Jan van der Putten studied Indonesian literature and culture at the Department Languages and Cultures of Southeast Asia and Oceania. Before taking up the position in Hamburg he has taught at the University of Leiden and at the Department of Malay Studies at the National University of Singapore. He is affiliated with the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) in Hamburg where he heads several research projects and he is one of the Primary Investigators of the Digital Repositories of Endangered and Affected Manuscripts in Southeast Asia (DREAMSEA) Programme, funded by Arcadia for the period of five years (2017-2022).
Summary of Project:
Malay Identity on the move
The study will focus on various constructions of Malay identity as constructed and propagated by local, transregional as well as transnational agencies in the province Kepri (Island Riau), and how the local population uses or adheres to these or parts of these constructions to formulate their own identity in everyday life. Local governmental departments on different levels in the administration have been putting much effort and funds into organising a great number of art festivals to celebrate local artistic forms and set up programmes to disseminate the art forms among the population, e.g. in October-November 2017 at least five large-scale events were organised in the region. Local agencies seem quite successful in stimulating a younger generation to adopt a rather specific local Malay cultural identity through the programmes in schools, youth clubs and other youth organisations.
A number of transregional and transnational agencies are also informing and directing the formation of Malayness in Kepri, such as the Malaysian-based Dunia Melayu Dunia Islam (DMDI; Malay World – Islamic World) and a globally-active Islamic gold dinar movement which aims to counter excesses of capitalism (Dinar-Dirham Movement). Both organisations emphasise pious Muslim characteristics within the definitions of Malayness. Furthermore, decentralisation in Indonesia also stimulated a number of groups, mainly Indonesia but with Malaysian connections, to reinstate traditional rulers in certain cultural functions such as strengthening a traditional local identity and acting as the regional religious/Islamic leader (imam). In Riau this resulted in the inauguration of a new Sultan of Bintan who is introducing religious teachings directed towards youngsters to adhere to certain strict Islamic rules but also not renounce economic realities. The officeholder has opened a market place where goods can be exchanged using Islamic currency distributed after Friday prayers. These efforts are part of transnational Dinar-Dirham movement active in certain regions of Southeast Asia, such as Kelantan, Ternate, Medan, and Aceh.
In this project we want to explore how the formation of Malay identity is being constructed and defined by these organisations, traditional cultural productions, the regional government and the movement of peoples, either across borders or within the nation-state of Indonesia. How do local inhabitants of the region view themselves? Is there a difference between locally born people with people who have migrated from other parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore? Which local organisations are active in the identity formation and with what effects? What motivations do people have to adopt a form of a ‘Kepri identity’ above a broader Malay (transnational) identity, or a national identity? Can these actually be differentiated or is there little difference between in- and/or outsiders for the people? How do they see the Malay people in Singapore and Malaysia and vice versa?