Gender, Islam and the Bugis Diaspora in Nineteenthand Twentieth-Century Riau
Barbara Watson Andaya
The importance of women in maintaining male status is a common theme in
academic studies of Bugis society. Presumably, these attitudes would have
been embedded in the culture that Bugis migrants brought to the Malay world
in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. On the island of Riau, which
became the center for Bugis influence in the kingdom of Johor and the larger
Malay world, intermarriage between Bugis and Malays meant these gender
imperatives were somewhat diluted. Nonetheless, the influence of women of
Bugis-Malay descent was still evident in Riau’s ruling circles in the early
nineteenth century. During this period, however, new formulations of gender
status began to penetrate Islamic society through the reformist and more fundamentalist
teachings of the Wahabi. The influence of these teachings, which
strengthened existing ambiguity towards the presence of women in public life,
are evident in the Tuhfat al-Nafis, the history of the Bugis diaspora written by
the great scholar Raja Ali Haji. By the end of the century, the place of well-born
women in Riau is less prominent than a hundred years earlier. However, by
examining literary and historical sources, this article argues that the environment
created on Pulau Penyengat still allowed women a space in which they
could write. A synchronic approach to their publications permits us to see how
the kinds of questions their works address shifted according to changing times
and the new issues raised by Western influence and ideas about ‘modernity’ in
the Muslim world.
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