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Pawangs on the Malay Frontier: Miraculous Intermediaries of Rice, Ore, Beasts and Guns


This dissertation focuses upon peripatetic, godly and technologically advanced Muslim miracle-workers or pawangs who operated upon and were pivotal to rice, mining, game and armed frontiers in 19th and early 20th century Malaya. It is written with an understanding that a study of miracle-workers is fruitful in terms of providing a microcosm of the characteristics of particular socioeconomic stratums and socioeconomic trends. Redressing the conspicuous academic silence on these key historical agents, this dissertation explores how a variety of socioeconomic activities in 19th and early 20th century Malaya were premised and dependent upon the miraculous expertise of pawangs; namely agricultural colonization, forest clearing, rice production, alluvial tin and gold mining, elephant trapping and the bearing of hand-held firearms. Moreover, this dissertation elaborates upon how such a historical analysis of miracles or miraculous expertise is revelatory of sophisticated cosmopolitan worlds wherein miracle-workers capitalized upon their predominance within subaltern communities as spectacular intercessors of eclectic supernatural beings, and the patronage networks of indigenous and non-indigenous entrepreneurs engaged in extracting the natural resources of the Peninsula.

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