The formation of the Batu Aceh tradition in fifteenth century Samudera-Pasai




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Taylor & Francis



Peer reviewed



Indonesia is currently the largest Muslim nation in the world; however, the understanding of when and especially how, Islam first reached maritime Southeast Asia is still far from clear. Written sources are sparse and often unreliable, archaeology is still in its infancy and the physical conditions in any case are not favourable to material survival. This article contributes to this debate by highlighting rich but unexploited epigraphic material found in a Colonial period archive in the University of Leiden. The archive is an extensive photographic documentation of the Islamic cemeteries of Aceh in north Sumatra, the location of some of the earliest Muslim mercantile polities in the region. The article is the first publication of the group of earliest locally produced tombstones from the polity of Samudera-Pasai. The article provides readings of these early epitaphs as well as exploring their material, manufacture and design, and the insights these provide into the multiple cultural traditions active in the area at the time. The article breaks new grounds in seeing these tombstones not simply as text – the dominant approach since the 19th century - but as “whole objects” within which the epigraphic and material data hold equal importance. The research was funded by a grant from the Committee for South East Asian Studies (British Academy) and a Tweedie Exploration Fellowship from the University of Edinburgh; work was also done during a period as an Affiliated Fellow of the International Institute of Asian Studies (Leiden). This work is being further developed for a future book on the material culture of death in Islamic Southeast Asia.


RAE 2008, UoA 63 Art and Design


Lambourn, E. (2004) The formation of the Batu Aceh Tradition in Fifteenth Century Samudera-Pasai. Indonesia and the Malay World, 32(93), pp. 211-248.


Research Institute

Institute of History
Institute of Art and Design