This article considers the crossings, modes of mobility, and affiliations that have shaped forms and contexts of storytelling within a small yet culturally resilient diasporic community: the Sri Lankan Malays, whose forefathers were sent from across the Indonesian archipelago to colonial Ceylon (Sri Lanka), beginning in the late seventeenth century, as exiles, slaves, and soldiers. Two storytelling contexts set in mid-to late nineteenth-century British Ceylon are discussed: the first centers on the Qur’anic tale of the prophet Nuh (Noah) and his ark, typically viewed as representing an age-old Islamic tradition; the second, based on stories and reports in a Malay newspaper, signals the drive toward novelty, progress, and modernity. The article explores how both storytelling contexts, despite certain differences, converge on the shared themes of travel, water, and islands and can be understood as overlapping and complementing one another. Both contexts taken together highlight the ways different temporalities, affiliations, and allegiances were concurrently relevant for colonial subjects. The article thus challenges the tendency to reduce colonial subjects’ experiences to interactions and engagements with the ruling Europeans and suggests that storytelling practices illuminate greater nuance and complexity in how people lived their lives while inhabiting different spaces, temporalities, and relationships simultaneously.
Telling Stories of Seas, Islands, and Ships: A Sri Lankan Malay Perspective
Ronit Ricci is the Sternberg-Tamir Chair in Comparative Cultures and associate professor of Asian studies and comparative religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is also affiliated with the School of Culture, History, and Language at the Australian National University. Her research interests include the history of Islam in Indonesia, Javanese and Malay manuscript cultures, and translation studies. Her most recent book is Banishment and Belonging: Exile and Diaspora in Sarandib, Lanka, and Ceylon (2019).
Ronit Ricci; Telling Stories of Seas, Islands, and Ships: A Sri Lankan Malay Perspective. positions 1 February 2021; 29 (1): 203–224. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-8722862
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