Potsherds, Texts, and Singapore’s Role in Southeast Asian Maritime Culture

with Professor John N. Miksic

Temasek, renamed Singapore by Sri Tri Buana according to the Sululatus’ Sulatin (Malay Annals/Sejarah Melayu/SM), was an ancient pirate lair, but at the same time was a kingdom which exchanged ambassadors with China. O.W. Wolters, a renowned historian, concluded that the Singapore episode in the SM was a fiction concocted to conceal the subjugation of Palembang by Jambi. Archaeological research since 1984 has shown that the SM’s depiction of precolonial Singapore was not completely false. Singapore was not the first great Malay port, but for a period of 300 years, from 1300 to 1600, it was a prosperous settlement with local industries. Archaeology shows that Singapore had three roles in the 14th through 16th centuries: a regional centre of economic activity; a link between the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea, and the Java Sea; and a part of a larger empire. Temasek/Singapura successfully balanced these roles until 1600, when the island was almost completely abandoned. In Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, I tell this story, and also show how the revival of the ancient port in the 19th century was based on belief in the truthfulness of the SM.

About the Speaker:
Dr John N. Miksic is Associate Professor in the Southeast Asian Studies Department, National University of Singapore, and head of the Archaeology Unit at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He spent four years in Malaysia (1968-72) as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He received his PhD from Cornell University based on fieldwork in Sumatra.

He worked as a Rural Development Advisor in Bengkulu, Sumatra from 1979 to 1981. From 1981-7 he taught archaeology at Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia. In 1987 he moved to the National University of Singapore. He first taught in the Department of History; in 1991 he joined the Southeast Asian Studies Programme. He has served on the board of the Center for Khmer Studies, a member of the Consortium for American Overseas Research Centers, since 2000. He is an academic adviser to SEAMEO-SPAFA (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Sub-Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts), Bangkok. He has received the Special Recognition Award from the Ministry of Information, Communication, and the Arts, and the Pingat Bakti Setia from Singapore, and the title of Kanjeng Raden Haryo Temenggung by the Susuhunan of Surakarta (Indonesia).

7.00pm, 19 Dec 2013

Imagination room, National Library