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Workshop on the Malay Diaspora

On next March 29-31, 2007, I am invited to attend an international workshop about the Malay world generally and the Malay diaspora specifically held by National University of Singapore (NUS). According to the coordinator, Prof. Dr. Husin Mutalib, this workshop is to deliberate on the possibility of publishing an Encyclopedia of the Malay Diaspora.

One of the objectives of the workshop which the Committee mentioned is to offer an easy and authoritative reference, in English, about the vast and dispersed groups of ethnic 'Malays' who are somewhat forgotten in writings about the 'Malays' of Southeast Asia (Nusantara) - such as the Bajau in Sabah, the Chams in Vietnam, the DKK Peranakan in Penang and Singapore, the indigenous groups in Brunei, etc.

Equally significant, if not more so, is the lesser-known 'Malay' minorities in places stretching from Funan to Surinam to Madagascar to Cape Town, Cocos Islands, Polynesian Islands, Patani in Thailand, Mindanao in Philippines, Perth and Liverpool, and many other regions in the world where Malay emigration has taken root but has not been much written about.

Since the word “Malay”, which will be used in the Encyclopedia, refers to an area called the “Archipelago” (Nusantara), the Encyclopedia will cover the dispersion of people, languages, cultures, etc. in this area.

In this term, it is good to highlight the dispersion and spreading Malay cultural heritages such as manuscripts written at least in 20 local languages. The discussion may cover the early writing tradition of these manuscripts, the authorship, the works produced since its beginning till this modern era, the spreading and using of the works in several regions in the world, and recent existence of those Malay manuscripts. As we know, these manuscripts are kept not only in areas included as “Malay world”, but also in some foreign institutions.

Regarding the manuscripts, it is also important to extend the term of “Malay manuscript” to include Arabic manuscripts written by Malay authors, since we could find this kind of works in a huge numbers. Besides, there is also a category of Arabic manuscripts should be included written by non-Malay authors, but the content relate to the Malay world.

One of the characteristics of Malay works, to differ with those in other areas, is that the works written in Jawi or Pegon scripts. Jawi script has played an important role in the development of the literary tradition among the Malay peoples. It is often considered as a means of first access to their literary tradition for people in this region. So, we may also include this issue in the Encyplopedia.

It was also via the Jawi script that the ‘Malays’ came into political contact with the larger Islamic community which had a literate tradition and by so doing arrived at the same level of other communities that had used Arabic script before them to write such as the Persians, Urdu speaking peoples in India, Turkey and peoples in Central Asia.

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