Asian and Islamic crossings: Malay writing in nineteenth-century Sri Lanka

Ronit Ricci*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This essay explores how a small diasporic Muslim community in the colonial era-known today as the Sri Lankan Malays-maintained its culture through the preservation of language, the transmission of literary and religious texts, the cultivation of genres and of a script. Beginning in the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) used the island of Ceylon as a site of banishment for those considered rebels in the regions under Company control in the Indonesian archipelago. Criminals from these territories were also sent to Ceylon, as were native troops who served in the Dutch army, and others employed in various capacities. After their takeover of the island in 1796, the British too brought to Ceylon colonial subjects from the archipelago and the Malay Peninsula, primarily to serve in their military. I examine issues of cultural encounter and religious developments through an analysis of a Malay manuscript written in Colombo in the early years of the nineteenth century. I emphasize the referencing of titles and names as well as the texts multilingual character. Through this discussion I question the notion of distinctly defined centres and margins as they pertain to the Sri Lankan Malays-situated physically and figuratively between the Malay and Arab worlds-and suggest that crossroads, connections and movement are more appropriate conceptual categories for considering their case.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)179-194
Number of pages16
JournalSouth Asian History and Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I wish to express my gratitude to B.D.K. Saldin for allowing me access to the Malay Compendium. I thank professor Tony H. Johns for his suggestions, and for patiently and generously discussing with me many of the Arabic and Malay texts I mention above. I thank Neilesh Bose and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and insightful comments on an earlier version of this article; the British Library’s Endangered Archives Program for funding the manuscript documentation project (EAP 450) on which this research is based; and the Australian Research Council for supporting the writing of this article through a Distinguished Early Career Research Award.


  • Dutch Southeast Asia
  • Malay and Arab Islam
  • MalayS.i Lankan Malays
  • manuscripts


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