So what makes Prabhakaran and the LTTE meaningful, beyond their obvious significance to the Ceylon Tamils of Malaysia, to the wider group of Malaysian Tamils. Is it that the Tigers said NO to abject racial discrimination and marginalization? Is it because they fought as Tamil nationalists and triumphed against incredible odds. Is it because they carved an autonomous Tamil domain out of the Sinhala state? Is it because they did this, ultimately, without the patronage of colonial or neo-colonial masters? Is it because they created a short but impactful ‘Elam‘ era in modern history? Whatever it is that is so appealing, it all ended with their defeat in 2009
So why do some Indian Tamils and Diaspora Tamils still have such a passion for the after-image of a long vanished LTTE, when the Sri Lankan Tamils have themselves moved on and are looking for new political solutions to the desperate situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka. The one word answer is Maanam. Or in Bahasa Melayu … Maruah. Yes, pride or dignity or that great Asian tradition of giving or saving ‘face.’ That’s what, and perhaps, this is all, the LTTE and their leader Prabhakaran mean to the global Tamil diaspora today. This Maanam is connected with many complex issues issues that were central to the lost Elam regime – issues of caste abolishment, Dravidianism, socialism, feminism and ethno-nationalism. Some of these issues are powerful currency in the vibrant and emotional political theatre of the Tamil motherland, Tamil Nadu. Charismatic figures like Senthamizhan Semaan, whose party Naam Tamilar Katchi plays on deeply ethnocentric themes, exploit and revivify the symbolism of the defunct LTTE. This brings us to the Malaysian connection. Malaysian Tamils of Indian origin seem to have invested in LTTE symbols as a means to uplift their Maanam in the face of Malaysian communalism. The Indians are without doubt amongst the losers in the Malaysian social arrangement. It is in this light that I, from the perspective of a Jaffna Tamil, see the wider Malaysian Indian communities’ passionate and heartfelt engagement with symbols and the cause of Elam.
Tomorrow, on 29 december, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur will give its decision on whether to allow the bail application of Gadek state assemblyman, G Saminathan, one of the 12 detainees charged with LTTE involvement and detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. The LTTE has was defined as a terrorist outfit under Malaysia law in 2014. It is reasonable to understand this definition as applying to participants in the organization before its demise who are still at large. In fact, there have been a few arrests of such alleged LTTE members in Malaysia before and after 2014. If it can not be shown that the LTTE terrorist organization continues to exist or that it is presently being revived, those caught in possession of LTTE symbols, those caught in acts of LTTE commemoration, and those caught in the act of distributing LTTE symbols can not not rightly be deemed to be engaging with terror related activities. They are more appropriately seen as being engaged in the remembrance of symbols associated with a historical organization that has been associated with terrorism. Such actors are more appropriately understood as being involved with the myth of the LTTE, the dream of Thamil Elam and the quest for Maanam at home, not a mission of terrorism.
In the course of developing my Kaza Nunteng Porta series of the Koboi Project, I have acquired a small ( 17cm tall) Icon of St. Francis Xavier. It is a polychromed wood carving believed to be of the early 20th Century from Goa. According the reputable seller, Church Antiques, it came from the collection of the previous Bishop of London (the Rt Revd Richard Chartres KCVO). The hands are missing. This seems quite common in these wooden figures of St. Francis whose hands are delicate, sometimes carved separately and attached, and easily broken off. It is notable however that the missing hands of the figure echo a deeply symbolic aspect of the Saint’s hagiography.
St. Xavier, who was one of the founders of the Jesuit Order in 1943, spent the last 15 years of his life as a missionary in Asia. He died in China 1552 and his body was moved to St. Paul’s Church in Malacca where it was buried for 9 months. When it was disinterred to be moved to a permanent tomb in Goa in 1614 the corpse had not decayed. It was deemed divinely incorrupt by the Catholic Church and his arm, which is said to have baptized 100,000 people in Asia, was removed and placed in a silver reliquary in Rome. According to Stephen Young, it is said that when a statue of St. Francis was erected in front of the ruins of St. Paul’s Church in 1952, a large tree branch is said to have fallen on it, breaking off its right arm.
Did you know that the Portuguese still occupy Malacca! The Girls from Sara Frederica Santa Maria’s Troupe de Santa Maria hold the open air stage after their their sound check at Encore Melaka (5-7July 2019).
Did you know that the Portuguese still occupy Malacca! The Boys from Sara Frederica Santa Maria’s Troupe de Santa Maria hold the open air stage after their their sound check at Encore Melaka (5-7July 2019).
A terrific discovery for the Koboi Project – a photograph from the 3rd October, 1902 inauguration of the monument to Afonso de Albuquerque, the second governor of Portuguese India, in the D. Fernando Square, Belem. (renamed for Afonso de Albuquerque following the republican revolution of 1910) This square is located in front of 18th-century Belém Royal Palace. The delight of this image of the preparations for the arrival of King D. Carlos and the Royal Family for the ceremony is that it is shot from the same point of view as the images of the Kaza Nunteng Porta series highlighting the ‘The fall of Malacca’ relief. The other 3 three reliefs represent the ‘The Delivery of the keys of Goa,’ ‘The Reception of the Ambassador of the King of Narcinga’ and ‘The defeat of the army of the king of Hormuz.’
This is a patinated plaster maquette for the bronze statue of the Afonso Albuquerque memorial by Antonio Augusto da Costa Motta exhibited at the Gulbenkian Museum. It stands beside the model for the column of the monument. This was a wonderful discovery, as the memorial, which was completed in 1901, is so tall that one cant fully appreciate the details of the figure from the ground.
This painting is a part of a set by Andre Reinoso (and his collaborators) which is displayed in the sacristy of the Church of Sao Roque in Lisbon. It portrays the historical event (in the Portuguese record) of the invasion of Malacca by Achenese pirates in 1547. Saint Francis Xavier, who was there at the time, is shown praying for Portuguese troops to repulse the invasion. The scene involves a multitude of Achenese fighters (pirates or otherwise!) holding their flags and trying to attack the Portuguese citadel! It is noted in the descriptive panel for this set of paintings that it was commissioned according to a clear iconographic programme designed by the Jesuits of Portugal in order to promote the canonization of the Saint. The paintings were installed in 1619 and and st Francis Xavier was canonized in 1622. This image is titled. ‘St. Francis Xavier tries to halt the invasion of Achenese pirates in Malacca.’ It is the Malacca Malacca evoked by Fausto (after Fernao Mendes Pinto) in his song A Guerra e a Guerra
A Praça Afonso de Albuquerque está localizada próxima ao Palácio de Belém, em Lisboa. Ela celebra Afonso de Albuquerque, o segundo Governador do Estado da Índia e conquistador de Malaca. No centro da praça há um monumento imponente, concluído em 1902, com quatro baixos relevos no pedestal, um deles representando a queda de Malaca. Não muito longe desta praça, o colossal Padrão dos Descobrimentos comemora a aventura e poder marítimo dos portugueses. Construído como estrutura temporária para a Exposição do Mundo Português de 1940, se tornou um monumento permanente em 1960.
Afonso de Albuquerque square is located close to the Belém Palace in Lisbon. It commemorates Afonso de Albuquerque, the Second Governor of Portuguese India and the conqueror of Melaka. At the centre of the square is an impressive monument completed in 1902 with four reliefs on the pedestal, one of which represents the fall of Malacca. Not far from this square is the gargantuan Monument to the Discoveries which celebrates Portuguese marine adventure and power. Built as a temporary structure for the Portuguese World exhibition of 1940, it was realized as a permanent monument in 1960.
So what is the significance of Malaca (Portuguese), or Malacca (English) or, indeed, Melaka (Bahasa Melayu)? Founded around the 1400 by Raja Parameswara, later known as Raja Iskandar Shah, the Melaka Sultanate rose to the height of its power towards the end of the 15th Century. At this time, the Melaka suzerainty extended over most of the Malay Peninsula, the Riau Islands and parts of the Eastern coast of Sumatra. The port of Melaka, strategically located, as it is, at the mid-point of the Straits of Melaka, became one of the most important trading ports in the world. Melaka’s place in the geo-political paradigm of the day was exemplified in the oft-cited line by Portuguese explorer and apothecary Tomé Pires, “Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice” – Venice being Europe’s centre of global trade.
While the Portuguese attained this prize in 1511, they killed the golden goose, so to speak! Other trading centers like Acheh, Banten, Bandjarmasin and Brunei arose in the Malay Archipelago and displaced the now Portuguese-controlled Melaka which was unenterprising and decidedly antagonistic to Muslim traders. Melaka never regained its place as the port of choice in the Straits of Melaka during the Colonial era. The British chose to develop Penang and Singapore and given Singapore’s astronomical ascendancy in the post-colonial era (Singapore was according to 2017 statistics the 2nd busiest port in the world), as well as Malaysia’s own development of Ports in Kelang, Johor, Tanjung Pelepas, Kuantan, Penang, Bintulu and Kemaman; Melaka has had to accept its status as a glorious historical relic of the past.