THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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160 posts categorized "South East Asia"

13 November 2017

Adat Aceh: royal Malay statecraft in the 17th century

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When I am asked which is the most important Malay manuscript in the British Library, there is no simple answer. Should I cite the two copies we hold of the Sejarah Melayu, ‘Malay Annals’(Or 14734 and Or 16214), recounting the founding of the 15th-century kingdom of Melaka, and arguably the single most famous Malay text? Or the oldest known manuscript of the earliest historical chronicle in Malay, the Hikayat Raja Pasai, ‘Chronicle of the Kings of Pasai’ (Or 14350)? Or one of the finest illuminated Malay manuscripts known, a copy of the Taj al-Salatin, ‘The Crown of Kings’, written in Penang in 1824 (Or 13295)? Unmissable from this list of the great and the good of Malay writing is the Adat Aceh, ‘The Statecraft of Aceh’ (MSS Malay B.11), a compendium of court customs, regulations and practice from the greatest Muslim sultanate in Southeast Asia in the 17th century.

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Map of Aceh in the 17th century. Achem, from 'Livro do Estado da India Oriental', an account of Portuguese settlements in the East Indies, by Pedro Barreto de Resende, 1646. British Library, Sloane MS 197, ff. 391v-392r.  noc

The Adat Aceh was compiled against the backdrop of the struggle for the throne of Aceh from 1815 to 1819 between two rivals: the incumbent Sultan Jauhar al-Alam Syah, who had accrued many internal enemies; and the preferred choice of the nobles of Aceh, Sultan Syarif Saiful Alam, son of a wealthy merchant based in Penang, who was descended from a line of former Arab sultans of Aceh. Both sides had different British backers, and the East India Company authorities and mercantile community in Penang were closely involved in this affair. The final dates found in the Adat Aceh are the installation of Saiful Alam as Sultan on 12 Zulhijah 1230 (15 November 1815), and Jauhar al-Alam’s subsequent flight to Penang on 1 Muharam 1231 (3 December 1815). However, ultimately Jauhar al-Alam prevailed, and with the support of T.S. Raffles was restored to the throne of Aceh in 1819. [On this period in Aceh history, see Lee 1995.]

The manuscript of Adat Aceh in the British Library is written on English paper watermarked ‘W Balston 1815’, and was most likely copied shortly after that date. The dedication on the first page shows that the book was presented by W.E. Phillips ‘to his valued friend’ Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar (1776-1830). Phillips served in Penang from 1800 to 1824, latterly as Governor, while Farquhar was Lieutenant Govenor of the island from 1804 to 1805. 

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Adat Aceh, a list of rulers of Aceh. British Library, MSS Malay B.11, ff. 28v-29r   noc

The manuscript of Adat Aceh contains a number of different texts. The first two pages (ff. 2v-3r) contain a note on the duration of the world: Pasal pada menyatakan umur dunia tatkala turun Nabi Allah Adam sampai kepada hari kiamat iaitu tujuh ribu tahun lamanya, ‘Section on the age of the world, from the time of the prophet of God Adam to the day of judgement, being seven thousand years’. This is followed by the first major part, entitled in Arabic Mābain al-salāṭīn and in Malay Perintah segala raja-raja, ‘Regulations for kings’ (ff. 3v-26v), ascribed to Ismail bapa (father of) Ahmad. Containing advice for kings, the text is divided into 31 majlis or parts; the end of majlis 5 to the first part of majlis 24 was evidently missing in the older source from which the Adat Aceh was copied in 1815.

The second part of the Adat Aceh deals with the history of the sultanate. A listing of 37 rulers of Aceh is given on four pages (ff. 28r-29v), followed on ff. 31r-47v by a chronological account entitled Silsilah segala raja-raja yang jadi kerajaan dalam Aceh bandar Darussalam, comprising a summary of Acehnese dynastic history from the initial Islamization to the early 19th century, culminating in the crowning of Sultan Saiful Alam as mentioned above.

The third part of the manuscript (ff. 48r-102v) is the Adat majlis raja-raja, ‘Customs and regulations of the kings’, containing a detailed description of protocol for rulers and court officials, including regulations for ceremonies for the fasting month, for two main religious feasts, for making obeisance to the king, for the royal procession to the mosque on Fridays, for the royal bathing party on the final Wednesday of the month of Safar (mandi Safar), and for the night vigil of Lailatulkadar in Ramadan, and concludes with an enumeration of court dignitaries (ff. 103v-111r). The lengthy fourth and final part of the text (ff. 111r-176r) is a detailed account of regulations for the port of Aceh.

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Silsilah taraf berdiri segala hulubalang, section on the order of precedence for the line up of chiefs. British Library, MSS Malay B.11, f. 103v   noc

In acknowledgement of the exceptional historical significance of its contents, particularly the third and fourth parts, which appear to date mainly from the 17th century, the British Library copy of Adat Aceh, MSS Malay B.11, was one of the first Malay manuscripts to be published in facsimile in 1958. Perhaps reflecting the technical limitations of the period, but also the then prevailing lesser appreciation of the codicological value of paratexts, the facsimile included catchwords and some textual corrections, but not marginal annotations indicating new paragraphs (Drewes & Voorhoeve 1958: 8), which can only now be seen in the digitised version of the manuscript. As discussed in an earlier blog post on the Mir’āt al-ṭullāb by Abdul Rauf of Singkel, the Malay use of the Arabic words maṭlab (section, part) and baḥth (discussing, about) in the margins of books to highlight new topics appears to be unique to Aceh, and can involve considerable artistry in presentation. While these marginal signposts in the Adat Aceh lack decorative embellishments, they are elegantly presented calligraphically in red ink, slanted at an angle to the text. 

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Adat Aceh, section on the ceremonial procession for the feast of hari raya haji (Id al-Adha), with on the right, marginal annotation indicating the section on the 30 individually-named palace elephants, and on the left, a textual correction. British Library, MSS Malay B.11, ff. 73v-74r    noc

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Published facsimile of the same pages, with added page numbers, and without the marginal subject indicator on the right, but on the left with the textual correction graphically re-orientated to fit on the page (Drewes & Voorhoeve 1958: 74a-b)

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Three marginal topic indicators in the Adat Aceh manuscript (rotated for ease of reading), from left to right: baḥth tiga puluh gajah, ‘on the 30 elephants’ (f. 73v); simply maṭlab baḥth, 'section on', without indication of subject (f. 152v); maṭlab baḥth perintah segala hulubalang, ‘section on regulations for warriors’ (f. 17r). British Library, MSS Malay B.11  noc

On the basis of notes in another manuscript of the Adat Aceh in Leiden collected by Snouck Hurgronje (Cod.Or. 8213), Voorhoeve concluded that the Adat Aceh was probably compiled in late 1815 by one of the most senior court officials, Teuku Ne’ of Meurasa, from documents in the royal archives of Aceh. A copy (B) was brought to Penang in late 1815 or 1816, from which the present manuscript BL MSS Malay B.11 was copied. By the time of publication of the catalogue of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain in 1977, Voorhoeve had found out that (B) was held in Edinburgh University Library as Or. MS 639, and that pp. 25 and 26 of that manuscript were lacking in BL MSS Malay B.11. The lacuna occurs on f. 14r of the BL manuscript and the missing two pages of text can now be supplied from the Edinburgh manuscript which appears to have been written by the same scribe. Download Transliteration of EUL Or MS 639 pp. 25-26

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Adat Aceh, showing the pages missing from the BL manuscript, from majlis (part) 4 of Perintah segala raja-raja, ‘Regulations for kings’, relating to communications with chiefs (hulubalang), harbourmasters (syahbandar) and merchants (saudagar). Edinburgh University Library, Or MS 639, pp. [25-26]. [With many thanks to Paul Fleming of Edinburgh University Library for providing this image.]

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The BL manuscript of Adat Aceh is a neat copy of the Edinburgh manuscript shown above, written by the same scribe, but he mistakenly left out two full pages at the point indicated by the red mark between the words hikmat and tabib. British Library, MSS Malay B.11, f. 14r   noc

The Adat Aceh is a treasure-trove of information on state, statecraft and trade in 17th-century Aceh, and its importance was recognized even very shortly after its compilation. Although our manuscript does not bear a title, the text was named Adat Achi by T.J. Newbold – one of the most perceptive early scholars of Malay writing – in an article published in 1836 in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science, and in 1838 Newbold presented his own manuscript of the work to the Madras Literary Society. English translations of parts of the Adat Aceh, perhaps based on MS (B), were published by Th. Braddell in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago in 1850-1851. The facsimile publication by Drewes and Voorhoeve in 1958 gave wider access to this work, and two romanised transliterations have been published in Indonesia (Lamnyong 1976 and Harun & Gani 1985). The Adat Aceh was the subject of an important Ph.D. by Takashi Ito (1984), and Ito (2015) has also recently published two volumes of the contemporary 17th century Dutch East India Company records on Aceh, affording an opportunity to compare Malay and Dutch sources on Aceh from the same period.

Further reading:

G. W. J. Drewes and P. Voorhoeve, Adat Atjeh. 's-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1958. [Contains a facsimile of BL MSS Malay B.11]
Ramli Harun & Tjut Rahma M.A. Gani, Adat Aceh. Jakarta: Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, 1985.
Takeshi Ito, The world of the Adat Aceh.  A historical study of the Sultanate of Aceh. [Ph.D. thesis].  Canberra: A.N.U., 1984.
Takeshi Ito (ed.).  Aceh sultanate: state, society, religion and trade. The Dutch sources, 1636-1661.  Leiden: Brill, 2015. 2 v.
Teungku Anzib Lamnyong, Adat Aceh.  Aceh: Pusat Latihan Penelitian Ilmu-Ilmu Sosial, 1976.
Lee Kam Hing, The sultanate of Aceh: relations with the British 1760-1824.  Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1995.
T.J. Newbold, Genealogy of the kings of the Mahomedan dynasty in Achin, from the 601st year of the Hejira to the present time. Extracted from a Malayan MS entitled 'Adat Achi', Usages of the Kingdom of Achin, together with a short notice of the MS itself.  Madras Journal of Literature and Science, 1836, 3-4:54-57, 117-120.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

23 October 2017

Mastering the art of a strong background: examples from Thai manuscripts

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The importance of a strong yet subtle background cannot be underestimated in manuscript painting. Illustrations in manuscripts often accompany a particular text, or are used to highlight an important section of text. At the same time they function as decorative elements and sometimes their purpose is to increase the value of a manuscript. Manuscript painters had to master the fine balance between the subject or central motif, determined by the text, and decorative ornaments and backgrounds in a painting. The background is an important part of the composition and has a significant impact on the finished artwork: if it is too strong or blatant it dominates the rest of the painting, but a weak or neglected background leaves a large area of the painting unappealing.

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Scenes from the legend of Phra Malai while meeting the god Indra in one of the Buddhist heavens (left) and the future Buddha, Metteyya, shown with attendants (right). Central Thai folding book dated 1875. British Library, Or 6630 f.43 Noc

In Thai manuscript art special attention was usually paid to the design of backgrounds in paintings depicting heavenly scenes and celestial figures, whereas the backgrounds of worldly scenes were often shown in a realistic way with plants, rocks, ponds, mountains, buildings, etc. The marvellous scenes shown above are from the legend of the Buddhist monk Phra Malai, here shown during his visit to Tavatimsa heaven. The lavishly gilded red background in a flame-like pattern known in Thai as lai kranok complements the main figures and the structure of the heavenly stupa Chulamani Chedi perfectly. Red was a preferred background colour even before the 19th century, but at that time decorative elements of different sizes and shapes were strewn in randomly to fill in empty space, as shown below in the example from the 18th century.

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A scene from the Nimi Jataka showing Prince Nimi’s journey to the Tavatimsa heaven, passing through the Buddhist hells. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts, 18th century. British Library, Or 14068 f. 4 Noc

The 19th century was a period of experiment and innovation in Thai manuscript painting. Not only were new and brighter tones for background designs introduced, but also strong and well-structured patterns like the lai kranok. Minerals to produce blue tones were expensive and rarely used in manuscript illustrations before 1800, but during the 19th century blue paints were imported from Europe and sometimes were used very lavishly to questionable artistic effect.

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The gods Indra (left) and Brahma (right) with attendants in their heavenly environment. From a central Thai folding book containing the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1875. British Library, Or 6630 f. 1  Noc

In the image above the strong blue background used for the central part of Buddhist text passages in Pali language, written in gold ink, is almost overwhelming. It is unlikely that the excessive use of blue was the painter’s decision, but rather the request of the person(s) who commissioned the manuscript. Bright blue tones became very fashionable during the 19th century and together with the gold ink they made the manuscript appear more valuable. In the illustrations of the gods Indra (left) and Brahma (right) together with other celestial beings, however, the painter decided to use blue tones very sparingly in the lai kranok pattern which has a bright red as its basic tone, very much in the pre-1800 tradition.

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The gods Indra (left) and Brahma (right) in their heavenly environment. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, 19th century. British Library, Or 15257 f. 2 Noc

The usual way to record text in illustrated Thai folding books was to write it in black ink on the naturally cream-coloured paper as shown above. Sometimes, the paper was blackened and the text recorded in yellow ink or white steatite pencil. The image above shows illustrations of the gods Indra (left) and Brahma (right), both before a background dominated by red. The lai kranok pattern makes use of white, blue, green and pink tones. The figures are kneeling on a blue ground that is decorated with gold floral patterns.

Besides the lai kranok pattern, floral background designs enjoyed great popularity throughout the 19th century. The use of floral patterns for backgrounds was a further development of the already well-established application of flowers and foliage as decorative elements in manuscript illustrations of worldly scenes before the 19th century, though not in strictly structured, pattern-like designs.

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Illustrations of four Buddhist monks at a funeral. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, 19th century. British Library, Or 15257, f. 4 Noc

Flowers are not only aesthetically-enhancing elements in Thai manuscript painting. They can also symbolise a peaceful and enjoyable environment as well as positive thoughts and beautiful minds. This can be assumed in the case of the illustrations above, showing four Buddhist monks seated in meditation or while chanting Pali texts at a funeral. Although the floral pattern of white-and-pink blossoms with foliage in green tones on a dark brown foundation is very strong and distinctive, it does not overpower the four figures in the foreground. The monks’ appearance is presented in very bright colours, dominated by an almost white cream tone and an intense orange so that they stand out before the darker background.

The following three manuscript illustrations feature similar floral background patterns which aim to enhance the appearance of the god Brahma, a red Hanuman figure and a hermit.

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The god Brahma seated in a respectful pose on a floor decorated with red foliage before a black background with a light blue and green floral pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1903. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15370, f. 4 Noc

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The red coloured Hanuman seated in a respectful pose on a floor decorated with white foliage before a black background with a white, pink and green floral pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1903. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15370, f. 8 Noc

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A hermit seated in a respectful pose on a floor decorated with blue foliage before a black background with a white, pink and green floral pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1903. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15370, f. 10 Noc

Simpler floral background patterns that were frequently used consisted of triple blossoms, single or multi-coloured, combined with a green leaf as shown in the image below. An even more simplified floral pattern consisted of a combination of dots arranged in such a way that they resembled multiple blossoms on trees. Such simpler floral patterns were also used to decorate curtains or carpets which sometimes appear in manuscript paintings.

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A half-human half-bird kinnara seated in a respectful pose on a floor decorated with green foliage before a black background with a simple multi-coloured floral pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1903. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15370, f. 9 Noc

Another frequent background pattern in Thai manuscript painting is the cloud pattern. Consisting of distinctively shaped white or light blue clouds on a bright blue foundation, this pattern usually accompanies celestial beings to show their heavenly environment. The cloud pattern often resembles clouds that were used in East Asian manuscript decoration (compare, for example, the Vietnamese Truyện Kiều) and may have been adopted from East Asian traditions.

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Celestial banner bearers (left) and the future Buddha Metteyya with attendants (right) before a light blue background with a cloud pattern. From a central Thai folding book containing a selection of Buddhist texts and the legend of Phra Malai, dated 1849. British Library, Or 14838, f. 57 Noc

The manuscript paintings shown above are fine examples where larger and smaller clouds were combined to form a light-blue and white background pattern that contrasts and enhances the presentation in yellow, orange and red tones of celestial beings (devata) and Metteyya, the Buddha-to-be, in their heavenly environment.

A clear example of neglect in the background design can be seen in the illustrations below. Although the artist put considerable effort into the execution of the celestial beings, paying much attention to details of their clothes and jewellery which are presented in gold, yellow and orange tones, the background design is really bland with broad white brushstrokes thrown wildly on a blue foundation.

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Male and female heavenly beings, devata, before a poorly executed background with clouds. From a central Thai folding book containing the legend of Phra Malai, 19th century. From Soren Egerod’s collection. British Library, Or 15371, f. 25   Noc

It is difficult to explain such carelessness in the presentation of the background. The painter may have been under time pressure to finish illustrating the manuscript; or maybe he wanted to experiment with foreign water-colour painting techniques which he had not mastered yet. It may also be the work of two painters, one of whom was not very skilled or an apprentice. Another possibility is that the manuscript was produced at one of the many commercial workshops that had sprung up in Bangkok during the second half of the 19th century where numerous low-quality manuscripts and affordable copies of older, more valuable manuscripts were produced by less skilled artists.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork

21 September 2017

The oldest example of Thai script printed in Europe

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Formal relations between Great Britain and Thailand were established in 1612 when a letter from James I to the Thai King Songtham travelled on the ship The Globe via Patani in the Gulf of Siam, and finally arrived in the capital Ayutthaya in August or September 1612. Following this, permission was given to British merchants to trade in Siam, and subsequently to explore trading opportunities in the northern Thai kingdom of Lanna, which had been visited in 1587 by the adventurer Ralph Fitch, the first Englishman known to have set foot in Thailand.

In January 1684, during the reign of the pro-foreign King Narai, an embassy from Ayutthaya set sail for France via Great Britain. The ambassadors Khun Phichai Walit and Khun Phichit Maitri were accompanied by the missionary Bénigne Vachet, who spoke Thai. They met Charles II on 26 September 1684. The 17th-century writer, thinker and bibliophile John Evelyn noted in his diary: "26th of September [1684]. There was now an ambassador from the King of Siam, in the East Indies, to His Majesty" (Evelyn 1955: 4.388). On this occasion a manuscript Thai syllabary with numerals, with Romanised equivalents, all written in a sloping hand, was presented to Charles II.

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Detail of the first page of a handwritten syllabary listing the Thai consonants (first three lines) and some vowels (bottom line) with Romanised equivalents, circa 1684. British Library, Reg.16.B.IV, f.1 Noc

The scribe of the document is not mentioned – perhaps it was compiled by one or both Thai ambassadors working together with Bénigne Vachet. It can be assumed that its purpose was to further written communications between Great Britain and Siam. However, British trading activities in the Thai kingdom came to an abrupt end with the Siamese revolution and the overthrow of King Narai in 1688.

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Detail of the third page of the Thai syllabary listing certain syllables and numerals at the bottom, circa 1684. British Library, Reg.16.B.IV, f.3 Noc

The Thai syllabary passed into the possession of Thomas Hyde (1636-1703), the king's translator. Hyde was a Cambridge-educated Orientalist, who became Hebrew Reader at Oxford in 1658, and was appointed librarian-in-chief of the Bodleian Library in 1665. He had a strong interest in Asian languages and was well known for his knowledge of Arabic, Hebrew, Malay, Persian, Syriac and Turkish. After Hyde's death in 1703 the syllabary was one of many Oriental manuscripts purchased from his estate for the Royal Collection, and is listed in a catalogue as 'The Syam Alphabet, with their numbers' (Casley 1734: 248). The syllabary then remained in the Royal Collection until 1757, when George II gave the library to the British Museum which had been established four years earlier following the bequest of Sir Hans Sloane’s collection to George II for the nation. The approximately 2000 manuscripts and 9000 printed books of the Royal Collection are now held at the British Library.

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Front cover of a volume containing various engraved prints from copper plates of the Thai, Sinhalese and Tatar alphabets, and Chinese numbers, weights and measures, bound with a British Museum red leather binding. British Library, Or.70.bb.9 Noc

Hyde appears to have commissioned a copper-plate engraving of this handwritten Thai syllabary from Michael Burghers (1647/8 – 1727), a Dutch engraver who resided at Oxford for most of his life, and who was the printer used by Thomas Hyde for most of his experiments with typography. Burghers worked mainly for the university and booksellers, but was also employed by the English aristocracy. Although Burghers produced numerous portraits of scholars and aristocrats, including one of Charles II, he became known best for his engravings of antiquities, artefacts and ruins. In a letter of 19 April 1700 to Thomas Bowrey, compiler of the first Malay-English dictionary, Hyde states that he is sending him copper-plates of two Siamese and one Sinhalese alphabets, for which the engraver had charged £5 (British Library, MSS Eur E 192). 

Hyde's own copy of the two-page print of the Thai syllabary was also acquired for the Royal Collection, and entered the British Museum in 1757. Here it was bound in red leather together with prints of the Sinhalese and Tatar alphabets, Chinese numbers, weights, measures, directions etc., all engraved by Burghers. Each of the prints is marked with “MBurg. sculp.” in the right bottom corner. The prints were first published in a collection of Hyde’s works, edited by Gregory Sharpe, with the title Syntagma dissertationum quas olim auctor doctissimus S.T.P. separatim edidit (Oxford, 1767).

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Engraving of the Thai alphabet and syllables, based on the handwritten syllabary presented to Charles II in 1684. British Library, Or.70.bb.9, f.8 Noc

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Detail of Michael Burghers‘ copper print of the Thai syllabary with Romanised equivalents, and with numbers at the bottom, 1700. In the right bottom corner, Burghers signed his work: „Mburg. sculp.“ British Library, Or.70.bb.9, f.9 Noc

Burghers' work, which can now be dated to 1700, is the oldest known example of Thai script printed in the West. Older Chinese woodblock prints of Thai script were produced at the end of the 16th century as a part of multi-language vocabularies, known as Hua Yi Yi Yu, after a section for the Thai language was established at the translators’ institute of the Ming government in 1579.

Further reading

Anderson, John, English intercourse with Siam in the seventeenth century. London: Routledge, 2000 (reprint of the 1890 first edition).

Baker, Chris and Pasuk Phongpaichit, A history of Ayutthaya: Siam in the early modern world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Casley, D. A catalogue of the manuscripts of the King's Library. London, 1734.

Evelyn, John, Diary. Edited by Esmond Samuel de Beer, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.

Farrington, Anthony and Dhiravat na Pombejra, The English Factory in Siam 1612-1685. London: British Library, 2007.

Tyacke, Nicholas, The history of the University of Oxford. [Vol. 4, Seventeenth-century Oxford]. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Jana Igunma
Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian

With information on Thomas Hyde and Thomas Bowrey from Ursula Sims-Williams and Annabel Teh Gallop

Ccownwork

05 September 2017

Vietnamese traditional markets

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One striking feature of South East Asia is its traditional markets. They can be easily set up in any available space in communities, with vendors laying out their goods on makeshift stalls or on street pavements. Despite global and international retail chains mushrooming in many parts of the region, traditional markets are still going strong and in many areas are making a comeback.

In Vietnam, traditional markets have played a vital part in daily life, especially in the past when people still lived under a self-sufficient and rural economy. Markets provided a place where they could trade their daily necessities, while socialising and exchanging local news. Their importance is best expressed by the Vietnamese proverb “A market has its regulations; a village has its customs.” Vietnamese traditional markets come in different forms and sizes, from a tiny and basic hamlet market, to a more substantial village market which takes place where roads meet, or a town market, which also has proper shop houses (buildings which combine a shop with simple living accommodation for the trader). Markets can be held on any day but are usually busiest on the 2nd, 6th, 12th, 16th, 22nd, and 26th of the lunar month (Hưu Ngọc 2012: 178) .

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Bà Chiểu vegetable market, Sài Gòn, from Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ, 2015, p.22. British Library, OIJ.915.97

The origins of the Vietnamese traditional market can be traced back from written records to the end of the 13th century. In 1293 Trân Phu, a Chinese envoy of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) who travelled through Vietnam during the Trầ n Dynasty (1226-1400), made a note in his records (An Nam tức sự) that “Vietnamese markets took place every two days. Hundreds of goods were laid out. A building of three rooms width with four bamboo benches was erected at every five (Chinese) miles as a place for a market.” (Trịnh Khắc Mạnh 2015: 6).

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Food vendor, from Oger 1909, p.75. British Library, Or. TC 4

According to Trịnh Khắc Mạnh, traditional Vietnamese markets before the modern period can be divided into two types, namely those managed by the local administration and those managed by a local temple. Profits from market management would thus go back either to local communities or to the temple (Trịnh Khắc Mạnh 2015: 7).

In the past, markets were not only a place for businesses but they served as a community’s centre where locals were able to socialise. In addition to being able to sell or buy goods, both traders and customers also had a chance to meet up and exchange or gather news about their neighbours and communities. A market was a place where other daily activities took place, as this folk song about a girl looking for a man of her dreams demonstrates: “I’m like a length of rose silk / Waiting in the market for the right buyer” (Hưu Ngọc 2012: 178).

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Poultry vendor from Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ, 2015, p.23. British Library, OIJ.915.97

Markets in small villages or communities required no permanent fixtures. They could be easily set up with makeshift stalls, benches or even just a piece of cloth laid out on the bare ground. Markets in towns were generally bigger and would also have permanent shop houses. In the 18th and 19th centuries in prominent towns such as Sài Gòn, Hà Nội or Huế there were markets that specialised in one particular trade, such as clothes, paper, tin and copper household utensils, and leather. Street names in the old quarter of Hà Nội clearly reflect the specific commercial history of parts of the city as each name gives you a clue as to what you could expect to buy from the area. For example, Phố Hàng Đào was a place where you could buy silk or fabric, Phố Hàng Bạc specialised in silver products whereas Hàng Chiếu would have plenty of sleeping mats for you to choose from. Some of these traditions still carry on to the present day.

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Paper shop, from Oger 1909, p.131. British Library, Or. TC 4

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A pharmacy, in Oger 1909, p.90. British Library, Or. TC 4

Records of western travellers to the region in the 19th century also give good accounts of what traditional markets were like. George Finlayson, a surgeon and naturalist attached to the Crawfurd Mission to Siam and Vietnam in 1821-1822, gave an account of the principal market in Huế, which he visited on 3rd October 1822, as follows:
“It consists of a spacious street about a mile in length, with shops on either side of the whole of its length. Many of the shops are mere paltry huts, made of palm leaves; the rest are more substantial houses, constructed chiefly of wood, and have tile or thatched roofs. Here also, the poverty of the shops was particularly striking. A very large proportion contained nothing but shreds of gilt and coloured paper used in religious ceremonies and at funerals. Chinese porcelain, of a coarse description; fans, lacquered boxes, Chinese fans, silks, and crapes, the two latter in small quantity; medicines without number, coarse clothes made up, large hats made of palm-leaf, and a sort of jacket of the same material; rice, pulse, and fruit; sago … were the common articles exposed for sale. There were but few, and those very coarse articles of manufactured iron, as nails, hatches, and chisels, which bore a high price …” (George Finlayson 1826: 371-2).

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Ceramics and pottery shop, from Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ, 2015, p.57. British Library, OIJ.915.97

The British Library is fortunate to hold some items which depict Vietnamese markets at the beginning of the 20th century. The three-volume set of Introduction générale a l’étude de la technique du peuple annamite by Henri Oger, published in Paris in 1909 (Or. TC 4) has detailed and informative drawings of daily activities of the Vietnamese in and around Hà Nội in the first decade of the 20th century. In addition to this finely illustrated item, the Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ (OIJ.915.97) depicts daily life activities of the Vietnamese in the Gia Định-Sài Gòn area in the 1920’s-1930’s. The item in our collection is a 2015 re-publication of the Monographie Dessinée de L’Indochine: Cochinchine, first published in Paris in 1930. It is a collection of beautiful drawings from the Gia Định School of Drawings (Trường vẽ Gia Định or Ecole de Dessin, founded in 1913, the predecessor of the present University of Fine Arts, Hồ Chí Minh City). Both items are wonderful historical records of the lives of Vietnamese commoners at the turn of the 20th century.

Further reading:
George Finlayson, The Mission to Siam and Hue, the Capital of Cochin China in the years 1821-2. London: John Murray, 1826.
Henri Oger, Introduction générale a l’étude de la technique du peuple annamite. Paris: Geuthner Librarie-Éditeur, [1909].
Hưu Ngọc, Wandering through Vietnamese Culture. Hanoi: Thế Giới, 2012.
Ký Họa Về Đông Dương: Nam Kỳ. TP. Hồ Chí Minh : Nhà xuất bản văn hóa văn nghệ, 2015.
Trịnh Khắc Mạnh. Chợ truyền thống Việt Nam qua tư liệu văn bia. Hà Nội: Khoa học xã hội, 2015.

Sud Chonchirdsin
Curator for Vietnamese

04 August 2017

Malay manuscripts from Patani

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Patani is a culturally Malay-Muslim region located on the northeast coast of the Malay peninsula, in the southern part of Thailand. It has long been renowned as a cradle of Malay art and culture, and especially as a centre for Islamic learning, with close links with the Holy Cities of Arabia. Patani has produced many notable Islamic scholars, the most prominent being Daud bin Abdullah al-Patani (1769-1847), who lived and wrote in Mecca in the first half of the 19th century. scholars, and Wan Ahmad al-Patani (1856-1908), the first Superintendent of the Malay press in Mecca. Patani is one of the great centres of the Malay manuscript tradition, and many manuscripts from Patani are now held in the National Library of Malaysia and the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

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Map of the province of Pattani (Bangkok: Royal Survey Department, 1907). British Library, Maps 60120. (2.)

From the 14th century onwards, throughout Southeast Asia the Malay language was written in an extended version of the Arabic script known as Jawi. However, during the course of the 20th century the use of Jawi declined rapidly, and today in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei the Malay/Indonesian language is normally written in roman script. Perhaps because of Patani’s location within Thailand, and a system of state education not rooted in roman script, competency in Jawi appears to have lasted longer in Patani than perhaps anywhere else in Southeast Asia. This means that uniquely in Patani, Malay manuscripts written in Jawi have been produced until recently, including, for example, some elaborately decorated hand-written copies of the text Sejarah Kerajaan Negeri Patani, ‘History of the Malay Kingdom of Patani’, by Ibrahim Syukri, which was first published in 1958 and contains references to post-war events.

PNM MSS 3632  star-det.
Ingeniously decorated late 20th-century manuscript of Sejarah Kerajaan Negeri Patani, showing the start of the second chapter, Pembanganunan negeri Patani dan raja2, ‘The development of Patani and the descent of its rulers’. PNM MSS 3632, reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Malaysia.

The British Library holds two manuscripts probably from Patani, both of which may have been copied very recently, and which have been fully digitised. One contains a well-known Malay tale, Hikayat Raja Khandak dan Raja Badar (Or.16128), set during the early wars of Islam, in which the eponymous villain, Raja Khandak (known in some versions as Raja Handak or Raja Handik) and his son Raja Badar battle against the forces of the Prophet. It was a very popular story, and is also found in Javanese, Sundanese, Acehnese and Makassar versions. At least 24 Malay manuscripts of this work are known to be held in collections in Indonesia and Europe, copied in locations ranging from Batavia to Singapore, and including another copy in the British Library which was copied in Semarang in Java in 1797 (Or. 14350).

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Opening pages of Hikayat Raja Khandak dan Raja Badar, in Malay in Jawi script. British Library, Or. 16128, ff. 1v-2r  noc

The colophon of Or. 16128 is dated 9 Rabiulawal 1224 (24 April 1809) in the state of Reman (or Raman), which is one of the principalities of Patani, but it is likely that this date refers to the completion of an earlier source rather than that of the present manuscript. This is by no means an unusual scenario; many manuscripts from the Malay world are encountered with colophons that give a date which for codicological reasons (perhaps the use of dated or dateable watermarked paper) evidently predates the the manuscript in question, and therefore can be assumed to apply to the source text rather than the present copy. For example, the British Library holds two copies of the Malay narrative poem Syair Jaran Tamasa, one with a colophon stating it was copied by Ismail on 29 Muharam 1219 (10 May 1804), and another manuscript evidently copied from the former, reproducing exactly the same colophon and date, but which then continues to state that the present copy had been made for Raffles by Muhammad Bakhar.

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The colophon of Hikayat Raja Khandak dan Raja Badar, which states that the work was translated by Nuruddin ibn Ali in the state of Reman on 9 Rabiulawal 1224 (24 April 1809). British Library, Or. 16128, f. 32r (detail)  noc

Although the study of Malay palaeography or handwriting is not greatly advanced, it can be said that the writing of this manuscript – in a neat but slightly jerky hand – has a rather ‘modern’ feel. The use of the superscript abbreviation r.ḍ.h for the honorific raḍiya Allāh ‘anhu, ‘May God be pleased with him’, following the names of the Prophet’s companions, is not common in Malay manuscripts. The most unusual feature, though, is that rubricated words have been written in red ink above a pencil outline. This probably indicates that Or. 16128 followed the same pattern of rubrication as its source text, and that while writing the scribe used pencil to indicate words to be rubricated, and then later overwrote the pencilled outlines in red ink. Although rubrication is very common in Malay manuscripts, there are almost never signs of pencil outlines; instead, the scribe wrote directly in red ink. These pencil outlines therefore suggest a manuscript copied outside of (or subsequent to) the mainstream manuscript tradition.

Ali
Pencil outline visible beneath the rubricated word ‘Alī with superscript r.ḍ.h (raḍiya Allāh ‘anhu) on the first page of Hikayat Raja Khandak dan Raja Badar. British Library, Or. 16128, f. 1v (detail)  noc

The second manuscript aquired from the same source, Or. 16129, consists of only 11 folios and contains an unidentified religious work (or fragment of a work) by Imām Aḥmad (the Sunni jurist Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, 780-855) on the shahādah (profession of faith), set within frames with a commentary written in the margins. The main text has a colophon stating that it was written on 24 Muharam 1[2]60 (14 February 1844) in Mecca. This manuscript is also written in a small neat hand with a ‘modern’ feel, but in this case modern influences are clearly manifest in the use of certain punctuation elements such as brackets and numbered points within the text, indicating a date of production in the 20th century and perhaps even suggesting that the manuscript might have been copied from a printed source.

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Opening pages of the text by Imām Aḥmad on the shahādah, with brackets around the rubricated words on the left-hand page. British Library, Or. 16129, ff. 1v-2r  noc

A general inference can be made on palaeographical grounds that both these manuscripts are modern copies of older sources, and have reproduced verbatim the colophons in the original texts, although this assertion has not been proved scientifically. Both manuscripts are written on cream laid paper with vertical chainlines but with no visible watermark, and so it has not been possible to use features of the paper to date the manuscripts. In 2012, Rajabi (Shasha) Abdul Razak, a doctoral student from the International Islamic University of Malaysia, spent three months in the Conservation section of the British Library to analyse inks in Malay manuscripts using Multi-Spectral Imaging (MuSIS). I asked her to investigate the black and red inks used in Or. 16128, but the results were not conclusive for dating purposes.

Even if Or. 16128 and Or. 16129 were only copied very shortly before they were acquired by the British Library in 2005, they are still of value in testifying to the presence and circulation of their source texts. Despite the wide popularity of the story Hikayat Raja Khandak, no other copies are known from the northern Malay peninsula, and it is thus thanks to Or. 16128 that we know that this story was part of the literary heritage of Patani in the early 19th century.

Shasha Razak-2
Rajabi Abdul Razak, from the International Islamic University of Malaysia, who visited the British Library in 2012 to study the inks used in Malay manuscripts, with ATG. Photograph by Elizabeth Hunter.

Further reading:

Edi Wijaya, Hikayat Raja Handak koleksi Von de Wall: perbandingan alur naskah W 88 dan W 91. [Skripsi [B.A.] thesis]. Jakarta: Fakultas Ilmu Pengetahuan Budaya, Universitas Indonesia, 2008.

Center for Patani Studies - a website for the study of Patani's history, culture and society edited by Francis Bradley

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

24 July 2017

Animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts

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The Southeast Asia exhibition case outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at St Pancras is currently showing a selection of images of animals in manuscripts from Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The delightful depictions of animals can be appreciated as exquisite works of art, but certain animals were also important as religious, political and cultural symbols in Southeast Asian societies, none more so than elephants.

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Animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts, on display in 2017.

In pride of place on the top shelf is a 19th-century Burmese folding book or parabaik (MSS Burmese 204) containing 22 coloured illustrations of elephants, showing the elephant king Chaddanta, who was the Bodhisatta or previous incarnation of Gautama Buddha, and his queen Mahathubadda. In Burma white elephants are regarded as sacred and a source of blessings, as they play a major role in Buddhist tales. In the story of the ‘Life of the Buddha’, Queen Maya dreamed that a celestial white elephant holding a white lotus flower in its trunk entered her side, to be reborn as Gautama Buddha, while in the last Birth Story of the Buddha, Vessantara Jataka, the white elephant appears as a rain maker. Every Burmese king longed to possess a white elephant, a symbol of power and sovereignty.

Next to the Burmese book is a Javanese manuscript of Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma dated 1805 (MSS Jav 68), which is shown open at a scene (identified by Lydia Kieven) where Sekartaji and her servant (emban) approach the forest filled with animals including an elephant, tiger, banteng, wild boar and two deer. This tale is one of many versions of the adventures of Prince Panji in his search for his beloved Princess Candrakirana. Stories of Prince Panji date back to the 13th century, and mark the beginnings of a truly Javanese literature no longer overshadowed by the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Panji tales are found not only in Java but were also translated into Malay, Balinese, Thai, Lao, Khmer and Burmese.

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Drawings of forest animals in a Javanese manuscript of Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma, 1805. British Library, MSS Jav 68, f. 42r.

On the lower shelf is a Vietnamese royal edict issued by Emperor Khải Định on 25 July 1924, adorned on the back with a gilded turtle (Or 14632). The turtle (rùa) has a special place in Vietnamese culture and history. It symbolises longevity, strength and intelligence and is also closely related to the independence of Vietnam. Legend has it that Lê Lời, who led the Vietnamese fight against Chinese invaders in the 15th century, borrowed a sword from the dragon king. After the defeat of the Chinese, the sacred sword was returned to the king by a turtle which lived in a jade water lake. At the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) in Hà Nội, 82 stone turtles carry on their backs steles inscribed with the names of scholars, signifying the importance of education in society.

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Turtle, on the back of a Vietnamese royal edict issued by Emperor Khải Định on 25 July 1924. British Library, Or. 14632.

The final item in the case is a 19th-century Thai Phrommachat or horoscope manual in folding book format (Or. 13650). The twelve-year Chinese zodiac cycle was widely used in Thailand, and the manual contains coloured drawings depicting the zodiac in two series, together with detailed explanations for fortune telling and divination. 2017 is the year of the Rooster, and on display are drawings related to this year, with each rooster shown representing one particular quarter of the year. There is also a number diagram for people born in the year of the rooster, and the male avatar and plant for this year. These are accompanied by drawings used for predicting the future and to explain dreams and omens.

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Thai horoscope manual, open at the page for the year of the Rooster (the present year, 2017). British Library, Or. 13650, f.5v

Or. 13650 has been fully digitised, and shown below are some other pages from this beautiful manuscript, which can be accessed through the hyperlinks beneath the images.

Display Animals Thai OR_13650_f011v
Thai horoscope manual. British Library, Or. 13650, f. 11v

Display Animals Thai OR_13650_f013r
Thai horoscope manual. British Library, Or. 13650, f. 13r

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

Other blog posts about animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts:

Elephants, kingship and warfare in Southeast Asia, by Sud Chonchirdsin

Elephants in all shapes and sizes

The year of the Rooster, from a Thai perspective, by Jana Igunma

O graceful fawn, o gentle doe: deer in Thai manuscript art, by Jana Igunma

What's my Thai horoscope? by Jana Igunma

16 June 2017

Malay and Indonesian manuscripts exhibited in 1960

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Until 1972 the British Library formed part of the British Museum. Its exhibition cases were located in the great King’s Library wing, built in 1827 to house the royal collection of over 60,000 books formed by King George III (1760–1820) and given to the nation in 1823 by his son King George IV. From July to August 1960, the King’s Library hosted ‘Books from the East: an exhibition of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books’ which aimed ‘to show something of the richness and variety of oriental literature’ through ‘books and manuscripts which stand out from the rest on account of their beauty, rarity, early date or unusual form’.

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Interior of the King's Library, British Museum, by Frederick Hawkesworth S. Shepherd (1877–1948). The display cases visible continued to be used for books and manuscripts until the 1990s, when the British Library moved to St. Pancras.

One of the 22 cases in the exhibition 'Books from the East' was dedicated to eight Malay and Indonesian manuscripts, described below in the exhibition leaflet:

“In the centre are two Malay manuscripts: a Proclamation of 1811 by Sir Stamford Raffles written in the Malayan Arabic script, called Jawi, which is slowly being replaced by the modern romanised script; and the other – a seventeenth century translation of the Psalms of David – is in an early romanised script used by Dutch missionaries in the Netherlands East Indies. (Or.9484; Sloane 3115.) Two Javanese illuminated manuscripts are shown – A History of Kingdom of Mataram in East Java, which reached the peak of its power in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries (Add.12,287); and a Pawukon or Treatise on Judicial Astrology with coloured figure drawings illustrating the text (Add.12,338). The very large Buginese book is an example of the interesting Court Diaries that were kept by the Bugis in the Celebes from at least the seventeenth century. (Add.12,354.) Two Batak bark books with wooden covers, from Sumatra, are also shown (Add.19381 and Or.11761) together with a wooden tubular section cut from a length of large bamboo, and inscribed with the Batak alphabet (Or.5309). Both of the books are manuals of divination and magic.”

This display from 1960 has been reassembled here in photographic form below, with hyperlinks to digitised versions and relevant blog posts.

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Proclamation of the capture of Batavia by the British, 11 August 1811, in Malay in Jawi script. British Library, Or 9484

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Psalms of David in Malay, late 17th century, probably written in the Moluccas. British Library, Sloane 3115, ff. 10v-11r

Add 12287 (2)
Babad Sejarah Mataram, Javanese history of the kingdom of Mataram from Adam to the fall of Kartasura; this copy early 19th c. British Library, Add 12287, ff. 3v-4r

Add_ms_12338_f092v-93r
Pawukon, Javanese calendrical compilation with illustrations of the gods and goddesses associated with each week (wuku), 1807. British Library, Add 12338, ff. 92v-93r

Add_ms_12354_f017v-18r
Bugis diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin of Bone (r.1775-1812). British Library, Add 12354, ff. 17v-18r

Add 19381 (5)
Pustaha in Mandailing-Batak from north Sumatra, containing esoteric texts on divination and protection, showing on the right pictures of a labyrinth and the seal of Solomon, early 19th c. British Library, Add. 19381

Or 5309 - b
Bamboo cylinder with Batak syllabary, 19th c. British Library, Or. 5309

Or 11761 (1)
Pustaha in Simalungun-Batak, with nicely decorated wooden covers, a plaited bamboo strap, and carrying string. British Library, Or. 11761  noc

In subsequent years the King's Library witnessed more exhibitions of maritime Southeast Asian material, including Early Malay Printing 1603-1900, held from 20 January to 4 June 1989, and Paper and Gold: illuminated manuscripts from the Indonesian archipelago, held from 11 July to 27 October 1990. But 'Books from the East' appears to have been the first occasion on which Malay and Indonesian manuscripts were included in a thematic temporary exhibition in the British Museum.

Further reading:

M.C.Ricklefs, P.Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014. 

Golden Letters: writing traditions of Indonesia / Surat Emas: budaya tulis di Indonesia. Annabel Teh Gallop with Bernard Arps.  London: British Library; Jakarta: Yayasan Lontar, 1991

Download 1989-Early Malay Printing

Download 1990-Paper and Gold

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

02 June 2017

Exploring Thai art: Reginald Le May

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Reginald Le May was one of many European professionals who served in the Siamese Government during the first decades of the 20th century. He lived and worked for a quarter of a century in Siam (now Thailand), where he had the opportunity to travel intensively in the northern and north-eastern parts of the country. During this time, he accumulated collections of coins, stamps and Buddhist art. After his departure from Siam in 1933, he continued to study and research Thai Buddhist art, and with his publications and exhibitions Le May helped to publicise Thai Buddhist art in Europe.

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Documentation about a small crystal Buddha statue that Le May collected in the North of Siam. British Library, MSS Eur C275/6

Born in 1885 at Wadhurst, Sussex, as the second son of the successful hop merchant Herbert Le May and Harriet Jane Le May (Newman), Reginald Le May received his education at Framlingham College, Suffolk, from 1898 to 1902. The following three years he spent in France and Switzerland studying French and German, and in 1907 he passed the Public Examination for the Far Eastern Consular Service under the Foreign Office. He served in the British Consular Service in Siam from 1908 to 1922, in 1909 winning a British government prize for his proficiency in Thai language. He served as Vice-Consul at Chiang Mai from 1915 to 1917, and afterwards as Vice-Consul at Bangkok until he was transferred to Saigon in 1920. In 1916 he married Dorothy Madeline Castle, with whom he had one daughter.

During his time in Chiang Mai, Le May travelled extensively, often by elephant, to rural areas and studied the culture of the native people. In his book An Asian Arcady: the land and peoples of Northern Siam (Cambridge, 1926) he reminisces: “When I was living in the north of Siam, it was my good fortune to travel extensively through most of the province of Bayap, and to see the lives of the Lao people at fairly close range. I was … quickly attracted by their many delightful qualities, and I used the opportunity to gather as much information as I could regarding their history, customs, and folk-lore” (preface, p. v). This book gave one of the most detailed descriptions of Northern Thai and Lao history and culture at that time, with numerous valuable photographs taken by the author during his trips.

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Le May’s diplomatic travel document issued in Bangkok in 1915. British Library, MSS Eur C275/4

In 1922 Le May was offered the post of Economic Adviser to the Siamese Government, which he accepted happily. In this role, he was from 1926 to 1932 adviser to Prince Purachatra, Head of the State of Railways and Minister of Commerce. On behalf of the Siamese Government he toured Burma, northern India and British Malaya to study rural conditions, and an economic survey took him to north-eastern Siam. He retired from this post in 1933 and returned to the UK via Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China and the US.

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Photograph of Reginald Le May made around 1925 at the Talat Noi Photo Studio in Bangkok. British Library, MSS Eur C275/6    

Although Le May’s professional duties had little to do with Thai art and culture, he had a strong interest particularly in the history of Thai and Southeast Asian Buddhist art, but also in Thai coins and the ancient coinage of the Tai-speaking peoples, as well as the evolution of Thai stamps. For many years, he maintained a close relationship with the Siam Society, which published in 1932 his book on The coinage of Siam (reprinted in 1961). The book was the outcome of ten years of research and for many years it was the standard work on this topic. Other publications that appeared during his time in Siam were The standard catalogue of Thai stamps (Siam Philatelic Society, 1920) and Siamese tales – old and new (London, 1930).

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Notes on a small bronze elephant figurine, dated 1603 A.D., collected by Le May in Northern Siam. MSS Eur C275/6

Le May was respected for his deep knowledge of Thai art and culture. He had lively written conversations with Prince Damrong, Prince Paribatra, Prince Chula Chakrabongse and other Thai intellectuals. In 1929-30 a fine scholarly dispute between Le May and one P.K. was published in the Bangkok Times on the theme of tradition and traditions. On 26 March, 1929, Le May wrote on the value of tradition: “Without tradition, there is no continuity of effort or purpose … It is this which enables the past to live in the present, and which gives us a strong sense of tradition and of our responsibility towards our association and country.” This was in response to criticism from the more progressively oriented P.K., published on 4 February of the same year, of Le May’s book: “Mr le May, in his book ‘An Asian Arcady’ deplores our lack of tradition. We differ from him. We see very little good in tradition. We are not in a position to be able to afford it. We think our adaptability is an asset and only wish we had more of it.”   

Le May 5
Prince Damrong admiring sculptures at the National Museum in Bangkok in 1928, photograph in Le May’s memories. British Library, MSS Eur C275/7

After his return to the UK, Le May pursued a doctorate at Cambridge University in 1934, and was awarded a PhD for his thesis on “Buddhist art in Siam”, which was published in 1938 and soon became a standard work on Thai and Southeast Asian Buddhist art. He began lecturing on Buddhist art at London University and at the Royal Asiatic and the Royal Central Asian Societies in London, at the EFEO and Musée Guimet in Paris, and the 1938 International Congress of Orientalists in Brussels.

In 1937, Le May’s collection of Thai art was displayed at an exhibition in Cambridge with the title Buddhistic sculpture from Siam. According to the exhibition leaflet, the scope of the display covered the Mon period (400-1000 A.D.), the Khmer period (1000-1250 A.D., the Sukhothai and U-Tong periods (1200-1300 A.D.), and the Ayutthaya period (1350-1600 A.D.) Being the first major exhibition of Thai Buddhist art, it drew so much interest that it was repeated in Oxford in 1938 and finally in London in the same year, under the auspices of the Royal India Society, where it was viewed by Queen Mary.

Le May 6
Announcement of Le May’s exhibition of Thai Buddhist art at Cambridge University in 1937. British Library, MSS Eur C275/3

Afterwards, some exhibits were acquired by the British Museum and the Toronto University Museum. Le May’s collection of Siamese stamps was presented to the National Museum and Library in Bangkok, and parts of his collection of ceramic wares were lent for many years to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and then donated to the British Museum. Some items from his collection of coins were also given to the British Museum.

Le May 7
Examples of 18th-century Thai coins with marks representing lotus blossoms, elephants, conch shells.  Reginald Le May, The coinage of Siam (Bangkok, 1932), plate IX. British Library, 07757.cc.21

Numerous scholarly articles by Le May appeared in the Burlington Magazine, the Journal of the Siam Society, the Indian Art Letters, and the Journal of the Royal India, Pakistan and Ceylon Society, mostly on Thai and Southeast Asian Buddhist art and ceramics. In 1954 Le May’s most comprehensive work, The culture of Southeast Asia, was published by Allen & Unwin, London. This book, which was the outcome of more than 25 years of research, is a study of the formative period between 500 A.D. and 1500 A.D. of Southeast Asian art and culture, covering both mainland and insular Southeast Asia.

From around 1950 on, Le May published a family history (1958), and compiled his memories of his years in Southeast Asia which resulted in eleven albums containing original photographs, letters, newspaper cuttings, invitation cards, etc., which are held at the British Library (MSS Eur C275/1-11). Reginald Le May passed away in 1972, aged 87. In their obituary, the Siam Society remembered that “Reginald Le May's affection for this country and the Thai people was hard to match. Indeed, to the last days of his life, he called Siam ‘the country of my adoption’."

Le May 8
Christmas and New Year wishes Le May received from Chiang Mai in 1950. This is a very rare example of 20th-century printing on palm leaves, with hand-coloured illustrations. British Library, MSS Eur C275/8

Further reading

Le May, Reginald, Records of the Le May family in England, 1630-1950. London, Tonbridge: Whitefriars Press, 1958
Obituary: Reginald Le May. Journal of the Siam Society vol. 60.2/1972, pp. 395-6

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork