THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

80 posts categorized "Malay"

12 September 2018

A new display of Southeast Asian manuscripts from the Sloane collection

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In 1753 the British Museum was founded through the bequest of the vast collections of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1673), including over four thousand manuscripts, which are now held in the British Library. Sloane's manuscripts originate from all over the world, and among them are 12 from Southeast Asia. Eight of these can now be seen in a new display in the exhibition case next to the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library at St. Pancras.

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Bust of Hans Sloane by Michael Rysbrack (1693-1770), on display in the British Library

At first glance the eight exhibited manuscripts appear to be a rather random selection linked by nothing other than their Southeast Asian origin and their ownership by Sloane. But viewed through another lens, these eight manuscripts evoke vividly the two main preoccupations of the age in which they were collected: the global mercantile thrust which led to the founding of the English and Dutch East India Companies at the beginning of the 17th century, as reflected in trading permits and financial accounts, and religious zeal, manifest in an interest in the canonical and liturgical works of the major world religions which had taken root in Southeast Asia: Buddhism and Hinduism which had travelled from India, Islam from its birthplace in Arabia, and most recently Christianity by way of Europe.

Despite their small number and in some cases fragmentary state, the manuscripts on display also encompass an astonishing array of scripts: Balinese, Javanese, Lampung, Burmese, Khmer, Arabic in its original form as well as extended versions for writing Persian and Javanese, the Vietnamese Han Nom characters derived from Chinese, and Roman script. The languages found in these eight manuscripts range from indigenous languages of Southeast Asia, namely Malay, Javanese, Old Javanese, Burmese and Vietnamese, to the foreign languages which served the spread of both faith and trade in the region: Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Pali and Dutch. Four different calendrical systems are utilised – Burmese, Gregorian, the Javanese Saka era, and the Chinese zodiac calendar – and writing supports range from palm leaf and bamboo to Javanese beaten tree-bark paper (dluwang) as well as European and Chinese paper.

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Sloane manuscripts from Southeast Asia on display outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room  noc

On the top shelf of the exhibition case are grouped manuscripts relating to faiths of Southeast Asia. The Hinduized court culture of early Java is represented by a fragment of the Arjunawijaya, a court poem (kakawin) composed by Mpu Tantular in the 14th century in the kingdom of Majapahit (Sloane 3480). The lines on this small fragment of palm leaf, representing part of the right-hand half of a single leaf, describe a confrontation between Śiva’s attendant Nandīśvara and the ten-faced demon Rāvaṇa. The manuscript is in Old Javanese – an early form of the Javanese language characterised by an exceptionally high proportion of Sanskrit words – written in Balinese script, and is undated.  Since its entry into the British Museum this Old Javanese fragment had remained unidentified until it was digitised and highlighted in a recent blog; within 24 hours the text had been read and identified by a group of scholars located in different parts of the globe, and their report can be read here.

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Fragment of the Arjunawijaya in Old Javanese in Balinese script, on palm leaf. British Library, Sloane 3480  noc

Also written on palm leaf is a manuscript of the Pātimokkha, the Buddhist code of monastic discipline, dating to around 1700 or earlier (Sloane 4099(4)). The single folio on display contains three main lines of text from the Pātimokkha in Pali, the canonical language of Theravada Buddhism, written in Cambodian (Khmer) script, accompanied by interlinear explanations.

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Section of one leaf of the Pātimokkha in Pali in Khmer script. British Library, Sloane 4099(4)

Islam is represented by an important Arabic text of the Shafi‘ī school of law, Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, ‘Questions for instruction’, by the 16th-century Yemeni scholar ‘Abd Allāh bin ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Bā Faḍl (Sloane 2645). This manuscript, copied by a scribe named ‘Abd al-Qadīm, has an interlinear translation in Javanese in Arabic (pegon) script, and is dated  1545 in the Javanese era, equivalent to 1623/4 AD. This complete copy. in excellent condition. is one of the earliest dated manuscripts written on dluwang, Javanese paper made from the beaten bark of the mulberry tree.

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Masā’īl al-ta‘līm, in Arabic with Javanese translation and notes, 1623. British Library, Sloane 2645, ff. 6v-7r  noc

The most recent world religion to arrive in Southeast Asia was Christianity, brought by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and on display is a Christian Psalter written in Malay in Roman script (Sloane 3115). The owner of this book was Cornelius van der Sluijs, a clergyman who served in the Moluccas and died in Batavia in 1715. This collection of hymns, psalms and Christian services in Malay was probably compiled in Ambon around 1678, following Van der Sluijs’s ordination as a full minister of the Dutch Calvinist church.

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The first page of the Psalms of David in Malay, showing the distinctive octagonal British Museum stamp designed for use on Sloane's library. British Library, Sloane 3115, f. 2r  noc

On the bottom shelf are documents relating to trade. The largest and most impressive visually is a royal letter from the ruler of Tonkin in the form of an illuminated scroll written in the Vietnamese language in Chinese (Han Nom) characters, probably despatched in 1673 (Sloane 3460). In 1672 the first English East India Company ship arrived in Tonkin in north Vietnam, and in March 1673 the captain, William Gyfford, was permitted to meet the ruler Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682). While the Company sought the establishment of commercial relations with Tonkin, the Vietnamese were interested in accessing new technology, and in his letter, Trịnh Tac requests iron or bronze cast cannons.

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The complete illuminated Vietnamese letter with red ink seal of Lord Trịnh Tac, 1673, with a detail showing the fine silver illumination; only a small section of the scroll has been unrolled for display. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

The Chinese mercantile presence in Southeast Asia is reflected in a small piece of bamboo, with two lines of Javanese incised on one side with further annotations in Javanese and Lampung script, and on the other side a note written in black ink in Chinese (Sloane 1403E). The Chinese text appears to be a record of an account, and is dated in the Chinese zodiacal cycle with a date most likely equivalent to 1708.

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Front and reverse of a financial account, with text in Javanese, Lampung and Chinese, [1708]. British Library, Sloane 1403E  noc

Of particular interest are two trading permits issued by King Chandrawizaya (r. 1710-1731) of the kingdom of Mrauk U in Arakan in Burma (Myanmar). The permit written in Burmese, dated 1728, is the longest and the earliest dated palm leaf manuscript from Burma (Myanmar) in the British Library (Sloane 4098). Also found in the Sloane collection is a Persian edict (farmān) from the ruler of Arakan, dated 14 Sha‘bān 1090 (Sloane 3259). In his catalogue of Persian manuscripts in the British Museum, Charles Rieu assumed that the year inscribed was in the Hijra era, and thus dated the letter to 1679. Fortunately, just as we were preparing this exhibition, Arash Khazeni was preparing an edition of the Persian farmān, and noticed that the year was given as sanat 1090 Magi, referring to the Burmese era. The date was thus equivalent to 1728, revealing that the Persian document was in fact a counterpart to the Burmese permit! Both documents are addressed to the Armenian merchant Khwajeh Georgin (George) in Chennaipattana (Madras) across the Bay of Bengal, giving him permission to trade. Both bear the king’s round seal, inscribed in Pali, ‘Supreme Lord, Master of the Golden Palace’, which is blind-stamped on the palm leaf permit, stamped in black ink on the Persian letter, and in red wax on its cloth envelope and paper wrapper.

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The pointed end of the Burmese permit of the king of Arakan, with his round seal. Sloane 4098  noc

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The seal and date at the start of the trading permit in Persian from the king of Arakan, 1728. British Library, Sloane 3259  noc

Further reading:

Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Sir Hans Sloane's Old Javanese manuscript, Sloane 3480

Malay manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Arash Khazeni, ‘Merchants to the Golden City: the Persian Farmān of King Chandrawizaya Rājā and the elephant and ivory trade in the Indian Ocean, a view from 1728’, Iranian Studies, 2018, vol. 51 (forthcoming).

From books to bezoars: Sir Hans Sloane and his collections, ed. Alison Walker, Arthur MacGregor and Michael Hunter (London: The British Library, 2012)

Annabel Teh Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma & Sud Chonchirdsin, Southeast Asia section

 

07 September 2018

Malay writing culture

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The British Library holds a rich collection of Malay manuscripts originating from all corners of maritime Southeast Asia, covering subjects as diverse as literature, history, law and aspects of religious thought and life. But we still know relatively little about the practicalities of how manuscripts were prepared, written, stored and used in the Malay world. What did Malay pens look like? What inks were used, and how were they made? How were the sheets of paper prepared? While libraries are certainly treasure troves of books, the paraphernalia pertaining to writing cultures, which might help to answer these questions, are more likely to be found in museum collections.

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Part of Abdul Samad al-Palimbani’s work Sayr al-Salikin, a manuscript from Aceh, in two bound sections held within a loose leather wrapper.  British Library, Or 15646

Last week, after attending a workshop in Leiden at the Volkenkunde Museum on ‘Imagining Islamic Art of Indonesia’, I visited Bronbeek, a beautiful former royal estate in Arnhem which houses a home for invalid soldiers and the museum of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger, KNIL), and thus holds important collections from Indonesia. More recently, Bronbeek Museum has also taken in Indonesian artefacts from other, now defunct, museums in the Netherlands, including from the Ethnographic Museum in Nijmegen, which closed down in 2005, and from the Nusantara Museum in Delft, which shut its doors in 2013. From Nijmegen Bronbeek acquired the collection of Jean Beijens (1835-1914), a soldier in the Dutch East Indies from 1850 to 1861, who served mainly in Borneo. Beijens probably started collecting in Indonesia, but his collection was mainly built up through purchase after his return to the Netherlands, and in 1912 was presented to the city of Nijmegen.

At Bronbeek Museum I was delighted to have the opportunity at last to meet the Director, Pauljac Verhoeven, with whom I have corresponded for nearly twenty years, and also curator John Klein Nagelvoort, whose deep interest in Aceh I share. Paul and John kindly gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum’s collections, bringing out the small number of Malay manuscripts held in the museum, including a copy of Mawa‘iẓ al-Badi, ‘Fine Advice’, an anonymous work attributed to the 17th-century Acehnese scholar ‘Abd al-Ra’uf bin ‘Ali al-Jawi, also known as Abdul Rauf of Singkil, other copies of which are known to be held in collections in Aceh, including the Yayasan Ali Hasjmy in Banda Aceh.

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Mawa‘iẓ al-Badi, translated [into Malay from Arabic] in the middle of Rabiulakhir 1220 (July 1805). Bronbeek Museum, 2010/12/02-42399

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Small Malay manuscript showing, on the right, the final page of Hikayat Nabi Bercukur, 'The story of the Prophet's shaving', dated 20 Rejab 1252 (31 October 1836), with talismanic drawings including the pentagram and the Sanggah Siti Fatimah; that on the left is labelled Ini kota raja rumah, 'this is the royal fort and residence'. Bronbeek Museum, 2004/00-130

As can be seen in the manuscripts above, rubrication – the use of red ink for highlighting certain words – was a common practice of Malay scribes. Red ink is used for a variety of textual purposes: to emphasise certain words, to indicate the start of a new section within the text, or to signal portions written in Arabic, while in manuscripts of the Qur’an, the surah headings are normally written in red ink. Thus metal pencases found in Southeast Asia usually follow the Ottoman model of including an ink well with two chambers, one for red and one for black ink. The Bronbeek Museum has a fine brass example shown below, from the Beijens collection, which is perhaps of Ottoman manufacture, for tiny stamped seals bearing the maker’s name are visible on the casing. Of particular interest in this pen case is that each ink chamber still contains remnants of what appear to be cotton threads, which John Klein Nagelvoort suggested may have helped to prevent the ink evaporating too quickly.

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Brass pen case, possibly Ottoman, 19th century, used in Indonesia, with details of the two ink chambers. Bronbeek Museum, Beijens Collection, 2010/12/02-41510

The Bronbeek Museum also contains a pen, said to be from Java, and from the Beijens collection and therefore dating from before 1912, and most likely from the 19th century. Although some museums in Southeast Asia occasionally display writing implements, these are usually modern replicas, and this is the first definitely 'old' pen I have seen from the Malay world.  Carved from a twig or stalk with a sharpened point, the stem of the pen is hollow and was filled with cotton threads, presumably to act as an ink chamber.

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Bronbeek 43048 (5)  Bronbeek 43048 (7)
Pen from Java, with details (left) of the gnarled end, and (right) of the hollow 'ink' chamber filled with threads. Bronbeek Museum, Beijens Collection, 2010/12/02-43048

Also from the Beijens Collection are two rehal, carved wooden Qur’an stands. One finely carved example can be identified as originating from Aceh on the basis of the interlocking scroll design, a characteristic motif of illuminated manuscripts from Aceh.

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Carved wooden Qur'an stand (rehal), from Aceh, with (below left) a detail of the 'interlocking scroll' motif, also found (below right) in a Qur'an manuscript now in the National Library of Malaysia. Bronbeek Museum, Beijens Collection, 42332.

The exhibit in the Bronbeek Museum which in fact I had been most looking forward to seeing was not a manuscript, but a cannon. When the Dutch invaded Aceh in 1873, sparking off a war which lasted over thirty years, they captured the royal palace of Aceh with its historic collection of cannon, many of which were then brought back to the Netherlands and presented to King William III, who placed them in Bronbeek. These included three large Ottoman cannon which were probably cast in Gujerat, and which had arrived in Aceh following direct contacts with Istanbul in the 16th century. But of particular interest to me was an English cannon, presented to great ruler of Aceh, Sultan Iskandar Muda, by King James I, following Iskandar Muda's request for 'a great gun wherein a man may sit upright’.  That ‘great peece’ was made in London in 1617 by Thomas and Richard Pit, and sent out to Aceh. But as Paul Verhoeven explained to me, this was purely a vanity piece, not designed for actual use: the metal shell is so thin that if it had ever been used to fire a cannon ball of the size commensurate with its bore, as shown alongside in the photograph below, the gun would actually have exploded. 

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Paul Verhoeven, with the great gun sent by James I to Sultan Iskandar Muda of Aceh in 1617, which was then captured by the Dutch in 1873 and brought to Bronbeek.

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The crowned arms of James I, 'Jacobus Rex', on the cannon sent to Iskandar Muda.

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Inscription naming the makers of the great gun, 'this peece', Thomas and Richard Pit, 1617.

Further reading

Ruth Rhynas Brown & Jan Piet Puype,'A great gun wherein a man may sit upright': the king of Acheen's 'great peece', Journal of the Arms & Armour Society, March 1993, 14

Claude Guillot & Ludvik Kalus, 'Inscriptions islamiques sur des canons d'Insulinde du XVIe siècle', Archipel, 2006, 72, pp. 69-94.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

 

15 June 2018

Two Makasar manuscripts now digitised

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The Makasar people originate from south Sulawesi, the bottom left arm of the orchid-shaped island of Sulawesi. In the 17th century the port-city of Makasar (alternatively spelled Makassar or Macassar), comprising the twin kingdoms of Gowa and Tallo’, was one of the greatest and most cosmopolitan ports in Southeast Asia. A gateway to the spice trade of the Moluccas, and an important source of rice, Makasar had particularly benefitted from an influx of Malay and other Muslim merchants following the fall of Melaka to the Portuguese in 1511. Makasar embraced Islam relatively late, with the conversion of the sultan of Gowa in 1605, but Islam rapidly became firmly entrenched in south Sulawesi society.

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Map of Sulawesi, formerly known as Celebes, from a 17th-century Dutch portolano. Makasar is located in the bottom left corner. British Library, Add. 34184, f.62  noc

Writing traditions in the Makasar language (also referred to as Makasarese, Makassar or Makassarese) date back at least to the 17th century, and may be encountered in four different scripts. Old Makasar script is of Indic origin, and is written from left to right. It is mainly associated with manuscripts in the 17th and 18th century and appears to have become obsolete in the course of the 19th century, since when the Bugis/Makasar script has been used. However, the Bugis/Makasar script (often called simply Bugis script) coexisted with Old Makasar script from the 17th century onwards, and both probably developed from an earlier prototype similar to Kawi or Old Javanese script. Makasar can also be written in  Arabic script (known locally as serang), which was frequently used in religious contexts, and texts in Roman script are also found (Tol 1996: 214).

The British Library holds only two manuscripts in Makasar, one written in Old Makasar script and one in Bugis/Makasar script. Both have now been digitised, and can be read on the Digitised Manuscripts website and by following the hyperlinks below. Like the larger number of Bugis manuscripts in the British Library, these two Makasar manuscripts derive from the collection of John Crawfurd, who served with the British administration in Java from 1811 to 1815. In 1814 Crawfurd led a punitive British expedition to south Sulawesi, and the two Makasar manuscripts were most likely acquired on this occasion. Crawfurd’s manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1842.

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Copies of treaties between Goa and Tallo' in the 16th century, in Makasarese in Old Makasar script. British Library, Add. 12351, ff. 12v-13r.  [NB these pages have been bound upside down in the manuscript.]  noc

The manuscript in Old Makasar script, Add. 12351, contains copies of documents on a variety of historical, diplomatic and legal topics, which were identified by Dr A. A. Cense for the catalogue of Indonesian mansucripts in British collections (Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1977: 99).  Contents include the sayings of former princes, declarations of war, and notes on right behaviour and customary law.  There are also texts on the status of the countries of the island of Sumbawa which were subdued by Tumenanga riAgamana, king of Tallo’ and co-ruler of Goa in the beginning of the 17th century, as well as copies of treaties between Goa and Bone, and between Goa and Tallo’ in the 16th century.  Other texts concern the history of various polities in south Sulawesi covering periods up to the mid-17th century, including Goa, up to and including the reign of Tu-menanga riPapambatuna (1649-53); Tallo’, up to and including the reign of Tu-mammalianga riTimoro' (1636-41); Sanrabone, Maros and Bangkala’, as well as notes on the ancestors of Karaeng Cenrana and of Tu-menanga riLakiung (lived 1652-1709).  Parts of this manuscript (from ff. 12v-35v) have been bound upside down.

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Hikayat Amir Hamzah, written in Makasarese in Bugis/Makasar script, with names of the characters written in Arabic script in black ink, and chapter headings and 'paragraph words' in Malay written in red in Arabic (Jawi) script. Add. 12347, ff. 11v-12r.  noc

The second Makasar manuscript, Add. 12347, is a fragment of a Makasar version of the Malay Hikayat Amir Hamzah, itself derived from the Persian Hamzanama, recounting the adventures of the uncle of the prophet Muhammad. The manuscript is written in Makasar script (which reads from left to right), with insertions in Malay in Jawi script (which reads from right to left) marking the start of new chapters and sections in the text. Reflecting the confusion of a 19th-century custodian, the folios in the manuscript have been numbered ‘backwards’. The volume therefore begins on f. 37r with the 59th chapter (with a heading in Malay in Jawi script: ceritera yang keanam puluh sembilan), dealing with Amir Hamza's fight against Sudad and his grief at the death of his wife Mihrananigara. The manuscript ends abruptly in the 68th chapter, in which Hamza's voyage to the country of Ḥuṭānah is described, where he finds Raja Nasarwan (Nasruwan), on the way encountering a group of fire-worshippers.

Although these are the only two full manuscript volumes in Makasar in the British Library, there are also a number of documents and fragmentary texts in Makasar contained in mainly Bugis manuscripts. For example, Or 8154*, a volume consisting of scraps of texts found within the binding of the Bugis diary of a prince of Bone for the years 1790-1800, contains a few Makasar documents including a fragment of a page from a diary written in Old Makasar script for 1733 shown below.

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Fragment of a diary in Old Makasar script, for 1733. British Library, Or. 8154*, f. 100  noc

Through the Endangered Archives Programme, the British Library also holds digital copies of a few Makasar manuscripts, documented during a pilot project in Makassar.

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Local history of Galesong, Makassar, copied ca. 1975 from a lontara' belonging to Karaeng Galesong, now held by Daeng Jarung, Desa Boddia, Galesong. British Library, EAP365/2/2

Further reading:

Roger Tol, A separate empire: writings of south Sulawesi.  Illuminations: writing traditions of Indonesia, ed. Ann Kumar & John H. McGlynn; pp. 213-230.  Jakarta: Lontar Foundation, 1996.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

05 June 2018

Another Chinese paper stamp in a Malay manuscript

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A few years ago, I became intrigued by the red ink stamps of Chinese paper makers occasionally glimpsed on the pages of Malay and Javanese manuscripts in the British Library, and in a post on Malay manuscripts on Chinese paper illustrated all the examples encountered so far. Recently, another example has surfaced, in a fine illuminated copy of the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, copied by Muhammad Kasim in 1805. The manuscript was previously owned by John Leyden, and is therefore most likely to have been copied in Penang, where Leyden spent four months convalescing from late 1805 to early 1806. On the bottom left hand corner of f. 61 r is a red ink stamp of an animal, a rather rotund quadruped resembling a hippopotamus or rhinoceros.

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Initial illuminated frames of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, copied by Muhammad Kasim on 29 Jumadilakhir 1220 (25 August 1805), probably in Penang. British Library, MSS Malay B.6, ff.1v-2r.  noc

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Red Chinese paper stamp of an animal, in Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, 1805.  MSS Malay B.6, ff. 60v-61r.  noc

My interest in Chinese paper-maker stamps had been rekindled by the fascinating blog post about the history of printing in China by Emily Mokros, From the page up: the Peking Gazette and the histories of everyday print in East Asia. In the second installment of her post, Mokros highlighted the presence of papermakers’ stamps in mid-19th century manuscript copies from Canton of the Peking Gazette, and commented on the important role of Canton as a hub of the southern paper trade, serving both the Qing empire and markets beyond its shores in Southeast Asia. Although little research has yet been carried out on papermakers’ stamps, there has recently been interest in the subject, and Mokros provided links to the main references.

Particularly helpful is a blog post on Chinese paper stamps by Devin Fitzgerald of Harvard University in March 2017 noting the potential value of these stamps for the study of Chinese bibliography and codicology, and proposing the compilation of a database. In a response the following month, David Helliwell published all ten stamps that he had come across – by chance, rather than design – in the Bodleian Library’s collection. The most thorough study of the field to date is by Chang Pao-san of National Taiwan University. In his paper on Paper manufacturer hallmarks in rare Chinese books from the Qing dynasty, Chang proposes three categories of textual hallmarks:
Type 1: a red rectangular mark that clearly states the name of the manufacturer followed by the phrase “observed production” or “selected the material”
Type 2: a red rectangular mark that contains the name of the manufacturer and the type of paper, or only the name of the manufacturer
Type 3: a long, thin, red and blue mark of an images with parts of one or more characters. Sometimes there are no characters, only a red or blue image.

One aspect that Chang does not mention is pictorial elements, such as the animal mark found in the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah. That these pictures evidently functioned as easily recognizable trademarks is implied by the reference to the “Double Children Seal” of Changfa studios, a red ink stamp of two children holding a ball, found by Guillermo Ruiz-Stovel in a manuscript of 1798 in the National Archives of the Philippines, and published by Devin Fitzgerald in his post. Incidentally, the three related stamps documented by Ruiz-Stovel – the red ink “Double Children Seal”, accompanied by two blue ink textual seals in the name of Changfa studios – are exactly those noted in my 2014 post as having been seen by Midori Kawashima in an Islamic manuscript from Mindanao, suggesting the widespread use of that particular brand of Chinese paper in the Philippines.

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“Double Children Seal” of Changfa studios, in a manuscript from the Ahmad Bashir Collection at the Jamiatu Muslim Mindanao, Marawi City, Mindanao, Ms9; image courtesy of Mr. Mahdi Ahmad Bashir through Midori Kawashima.

Following David Helliwell’s example of collating all examples known so far, presented below are the four Chinese paper stamps found in Malay and Indonesian manuscripts in the British Library, with links (where available) to the catalogue entry and the digitised manuscript.

1. Panji Angreni., late 18th-early 19th century, Java. British Library, MSS Jav 17, f. 10v [not yet digitised]  noc
Chinese - 3

2. Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, 1805, probably Penang. British Library, MSS Malay B.6, f. 61r.  noc
Mss_malay_b_6_f061r

2. Hikayat Ular Nangkawang, early 19th century, Malay peninsula or Java. British Library, Add. 12382, f. 29v  noc
Chinese - 2

3. Syair Dang Sarat, early 19th century, Malay peninsula or Java. British Library, Add. 12381, f. 20r  noc
Chinese - 1

References:

Chang Pao-san, Paper manufacturer hallmarks in rare Chinese books from the Qing dynasty, presentation from the conference 'Texting China: Composition, Transmission, Preservation of pre-modern Chinese textual materials', University of Chicago, 11-13 May 2012; published as: 'Paper manufacturers' marks stamped in the rare Chinese books of the Qing dynasty', Bulletin of the Department of Chinese Literature, National Taiwan University, December 2012, 39: 213-246.
Devin Fitzgerald, Chinese paper stamps, blog post, 26 March 2017, Books and the early modern world: the research of Devin Fitzgerald
Annabel Gallop, Malay manuscripts on Chinese paper, blog post, 27 February 2014, British Library, Asian and African Studies
David Helliwell, Papermarks, blog post, 26 April 2017, Serica: some notes on old Chinese books by David Helliwell
Emily Mokros, From the page up: the Peking Gazette and the histories of everyday print in East Asia (2), blog post, 21 May 2018, British Library, Asian and African Studies

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

01 April 2018

Two Christian manuscripts in Malay

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Only two known Malay manuscripts in the British Library relate to Christianity, and they represent very different periods in the spread of the faith in Southeast Asia. One is a compilation of hymns, psalms and Christian services, written in Maluku in the 17th century, at a time when all aspects of Calvinist church activities were firmly controlled by the Dutch East India Company, the VOC. Church ministers were all VOC employees, and hence Protestantism was termed Agama Kumpeni, ‘the Company Religion’, to differentiate it from Catholicism.  The second manuscript is a Malay account of a conversion to Christianity in Singapore in the early 19th century, a period when Christian missionary work took place essentially outside the government orbit.

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The island of Ambon in the Moluccas, from Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indiën by François Valentyn, 1724-1725.  Source: Atlast of Mutual Heritage, Wikimedia Commons.  noc

The 17th-century book (Sloane 3115) is one of the oldest Malay manuscripts in the British Library, as it was in the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, founding father of the British Museum and its Library. An inscription in Dutch on the first page states that this book belonged to Cornelius van der Sluijs (Sluys) who in the year 1672 sailed on the ship ‘The Coat of Arms of Alkmaar’ ('t Wapen van Alkmaar) to the East Indies, as a church comforter of the sick (krankbezoeker).

According to notes kindly provided by Th. van den End, Cornelius van der Sluijs was born ca. 1648 at Sluis, in the Dutch part of Flanders. He matriculated in 1665 in the theological faculty at Utrecht and sailed to the Indies, and in July 1673 was posted to Ambon where he was immediately appointed ‘proponent’ minister, giving him a licence to compose his own sermons, but not to administer the sacraments. On 10 April 1678 Van der Sluijs took his final church exams, at last becoming a minister with full rights, and served in this capactity with the church in Ambon until 1684. From 1684 to 1690 he held the same position in Ternate, and from 1690 to 1697 in Batavia. He then spent five years back in the Netherlands, but in 1702 was again in Batavia, where he died in 1715.

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Njanjihan terpoudji, derri annac dara Maria: the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) in 17th-century Malay. British Library, Sloane 3115, ff. 35v-36r.  noc

Van der Sluijs was well known for his knowledge of Malay, and during his final years in Batavia he worked on revising the Bible translation of Leydecker and Van der Vorm. However he is not personally recorded as having submitted translations to the church council in Ambon or Batavia, and so the Malay hymns in this volume are unlikely to be his own work. Van den End indeed suggests that discernible Portuguese influence in the vocabulary points towards a much earlier date of translation, perhaps from the first half of the 17th century, indicating that the contents of this volume were probably copied from existing manuscript or printed sources. It is most likely that the manuscript was compiled to mark the important occasion of Van der Sluijs' appointment as a full minister in Ambon in 1678, making him not only the leader of his own church, but also the third highest official in the local VOC hierarchy.

The hierarchical, state-sanctioned circles of 17th-century churchmen in Indonesia were very different from the missionary world of the Straits Settlements in the early 19th century. Judged by its impact on the fields of education and printing, the Christian mission among Malays in the Malay peninsula and Singapore was of enormous significance, but from the perspective of its primary aim, namely the conversion of souls, success was much more limited. Thus a small manuscript of four pages in the British Library (Or. 4942, f. 229)  is of some interest as a rare autobiographical account in Malay of a conversion to Christianity. Nothing is known of the provenance of this item, although it was written before 1888 (the date of its acquisition by the British Museum). The author lived in Kampung Boyan in Singapore, the settlement of people from Bawean island, off the north coast of Java, which suggests a date of composition after the 1840s, when migration to Singapore from Bawean increased markedly. 

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British Library, Or. 4942, f. 228r.  noc

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Pages 2-3 of a Malay account of a conversion to Christianity, Singapore, mid-19th century. British Library, Or 4942, f. 229v.  noc

This account was clearly written by the convert at the behest of an unnamed missionary. The anonymous author, simply referred to as sahaya, 'I', recounts how he first met the missionary, only called Tuan, 'Sir', and how he listened to his preaching, but then returned home, unmoved by the message. This scenario occurs several times:

Lain hari datang pula ka ruma tuan mengajar kepada sahaya, abis mengajar tuan kepada sahaya, pulang sahaya sampai ka ruma berpikir pula, serta sahaya berbandingkan dengan sahaya punya kitab Melayu, mana yang betul kitab Melayu dengan kitab Injil tuhan Isa, suda itu sahaya abis berpikir serta berbanding agama orang itam dengan puti, belum juga sahaya bergerak. 
'Another day I came again to your house when you were teaching, after which I returned home and thought about it, and I compared the teachings with my own books in Malay, and pondered as to which were true, the Malay books or the Gospel of Lord Jesus, and then I thought and compared the religion of the dark-skinned people with the white man’s religion, but I was still not moved.'

Finally, through the intercession of Encik Amat, a Malay who had been Christian since birth or at least since childhood, and who was thus able to act as interlocuter with ‘dark skinned people’ for the ‘white man’s religion’, sahaya is convinced, and is converted.

Sahaya is no Munsyi Abdullah, the great contemporaneous Malay writer, printer, teacher and associate of Singapore missionaries: as can be seen above, his literary style is ponderous and repetitive, with certain orthographic characteristics such as the consistent dropping of ha both initially (abis for habis, itam for hitam) and at the end of words (suda for sudah, ruma for rumah).  One interesting choice of vocabulary, which  occurs ten times in this short text, is the term bergerak, a verb meaning literally 'to move'. As in the extract above, bergerak is used here to signify a stirring of emotion or inclination, reflecting the extent of the impact of the Christian message upon sahaya, and is ultimately also used to mean moved spiritually to the extent of conversion. Another notable linguistic feature of this account is that although it is implied that the writer was originally Muslim – he talks about agama orang Melayu, 'the religion of the Malays' – nowhere is the word Islam mentioned, suggesting a deeply-held and respectful reticence, and perhaps inviting a deeper dissection of the text. The full text and English translation of this account can be read here.

Further reading

John Roxborogh, Early nineteenth-century foundations of Christianity in Malaya: churches and missions in Penang, Melaka and Singapore from 1786-1842. 1990. [See 'Christianity in the Straits Settlements' on John Roxborogh's site.]

Lourens de Vries, Iang Evangelium Ul-Kadus menjurat kapada Marcum. The first Malay Gospel of Mark (1629-1639) and the Agama Kumpeni. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 174 (2018), pp. 47-79.

With many thanks to Th. van den End for his notes on Cornelius van der Sluis (personal communication, 2 October 2015).

Related posts

Malay manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Further Deccani and Mughal drawings of Christian subjects

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

12 February 2018

Shifting Landscapes: mapping the intellectual writing traditions of Islamic Southeast Asia

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For the past century, studies of the languages, literatures, history, culture and writing traditions of the Malay world of maritime Southeast Asia – comprising present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and the southern parts of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines – have been fundamentally shaped by the collections of manuscripts held in European institutions, primarily those in the UK and the Netherlands, and those formed under colonial auspices, such as the National Library of Indonesia.  These collections themselves reflect the interests of their collectors, who were mainly European scholars and government officials from the early 19th century onwards, whose interests were focused on literary, historical and legal compositions in vernacular languages such as Malay and Javanese.  Relatively little attention was paid to works on Islam written in Arabic, or in Malay and Arabic, and hence such manuscripts are very poorly represented in institutions such as the British Library.

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Map of the holy sites of Mecca, probably acquired in the Hijaz and brought back to Sumatra by a returning pilgrim, in the Mangku Suka Rame collection, Kerinci, Jambi. British Library EAP117/11/1, digitised in 2007 by Uli Kozok.

In 2004 the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), funded by Arcadia, was established at the British Library, for the preservation of cultural material in danger of destruction. The hundreds of manuscript collections worldwide which have been documented and digitised include 16 relating to Islamic Southeast Asia, located in areas ranging from Aceh to the Moluccas, and from Sri Lanka to Cambodia.  Even the most cursory survey reveals that the profile of manuscripts still held ‘in the field’, in private and mosque collections, differs radically from those held in Western libraries, primarily through the very high proportion of Islamic texts, which probably account for around 95% of the manuscripts digitised.

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Custodians of Islamic Cham manuscripts from Vietnam digitised in 2012 by Hao Phan, British Library EAP531.

The British Library and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) are now pleased to invite applications for a three year PhD Studentship, tenable at SOAS available from 24 September 2018, funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under its Collaborative Doctoral Programme. The doctoral program Shifting Landscapes: Mapping the intellectual writing traditions of Islamic Southeast Asia aims to investigate these digitised collections of manuscripts from Islamic Southeast Asia, to trace how our understanding of the landscape and ecology of the intellectual writing traditions of the region needs to be radically redrawn in the light of these newly-accessible primary source materials. The successful candidate will therefore undertake a thesis that centres on analysing collections of manuscripts written in Arabic script from Southeast Asia that have been digitised through the EAP, with reference to other collections as necessary. The thesis will be jointly supervised by Dr Mulaika Hijjas of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics at SOAS and by Dr Annabel Teh Gallop, head of the Southeast Asia section at the British Library. 

 EAP144_1_7_part_1-EAP144_DMMCS_BT_07_DMMCS_057_L  EAP144_5_21-EAP144_DMMCS_MALS_21_DMMCS_058_L
Two manuscripts from West Sumatra on the recitation of the Qur'an (tajwīd), with charts of makhārij al-ḥurūf, ‘the places of emission of the letters’, showing the physiognomic points of articulation of the phonemes of Arabic in relation to the lips, mouth, tongue and throat. On the left, MS from the Surau Baru Bintungan Tinggi collection, EAP144/1/7, and on the right, MS from the Surau-surau Malalo, EAP144/5/21, digitised in 2007 by Zuriati.

The main digital EAP collections relating to Islamic Southeast Asia are the following:
• EAP061 The MIPES Indonesia: digitising Islamic manuscript of Indonesian Pondok Pesantren
• EAP117 Digitising 'sacred heirloom' in private collections in Kerinci, Sumatra, Indonesia
• EAP144 The digitisation of Minangkabau's manuscript collections in Suraus
• EAP153 Riau manuscripts: the gateway to the Malay intellectual world
• EAP205 Endangered manuscripts of Western Sumatra. Collections of Sufi brotherhoods
• EAP211 Digitising Cirebon manuscripts
• EAP212 Locating, documenting and digitising: Preserving the endangered manuscripts of the Legacy of the Sultanate of Buton, South-Eastern Sulawesi Province, Indonesia
• EAP229 Acehnese manuscripts in danger of extinction: identifying and preserving the private collections located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies
• EAP276 Documentation and preservation of Ambon manuscripts
• EAP280 Retrieving heritage: rare old Javanese and old Sundanese manuscripts from West Java (stage one)
• EAP329 Digitising private collections of Acehnese manuscripts located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies
• EAP352 Endangered manuscripts of Western Sumatra and the province of Jambi. Collections of Sufi brotherhoods - major project
• EAP365 Preservation of Makassarese lontara’ pilot project
• EAP450 Manuscripts of the Sri Lankan Malays
 EAP531 Preserving the endangered manuscripts of the Cham people in Vietnam
• EAP609 Digitising Malay writing in Sri Lanka
• EAP698 Digitisation of the endangered Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

As noted above, the majority of the manuscripts digitised are Islamic in content, with about half written in Arabic, and the others in Malay and Javanese. Texts include copies of the Qur’an and commentaries (tafsīr), ḥadīth collections of prophetic traditions, works on fiqh (observance of Islamic law) and on Sufism, prayers, sermons and Arabic grammars. In comparison, the historic British Library collection of approximately 250 manuscripts from Southeast Asia in Arabic script, written in Malay, Javanese and Bugis, consists of predominantly literary, historical and legal texts, with only about 30 theological works including only a few in Arabic.

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Detail of the calligraphic opening lines of copies of the Arabic grammar al-Ajurumiyya from two East Javanese Islamic boarding schools, on the left from Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyya al-Talabah, Keranji, British Library EAP061/1/4, and on the right from Pondok Pesantren Langitan, Widang, Tuban, British Library EAP061/2/15, digitised in 2006 by Amiq Ahyad.

The successful applicant will be encouraged to take advantage of the unique research opportunities afforded by the EAP collections.  This may include investigating not individual texts, as has usually been the case with dissertations on Malay manuscripts, but groups of texts, whether demarcated by genre, place, social milieu, or material features such as binding, illumination or palaeography and calligraphy.  The study may also investigate the EAP collections as sets of texts—libraries, or remnants of libraries—from known geographical and social locations. That both the EAP collections and the Malay manuscript holdings of the British Library are digitised opens up a variety of digital humanities approaches.

Applicants should have, or be about to complete, a Master’s degree in a relevant discipline, and must have knowledge of Malay/Indonesian and/or Arabic, and ideally proficiency in reading Arabic script. Applicants are also required to meet the UK Research Councils’ standard UK residency criteria (please refer to p.17 of the RCUK website for further details). For details on how to apply, see here.

Further reading:

For an example of a study of a manuscript digitised through EAP, see:
Mulaika Hijjas, Marks of many hands: annotation in the Malay manuscript tradition and a Sufi compendium from West SumatraIndonesia and the Malay World, July 2017, 45  (132), pp. 226-249.

Blogs:
26 February 2014, Indonesian and Malay manuscripts in the Endangered Archives Programme
14 April 2014, Sermons in the Malay world

Annabel Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

31 January 2018

The evolution of the Malay title page

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My previous blog presented the exhibition Tales of the Malay World, now in its final month at the National Library of Singapore (18 August 2017 - 25 February 2018); today I examine two Malay manuscripts from the British Library currently on display in Singapore, Hikayat Parang Puting and Hikayat Perintah Negeri Benggala.

Hikayat Parang Puting, 'The tale of the (magic) sword', is a Malay fantastical adventure tale about a young hero, Budak Miskin, the ‘Poor Boy’, who goes through many trials to win the hand of the fairy princess. Accompanied by his magical pets - a snake, an eagle and a rat - and with the help of a sword that can cut by itself (the eponymous 'Parang Puting', parang meaning sword, and puting referring to the top part of a blade embedded in the hilt), Budak Miskin battles dragon-serpents (naga) as well as an army of 99 rival suitors before he can settle down to rule his kingdom with his hard-won wife Puteri Mengindera Sehari Bulan.

The British Library manuscript (MSS Malay D.3) appears to be the oldest of the several manuscripts known of this tale. According to the colophon it was copied in Penang for Thomas Stamford Raffles by his chief scribe Ibrahim, and was completed on 29 Syawal 1220 (20 January 1806). Ibrahim, who was born in Kedah in 1780, was the younger son of Hakim Long Fakir Kandu, a prominent merchant from the south Indian Chulia community. Ibrahim and his older brother Ahmad both worked in Penang as scribes for British employers – Ahmad for the merchant Robert Scott, while Ibrahim was employed by Raffles. Raffles must have given this copy to his close friend John Leyden, and following Leyden’s early death in Java in 1811 the manuscript was acquired by the East India Company, and is now held in the British Library.

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First page of Hikayat Parang Puting. British Library, MSS Malay D.3, f. 1r   noc

The first page of the book is decorated with attractive triple ornamental borders, filled with floral and foliate motifs picked out in orange-brown and black ink, but it is puzzling to find a single ornamental frame on a left-hand page of a Malay manuscript book. A fundamental principle of Islamic book culture, common to all manuscripts written in forms of the Arabic script, is the centrality of the aesthetic concept of the ‘double-page spread’. Unlike books and manuscripts written in Roman script, where the first page in invariably a right-hand page and the text thence continues overleaf, in Islamic manuscripts the text almost always starts at the top of a right-hand page, and continues onto the facing left-hand page. The most common decorative adornment to an Islamic manuscript is therefore a set of double decorated frames composed across two facing pages, symmetrical about the gutter of the book, and with the illumination concentrated on the three outer sides of each page. In some cultures there is a preference for double headpieces: illuminated frames across two facing pages, but with the decoration concentrated above the text on each page. In simpler books it is also common to find ornamental frames on one page only, in the form of a single headpiece, but almost invariably located on the right-hand page of a manuscript. Shown below are examples of Malay manuscripts displaying each of these three basic formats of decorative frames:

Add_ms_12379_ff001v-002r   MSS Malay B 3.jpg   Or_14194_ff044v-045r
Examples of standard formats of illuminated frames at the start of the text in Malay manuscripts, from left to right: a) Double decorated frames (Hikayat Isma Yatim, Add. 12379, ff. 1v-2r); b) Double headpiece (Syair surat kirim kepada perempuan, MSS Malay B.3, ff. 36v-27r); c) Single headpiece (Prayerbook, Or. 14194, ff. 44v-45r).  noc

Returning to Hikayat Parang Puting, we find that in fact the narrative proper does indeed commence not within the decorated frames shown above, but overleaf, at the top of a right hand page. Rubrication (red ink) is used to highlight the first words Al-kisah ini hikayat, a time-honoured formula for the start of Malay stories, and then continues with words and phrases familiar from so many other Malay tales: ‘This is a tale of long-ago folks in the heavens, a truly beautiful tale, full of wonders, recounted by the teller of tales. Once upon a time, there lived a heavenly being called Dewa Laksana Dewa …’ (Al-kisah ini hikayat orang dahulu kala duduk di kayangan terlalu indah2 ceteranya, lagi dengan kesaktian maka diceterakan oleh orang yang empunya cetera ini sekali persetua seorang dewa duduk di kayangan bernama Dewa Laksana Dewa …).

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Al-kisah ini hikayat, the rubricated first words of Hikayat Parang Puting. British Library, MSS Malay D.3, f. 1v (det.)  noc

Mss_malay_d_3_f001v-2r
Start of the story of Hikayat Parang Puting. MSS Malay D.3, ff. 2v-3r   noc

So what is the point of the decorated frames on the first page of the book? They enclose the following 'stand-alone' text: ‘This is a tale of folks long ago, told by the teller of tales, the Tale of the Magic Sword, and of the (grand)son of Dewa Laksana Dewa from the heavens, it is a wonderful story, he had to battle the serpent in the sea to save the princess from being taken by the serpent, that is the story’ (Inilah cetera orang dahulu kala diceterakan oleh orang yang empunya cetera Hikayat Parang Puting anak Dewa Laksana Dewa dari kayangan terlalu indah perkataan maka ia berperang dengan naga di dalam laut dengan sabab tuan puteri hendak diambil naga itu inilah ceteranya). Thus what we have here is, in essence, the title of the story, and its contents. Very occasionally religious texts in Arabic and Malay might have a ‘title page’, comprising a few lines in a tapered triangular format giving the title and author of the work. But this is rare in literary works, and it is almost unknown for such information to be set within decorated frames. As this manuscript of Hikayat Parang Puting was copied for Raffles, it is possible that this ornamental embellishment, unusual in the Malay literary tradition, may have been created by Ibrahim to help serve as a gateway to the Malay text for his English patron.

The implication of European influence in the graphic interplay of text and image in this manuscript is reinforced by another manuscript, that of Hikayat perintah negeri Benggala, 'The tale of the state of Bengal', an account of a journey to Calcutta by Ibrahim’s brother, Ahmad Rijaluddin. Here too the main narrative, heralded with the bismillah, only starts at the top of the second double-page spread. The first two pages, with double decorated frames, serve a different purpose: they present the title of the work and an authorial statement, dated September/October 1811: ‘This is a narrative of the state of Bengal as it was at the time I, Ahmad Rijaluddin, son of Hakim Long Fakir Kandu, left my homeland to visit it.  I have composed this narrative for the benefit of posterity, commiting it to writing in the year 1226, in the year dal awal, in the month of Ramadan’, (Inilah hikayat diceterakan perintah negeri Benggala tatkala masa zaman senda Ahmad Rijaluddin ibn Hakim Long Fakir Kandu belayar / membuang diri ke Benggala.  Maka dikarang hikayat ini meninggal akan zaman diperbuat surat pada sanat 1226 tahun dal awal bulan Ramadan.) 

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'Title page' of Hikayat perintah negeri Benggala. British Library, Add. 12386, ff.1v-2r noc

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Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim, wa-bihi nasta'in: the first words of Hikayat perintah negeri Benggala. British Library, Add. 12386, f. 2v (det.)  noc

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Start of the story of Hikayat perintah negeri Benggala. British Library, Add. 12386, ff. 2v-3r  noc

It looks as if Ahmad Rijaluddin had further planned another innovative addition to the end of his manuscript, for after the final page of text he prepared decorative frames on two facing pages. What did he plan to write - a poem? a dedication? a prayer? We will never know, for the pages have been left blank.

Add_ms_12386_f050v-51r  Add_ms_12386_f049v-50r
Hikayat perintah negeri Benggala, showing (left) empty decorated frames at the end of the book, and (right) the final page of the text. British Library, Add. 12386, ff. 50v-51r and ff. 49v-50r  noc

And so these two brothers, Ibrahim and Ahmad Rijaluddin, may be credited for their original and exploratory treatments of Malay title pages. Their efforts did not spark a bibliographic revolution; that had to await the imminent arrival of the printing press in Melaka and Singapore. Nonetheless, these two Malay manuscripts - Hikayat Parang Puting and Hikayat perintah negeri Benggala - can be regarded as being in the vanguard of the movement to expand the graphic frontiers of the Malay book.

Further reading

Jamilah Haji Ahmad, Hikayat Parang Puting. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1980.
Liaw Yock Fang, Sejarah kesusastraan Melayu klasik.  Jakarta: Obor, 2011. [Contains a summary of the story of Hikayat Parang Puting on pp. 188-192.]
Ahmad Rijaluddin’s Hikayat Perintah Negeri Benggala. Edited and translated by C. Skinner.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

22 January 2018

Tales of the Malay World

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If you are in Singapore – or anywhere near – grab the opportunity to visit the exhibition Tales of the Malay World, at the National Library of Singapore, before it ends on 25 February 2018. The biggest international exhibition of Malay manuscripts ever held, the display of over a hundred Malay manuscripts and early printed books includes 16 manuscripts from the British Library, as well as 17 loans from the Royal Asiatic Society and 18 from Leiden University Library, which are being shown alongside treasures from the National Library of Singapore’s own collections.

Tales of the Malay World

This was not the only time that Malay books from the British Library have been exhibited in Southeast Asia. The first occasion was in Malaysia in 1990, when 22 early Malay printed books were loaned to the exhibition Early Printing in Malay (Pameran Percetakan Awal dalam Bahasa Melayu) held at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, from 4-9 June 1990. The following year, 25 manuscript letters and books in Malay, Javanese, Balinese, Bugis and Batak travelled to Indonesia for the exhibition Golden Letters: Writing Traditions of Indonesia (Surat Emas: Budaya Tulis di Indonesia), held at the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta and at the Palace (Kraton) of Yogyakarta in September 1991. In October 1995 five Malay manuscripts were loaned to the International Exhibition of Malay Manuscripts (Pameran Manuskrip Melayu Antarabangsa) at the National Library of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, including the beautifully illuminated Taj al-Salatin and the Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka currently on display in Singapore. But apart from the two latter books, for the 14 other Malay manuscripts from the British Library featured in Tales of the Malay World, it is the first time that they have travelled back to the ‘lands below the winds’ since sailing westwards in the 19th century.

As suggested by the title, the exhibition celebrates the rich seam of Malay literature, and in the judicious hands of curator Tan Huism, deftly draws out some interesting threads. Accorded its own showcase at the very start of the exhibition is the British Library manuscript of the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah. This work occupies a seminal position in the Malay literary imagination, as it is cited in the Sejarah Melayu as the story for which the warriors of Melaka clamoured to be recited to give them strength and courage, the night before the fateful final attack by the Portuguese in 1511.

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Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, on display in the exhibition 'Tales of the Malay World'. British Library, MSS Malay B.6, ff. 3v-4r  noc

The exhibition includes many other Malay literary treasures from the British Library, including a tale of the Javanese culture-hero Prince Panji (Hikayat Carang Kulina) and the cycle of tales told by the wise parrot to detain his mistress from keeping her rendezvous with her lover (Hikayat Bayan Budiman). Yet some British Library manuscripts inevitably paled in comparison with other exhibits - our nicely-written copy of Sejarah Melayu, copied in Melaka in 1873, could not hope to attract as much attention as the Royal Asiatic Society's iconic manuscript Raffles Malay 18 of the same work, which though only copied in Java around 1814 preserves the text of the oldest known version of the work dated 1612.  Our copy of the Hikayat Hang Tuah, dating from ca. 1810, which I believe has particular value in that it is said to be copied from a manuscript belonging to the Sultan of Kedah, is much less well-known than the oldest known manuscript of the work, dated 1758, which had travelled from Leiden (Cod.Or.1762).

In some cases the exhibition enabled the material aspects of manuscripts to come to the fore. The British Library manuscript of episodes from the Mahabharata, Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, copied by Muhammad Kasim in 1804 probably in Penang or Kedah, has attractive double decorated frames. However, arguably a much more important and rarer feature of this manuscript is its original binding (carefully conserved before travelling to Singapore), comprising a printed Indian cotton outer cover over an inner plaited palm lining, which was placed on display next to the book itself.

MSS Malay B.12.jpg
Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, 1804. British Library, MSS Malay B.12, ff. 1v-2r  noc

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Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, Indian cloth cover (photograph taken before conservation). British Library, MSS Malay B.12, cloth cover.  noc

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Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, inner lining made of plaited palm, to which the cloth cover has been stitched (photograph taken before conservation). British Library, MSS Malay B.12, inner palm cover  noc

As well as the manuscripts and early printed books on display, clips of old Malay films based on literary classics such as Tun Fatimah (1962) and Hang Jebat (1961) were shown during the exhibition, attracting a lot of nostalgic interest. There was also a programme of talks, and workshops on reading Jawi script. The atmospheric installation - expertly overseen by project manager Alvin Koh - with its attractive graphic panels and jewel-coloured walls, greatly enhanced the evocative beauty of the exhibits.

Given below is a full list of Malay manuscripts from the British Library loaned to the exhibition ‘Tales of the Malay World’, National Library of Singapore, 18 August 2017 – 25 February 2018. All the manuscripts have been fully digitised and can be read on the Digitised Manuscripts site by following the hyperlinks:
1. MSS Malay B.2, Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka
2. MSS Malay B.6, Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah
3. MSS Malay B.7, Hikayat Bayan Budiman
4. MSS Malay B.12, Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya
5. MSS Malay D.3, Hikayat Parang Puting
6. MSS Malay D.4, Hikayat Nabi Yusuf
7. Add 12379, Hikayat Isma Yatim
8. Add 12383, Hikayat Carang Kulina
9. Add 12384, Hikayat Hang Tuah
10. Add 12386, Hikayat Perintah Negeri Benggala
11. Add 12393, Hikayat Raja Babi
12. Add 12394, Syair Sultan Maulana
13. Add 12397, Undang-Undang Melaka
14. Or 13295, Taj al-Salatin
15. Or 14734, Sejarah Melayu
16. Mss Eur.D.742/1, f 33a, Letter from Sultan Syarif Kasim of Pontianak to T.S. Raffles, 1811

Following the opening of the exhibition, on 18 August 2018 I gave a talk at the National Library of Singapore on 'Art and Artists in Malay manuscript books', excerpts of which can be watched here:

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

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