A.C.S. Peacock and Annabe Teh Gallop (eds.), From Anatolia to Aceh. Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia. 2015, xvii + 348. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy. [Proceedings of the British Academy 200]. ISBN 9780197265819. Price: GBP 70.00 (hardback).
This volume grew out of the closing conference of the Islam, Trade, and Politics across the Indian Ocean research project, which ran between 2009 and 2013. Funded by the British Academy, it was jointly organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK (ASEASUK) and the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara (BIAA) under the direction of the volume editors. In fact, the project from which the book originates is itself part of a wider effort to stimulate the study of Acehnese history, which received a boost in the wake of the Tsunami disaster that hit Aceh on December 26, 2003. Among other things, this effort to increase academic attention to Achenese history led to the establishment of the International Centre for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies (ICAIOS), which—together with the State Islamic Institute (IAIN) al-Raniry—hosted the final conference in January 2012. The main title of the volume needs some qualification. As becomes clear from the project name and the subtitle, the focus of both the project and the resulting publication is evidently wider than the volume’s main title. While Aceh certainly holds centre stage, this book also features contributions on other parts of maritime Southeast Asia—including the still understudied region of the Southern Philippines. As for the western side of the project’s geographical focus, the more expansive Ottoman Empire is of greater importance than historical Asia Minor, which now—as Anatolia—forms the bulk of the territory of the Republic of Turkey.
In their introduction, the editors explain that one of the incentives for the project is the surprising lack of research on the relations between the Middle East and Southeast Asia within the context of ‘trajectories of interaction across the Muslim world’ (p. 3). In spite of the importance of this connection, in which the Indian Ocean has acted as the historical conduit, little has been published on the wider political and economic contexts of this relationship, except for some studies on the role of religion and the diaspora from the South Arabian region of the Hadhramaut (the Hadhramis) in this Indian Ocean network. An examination of contacts between the Sublime Porte and the Muslim Lands Below the Winds illustrates this ‘new “configuration of history” ’ that comes out of emerging fields of academic inquiry, such as Indian Ocean Studies, applying a research template inspired by the now classical work of Annales School historian Fernand Braudel on the maritime expanse encompassing the Mediterranean World and the Atlantic. One challenge for such a new specialization is linguistic in nature; not simply because of the volume of source materials in a vast array of languages, but also due to the way the academic study of non-Western cultures has become organized into area studies departments and programs, where experts too often remain locked in their respective silos. In the case of Ottoman history, this has led to a focus on relations with the rest of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, while the eastward orientation of the Ottomans towards the Indian Ocean has barely been addressed. It is collaborative efforts such as this ASEASUK-BIAA project and the resulting publication here under review that offer a way out of such limitations which hinder the advancement of global or world history.
As is highlighted in the second chapter by Anthony Reid, a veteran of Sumatran (in particular Acehnese) history, it appears that so far only two key periods of Ottoman-Southeast Asian relations have been investigated in some detail. These studies focus on attempts to establish diplomatic ties and military alliances in the sixteenth and late-nineteenth centuries. While there is also some evidence for contacts in the seventeenth century, little source material has been identified for the eighteenth century. Both Peacock and Gallop’s introduction and Reid’s survey of the Ottoman-Aceh connection further note the familiarity of Southeast Asian Muslim audiences with the Sultans of Rum, and even its predecessors from antiquity. However, as is further discussed in one of the later chapters on cultural interconnectivity, aside from some diplomatic sources, the evidence comes primarily from material that is literary in nature—dealing with images rather than ‘hard’ historical data. Apart from the mapping of Islamic networks connecting ulama or religious scholars across the Indian Ocean, information can also be pieced together from other snippets of data, including so-called silsilah, or chains of transmission of Sufi orders. Examples of these include Friday sermons mentioning the names of Muslim rulers (Ottoman Sultans) as collected in the path-breaking work by Elizabeth Lambourn on ‘khutbah networks’ (p. 13), and the presence of artistic motifs found in Southeast Asian Qurʾan manuscripts.
After Anthony Reid’s revisit of important work done by himself and a handful of other scholars in the 1960s that helped initiate the study of Ottoman-Southeast Asian relations, the remaining contributions to this volume are organized in three parts. They address politics and economics in the course of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries; developments in the nineteenth century—referred to as the ‘colonial era’, but which could have been more accurately entitled ‘age of high imperialism’; and a final part on cultural and intellectual influences.
Part I includes Jorge Alves’ discussion of the role played by Jewish and New Christian Networks in Aceh-Ottoman relations during the 1550s–1570s, and editor Andrew Peacock’s survey of seventeenth-century economic relations, which deals with both Ottoman imports from Southeast Asia (spices) and exports (carpets, horses, coffee) to that region, as well as a survey of the presence of Ottoman visitors and expatriates. It also contains an overview by Kathirithamby-Wells of the role played by the aforementioned Hadhramis through their involvement in Sufi orders, khutba networks, and pilgrim traffic, or as diplomatic emissaries and claimants of Ottoman protection against British and Dutch colonial authorities; as well as Isaac Donoso’s study of Ottomans contacts with the Sulu and Maguindanao Sultanates of the Southern Philippines. Unfortunately, this contribution is marred by excessively long direct quotes and equally lengthy and often redundant footnotes.
Of greater interest and quality is William Clarence-Smith’s study of the relations of the Philippines new American overlords with Ottoman emissaries between 1898 and 1919. Other contributions in Part II consist of the work by Turkish historians Ismail Hakki Kadi and Ismail Hakki Göksoy on diplomatic sources concerning appeals by Southeast Asian rulers to Ottoman protection. Especially the former’s searches in the Ottoman archives have not only been instrumental to the overall project in identifying documentary evidence that had hitherto been ignored or gone unnoticed, Kadi also makes a point of challenging the Eurocentric focus of studies conducted so far, which tended to concentrate on the supposedly ‘Pan-Islamist’ agenda of Sultan Abd al-Hamid II (r. 1876–1909) at the expense of earlier and wider appeals to Muslim solidarity. His investigations have focused on earlier nineteenth-century appeals from Kedah (1824), Riau, Jambi, and Aceh itself (1849–1872), which stimulated the Ottoman interest in Southeast Asia. The chapters by two other young promising historians, Amrita Malhi and Chiara Formichi, on British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies respectively, bring into the twentieth century the study of Southeast Asian interest in the Ottoman Empire as well as that of the contemporary Turkish Republic. Read together, they record a shift from a fascination with Ottoman Caliphal pretences to the vivid interest exhibited by anti-colonial activists in the achievements of Kemal Atatürk.
Part III offers diachronic examinations of Turkish and Turkic motifs in the traditional Malay literature by veteran Vladimir Braginsky, and of the role played by Ottoman-Era scholars. These examinations include the towering figure of Ibrahim al-Kurani (1616–1690), as well as a chapter on the elusive Baba Dawud al-Jawi al-Rumi, who was mentioned in the colophon of the Tarjuman al-Mustafid, Abd al-Raʾuf al-Singkili’s (1615–1693) first integral commentary in Malay on the Qurʾan. This penultimate chapter by Oman Fathurahman is followed by Ali Akbar’s beautifully illustrated contribution on Ottoman Qurʾans in Southeast Asia, which closes this richly textured volume that should provide stimulating reading for scholars from different academic disciplines with an interest in the early modern and modern Middle East and in Southeast Asia.