The Meanings of Malacca: Identity and Exile in the Writings of Ee Tiang Hong, Shirley Lim and Simone Lazaroo
Malacca, through five centuries an important trading port, was conquered by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the Japanese in turn, so that while it is part of contemporary Malaysia it has maintained a sense of distinctive identity, the home of Baba-Nonya culture. The poet Ee Tiang Hong, the novelist Simone Lazaroo, and Shirley Geok-lin Lim, both poet and novelist, all have their roots there but each left, at different ages and for different reasons. They are of slightly different generations and have different personal histories, but each has been drawn back to Malacca in their writings, as if this was necessary to make sense of themselves and their own view of the world. Ee claims Malacca as â€œa state of mindâ€ which enabled him to â€œdraw strength from many cultural springs.â€ For Lim her Malaccan self has remained â€œa fugitive presence,â€ not so much â€œa town butâ€¦ a familiar spirit.â€ In Lazarooâ€™sÂ The World Waiting to be Made, Malacca is a site of myth and mysterious supernatural power.
Â Â Â For all three, Malacca is to some degree chthonic, traditional, bearing markers of another time. In a post-modern, fast-paced, high tech world what resonances can these ways of conceiving life have across borders? This paper explores the meanings of Malacca in the three writersâ€™ poems and novels to see what is common and what is different about the Malacca they present, and to what extent it has continuing importance, for them and for us.Â
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