the interview

Andrew Peacock

University of St Andrews

Scholar Interview

Langkawi

6 AUG 19

Can you tell us a bit about your background, your qualifications, affiliations?

I’m a professor of Middle Eastern and islamic history at University of St Andrews. I studied Arabic and Persian at Oxford as an undergraduate and then I did a PhD at Cambridge in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies there. I subsequently lived and worked in Turkey for five years as assistant director of the British Institute of Ankara. I’ve also been a visiting professor at the University of Malaya, Department of History.  

One common question is the interactions the Ottoman empire may have had with Melaka.

The Ottoman’s  main interactions  in Southeast Asia were  with Aceh rather than Melaka.  This is because the Ottomans only become a major power with interest in the Indian Ocean region after the fall of Melaka, after it’s been taken over by the Portuguese. So they subsequently developed this alliance with Aceh and as part of that, there is a joint attempt between the Achehnese, supported by some ships from the Ottoman Red Sea Fleet, to recapture Melaka in the middle of the sixteenth century. But on the whole the Ottoman sources are not particularly aware of Melaka with a couple of exceptions from the 1520s. When the Ottoman commander of the Red Sea Fleet sent a memo to Istanbul advising his superiors there about Portuguese conquests in the Indian Ocean region including Melaka and urging them to help remove the Portuguese. So this does then become Ottoman policy but because Melaka is under Portuguese control there aren’t very many references directly to Melaka. There are more to the Ottoman relationship with Aceh, because Aceh sent them repeated embassies.

Profile

Prof. Andrew Peacock is a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic History. He studied Oriental Studies at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and has held positions in Cambridge, Ankara, and as Visiting Professor in the Department of History, University of Malaya (2017-2018).

Teaching and Research Interests

Medieval and early modern Middle Eastern and Islamic history, especially the history of Iran, Anatolia, the Caucasus and Central Asia up to the seventeenth century; Arabic and Persian historiography and manuscripts; history of the Indian Ocean region.

Current Research Projects

Dr Peacock is Principal Investigator of two major externally funded research projects, Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean (co-director with Dr Annabel Teh Gallop), funded by the British Academy over 2009-2012 (www.ottomansoutheastasia.org); and The Islamisation of Anatolia, c. 1100-1500, funded by the European Research Council over 2012-2016.(www.islam-anatolia.ac.uk)

Are there any documents at all from the Middle East about Melaka?

There  certainly are  documents from Middle East  about Melaka. The main contemporary documents discussing Melaka are the treatises written by Arab navigators Ahmad ibn Majid and Sulayman al-Mahri in the late 15th and early 16thcentury. And these are mainly concerned to show Arab sailors how to reach Melaka. The development of these sort of treatise seems to be a new development in the 15th century and probably reflects the shifting trade routes and in fact the rise the prominent of Melaka, because Ahmad ibn Majid for example specifically tells us that he’s aware of some older sources, older some treatises which discuss routes of Southeast Asia but he says they’re no longer any use because the places they discussed no longer exist. So the development of this Arab navigational literature in the 15th century which discussed its route to Melaka seems to reflect partly its rise in prominence in that period. 

Apart from those, are there any other documents which Malaysians today might find of interest from that period?

Yes, we also  have a number of documents in Persian. There are some references to Melaka in late sixteenth century Persian texts which discusses Southeast Asia called the  Jami‘ al-Barr wa’l-Bahr, which was composed in South India and that talks about Melaka as this great trade emporium, the gateway to China, and it remarks on its fall to the Franks. But it also comments the Franks (ie the Europeans) now have control over its trade so it’s a less interesting place for Muslims to go to. And we also have documents written shortly after the Portuguese conquest  of Melaka by a member of the Portuguese administration. Now he wrote it in Persian. Persian was sometimes used by the Portuguese in Asia as a way of communicating with their subjects. So he seems to have been an Asian subject of the Portuguese who held a position in the Portuguese administration. And he talks about the conquest of Melaka by Albuquerque and the Portuguese administration in the first year after the conquest and he gives a very detailed picture of the infighting, corruption, social and economical and  political situation in Melaka in the period and also the court of Mahmud Shah in Bentan. 

That’s really interesting. Is that well-known? 

It isn’t very well-known. Some parts of it have been published but it hasn’t been thoroughly edited yet. It’s preserved in the Portuguese National Archive in Lisbon, the Torre do Tombo. So the documents about Melaka in the languages of the Islamic world tend to be scattered around  lots of different locations. So we have, for example, this document that I just mentioned which is in Lisbon; obviously the Arabic Navigational treatises – there are manuscripts of them which are scattered around various libraries in the Middle East, in Europe. Perhaps the most important of these from the point of view of the interest in Melaka is actually preserved in St Petersburg in Russia, which is a poem by Ahmad ibn Majid specifically discussing the route to Melaka so it’s called al-Ma’laqiyya, the poem on Melaka. And then as I mentioned there are these couple of brief references in the Turkish sources as well from the 1520’s. 

Amazing.  You mentioned earlier you’ve got a book coming out later this year.

Yes, that’s right. So the book which is co-authored with a Turkish colleague under various other specialists is a compilation of all the documents in the Ottoman archives about Southeast Asia from the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century.  And it includes the original documents along with an English translation to make them accessible to everyone. Because they are written in a wide variety of different languages. So basically you have two types of documents in the Ottoman archives; we have documents sent from Southeast Asia in particular by Southeast Asia rulers asking the Ottoman for help and this tend to be in Malay and Arabic, and there are few in other languages such as Tausug and so on. And the other class of documents is basically the Ottoman responses to these, so the internal Ottoman discussions how to deal with Southeast Asian requests, how the foreign ministry and the bureaucracy reacted to being asked to intervene in this distant parts of the Muslim world. So it gives us another angle on the interactions between Southeast Asia and the Ottoman empire. 

In Malaysia we’ve had academics speak of the possibility of there being tons of documents sitting in Istanbul, Turkey, the  Middle East, possibly India as well, relevant to the story of Hang Tuah and the Melaka Sultanate. What are your views on that possibility?

I think it’s unlikely, to be frank. Certainly in our research in the Ottoman Archives we didn’t discover anything about Hang Tuah. We did a very comprehensive search, of course these archives aren’t very well catalogued so it’s possible that subsequent research may discover new documents. But I don’t think there is vast massive information about Melaka Sultanate or about Hang Tuah hidden in the archives waiting to be discovered, because in general these aren’t the sort of subjects that the sources kept in the archives are interested in discussing. They tend to be very much bureaucratic communications and even for example Aceh – whilst we have quite a lot of documentations  about Ottoman linked with Aceh, they tell us about the diplomatic link between the Ottoman and Aceh as the source for the history of the Acehnese Sultanate itself.

They are not really very useful on the internal working of Aceh just from looking at those sources. So of course it would be nice to think there are new sources to be discovered and of course there are plenty of libraries and archives which are inadequately researched and inadequately catalogued, so there is a possibility of new documentation coming to light. But my suspicion is that it’s unlikely to shed much light on the questions of the Melaka Sultanate and Hang Tuah if it does. And certainly I think with regard to the Turkish archives, there isn’t that much more which is going to come out. 

Amazing.  You mentioned earlier you’ve got a book coming out later this year.

Yes, that’s right. So the book which is co-authored with a Turkish colleague under various other specialists is a compilation of all the documents in the Ottoman archives about Southeast Asia from the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century.  And it includes the original documents along with an English translation to make them accessible to everyone. Because they are written in a wide variety of different languages. So basically you have two types of documents in the Ottoman archives; we have documents sent from Southeast Asia in particular by Southeast Asia rulers asking the Ottoman for help and this tend to be in Malay and Arabic, and there are few in other languages such as Tausug and so on. And the other class of documents is basically the Ottoman responses to these, so the internal Ottoman discussions how to deal with Southeast Asian requests, how the foreign ministry and the bureaucracy reacted to being asked to intervene in this distant parts of the Muslim world. So it gives us another angle on the interactions between Southeast Asia and the Ottoman empire. 

And when you said you studied the documents quite comprehensively, how many years?

We spent ten years discovering and editing and translating the documents. 

Al-hawiya, a navigation manual for the Indian Ocean by Ahmad bin Majid c.1438-1500

Is it true that there are millions of documents there which has yet not  been looked at by researchers?

It is true that the Ottoman Archives are extremely large and contain a large number of documents and of course they haven’t all been investigated very thoroughly. But I suspect most of the documents which have not been looked up are not necessarily those relevant to Southeast Asia. So there may well be more things to be discovered about Ottoman interactions with Europe and Iran for example. And it’s also possible there is a chance of discovery of individual documents. But I don’t think there is a huge cache of material relevant to Southeast Asia that hasn’t yet been investigated

Thank you Prof. Peacock

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