Telling Stories of Seas, Islands, and Ships: A Sri Lankan Malay Perspective

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    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)203-224
    JournalPositions: East Asia Cultures Critique
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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