Murdering Mangir

Literature and Memories of Violence in Islamic Java

In: Philological Encounters
Verena Hanna Meyer MF Norwegian School of Theology Religion and Society: MF vitenskapelig hoyskole Oslo Norway

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Contemporary Javanese Islam is often imagined as unusually peaceful, the result of an allegedly conflict-free early history populated by Sufis and saints. Yet not all of Java’s Islamic history is peaceful, and neither were violent historic episodes always marginalized by historians and writers. This article discusses two literary accounts of a murder that happened in the early years of Mataram, the dynasty that facilitated widespread Islamization. Their two authors—Raden Ngabehi Suradipura and Pramoedya Ananta Toer—used the story as a familiar allegory to process their own experiences of violence and oppression in the colonial and postcolonial state. Belying normative visions of a teleology of peace, they present theo-political imaginaries in which violence is accepted in the cultivation of virtue and the creation—or aspirational creation—of a just polity. Through their literary work, these writers expressed their complex positionalities as they made sense of oppressive regimes, the political role of Islamic beliefs, and the normative content of history.

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