Muharram practices and colonial histories at the cutting edge of a forgotten scroll by Julia Byl and David Lunn, 16/11/2017, IIAS, Leiden
The Syair Tabut, or ‘Poem of the tomb effigies’, is a recently rediscovered Malay-language, Jawi-script narrative poem on Muharram in 1864. In this talk, we explore the literary, linguistic, and performative aspects of the syair, focusing on what it reveals to us about cultural and religious linkages between and around South and Southeast Asia in the 19th century.
This hybrid lithograph/manuscript scroll offers a wealth of details on the practice of Muharram in the region, and contains in its stanzas direct evidence of linguistic and cultural exchange between the various communities that populated the region in that period.
We introduce the poem and its author, Encik Ali, using excerpts from our recent translation that range through colourful costumes and petty vandalism, fervent devotion and violinists intoxicated by their own music. Through this reading, we demonstrate how an engagement with the poem’s nuances opens up a window onto histories of performance, language, and inter-communal interactions in the context of colonial-era contestations over public religiosity.
Julia Byl is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Alberta. Her research interests have centered around musical performance in north Sumatra, and have recently spread to the broader Malay world and to East Timor, where she is beginning a study of music, the individual and the institution.
David Lunn is the Simon Digby Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His research interests span the literary, cultural, and intellectual history of modern South and, increasingly, Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on the politics of language.