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The Cocos Malays

Perspectives from Anthropology and History

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  • © 2022


  • Provides one of the first scholarly histories of Cocos Malay history
  • Provides an anthropological analysis of historical sources, drawing on fieldwork as well as oral histories
  • Uses the Cocos Malay as a case study to explore broader questions of the overlap of anthropology and history

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About this book

Looking at the past from an anthropological perspective, this book deploys and analyses a variety of anthropological concepts to understand the history of Cocos Malay society. Around 400 Cocos Malays reside on their remote Indian Ocean atoll, the Cocos Islands. Possessing a unique culture and dialect, they could be considered Australia's oldest Muslim and oldest Malay group. Yet their society only developed over the past two centuries. In the early 1800s, a European gathered about one hundred slaves from around Southeast Asia. After settling on Cocos, a dynasty of rulers tried to distinguish themselves as European kings.  Under them, the Southeast Asians in the group toiled in the export of coconuts. But despite this, these Southeast Asians influenced and intermarried with the rulers. As a result, a Eurasian society developed. The Cocos Malays were initially implicated in Southeast Asian and wider Indian Ocean trade and communication networks. Later, this connectivity intensified through technologies such as telegraph cable and the Internet. This book uses the history of the Cocos Malays to explore questions of broader interest to anthropologists, such as how concepts from the overlap of history and anthropology ‘unlock’ the history of societies; how we can usefully combine the ‘indigenous’ concepts like “kerajaan” with internationally accepted concepts like class; and what is obscured when we use the concepts from the anthropology-history crossover to understand the past.

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Table of contents (8 chapters)

Authors and Affiliations

  • La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

    Nicholas Herriman

About the author

Nicholas Herriman is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at La Trobe University, Australia.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: The Cocos Malays

  • Book Subtitle: Perspectives from Anthropology and History

  • Authors: Nicholas Herriman

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Social Sciences, Social Sciences (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-031-10746-7Published: 27 October 2022

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-10749-8Published: 27 October 2023

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-10747-4Published: 25 October 2022

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXI, 200

  • Number of Illustrations: 5 b/w illustrations

  • Topics: Ethnography, Social Anthropology, History, general

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