Mountains More Ancient Book Cover


Mountains More Ancient

(Kabar Media 2022)

“Isna Marifa has extended the geographical and emotional reach of the modern Indonesian novel. The result is an original and captivating story that has launched the career of a new and promising literary voice.”

It is 1751, and nine-year-old Wulan finds herself half a world away from her home in Java: torn from her adored grandparents, her chattering cousins, the sounds and smells of the landscape that she loves. She and her father, Parto, are enslaved on a Cape Colony farmstead, with little hope of returning home. In this new world they hold fast to their Javanese identity and beliefs while, through their shared suffering, they forge bonds with the multicultural community whose descendants would come to be known as the Cape Malays.

the Author

Isna Marifa

A visit to South Africa led to Isna Marifa’s commitment to telling the story of the Javanese who were taken to South Africa in the colonial era. 

Her début, Mountains More Ancient, is the first novel to focus on the Indonesian experience of slavery in South Africa, illuminating this history of unfreedom through a timeless story of love, loss, and longing.



This is an important novel: it reminds us that history is also made by the activities and stories of ‘little’ people, those who find it difficult to determine their own destinies.

– Febi Indirani, journalist & Writer


Mountains More Ancient shines a welcome light on this unilluminated period of Indonesian and Dutch-colonial histories…Isna Marifa’s poetic prose and her sympathetic descriptions of the ‘little people’ who provided the labor for this colonial enterprise, makes for a haunting, unforgettable story.

john h. mcglynn, the lontar foundation


Isna Marifa has given life to a slice of the history of colonial oppression in Java and the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. This novel combines thorough research with literary craft, resulting in a meaningful and flowing narrative.

putu oka sukanta, poet & novelist


This novel enables me to walk in the footsteps of my Malay forefathers from the ancient world of the Nusantara, as well as my Afro-Malay forebears who crisscrossed this African landscape as enslaved agricultural workers. Few of us in this age can visualize or imagine the ancient Javanese rituals being performed under the African skies, or the pivotal revolutionary role played by Vrye Swarten artisans. This book will remain with the reader long after completing and putting it aside.

mogamat kamedian, Cape Malay historian & co-editor of bibliography of bondage

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