Sonorites pour adoucir le souci: Poesie traditionnelle de l'archipel malais.
The translations are flanked on one side by a useful introduction, and on the other by comprehensive notes and a bibliography. (To the bibliography should be added: Southeast Asian Languages and Literatures, ed. E. Ulrich Kratz, London, 1996, pp. 122-32, 241-308; and the works of V. I. Braginskii, especially The System of Classical Malay Literature, Leiden, 1993.) The introduction uses the works of earlier malayologues as a springboard for a more nuanced appreciation of the material. Voisset laments the paucity of French scholarship on the region but notes exceptions in Chambert-Loir and Lombard.
In analyzing the poetry, Voisset notes the confluence of three civilizations: Nusantara (Malay for "archipelago"), India (Hindu, Buddhist, Indo-Iranian, Javanese), and Islam (Arabic, Persian, Indian). Thus, the "Ken Tambuhan Epic," for example, is a rewriting of the Ramayana. The fact of competing models did not, however, lead to dilution or alienation in the literature. Instead - assimilating the influences epitomized for Winstedt by the figures of the Shaman, the Brahman, and the Sufi - Malay literature reworked outre-mer myths into a new mythopoesis. This is how the garuda, for instance, is - and simultaneously is not - both Vishnu's mount and the roc of the Arabian Nights. With the arrival of the latest in a series of Indian-Oceanic visitors, the Dutch, new myths developed (e.g., the Hang Tuah cycle).
Malay mythopoetics depended largely, for Lombard, on Travel and Journey. This is to be expected from a language eighteenth-century Europeans called the Latin of the Orient, and which the Malays themselves called bahasa pesisir, "coastal language." But Voisset notes several other important characteristics: Malay literature is deeply suffused with Sufi-mystical imagery; it emerges both from the court (literate) and the coast (oral); it reflects and sustains an all-pervasive feudalism; and it exhibits "a remarkable absence of the poetic I."
No one extract is, or can be, typical of either the original or the translator, but - following Voisset's criteria, "le plaisir des textes" and "promenade-decouverte" - here is a verse from the fairy-tale-like Syair Bidasari: "Un chanteur entame La fleur qui me tient / A la douce harmonie et aux accents anciens, / Les nobles mains frappent les tambourins. / Les trompettes apportent leur plaintes."
Sonorites's handsome cover, featuring an exquisite ivory-handled silver kris, is the foretaste of a delightful (and laudably affordable) collection.
Shawkat M. Toorawa University of Mauritius
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|Author:||Toorawa, Shawkat M.|
|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
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