Asian and Islamic crossings: Malay writing in nineteenth-century Sri Lanka

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This essay explores how a small diasporic Muslim community in the colonial era-known today as the Sri Lankan Malays-maintained its culture through the preservation of language, the transmission of literary and religious texts, the cultivation of genres and of a script. Beginning in the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) used the island of Ceylon as a site of banishment for those considered rebels in the regions under Company control in the Indonesian archipelago. Criminals from these territories were also sent to Ceylon, as were native troops who served in the Dutch army, and others employed in various capacities. After their takeover of the island in 1796, the British too brought to Ceylon colonial subjects from the archipelago and the Malay Peninsula, primarily to serve in their military. I examine issues of cultural encounter and religious developments through an analysis of a Malay manuscript written in Colombo in the early years of the nineteenth century. I emphasize the referencing of titles and names as well as the texts multilingual character. Through this discussion I question the notion of distinctly defined centres and margins as they pertain to the Sri Lankan Malays-situated physically and figuratively between the Malay and Arab worlds-and suggest that crossroads, connections and movement are more appropriate conceptual categories for considering their case.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)179-194
Number of pages16
JournalSouth Asian History and Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Dutch Southeast Asia
  • Malay and Arab Islam
  • MalayS.i Lankan Malays
  • manuscripts

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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