Philip H.J. Davies 2016

Forensic History, ‘Silsilah’ and the Martial Arts of the Dutch-Indonesian Diaspora


Abstract: The limited but growing scholarly literature on the Indonesian and Malay martial arts has frequently highlighted the notion of ‘silsilah’ in the establishment and propagation of the martial arts of the region. Glossed essentially as a historical narrative of a school or system that serves to explain its origin and indicate the authenticity by locating the art in a wider body of existing practice and precedent, silsilah can also been as  fusing the risks intrinsic to any oral history with those specific to a self-glorifying mythology.  This becomes especially acute when considering the assortment of arts brought to the West after 1949 by émigré Dutch-Indonesian Eurasians. A marginal and marginalised group to start with, the ‘Indo’ martial arts represent an entirely different order of eclecticism long sundered from the institutional and cultural setting in which the systems took shape. However, given the often acute concerns amongst Western practitioners about the relative authenticity of practices that require the investment of years or decades of study.  This paper will examine some of the social research methods than can, and have been, deployed to investigate the originary narratives of certain Indo schools and systems and the insights into those systems that can result.


Short biography: Professor Philip H.J. Davies is Director of the Brunel University Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies. Drawing on research techniques honed on the historical and conceptual investigation of traditionally secretive national security institutions, he has also contributed a number of academic pieces on the Indonesian and Malay martial arts tradition of kuntao in publications such as Journal of Asian Martial Arts (Vol.9 No.2 (February 2000)), Thomas Green and Joseph Svinth’s Martial Arts of the World: an Encyclopedia of History and Innovation (2010) and Michael DeMarco ed. Asian Martial Arts: Constructive Thoughts and Practical Applications (2012).