Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Eastern Indonesia in the Desawarnana

       The earliest written documentation of several Indonesian islands occurs in canto 14 of the Desawarnana, the East Javanese topogenic poem of 1365. There's been a lot of academic discussion about which names refer to which places, especially in the case of some particularly obscure ones, but it's generally easy to tell which part of Indonesia or Malaysia is being described. It's rather harder to tell whether the text accurately depicts the actual realm of Majapahit, though. In any case, the full text of the fifth stanza of the fourteenth canto goes like this (Robson's 1995 translation):
Taking them island by island: Makasar, Butun and Banggawi,
Kunir, Galiyahu and Salaya, Sumba, Solot and Muwar,
As well as Wa
an, Ambwan, Maloko and Wwanin,
Seran and Timur as the main ones among the various islands that remember their duty.
       This is clearly a list of toponyms from Sulawesi and eastern Indonesia. Some of them are familiar, like Timur (clearly Timor) and Seran (clearly Seram), and others haven't changed at all from their present forms, including Makasar and Sumba. Others need a little interpreting, however.
Sulawesi - probably the strangest-shaped large island on the planet. It has an amazing geological history (as you might expect). Borneo (Kalimantan) is to the west; Maluku Utara is to the east.
       Makasar, Butun, and Banggawi are all on or around Sulawesi (as are several placenames in preceding stanzas). Maka(s)sar is now Indonesia's fifth biggest city, on the west coast of the southwestern leg of Sulawesi (in the province of Sulawesi Selatan); Buton is the modern spelling of Butun, and it's an island off the southeastern leg of Sulawesi; Banggawi is apparently best interpreted as Banggai, probably the Banggai archipelago off the east coast of Sulawesi.

        In pre-colonial times the Banggai Islands were known for their production of iron swords - not the best swords in Indonesia, but reportedly quite serviceable ones (Tome Pires mentions them). Sulawesi as a whole was renowned for its iron (especially around Lake Matano), and the -wesi in 'Sulawesi' probably refers to the metal (compare modern Malay besi 'iron', and other Malayo-Polynesian cognates). Both Buton and Banggai later came under the authority of the Sultanate of Ternate in far-eastern Indonesia (see Leonard Andaya's brilliant World of Maluku (1993) for more on this).
A map of the modern Indonesian provinces of Maluku and Maluku Utara, showing the positions of several of the islands in the text. h/t Lencer.
       The next set of placenames are a little harder to work out. Sumba is certainly Sumba and Solot is probably Solor or the Solor archipelago, a set of islands east of Flores. Salaya is Selayer, a teeny-tiny archipelago between Sulawesi and Flores, known for its horses and buffalo. Galiyahu is actually the island of Pantar; in the earliest Portuguese documents it's referred to as 'Galiyao', and the linguist Marian Klamer says that "[t]he name originates from the Western Pantar Gale Awa, literally 'living body'" (Klamer 2015:15). It is possible that the name referred to a political confederation of several villages, although of course that's rather difficult to verify. Kunir and Muwar I know nothing about, but they must be elsewhere in eastern Indonesia.

       Ambwan is clearly Ambon, the small-but-important island to the south of Seram. Maloko is modern Maluku, but precisely which polity or region it refers to is difficult to say; presumably it's one of either Ternate or Tidore, the spice-trading polities based on tiny volcanic islands off the Halmaheran coast (probably Ternate). Wwanin is an interesting one, though: it refers to the Onin Peninsula on the west coast of New Guinea south of MacCluer Gulf, and it must count as the earliest, or at least one of the earliest, recorded placename(s) in the history of the island. Waan must refer to the Banda Islands, by far the most important spice-producing archipelago in the world in the fourteenth century.
Ternate, Maluku Utara - a tiny round island with a large volcanic mountain at its centre. From the fifteenth century until the Dutch conquest it was a major regional power, and there's some evidence of significant Javanese and Malay influence (at least culturally). h/t A. Rabin.
      As I said before, Timur is Timor and Seran is Seram - no mysteries at all there. Why two totally separate and distant islands are mentioned together last is a mystery to me; they're nearly 900 kilometres apart. It might, however, indicate nothing more than the imperfect knowledge of a fourteenth-century Javanese Buddhist describing things he had never seen.

      So what does this stanza really tell us about the political authority of Majapahit outside Java? Did the Javanese really have an outpost as far east as New Guinea? What does 'remember their duty' mean? As one of the more contentious issues in the historiography of medieval Indonesia, I'd like to leave that for another time. There are sceptics, including famously C. C. Berg, who think/thought that these Javanese texts represented little more than magical/wishful thinking or exaggeration, and there are proponents of Greater Majapahit (including the Indonesian government) who think these references amount to a medieval antecedent of Indonesia. And then there are scholars who take a middle way. The evidence is necessarily inconclusive, naturally.

       You can find an Indonesian translation of the entire poem here, by the way. You can also find the Javanese text online, and while I don't know Old Javanese (I can sort of work out some meanings on comparative grounds, but I've never had any training in it), here's the original text (romanized):
ikaɳ saka sanusanusa makhasar butun / bangawi,
kunir ggaliyau mwan i salaya sumba solot / muar,
muwah tikhan i wandan ambwan athawa maloko wwanin,
ri seran i timur makadinin aneka nusatutur. 
 Andaya, L. 1993. World of Maluku. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Klamer, M. 2015. The Alor-Pantar languages: linguistic context, history and typology (Studies in Diversity Linguistics 3).  Berlin: Language Science Press.

You might also like:

The Kutai Inscriptions - an Introduction 

Mpu Prapanca and the Desawarnana 

Java and the Mongols in Medieval European Sources

European Primary Sources for Ancient Indonesia

Island SE Asian Geology and Volcanic Explosions

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