Affirming rights over land and resources: Originals and authoritative
documents in the legal culture of the Malay Peninsula (c. 1780-c. 1910)
The progressive establishment of the British Straits settlements in the Malay Peninsula between 1786 and 1914 led to a multiplication of diplomatic relations and transactions. These brought about a range of documents like treaties of friendship, letters, and grants of authority, which displayed the legal practices and concepts that were articulated within the Malay culture, and became a part of it. The concept of original documents that were legally binding and had authoritative value was one of them.
This project focuses on the juridical culture of the Malay peninsula and its evolution in the long 19th century (c. 1780 – c . 1910) related to land use and ownership. Taking as a starting point the cosmopolitan juridical culture documented in the region prior to the 19th century, it will examine the material attributes of inscribed artefacts taken as authoritative and highly valued in the Malay-speaking world. The project will then consider how the concept of original, as understood historically by the British and the Dutch, has been brought to the region and how it has mingled with existing practices in the writing culture of the Malay world. The study will examine the form of diplomatic correspondence and land deeds in which elements clearly derive from the Malay and European writing cultures and see in which ways the material form of the manuscripts supports the authoritative function of the documents.