Bernard Cohn once called the imperial point of view the “view from the boat”. There were other boats as well.
In 1893, the sovereign state of Johor adopted the Ottoman Medjelle (Meḏj̱elle-yi Aḥkām-i˚ḥʿAdliyye
, the civil code applied in the Ottoman Empire since 1877), being the only state among the Muslim sultanates of the Malay Peninsula to do so. In 1895, Johor promulgated a Constitution (Undang-Undang Tubuh Kerajaan Johor)
, being the first state in Southeast Asia to do so. This article takes this moment, of the intersection of two types of law from quite disparate sources, as a point of departure for tracing the pathways by which law made its way from one corner of the globe to another. Taking nineteenth century Johor as our vantage point provides a new optic for mapping law's geography and temporality and for exploring the logics of law's itinerancy and its locality. The travels of law were always material, and often embodied; on ships sailing the Indian Ocean between Johor and Cairo were diplomats, merchants, pilgrims, and lawyers faced with new pressures and new possibilities; in the growing traffic in letters and newspaper reports between London and New York, Tokyo and Constantinople, were debates about empire and culture, power and authenticity; in personal relationships made possible by the technologies of nineteenth century cosmopolitanism, were similarly worldly dramas of deception and demands for justice. In the 2 short years between the adoption of the Medjelle
and the Constitution in Johor, the sultan of Johor, Abu Bakar (1833–1895), typified this mobility and interconnection. In his travels across the Indian Ocean to the Near East and Europe; in his appearance in diplomatic communiques in London, Constantinople and Washington D.C.; in his prominence as a figure of exoticism and intrigue in the newspapers and the courts of the English-speaking world, the sultan not only embodied law's movements in a figurative way, he was also himself a key carrier of the law, and one of its signal articulators.