Closing Remarks at ‘The Malay World: Connecting the Past to the Present’

Fourth International Conference of the International Council for Historical and Cultural Cooperation – Southeast Asia and the 2017 Philippine Historical Association Annual Conference, 15 September 2017 | DLSU

Historical thinking is always a retrospective looking back, ‘a retroactive mode of thought’ that is really a thinking of the contemporary, of the now – ‘conducted in order to elucidate the present as much as to illuminate the past in its historicity’ (Kear 2013). My PhD supervisor Adrian Kear talks about this ‘as a performative historiography [that brings] about that which it appears to represent’, such that historical thinking itself plays ‘a constitutive role in the construction of the event[s]’ of the past. You might say this is a process of historicization as expounded in yesterday’s keynote talk by Dr. Curaming, but I wish to emphasize its performativity, the way that it becomes, as my teacher says, ‘a critically, creatively and politically affective afterwardness that enables some form of moving forwards’ (Kear 2013: 217) in the ‘politics of the present’ (8).

Of course, I am speaking from my own practice of doing history in the arts and humanities, specifically in theatre and performance. Real theatre, as the philosopher Alain Badiou has famously asserted, ‘orients us in the confused times’ of the present, telling us ‘where we are in history’ (Badiou 2015: 63), implying of course that the act of historicizing is really a recognition of the incessant march of time, but one that attempts to intervene, to stop time or bend it towards a different direction. This may not be such a strange idea, since yesterday too we heard from Professor Salleh how history may be construed as a stage full of characters in play, such as the ones he shared from his work on the Malay Annals—characters intervening in time, ‘recreating history’.

I am myself currently engaged in a historical project, looking at a practice of re-enactment theatre in Escalante, Negros where a group called Teatro Obrero has been staging political theatre—a re-enactment of the 1985 Escalante massacre, for 31 years now, every year without fail since 1986. Theirs is an example of a very local struggle but one that connects to a nationalist project that is ongoing even as we speak, perhaps linked in some way, however indirectly, to what Professor Rey Ileto spoke about – the Filipino struggle for history, noting from his talk how it might be productive now to think back to the ideas articulated by Agoncillo.

I will further say that the last talk by Prof Zaid Ahmad on indigenous epistemology in the Malay world is an important concern that we must take up beyond the conference.

Again, let me quote Adrian Kear, talking about performative historiography:

The gesture of looking back in order to look forward […] should […] be seen as a political act undertaken in order to examine the complicated articulation of the condition of the present more clearly (Kear 2013: 219).

In closing may I say I was particularly stricken with guilt about my own lack of knowledge on the Philippine ties to our Malay neighbors. Professor Andi Achdian’s question struck deep, and sitting beside Charles from NCCA, I asked what could have happened to the important manuscripts in Marawi discussed by Prof Fatuhrahman and whether the NCCA heritage experts know about the existence of these manuscripts.

The conference has been wonderfully rich, with the ideas shared by the plenary speakers, and the wealth of contributions by the paper presenters in the different parallel panels. And, certainly, perhaps most importantly, this conference has been an embodiment of the Malay world itself, a community bound by collaboration and solidarity.

I wish to thank the Philippine Historical Association, the International Council for Historical and Cultural Cooperation – Southeast Asia, Society of Indonesian Historians, and the Malaysian Historical Society, as well as the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, for the opportunity accorded to the College of Liberal Arts and our History Department at De La Salle University to make a humble contribution in making this event happen.

Congratulations especially to Dr. Fernie Santiago Jr. and his team, Dr. Rinna Orillos-Juan and the DLSU History Department, Dr. Rene Escalante and the NHCP, and Dr. Emmanuel Calairo and his team at PHA. To all participants, thank you for your contributions and participation. I hope it has been as productive for you as it has been for us. Enjoy the rest of the conference events; enjoy the walk with Xiao Chua tomorrow. Good evening.

Cited works:

Badiou, A. with Troung, N. (2015), In Praise of Theatre, trans. A. Bielski, Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press. Check out:

Kear, A. (2013), Theatre and Event: Staging the European Century, London: Palgrave Macmillan. Check out:

Published by Jazmin Llana

Hello, I am Jazmin Llana. I work in higher education in the Philippines with arts and humanities as my subject area. Here you can find links to my published essays and current projects.

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