AA Ken Forum/Global Mediterranean Workshop


Date / Time Thu 16 Nov 2023 15:30–17:00
Venue Large Conference Room 303 (ILCAA) + Online meeting
Registration is required. (deadline 22:00, 15 November
Language English without Japanese translation
Jointly sponsored by ILCAA; Globar Mediterranean at ILCAA
Contact gmed.ilcaa★gmail.com (Secretariat of the Global Mediterranean Project at ILCAA)
Please change ★ to @.


Ben Arps (Visiting Professor, ILCAA/ Professor, Leiden University)
“‘Their Journey Shall Not Be Described’: Places and Travel in the Javanese Amir Hamza Epic.”

Abstract:   Epic narration in the Malay and Java Sea worlds highlights encounters. Texts rarely devote more than a sentence or two to the travelling, frequent though it is, that enables these encounters and strings them together. Likewise, the settings of the encounters are depicted only minimally. The same goes for epic performance stages and manuscript illustrations: they feature few props and hardly any backgrounds, but do show people interacting. This sparsity and transparency in the narration of the places that the characters interact in and pass through helps to build an adaptable, accommodating, sense of area (space, if you will). This sense of area is the focus of my talk. The storyworld of the epic of Amir Hamza was an imagined Islamizing Afro-Eurasia that was portrayed as alien to audiences in Java but also, alternatively or simultaneously, familiar. Its perception changed with major information revolutions in the Indian Ocean, from the medieval Asian “age of commerce” to the current era of internet and social media. While remaining distant from the epic’s main arena of action, Java is the unstated vantage point. The design of performance spaces and manuscript illustrations turns out to be emblematic of a persistent (and theoretically illuminating) interpretive stance. Throughout the centuries, when Java-based narrators and audiences saw places and movements in a storyworld peopled with Arabs, Iranians, Abyssinians, Turks, Franks, Fairy, and so on, contemporary Java shone through in abundance.