Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Write: Steampunk Nusantara

If you haven't heard already, my friend Tariq and I recently started a new Dreamwidth Community called [community profile] steampunk_nusantara. This is not a writing community, although there is writing involved.

Its genesis began here, as a discussion for a meta-setting set in South East Asia, particularly the region called Nusantara, which is mostly Malaya, the Indonesian islands and a bit of Borneo. Tariq and I had many conversations about how this would work - a collection of documents, some descriptions of stuff that could go in, something to give people a starting point if they wanted to write a SEA-centered steampunk story.

We tried using GoogleWave and it didn't work, because Tariq and I are very chatty people, and it just didn't look right as a single document. So we left it on the backburner, although I thought about it occasionally. I just did not know how to make it work. It had to be in a format where a bunch of people could work together on it, but Wave is limited in that way.

Indirectly, I have to thank James and Kate of Parliament & Wake. I had been aware of them but never visited the site, but when I did, I was intrigued by the setup. Here was a setting that was being built, collaboratively by at least James and Kate. Tariq and I are extremely lazy (and cheap-assed) folks, so the idea of coding our own site didn't appeal to us, and so we discussed other alternatives.

I'm not very much involved in fandom, and I participate in few communities online these days, but the concept of several people contributing, with the possibility of surprising each other with what we come up, the ideal of being able to banter and discuss what was being written, was deeply appealing.

After the Victorientalism kerfuffle, I was half-sick of white people imagining my side of the world, and decided that it had to happen, and thus, [community profile] steampunk_nusantara was born.

As a Dreamwidth community, we have the possibility of at least drawing people active in fandom, who would be aware of the racial issues and how white-centered such spaces would be. People would be able to post whole new entries and descriptions without necessarily being distracted by already-existing documents. Moreover, since we encourage inconsistency, there is a degree of freedom to be had. (And LJ has issues.)

I feel, most of all, that Steampunk Nusantara is a manifestation of postcolonialism in action - of several people contributing several viewpoints that have hitherto been marginalized and ignored. Because of SEA's history, there is no way to favour one narrative over another, there is no place from which we singularly begin, and instead of ending at a single place, we criss-cross each other in a kind of cultural anarchy. SEA's rich multi-cultural history, which has almost been glossed over by British imperialism, can be re-worked so it is never erased again. Moreover, as most of the members identify as SEAsians or of SEA heritage, there is a strong emphasis on our voices.

In our research, we are re-imagining our own region, on our own terms, rather than by the terms that the rest of the world has set for us. So far, we have had entries in Chinese and Jawi, a smattering of Malay. We are delving into our own culture, researching our own history as a result.

I have high hopes for [community profile] steampunk_nusantara. Already, I feel closer to home, even though I'm so far away, through its participants.

If you are South East Asian, I would love to hear from you! And everybody, bookmark us, ya'll.

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