Seminar: Malay Identity in Crisis?



Seminar-cum-Book Launch of the 2016 edition of Anthony Milner’s classic,
“Kerajaan: Malay Political Culture on the Eve of Colonial Rule”
(Petaling Jaya: SIRD, 2016/1982)


About the Seminar

Malay politics today frequently provokes surprise (and often criticism) – and yet tends to be discussed in an historical and cultural vacuum. History, when cited at all, usually begins in 1946 – when Malay nationalism took effective form in reaction to the threat posed by the British proposal for a Malayan Union. The term ‘nationalism’, however, fails to capture the different levels of Malay political experience – and the degree of ideological contest taking place in Malay society. What traditionally motivated Malay communities politically was the sense of being part of a ‘kerajaan’ – a kingdom focused sharply on personal allegiance to a ruler. Elements of the old political culture remain influential today, including in UMNO politics, and today’s Rulers – descendants of the pre-colonial rajas – continue to engage in political contest.

How can we best investigate Malay political thinking in earlier times? In what ways does the Malay political heritage help us to appreciate contemporary issues concerning Malay identity, politics and unity – or the lack thereof?

About the Book

“Kerajaan is a classic in Malaysian studies because of its theoretical and empirical elaboration of the state and content of traditional kerajaan Melayu – an elaboration based on hikayat Melayu and dealing with that period in history when European powers began to reshape Malay polities through the colonial ‘define and rule’ approach. For anyone who wants to begin to make sense of contemporary Malay politics, especially the role of the Malay royalties and their socio-historical roots, Milner’s Kerajaan is a must read.”

— Shamsul A.B. (Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; and member of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute’s International Advisory Panel (from the foreword to the 2016 edition)

About the Author

Anthony Milner is Visiting Professor at the Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya and Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. In 2014–2015 he was the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia; in 2002 he was Raffles Visiting Professor in the Department of History, NUS. As Basham Chair of Asian History at the Australian National University – apart from producing a series of publications on regional relations – he has written widely on Malay and Malaysian history. His books include The Invention of Politics in Colonial Malaya (1995, 2002), The Malays (2008, 2012) and (as co-author) Transforming Malaysia (2014).

About the Discussant

Sher Banu is Assistant Professor at the Malay Studies Department, National University of Singapore. Her research expertise is on the Malay world and Southeast Asia in general in the early modern period focusing on history, gender studies and Islam. She has published in numerous journals and chapters in books amongst which are “Ties that Unbind: the Botched Aceh-VOC Alliance for the conquest of Melaka 1640-1641”, Indonesia and the Malay World, vol. 38, no.111, July, 2010; “What Happened to Syaiful Rijal?” in Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde, April, 2011;  and “Men of Prowess and Women of Piety: The Rule of Sultanah Safiatuddin Syah of Aceh 1641-1675” in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 44, no.2, June 2013. Her forthcoming book, Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom: The Sultanahs of Aceh, 1641−1699, will be published by NUS Press in 2017.


To register, please fill in this form and email to by 7 November 2016.


Nov 08 2016


3:30 pm - 5:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2