalent based on the academic tradition from which the scholar is coming). Applicants may be currently enrolled as students in, or employed by, any institution of higher education in the world. However, preference may be placed on students or faculty currently based at underfunded institutions in Late Developing Countries (LDC) in Southeast Asia. (Please note that the definition of LDC used by the AAS excludes the following Asian countries: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of China (Taiwan), Republic of Korea (South Korea), and Singapore). In addition to the stated goal of supporting rising voices from Southeast Asia, the primary criteria for selection will be the quality of the paper proposals as well as the way selected proposals work together as a viable panel.

Submission Instructions

To submit a paper proposal, please submit the following, in the order listed below, all in a single Microsoft word file or pdf document, by June 15, 2018:

  • Applicant’s Name, affiliation, and contact information, clearly indicating applicant’s country of birth and current country of residence.
  • Paper abstract. 250 words in the format of the standard AAS paper proposal.
  • Brief bio-sketch of 200-300 words describing current and recent scholarly positions, a brief sentence or two about current research, and any significant publications. The model for this should be the standard blurb one sees on a faculty or graduate student website.
  • Current curriculum vitae.
  • Please save the file with the following filename convention: RisingVoices2019_ApplicantsFamilyName.doc

Completed applications should be sent via email to Dr. Nam C. Kim (nckim2@wisc.edu) and Dr. Oona Paredes (seaomtp@nus.edu.sg) by June 15, 2018, with the subject heading of “2019 SEAC Rising Voices Proposal.”

Notes on Funding

This proposed panel is part of the “Rising Voices Initiative” which was initiated in 2013 by the Southeast Asia Council of the Association of Asian Studies in order to help supplement the limited amount of existing funding to support participation of young Southeast Asian scholars in the annual AAS Conference. Funding has been generously allocated for this project by the AAS Board of Directors and has been supplemented for the 2019 AAS Conference by TRaNS journal.

Application Timeline

  • May 2018: Call for papers published
  • June 15, 2018: Applications due by email to nckim2@wisc.edu and seaomtp@nus.edu.sg
  • July 1, 2018: Notice of selected papers sent out to applicants
  • July 1 – August 1, 2018: Panel description revised, individual paper proposals revised in communication with panel chair, Dr. Nam C. Kim, and Dr. Oona Paredes
  • August 1, 2018: Panel Submission Deadline to AAS

TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia is a journal in the field of Southeast Asian studies published by the Cambridge University Press.  TRaNSencourages globally engaged writings on Southeast Asia that cross national borders and disciplinary boundaries.

Untangling myth and reality from Malaysia's history

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Besides the “startling” news about the origins of the human race, another stir over the history of Malaysia was raised last week when eminent Malaysian historian Professor Khoo Kay Khim declared that some of the characters and stories in Malaysia’s national historical narrative were probably mythical or did not actually exist. Among those figures was the warrior Hang Tuah and the Chinese princess Hang Li Po.

Sculpture of Hang Tuah at the Malaysian National History Museum, wikicommons image

Sculpture of Hang Tuah at the Malaysian National History Museum, wikicommons image


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The human race from proto-Malays? Prove it.

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Sometimes a story appears that is so stupid, so inane, that you just have to rant about it. The Malaysian Insider, an online newspaper, today published a story about how some archaeologists have claimed through their “scientific” studies that they have traced the lineage of humankind to the proto-Malay race. This is total bull.

Study claims human race came from Proto-Malays
The Malaysian Insider, 20 January 2012
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Relooked: The Chams, identity and archaeology

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Last week I featured a piece on the Phnom Penh post by anthropologist David Lempert about the Cham and statelessness, which suggest how archaeology can help the Cham reconnect with their lost heritage. Three scholars working in Cambodia (one of which is Alison in Cambodia) reply with their disagreements to the archaeological examples in Lempert’s argument.

[22 October update: You can find the full-length article (as the Phnom Penh Post article was cut for space) in Alison’s site here.]

Identity beyond origin: The Cham
Phnom Penh Post, 17 October 2008
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Differing concepts of "Malay"-ness

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26 October 2007 (Jakarta Post) – I mentioned in the previous post about the Negara Kertagama about how Malaysia and Indonesia are embroiled in a dispute over the a traditional song, and I just wanted to highlight this editorial in the Jakarta Post which might shed light on our non-Southeast Asian readers who might not be familiar with the politics of the region. The term “Malay” does not mean the same thing in Malaysia and Indonesia!

This difference in the definition of Malay, while essentially a political one, has profound consequences in exploring the archaeology of the different Malay peoples in the region. I hope this editorial might add a little nuanced understanding in how current politics affects archaeology.

Malaysia, Indonesia out of tune
Ong Hock Chuan

Neighboring and serumpun (from the same root) countries Malaysia and Indonesia have been out of step with each other lately over the traditional song Rasa Sayang.

The song and dance over Rasa Sayang began when the Malaysian government used it as a jingle to promote the country’s tourism.

Indonesians were aghast that a homespun Ambonese song had been appropriated by its neighbor. Some legislators called for the Malaysian government to be sued in the international court for stealing an Indonesian song.

Malaysia reacted by saying that the song was as much theirs as Indonesia’s since the song came from the Malay Archipelago. And since Malaysia’s culture is dominantly Malay, they had a right to use it.

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