The Sri Lankan Malays: Islam, Literature and Diaspora Across the Indian Ocean

This project (2010-2017) aimed to fill a significant lacunae in our knowledge of the Sri Romola photoLankan Malays’ history of cultural and religious resilience and accommodation and, through the study of this history, to engage with broad questions of the nature and implications of exile in colonial Asia, the transmission of religious and literary genres and textual traditions across distance and time, and the power of language to live on in unlikely circumstances of numerical and cultural marginality. The project investigated the Sri Lankan Malays’ complex past through the prism of their literary culture, with a primary focus on 1) examining Sri Lankan Malay history through diverse textual sources with an emphasis on surviving Malay texts produced in Sri Lanka; 2) exploring the textual traditions of the societies in present day Indonesia whence came the Malays to Sri Lanka in search of narratives of colonial exile, recruitment, longing and return; 3) studying relevant sources from British and Dutch colonial archives and 4) considering the Malays’ history and these variegated texts through the wider lens of encounters and mobility – via travel, translation, exile, military service, pilgrimage – across the Indian Ocean between the late seventeenth and early twentieth centuries.

mutual studying photoTo create a database of Malay textual sources from Sri Lanka I surveyed, documented and digitalized Malay manuscripts, letters, books, diaries, mosque deeds and additional documents held in private collections across the country. This effort was funded by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP450 and EAP609) and it resulted in the creation of two freely accessible online archives:

The research for this project was funded by the Australian Research Council, the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies, and the Israel Science Foundation. It resulted in the publication of several articles and the monograph Banishment and Belonging: Exile and Diaspora in Sarandib, Lanka and Ceylon (Cambridge University Press, 2019)