"Inhabitants of Malacca, the best speakers, the most polite and the most amorous of the East Indies. Inhabitants of Java, who are hard-headed and obstinate. "
This is the first of a series of three posts.
This is a copper engraving by dutch trader, artist and cartographer; Jan van Linschoten.
This is one of the earliest illustrations of people and costumes of South East Asia I have found so far. Malays on the left, Javanese on the right.
The deal with Jan, is that, in the 1580s he was working for the Archbishop of Goa, then a colony of the Portuguese, in fact of the Europeans, only the Portuguese had explored much of Asia.
During his stint, Jan copied all the notes, maps and secret information about commerce and trade-ways that the Portuguese has amassed.
He eventually published a book- Itinerario with all these valuable trade secrets in addition to his own notes about Goa, which then helped the Dutch and the British to navigate their way into South East Asia, dislodging the Portuguese trade monopoly.
There does not seem to be any records of Jan having travelled to South East Asia so most likely these accounts and visuals would have been made by other Portuguese sailors or from Malay/Javanese sailors going to Goa.
I would like to point out the depiction of the differences of the depictions, the Javanese are portrayed with more derision and condescension.
Probably because Portuguese efforts to expand into Java were rebuffed and they never gained a foothold on Java itself. Portuguese would be more familiar with Malays since they would have since close to a century of colonizing Malacca.
The unfamiliarity would probably explain the western looking hilt on the dagger on the Javanese, the hilt on the Malay is closer to what a keris hilt might look like.
And while Javanese men could likely to be bare chested, the loin cloth style seems a bit dubious (unless he is a labourer who has drawn his sarong up to work, but a little weird to have a dagger behind as a farmer) .
Some details seem to be quite accurate depictions though, the differences of how the keris is worn is one of the characteristics identifying the Malays from the Javanese(source)
The Malays would wear the keris in front (these are Aceh warriors but would be considered part of the Malay world)
This would be how the Javanese would wear kerises, usually at the back
The attire of the Malay woman seems quite recognizable as , note the depictions of the motifs on the textiles, which should be Batik. A sash across the torso is very common in older photos. (Badrul below commented that the sash is a Songket, but when worn that way, is called a Selempang. Thanks Badrul!) I do not recognize the hat as culturally specific, possibly a conical straw hat?
Baju kurungs are more popular in Sumatra, but the Javanese woman is also wearing something similar instead of possibly a kebaya/ bare chested or sarong to chest height. Another example of why I would find the depictions of Javanese a bit dubious.
And moving to the Malay man! The actual reason for these series of posts. To be continued to the next post!