Street Credibility

Selected portraits of Jakarta’s itinerant street vendors – tales of strength in adversity rather than despair and defeat.

NINETEEN
Text by: Irfan Kortschak
Publisher: Mercy Corps 2008

It would take a remarkably dumb visitor to Indonesian cities not to notice hawkers of all sorts, buskers, roadside kiosk holders, scavengers, ‘ojek’ motorcycle-taxi drivers, sex workers and others that go to make up what Australian author Irfan Kortschak here calls ‘the informal sector’. Many, if not most, are self-employed.

You encounter these ‘informalistas’ everywhere, men, women, and, with sad inevitability, some children. All are trying to earn a living by means that place them outside the ‘formal sector’ of civil service, factories, hotels, banks, stores and offices.

Some, of course, have a foot in both camps, young factory workers from the footwear trade doubling up in ‘the world’s oldest profession’, schoolteachers ‘moonlighting’ as ‘ojek’ men.

What author Korschak has done here is to press into very effective service his good command of Bahasa Indonesia and marry it to considerable interviewing skills. He has through very admirable transcriptions given his subjects real and substantive voices of their own, and I do not detect a false note at all.

Hidden from history these people could very well be but for this fine effort.

Illustrated by Josh Ersey’s photos, especially the black-and-whites, Nineteen is a number of slices of Jakarta life in which the 19 ‘informalistas’ have been willing participants. Why ’19’ I can hear some readers ask? Isn’t that a bit arbitrary? Well, of course it is but if, say, the author and publisher had hit on 33 the result would have been rather unwieldy, I think. The result here is a good cross-section.

We meet both those whose income is a bare subsistence and those like Cahyan, a tahu gejrot seller from Cirebon whose Menteng stall brings in enough for him to employ a number of workers to produce the ‘tahu’. We meet a poor Chinese woman who scratches a living from a sparse snacks stall, an ex-political prisoner from the Dark Ages of Suharto’s New Order repression who makes a solid income from the herbal medicine he has largely taught himself, a young blind woman who lost her sight at age 2 to meningitis who twins some massage with a trade in shrimp crackers, and an apparently talented young fellow who lost his factory job on account of his defense of labor rights.

What would Jakarta be without its itinerant hawkers, men and women? Not only those hardy souls who pad the streets with their ‘kitchens’ bamboo-yoked to their shoulders but the familiar jamu ladies with their bottle ‘pharmacies’ strapped to their backs dispensing traditional medicines.

So, perhaps fittingly, the first ‘informalista’ we meet is a jamu lady called Srimudjeni (Eni), 30-ish mother of two and working her beat around the wharves of Sunda Kelapa and the neighboring fish markets. She estimates her monthly income at Rp2-2.2 million for “four hours a day”. If I am not mistaken, that is about the take-home pay of a TransJakarta Busway driver.

Eni tells us, “When I first came to Jakarta, I had a few different jobs… a while as a sales promotion girl… had to wear a miniskirt …harassment I got from rich businessmen was far worse than I get from the boys in the dockyards…”

No surprise there for me in the harassment, that is!

Eni feels that by not working on a commission as she did as a sales promotion girl and by ‘building up her own clientele’ she has developed a sense of independence and thus greater self-esteem.

What comes across in many of these portraits is a facility to fit into the nooks, niches and interstices in a way that the ‘rich businessmen’ Eni pours contempt on would do well to study for lessons in humility.

In a portrait of Wati, at the time of interview just 15, a junior high school student “who sells soft drinks from a tray to car passengers”, the author writes, in “Senen, a place where the paths of the rich and the poor frequently collide…”

It is a hard-scrabble area with many preman criminal elements working around the market and the bus station, just the sort to extract tong from a hard-working schoolgirl making money to support her family and put herself through school. The conditions that people who, like Wati and her family, live in alongside the railway line would bring tears to the eyes of a brontosaurus, but Josh Ersey’s photo of this young lady tells us much about the best of the human spirit, a flashing smile and great personal poise.

I recently got on the wrong train from Bogor and found myself passing through the Senen-Kemayoran area and the poverty trackside was gut-wrenching, an object lesson in humility for me. But officialdom and the so-called ‘developers’ do not always see it that way, do they? The former with their big-stick, big-booted public order raids and the latter with the malaise of malls they have inflicted on the city in the interests of ‘development’ seem to live in a separate universe.

I would have been tempted to use the book as a platform to attack them but Irfan has probably been that much wiser by allowing his interviewees to tell us in their own way about how life works for them. In any case, it would take a fool not to see the glaring social inequalities and iniquities described here.

As the great English poet P. B. Shelley has put it, “The Iron Rod of Penury still compels Her wretched slave to bow the knee to wealth and poison with unprofitable toil a life devoid of solace…” Well said, but despite all the privations and tribulations described here what comes through is the quiet tenacity and dogged persistence of all the subjects. In all, the message here with all its well-caught nuances tells us of strength in adversity rather than despair and defeat.

I have asked the author if he knew of the great American oral historian Studs Terkel who died recently aged 93. No, he said. Terkel was one of the finest practitioners of oral history and a man dedicated to allowing ‘ordinary’ people to tell the stories of their working lives. Irfan Kortschak belongs to that tradition and I recommend that he extends the project to other sectors, to farmers and fishermen, say, or to those ‘helots of Sparta’ who work the sulfur mines of the Ijeng Plateau.

I might have added, as I have already suggested to him, some characters very familiar to me such as Oni the tirelessly smiling blowpipe-as-souvenir seller who has patiently patrolled Jalan Jaksa for years in the hope of a sale or two. But I respect the author’s choices and commend this book as a fine social statement. It ought to be compulsory reading for city governors, bureaucrats and ‘developers’ alike.

(pub. Tempo No. 18-19/IX/Jan 06 – 12, 2009)

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A Dissident Malaysian Voice

Journey through Southeast Asia: Ceritalah 2
Author: Karim Raslan
Pub: Times Books International
237pp

If you have read Sabri Zain’s Face Off: A Malaysian Reformasi Diary 1998-99, Karim Raslan’s highly articulate dissident Malaysian voice does not come as much of a surprise. (It might come as something of a surprise, however, to the author to be described as a “dissident”.)

This is not to belittle it in any way, only to emphasize the existence among a younger generation of Malaysians of thoughtful, worldly people with both courage and integrity.

Karim Raslan, like Sabri Zain, is a bumiputera (native) of the generation that grew up post-May 1969 and thus a beneficiary of the New Economic Order that set out to level the playing field for the Malays. A Cambridge University-educated lawyer, Karim’s mother is Welsh, which gave him a culturally bipolar upbringing, notwithstanding which he asserts a Malay identity throughout.

Here is the voice of a Muslim who believes passionately that his religion is compatible with both modernity and democracy, a proper democracy that is, not the ethnic-orientated system of caucuses that has ruled Malaysia since independence and which is entrenched in UMNO, the MCA and the MIC.

The many very worldly references he makes clearly differentiate him also from the likes of Parti Islam, which now rules the states of Kelantan and Trengganu; in the latter the ruling party intends to institute hudud*. It’s extremely hard to imagine the Chief Minister of Trengganu unabashedly using the phrase “Bloody hell!” in a newspaper column!

Karim believes that Malaysia is a workable multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy. And why not? There are precedents. Much as the ruling elite would like to ignore examples from the past of successful multi-ethnic political parties, they exist.

The municipality of Ipoh, a major center of the world tin mining industry was once ruled by the Democratic Labour Party and widely acclaimed for the quality of its public services.

Here is a writer with some considerable courage.

“Politicians,” he says, “should never be allowed to write their own memoirs.” He then goes on to examine the virtues of Ho Chi Minh, whom he describes as “a reluctant Communist”, a rather brave assertion in a country with a considerable paranoia for anything on the Left.

He vigorously defends the organization, Sisters in Islam, and several journalists against the charges of Persatuan Ulama Malaysia and denounces PUM for its “intellectual terrorism”.

Indonesian readers will be most interested perhaps in the pieces here on their own country. He writes sympathetically about the fate of Chinese-Indonesians.

In a piece titled Malang and the Indonesian Chinese Predicament, he describes them as “vulnerable, isolated and only marginally richer than their neighbors”. Elsewhere Karim’s expositions on Indonesian artists and their interpretations of a rapidly changing world are thought-provoking and readable.

Sabri Zain set out to record the tumultuous events in Malaysia in 1998-99, and, for me as an expatriate who lived four years in the country and began to believe people were irredeemably docile, lifted the scales from my eyes.

Karim Raslan has further confirmed to me that among Malaysia’s brightest and best the machine politics of UMNO is not the only pole of attraction.

(pub. The Jakarta Post 27th October 2002)

* ‘hudud’ – In Islamic (Sharia) law hudud usually refers to the class of punishments that are fixed for certain crimes that are considered to be “claims of God”. – Administrator

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Rigorous research on WWII brought together

War and Memory in Malaya and Singapore
Edited: P. Lim Pui Huen and Diana Wong
Published: The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

The Singapore-based Institute of South-east Asian Studies is an excellent source of material of all sorts on this complex and varied region, and in this volume they have brought together some very rigorous research on World War II and the memory of it in Malaya and Singapore.

This, needless to say, covers the period of the defeat of the British in 1942, the Japanese Occupation and the return of the British power in September 1945.

It is the story of the effect of the Japanese Occupation on the three major ethnic groups in the British colonies, the Malays, Chinese and Indians. As P. Ramasamy says in his piece on the Indians, “Wars mean different things to different people.”

Indeed, they do. Each of these groups had experienced a different type of interface with colonial power and the Japanese themselves had different expectations of them.

The Chinese, for example, knew instinctively that they would be targeted and scapegoated. The Overseas Chinese had pre-war been a major source of funds and moral support for their mainland kin when the Imperial Japanese Army overran parts of China in the 1930s. Chinese men in particular had much to fear and so it proved.

The Japanese, who renamed the island Syonan-to, mounted sweeping operations known as sook ching and many Chinese males were unlawfully executed in them. No wonder then that the Malayan Anti-Japanese People’s Army had a very large Chinese component – it would be a mistake, however, to view it as a single-race fighting force.

Many Chinese resisted in other ways, and here it is something of a disappointment to find that none of these essays gives a separate mention to a heroine, Elizabeth Choy whom the British later decorated with the O.B.E.; a remarkable woman. Nor does the Eurasian doctor Sybil Karthigasu, G.M., who is buried in Ipoh’s Connolly Road Cemetery and who left Japanese interrogation semi-paralyzed, merit an individual mention.

The Malay scholar Abu Talib Ahmad has done an excellent research job on “The Malay Community”, having interviewed many older rural Malays for their recollections of the Occupation.

Whilst acknowledging that more of the Malays were acquiescent, Abu is also insistent that many resisted. The writer points out Malay peasant resistance in the form of a refusal to plant anything other than their family plots.

The Indian experience is nuanced by the very real influence of Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army among them. Its anti-imperialist “modus operandi” was to collaborate with the Japanese around the slogan ‘On To Delhi.’ As Ramasamy says, anti-British agitation and the memory of heavy work on the plantations prompted many Indians to prefer the Japanese vehicle, and after the war their anticolonial sentiment became evident in widespread Indian support for the Malayan Communist Party.

This is an extremely thoughtful but occasionally overwritten series of essays about the immediate effects of the Japanese Occupation and its consequences for post-war life. After reading it, I am left, yet again, wondering why there is no memorial to the Asian slave labor that died in the tens of thousands on Japan’s ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand.

(pub. The Jakarta Post 22nd March 2001)

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Malaysian Reformasi

Face Off – A Malaysian Reformasi Diary (1998-99)
Author: Sabri Zain
Pub. Options Publications Pte Ltd, Singapore, 2000
Paperback, 198pp

Hashanuddin Rais, a Malaysian filmmaker, makes the bold claim on the back of Face Off that after reading this collection of Sabri Zain’s Internet pieces, “Malaysia will never be the same again.” Another film director, U-Wei bin Haji Saan, asserts, “Sabri Zain is an original.”

Face Off vibrantly describes the movement that swept Malaysia after the 1998 arrest of then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and the infamous assault on him by the police that followed. “Reformasi”, of course, was the cry first heard here in Indonesia when the students and others took to the streets to demand an end to Soeharto’s New Order regime. It fired the imagination of many Malaysians of all ethnic groups who were tired of what they perceived as corruption and abuse of power by Dr. Mahathir’s entrenched political machine.

The Malaysian opposition movement, which has not gone away, took many people by surprise, both inside and outside the country. There was a widespread impression that decades of political quietism and increased prosperity had deadened the real opposition to Barisan Nasional, the coalition of parties that binds together the political elites of the Malays, Chinese and Indians that have run the country since the interethnic disturbances in 1969. But, still waters run deep and even the most politically passive peoples can, if goaded enough, resist perceived injustice.

Sabri Zain used the Internet, on which he built up a big following, to great effect by putting together well-written, witty and informative pieces that relayed the anti-Establishment views of that resistance, the means by which they were expressed and the often brutal response of the state. (It might be remembered here that the Indonesian students were galvanized to a great degree by the free flow of opinion and information on the Net.) Malaysians could find in Sabri’s pieces an alternative to the mendacious propaganda of such newspapers as The New Straits Times, surely one of the stuffiest progovernment publications in the region.

The Malaysian police come out of this very badly indeed, and for someone like myself, who lived for four years in Malaysia and was always impressed by their apparent restraint and lack of hubris, the feeling is very strong that Mahathir has done a very great disservice by politicizing them so.

The wide spectrum of people that took to the streets was a refreshing antidote to the years of ethnically orientated party politics and a reminder that the Chinese and the Indians also believe themselves to be loyal Malaysians, loyal to the country. Sabri’s writing makes this point at almost every turn.

We have just seen a popular movement in the Philippines oust a corrupt president. Perhaps the winds of change will blow again in Malaysia.

Certainly, it is hard to believe that articulate, intelligent people like Sabri Zain will simply fade away or hide their faces when they see perceived wrong in their land.

(pub. The Jakarta Post, 4th February 2001)

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Malay excellence – a transcending legacy

The Malays Par ExcellenceWarts And All; An Introspection
Authors: Ismail Noor and Muhammad Azaham
Pub. Pelanduk Publications (M) Sdn Bhd, Selangor
Paperback xvii + 166 pp

Having lived for four years in predominantly ethnic Malay areas of Malaysia, I came to this book, I must admit, with some well-formed opinions about them as a people. Two years teaching Malay children in Kelantan, Malaysia’s idiosyncratic north-eastern state followed by two years teaching in Perlis over the mountains have given me a pretty close view of their community.

Kelantan, of course, is known for its religious fervor and the Kelantanese, who do not merit a separate mention in this book surprisingly, for their barely concealed hostility to outsiders, even other Malays. Having seen this first-hand and having had west coast Malays complain to me of a certain Kelantanese tendency to keep them at arm’s length, I have to confess to a certain reluctance to believe in Malay unity as a transcending force.

Nonetheless, it is important to see how others view themselves. Ismail Noor and Muhammad Azaham have set out a Malay view of their own people and a Malay view of history and, although one might beg to differ on certain points, is an affirmative statement of self-belief. This is no re-hash of Dr. Mahathir’s The Malay Dilemma, which was both a scathing look at Malay faults and a call to action on their behalf, but an honest look at what makes them tick.

It has often been the case that the Malays, most of whom are easy-going, self-deprecating people (Mahathir a major exception), have been overlooked and the authors blast the British for just this in their treatment of the people. The colonial British did have a condescending attitude towards them for which they paid rather dearly.

Failure to recruit sufficient Malays into the forces pre-WW2 was a crucial factor in the rapid collapse of the colony when the Japanese attacked in 1941-42. That the Malays were indeed good fighting men, contrary to British opinion, was proved in spades by the heroic stand of the Malay Regiment at Kent Ridge in Singapore, a stand made all the finer by the fact that many others deserted the front.

If one wants to take exception to anything said here it must be with the assertion that the New Economic Policy, initiated in the wake of the 1969 inter-ethnic riots that rocked Malaysia to its very foundations, is “bold and dynamic”. There may have been a serious need for affirmative action to lever the Malays up economically but it is fair to wonder aloud whether the NEP is past its expiry date. Having witnessed first-hand the featherbedding of Malay students in the secondary school system, I cannot help but feel that certain aspects of it are deeply unfair to the other ethnic groups including other ‘bumiputera’ such as the Dayaks.

Ismail and Muhammad do make a courageous assessment, nonetheless, of some of the faults of the Malaysian education system. “Several situations of imperfect and relatively unwholesome years in primary and secondary education become compounded by the problem of time-constrained social maladjustment at university level,” they say. A bold assertion.

The authors have provided a catalog towards the back of the book of distinguished Malays, many of whom are unfamiliar to me. Indeed many Malays have distinguished themselves in various fields, not least UN military service, where their traits of collective loyalty serve them well, but I was disappointed to note the absence from the list of scholars of the historian of the Malays, Syed Hussein Ali, an important voice of dissent in Malaysia.

This is a worthy attempt, however, to put a people’s point of view.

(pub. The Jakarta Post 28th January 2001)

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Strange Fruit

A trained anthropologist takes up her first assignment in the Kalimantan jungle.

A Taste For Green Tangerines
Author: Barbara Bisco
Publisher: Black Lotus

The subtitle of this novel should have been enough to alert me: A Romp in the Rainforest. Nobody romps in rainforests, except, of course, loggers, legal and illegal, oil palm-idiot businesses and the like.

Alerted to what? Well, to a pretty tedious story, not well-told.

Bethany Parker, young, a little footloose although she does have a ‘boyfriend’ (why are adults referred to in the western world as ‘boyfriends and girlfriends’?) back home in London, is a trained anthropologist itching for her first assignment and when the chance of one comes up in Borneo (Indonesian, Kalimantan) she jumps at it and gets it.

How is an anthropologist trained, if not on the job, meeting the ‘exotic’ people or tribe of fancy? That this should ordinarily mean in western minds forest-dwelling or island-dwelling people is of course no surprise but anthropology ought to encompass every human group in existence. ‘Exotic’ would then cover everyone from Wall Street bankers to arms manufacturers to, well, spear-chuckers and those who pierce their private parts, which practice does get something of a mention in this novel; it’s the Borneo Dayaks, of course.

Bethany is one of those names that has fairly recently come into fashion in the United Kingdom like Tracy, Mandy and Sharon, so, I guess, that brings it up to date. And Beth is certainly up-to-date, jetting off to some place she has little clue about to pursue an ideal.

To be fair to Barbara Bisco, I recognize the syndrome. I suffered from it myself, way back in late 1979 when I applied for a teaching job in those lonely, lovely islands, the Seychelles and went there to live in a small fishing village called Baie Ste. And where, frankly speaking, I was something of a fish out of water. Some things I enjoyed, yes, the marvelous cuisine (mainly fish, chicken and, at the weekends, pork), the music and the nightly stellar magic of the constellations, but, it was hard work socially…  did not have much in common with people. And quite soon a tropical ennui set in.

Beth Parker soon finds the same, irrespective of her initial idealism. She is pitched up on an eco-tourism project in Central Kalimantan, a project that has brought together project directors, zoologists and others from a number of western countries, all hoping ‘to do good’, which is exactly what I wanted to do all those years ago.

I have not been in Kalimantan for perhaps 10 years so it is difficult for me to say with any degree of precision how much deforestation has gone on since that time but most reports would say a lot. Beth’s destination, as it happens, is both within a remaining expanse of forest and not very distant from logged-out areas…and that does sound believable… anyone who has flown over Riau and Lampung will recognize just how close in flying time thick-canopy forest is to the moonscapes the loggers create.

Pitching up amongst complete strangers on such a project demands a certain degree of personal maturity that a life spent in racy London can hardly prepare you for. As I found in the Seychelles perhaps the most difficult part of all is adjusting to the other expatriates, and worst of all, sometimes, to your fellow-country folk. She finds this out very quickly.

Her job is to bring the local Dayaks, the Maloh (a group I knew nothing of before reading this), onside for the purposes of the project. She arrives with rudimentary Indonesian language skill – this is where ‘rudimentary’ equates to ‘precious little’ – and is sent to a Dayak longhouse community (how many are there left?), where her much-prized British sense of privacy means zero. Her expatriate co-workers all have their own agendas… nothing new there for me! It is all a bit disorientating.

I would have found this easier to read if there was less of the ‘F’ and ‘S’ words usage, not that I am necessarily offended by that but because the whole prose style seems to devolve on that kind of thing. Pity! It’s a nice idea. I have had expatriate friends here down the years doing ‘good work’ in conservation projects, three Brits on tiger protection work in Sumatra and an Aussie on national park management consultancy and I very much admire their idealism… perhaps they will get to the quick of the story sooner than I did.

(pub. Tempo No. 28/X/March 10 – 16, 2010)

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Reminder of history’s richness and complexity

Early Malay Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and Malay Peninsula
Paul Michel Munoz
Editions Didier Millet, 2006
pp.392

Paul Munoz is a Frenchman with more than 20 years experience of living in Singapore, from which base he has pursued his interests in ethnology, prehistory and the early history of Southeast Asia.

In Early Malay Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and Malay Peninsula, a 392-page work, Munoz is mainly interested in what he calls the the “Classical Period” from the seventh to the 15th Century AD.

During this time a number of powerful polities grew up and competed with one another. Based mainly in Sumatra and Java, but with power extending to the Malay peninsula and modern Thailand, these states (or mandala, as Munoz prefers to call them) both absorbed and imparted influences from and to various directions. Both China and India play major parts in this story.

Of course, this will all go to prove that Indonesia in particular has been absorbing outside influences for millennia.

These include religion and in the pre-Islamic period we find that various forms of Hinduism, including Vishnuism and what the author calls Sivaism (worship of Shiva), and Buddhism all were important.

It is fascinating to learn that Srivijaya, which was based on Palembang in eastern Sumatra, was for a long time in the first millennium AD a major center of Buddhist learning to which devotees traveled from as far away as China to study.

Srivijaya, like many polities of the region, paid “tribute” for centuries to the Chinese emperor.

Srivijaya is truly enigmatic. It was not until the early 1990s that the French historian and archaeologist P.Y. Manguin conclusively established that it had been based on the Musi River around what is modern Palembang.

For centuries it had slipped from local memory, partly because so few brick or stone remains could be found.

There is serious speculation that a “lost city”, which was once part of the Srivijaya Empire (Munoz appears at points to contradict himself as to its real or alleged imperial status) is to be found in the dense forests of northern Johor state in modern Malaysia.

Competing powers

Certainly, the Malays and the Orang Asli have for centuries subscribed to the idea that such a city called Kota Gelanggi or Kota Batu Hitam (City of the Black Stone) is hidden in these forests.

Canberra-based independent researcher Raimy Che-Ross, who has for years asserted that this city is there and been dismissed for his pains, has come up with strong photographic material from aerial reconnaissance to indicate a well-planned settlement beneath the tropical forest canopy in an area at the headwaters of the Johor River.

Why would it have fallen into oblivion? In the 11th Century AD, Srivijaya, which had competed with Jambi, among others, was a waning power and was “knocked out” by the forces of the Tamil Chola kingdom of southern India, who also laid Kedah low.

The Tamils, intriguingly, were for centuries very influential in Sumatra through their trading guilds. The modern Tamil population of Sumatra, which is based in and around Medan, is not related to the earlier Tamil presence, having arrived under the Dutch to work the rubber plantations that flourished in the 19th Century.

Much is said in the book about the fierce competition, which often devolved into warfare, between the Sumatran polities and their Javanese counterparts such as Banten and Demak.

Again, intriguingly, we find that the numerous statelets along Java’s north coast maintained diplomatic and tribute relations with the Chinese emperors.

The same is true of now very obscure kingdoms in the Sunda region of West Java, which, of course, in pre-Islamic times was culturally very different from neighboring Java.

For example the now almost completely forgotten Holotan polity of West Java sent seven separate diplomatic missions to China in the first four centuries AD and then disappeared.

It seems fantastic today that the pre-modern peoples of this region would send missions over such long distances, but that is to dismiss their seamanship, which had, after all, enabled Malay people to colonize Madagascar on the far side of the Indian Ocean.

Knowledge of the monsoons was outstanding and with it came the ability to cover those distances.

The 48-page preface to the book deals with “prehistory”, a rather awkward term in my view, and is absolutely absorbing. Who were the first hominids through the Malay peninsula and the islands of the archipelago? What traces have they left?

The author writes, “Though hominids (any of a family of erect bipedal mammals including humans) most probably spread throughout southeast Asia their oldest relics have only been found in China and Java.” The Javanese connection is Trinil on the Solo River in Central Java, but, says Munoz, Trinil man was “an evolutionary dead end”.

The Hoabinhian culture that merged later was largely confined to the peninsula and northeast Sumatra although a later still cultural diffusion took it to Borneo where artifacts confirming it have been found at the Niah caves in Sarawak.

This is really a historian’s reference book (nothing wrong with that) but the lay reader will find much to stimulate thought from it. As a reminder of the richness, complexity and diversity of the pre-modern history of the region it is most welcome.

(pub. The Jakarta Post 18th March 2007)

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