‘“Here be Dragons”: Monsters, Mermaids and Myth in Southeast Asia’ (Wednesday, 11 April 2018)

Speaker: Prof Barbara Watson Andaya (Professor of Asian Studies, University of Hawai’i)
Date: Wednesday, 11 April 2018
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


The oldest known representation of the New World, discovered in 2013 and dated to 1504, is engraved with immaculate detail on two conjoined halves of an ostrich egg. Apart from the names of countries and regions, it includes only one short phrase, Hic Sunt Dracones, “Here be Dragons”, which appears in the vicinity of Southeast Asia. This presentation uses this rare object to consider the ideas about the inhabitants of the sea environment that Europeans brought to Asian waters, particularly the notion that the oceans were teeming not only with monsters and underwater dragons, but also with humanoid creatures, mermen and merwomen. It will discuss the ways in which these ideas interacted with indigenous beliefs in sea beings, some of whom were kindly and well-disposed, and others distinctly malevolent, and ask why belief in such beings has persisted, even to the present day.

About the speaker

Barbara Watson Andaya is Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i. Between 2003 and 2010 she was Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and in 2005-06 she was President of the American Association of Asian Studies. In 2000 she received a John Simon Guggenheim Award, and in 2010 she received the University of Hawai‘i Regents Medal for Excellence in Research. Her specific area of expertise is the western Malay-Indonesia archipelago, on which she has published widely, but she maintains an active teaching and research interest across all Southeast Asia. Her publications include Perak, The Abode of Grace: A Study of an Eighteenth Century Malay State (1979); To Live as Brothers: Southeast Sumatra in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1993); and The Flaming Womb: Repositioning Women in Early Modern Southeast Asia (2006). Her most recent books, in collaboration with Leonard Y. Andaya, are A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia (2015), and a third edition of A History of Malaysia (2016). She is also currently working on a book on gender and sexuality in Southeast Asia and another on religious interaction in Southeast Asia.