THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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186 posts categorized "South East Asia"

15 October 2018

A Vietnamese Lord’s letter to the East India Company

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During the Later Lê dynasty (1428-1788), Vietnam was effectively divided into two parts. For over two centuries – from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 18th centuries – the Trịnh Lords ruled the northern part (referred to in Vietnamese history as Đàng Ngoài) and the Nguyễn Lords had power over the southern part (Đàng Trong) of Vietnam, while the Lê emperors had no real political power at all.

The oldest manuscript in the Vietnamese collection at the British Library, from the founding collection of Sir Hans Sloane of 1753, was probably written by the Trịnh ruler of Tonkin in the late 17th century (Sloane 3460). It is a long scroll of yellow paper, beautifully illuminated in silver, written in the Vietnamese language in Han Nom (adapted Chinese) characters, and bearing a large square red ink seal. Unfortunately, the first part of the scroll is missing, and some of the characters in the remaining part are illegible, and it is therefore impossible to establish the precise date of this manuscript.

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Vietnamese letter, probably from Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682) of Tonkin to the East India Company, ca. 1673. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

At my request, Dr Li Tana, of the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, kindly examined images of the manuscript in April 2018. She has transcribed and translated its contents, and is of the opinion that it was probably written under the command of Trịnh Tac (r. 1657-1682) and was sent to the English East India Company (EIC) some time in 1673, following the arrival in Tonkin in 1672 of the first EIC ship. Foreign traders always sought assistance from local powers to facilitate their commercial missions, and in return the local lords also tried to benefit from these foreign visitors, especially their technical know-how on modern technology, as the content of the Trinh lord’s letter clearly demonstrates:

…[overseas merchants visiting us] have been many but only Holland has come … (three characters not legible). It has acted in both friendship and righteousness. [They] sometimes offer pearls and beautiful presents and sometimes send craftsmen who are specialised in cannon casting. This kindness is above all rulers.  Although your country has only just begun interactions with us, we treat all countries equally with compassion and good will. Recently your head trader brought one iron cannon and two bronze cannons. The bronze ones broke as soon as they were tested. [They] were definitely not of solid and excellent quality. [We therefore] have returned them to the ship captain but he has not yet taken them back. If you are arranging for ship[s] to come next year, [please] bring amber either in pieces or stringed together with real pearls for us. We will pay [you] accordingly right away. [This] will be of benefit to both sides. [Please] also send cannon casting craftsmen so that the craftsmen from Holland cannot monopolise this skill. This way our friendship will last forever. [We are sending] 560 catties of raw silk for the two iron cannons which we received last year. Please buy for us 50 hoc (= 50 kilogrammes) big sized amber, plus 5000 pieces of stringed amber. Written in the mid-winter.
(Translated by Dr Li Tana, edited by Dr Geoffrey Wade, April 2018)

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Detail of the text of the letter, with silver illumination on a yellow ground. British Library, Sloane 3460  noc

By the early 17th century, commercial competition among European mercantile states had expanded to Asia, and Southeast Asia was targeted for its rich resources. Vietnam was located in a commercially strategic maritime location and many European traders started to visit the kingdom to seek commercial opportunities. The East India Company (EIC) sent its first delegation from its Japanese base of Hirado to Vietnam in as early as 1613 (Le Thanh Thuy 2014: 62) amid vigorous competition with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and other western European nations. Hirado had been an important port of call for ships between Japan and the Asian mainland since the Nara period, and both the EIC and the VOC had ‘factories’ (trading posts) there. 

In 1672, the East India Company sought to establish a factory in Tonkin, as a liaison base for the export and import of British traders’ goods to China, Japan and maritime Southeast Asia (Thuy 2014: 63). On 25th June 1672, the EIC ship The Zant was sent from Bantam, in Java, to Tonkin, with William Gyfford and five other EIC employees, to seek the establishment of commercial relations with Tonkin. However, it was not until 14th March 1673 that Gyfford had an opportunity to meet Trịnh Tac. After receiving the gifts and letter of the Bantam Council, the Trinh lord only allowed the EIC to set up their factory at Phô Hiến, but not at the capital of Tonkin as the EIC mission had hoped (Thuy 2014: 64).

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Seal on the Vietnamese letter to the East India Company, ca. 1673. Sloane 3460  noc

Even though we can’t be certain that this manuscript letter was sent by Trịnh Tac, it is still an important piece of historical evidence, as it reflects the fluidity and versatility of commercial and political affairs in the changing world of the mercantilism of the 17th century, and the arrival of colonialism in Asia.

The letter, Sloane 3460, has been fully digitised, and is currently on display in the Southeast Asia case outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library, alongside other Southeast Asian manuscripts from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane.

With thanks to Li Tana and Geoffrey Wade.

Further reading:

Le Thanh Thuy. “Trade Relations between the United Kingdom and Vietnam in the 17th -19th Centuries,” in Vietnam Social Sciences, No. 3 (161), 2014, pp. 59-73.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese  ccownwork

28 September 2018

Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese version of the Hamzanama

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Two copies of Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese story of Amir Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, are now available online through the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project.

The story of the warlike and amorous exploits of Amir Hamza, as he and his companions fight against the enemies of Islam, was popular throughout the Muslim world. Many fine illuminated copies of the Persian version, Hamzanama, are known, and shown below is a detail from a large multi-volume copy commissioned in 1562 by the great Mughal emperor Akbar, a task which took 15 years to complete.

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In this illustration, Hamza is deep in coversation with a demon called Hura, unaware that a dragon is approaching from behind rocks to the right. Hamza's close companion, 'Umar Umayya, gesticulates wildly to warn Hamza. Victoria & Albert Museum, IS. 1505-1883

The Hamzanama probably spread throughout Southeast Asia initially in a Malay garb before being translated into other regional languages, including Javanese, Bugis and Makasar. A famous episode in the Malay chronicle of the kingdom of Melaka, the Sulalat al-Salatin or Sejarah Melayu, recounts how the night before Melaka was attacked by the Portuguese in 1511, the nobles ask the Sultan Mahmud Shah for the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah - the bloodthirsty tale of the many battles of Muhammad Hanafiah, a half-brother of the Prophet's grandsons Hasan and Husayn, set in the early days of Islam - to be recited to give them courage. The sultan tested their resolve by suggesting that they did not merit the tale of this great warrior, and offered them instead the Hikayat Amir Hamza as a more appropriate measure of their courage. But the Malay nobles protested and persisted, and finally Sultan Mahmud Shah granted their request for the recital of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah.

While the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah may have been associated with a higher level of valour in Malay tradition, it is the story of Amir Hamza that is far more popular in Javanese literature. In Java, the hero Amir Hamza was granted the ancient Javanese title Menak, and this title is now applied to the whole cycle of Islamic epic tales, which were soon localised according to Javanese literary conventions. Thus in the Menak cycle Amir Hamza is accorded two panakawan companions, Marmaya (based on Amir Hamza's lifelong friend 'Umar Umayya in the Hamzanama) and Marmadi, who are mentors and cunning servants of the hero such as are always found in wayang shadow puppet dramas.

The two Javanese manuscripts which have just been digitised both tell the story of Menak Amir Hamza in the Javanese language, but in two different scripts. MSS Jav 45 is written in Javanese script, derived from an Indian (late southern Brahmi) prototype, and is read from left to right. This manuscript was copied by Mas Ajĕng Wongsaleksana of Jipang, and is dated 9 Rabingulakir, with chronogram panca tri pandita jalma giving the year  in the Javanese era as 1735, equivalent to 4 June A.D. 1808. The text is written in verse and comprises 85 cantos.

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Menak Amir Hamza, in Javanese language and script, dated 4 June 1808. British Library, MSS Jav 45, ff. 3v-4r   noc

The second manuscript of Menak Amir Hamza, MSS Jav 72, is written in pegon script, namely Arabic script with the addition of seven letters representing consonantal sounds needed for Javanese but not found in Arabic, and is thus read from right to left. The first two pages are set in decorative frames ruled in black ink, with a diamond superimposed on a rectangle. This is a quintessential Javanese preferred form for double frames, comprising an elegant assemblage of ruled vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. Very similar frames are found in a Javanese Qur’an manuscript also held in the British Library, Add 12343.

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Menak Amir Hamza, in Javanese in Arabic script, dated 4 June 1808. British Library, MSS Jav 72, ff. 4v-5r  noc

A third copy of the Menak Amir Hamza from Yogyakarta in the British Library collection, Add. 12309, is also being digitised as part of the current project. From the introduction it is clear that this book was written for Ratu Ageng (c. 1730-1803), a wife of Sultan Hamengku Buwana I and the mother of Hamengku Buwana II, some time after 1792. As this manuscript is perhaps the largest single volume Javanese manuscript known, consisting of over 3000 pages written in pegon script, there are some technical challenges to be overcome before this copy can be made available online, but we hope to publish it soon. Watch this space!

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Menak Amir Hamza with 1520 folios, copied between 1792 and 1812. British Library, Add. 12309

Further reading:

Theodore G. Th.Pigeaud, Literature of Java.  Catalogue raisonné of Javanese manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. 4 vols. Volume 1, pp. 212-215.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

21 September 2018

Panji in Javanese manuscripts

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Today’s guest blog is by Java specialist Prof. Ann Kumar of the Australian National University.

The legend of the Javanese culture hero Panji has endured longer, spread more widely, and been represented in more genres than any other in Southeast Asia. From its origins in Java it spread across Indonesia to the Malay peninsula, and to mainland Southeast Asia (and, it has been argued, even to Japan). One has to look a long way west for a comparable phenomenon, the closest being the Arthurian legends. The popularity of these two legends from top to bottom of society, over such a large geographical area and over the better part of a millennium, is probably due to two main factors: the idealized picture they present of royal courts, and their focus on heroic battles and romance. As to whether Panji (or Arthur) was actually a historical figure we can only speculate.

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Serat Panji Angronagung Pakualaman, dated 1813. British Library, Add. 12281, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Illustrated in this blog are four Javanese manuscripts containing a range of Panji stories which are being digitised (hyperlinks will go live as each manuscript becomes accessible online). Panji stories have a daunting complexity, with many sub-plots, disguises, and deceptions. The Javanese scholar Poerbatjaraka analysed a large number of Panji texts, classifying them into seven main types, but despite this variety, there is a common structure of master narrative in most of them.

The story of Panji is set in the period following King Airlangga’s 1045 division of the east Javanese realm into two halves, Jenggala (also called Panjalu, with its capital Kuripan) and Kediri (also called Daha). A marriage is envisaged between Panji, Crown Prince of Jenggala, and his peerlessly beautiful and admirable beloved, Candrakirana (‘moonlight’), the daughter of the ruler of Kediri. Complications intervene: rival suitors, enemy attacks, and/or the disappearance of the princess. Panji, in disguise, solves the problem and then reveals himself. Like Panji, the princess too is often disguised, generally as a man. Eventually she reappears as her beautiful self, and she and Panji marry, returning peace and prosperity to the world. Other dramatis personae include the Klana, a ferocious barbarian from overseas who desires Candrakirana; Gunung Sari, Candrakirana’s brother; Ragil Kuning, Panji’s sister who marries Gunung Sari; and Wirun, Kertala and Andaga, young relatives of Panji. There are also panakawan (retainers) and servants.

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The story of Panji Kuda Waneng Pati, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, Add. 12319, ff. 3v-4r  noc

Panji stories written at the Javanese courts display a high level of poetic language. One of the oldest that has survived is the Middle Javanese Wangbang Wideya, where Panji amply lives up to his cognomina jayeng rana, ‘victorious on the battlefield’ and jayeng tilem, ‘victorious in the bedchamber’. But apart from his famous martial and amorous prowess, he also displays a surprising number of other qualities.

The poet depicts him dressed for audience in a cloth (kain) of light red ochre in a South Indian (keling) pattern, with a black pointed tumpal motif, indicating royalty, and wearing a green sash of gilded cloth. His dagger (kris) is inlaid with a design of maids and lovers on a green ground and set with gold and gems, and he wears ear-studs of ivory painted green and decorated in gold, and a red and yellow flower (puspanidra) behind his ear. He is perfumed with fragrant musk and wearing a scented salve.

Panji is not just a dandy – he has many accomplishments. He is depicted painting a picture from a wayang play on a kain for his beloved to embroider; she has never seen such fine workmanship, more like the work of a god than of a mortal. He is also depicted writing a poem, and carving an armband.
He is a skilled gamelan player, and a skilled puppet master or dalang who performs the story of Supraba duta, using the Sanskrit words faultlessly. He is an expert in the sacred books, reflecting the high level of Indian influence in the courts of the period.

Nor is Panji just a handsome, glamorous, accomplished aristocrat – he is also a person of virtues. He is discerning, knowledgeable in letters, unselfish in thought and policy, skilled in considering the innermost feelings of others, generous to the poor, giving shade to those affected by heat, earning the devotion of the leading brahmans. He is unassuming, and gentle. Candrakirana too is beautiful, virtuous and accomplished, and at the beginning of the story has disappeared, in order to practice asceticism in a secluded place. Even allowing for poetic hyperbole, all this suggests a society whose élite were expected to be not just warriors but people of virtue, and accomplished in various arts – not universally the case in the 14th century.

For most Javanese, the Panji stories were known from performances, rather than written texts. Apart from the Indic repertoire which has been most extensively described by Western scholars, there is a second subdivision of wayang kulit  or shadow puppet theatre dedicated to the Panji stories, called wayang gedog. Wayang gedog performances in mid-nineteenth century Gresik were noted by a visitor, Cornets de Groot, who lists a dozen Panji stories (‘Dandang Welis, Kudanarawangsa, angrene, angron akoong, magat-koong, prijembada, prowelas maroe, moerdaningkoong, Djaja koesoema, kalmendang dadang dewa and wahoe djaja’).

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Wayang gedog text, probably from Yogyakarta, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, MSS Jav 34, ff. 5v-6r  noc

In former times, there was also a type of wayang called wayang beber that used cambric scrolls, painted with illustrations of the characters and scenes of the story to be told. The scroll was stretched between two columns, and its story told by a dalang. In Bali, Gambuh - the oldest dance drama developed in 15th century Gelgel - is almost entirely based on Panji stories. The audience of a Panji dance or drama performance would recognize the different characters from the particular mask - called topeng in Javanese and malat in Balinese - worn portraying them.

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Mask (topeng) of Raden Panji, acquired in Java by T.S. Raffles, before 1817. British Museum, As1859,1228.282

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Volume of fragments of Panji texts, inscribed on the frontispiece by Colin Mackenzie: Cheritra Toppeng, The History of Pandjee of Cooripan, containing an account of the civil wars & of the wars with the Rajahs of Tana Sabrang. British Library, MSS Jav 60, pp. 4-5  noc

Panji and his consort were present in society not only in theatrical performance. At all levels of Javanese society, major milestones in life are marked by prescribed ceremonies. In the ceremony for pregnant women, a ritual object is traditionally inscribed on one side with a drawing of Panji, and on the other one of Candrakirana, expressing the wish that a son might resemble the first, and a daughter the other. And finally, as if these myriad qualities were not enough, in addition to all his other feats and accomplishments Panji was traditionally believed to have invented Javanese theatre, the gamelan and the kris!

Ann Kumar  ccownwork

See Ann Kumar's JAVA WARRIOR WOMAN web page

All the Panji manuscripts illustrated above have been digitised through the Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project, supported by Mr S P Lohia.

On Malay manuscripts containing Panji tales, see: Panji stories in Malay

 On 21 September 2018, a Symposium on Panji Stories in Manuscripts and Performance will be held at Leiden University Library in the Netherlands.

17 September 2018

15,000 images of Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta now online

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The Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project, generously supported by Mr S P Lohia, aims to digitise 75 manuscripts from Yogyakarta now held in the British Library, and provide free online access through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. Full sets of the digital images will also be presented to the Archives and Libraries Board of Yogyakarta (Badan Arsip dan Perpustakaan DIY) and to the National Library of Indonesia (Perpusnas) in Jakarta. Six months after the official launch of the project at the British Library on 20 March 2018 by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, over 15,000 images from 35 manuscripts are now accessible digitally, with all 75 manuscripts scheduled for full online publication by March 2019.

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Opening pages of Bratayuda kawi miring, copied by Wongsadirana of Tanggung, probably before 1797. British Library, MSS Jav 4, ff. 2v-3r Noc

Shown above is one of the newly-digitised manuscripts, a copy of Bratayuda kawi miring (MSS Jav 4), the 18th-century retelling in modern Javanese of the Bratayuda, the Old Javanese version of the Mahabharata composed in the 11th century. Other manuscripts now accessible online, pictured below, are historical works such as Serat Sakondar (Add 12289) recounting the coming of the Dutch to Java; Serat Jaya Lengakara Wulang (Add 12310), containing ethical and mystical instruction interwoven with the story of the wanderings of Prince Jayalengkara; and a primbon, a personal compilation of texts on religious matters, often of an esoteric nature (Add 12311). The 75 manuscripts to be digitised were identified by Prof. Merle Ricklefs as originating from Yogyakarta, and include 61 manuscripts believed to have been taken from the library of the Kraton of Yogyakarta by the British in 1812. For a full list of the manuscripts to be digitised, click here.

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Serat Sakondar. British Library, Add 12289, ff. 2v-3r Noc

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Serat Jaya Lengakara Wulang. British Library, Add 12310, ff. 5v-6r Noc

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Punika sĕrat Primbon Palintangan Palindon Pakĕdutan. British Library, Add 12311, ff. 139v-140r Noc

Over the past few months, conservators, photographers, curators and digital technicians have been hard at work on the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project. Conservator Jessica Pollard has checked every single manuscript, ensuring the volumes can be opened for photography without causing any damage. Creased pages have been flattened, tears repaired and bindings secured, to enable the manuscript to be digitised safely. 

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Left: Jessica Pollard at work in the British Library Conservation Centre; Right: repairing a tear across a drawing of a wayang figure.

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Top image: severe insect damage in a manuscript of Javanese wayang texts; bottom image: the same manuscript, after repair by Jessica. British Library, MSS Jav 20

From the Conservation Centre the manuscripts go on to Carl Norman in the Imaging Studios for photography. Each page is arranged to lie as flat as possible, with the rest of the book secured by velcro-bands, and with the spine supported adequately. Due to the complications of mounting the manuscript, Carl first photographs all the left-hand pages, and then turns the volume round and photographs all the right-hand pages. When the whole volume has been photographed, the images are interfiled, so the pages can be read in sequence.

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Carl checking the focus on the camera, with a Javanese manuscript set up for photography.

Many Javanese manuscripts have scribal or editorial corrections or amendments, which are sometimes written on separate pieces of paper which are then sewn onto the page at the intended point of insertion. Such pages present a real challenge for Carl: in order to photograph the manuscript so that all the text is legible, the page has to be photographed several times, with the sewn-on inserts folded in different directions to reveal the lines underneath.

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Bratayuda kawi miring, 1797: f. 266v has an insert sewn onto the left hand page, and Carl has had to photograph this page three times in total, in order to show all the text. British Library, MSS Jav 4, f. 266v Noc

The images are then passed on to Project Assistant Kate Thomas for quality assurance. Kate checks each digital image, looking at consistency of colour and ensuring that the sequence of images displays correctly. Occasionally she may find that one page has been missed out, or a stray hair might have fallen across the page during photography, and so the manuscript will need to be retrieved and sent back to Carl for the required pages to be re-photographed. Finally, the images are linked up with the catalogue entry, and the manuscript is ‘published’ to the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website, where it can be read in full, online, all over the world.

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Kate Thomas checking the quality of all the images of each Javanese manuscript, before publishing the manuscript online.

Once the manuscript is live, the project page is updated, and the news disseminated through social media, including the British Library Asian and African Studies Blog, Facebook (Annabel Gallop) and Twitter @BLMalay. So do subscribe to our blog, and follow us for the latest updates!

Annabel Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

  Ccownwork

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.

BL Or.15646 (2)
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

Bronbeek 2004-00-130 (5)
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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Bronbeek 42332 (6)    PNM Aceh Quran-end DF-det.
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. 

Bronbeek cannon English (20)
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.

Bronbeek cannon English (19)
The crowned arms of James I, 'Jacobus Rex', on the cannon sent to Iskandar Muda.

Bronbeek cannon English (17)
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

 

18 July 2018

Traditional games in Burma

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Manuscripts from Burma (Myanmar) in the form of folding books (parabaik) often contain depictions of traditional games and sports such boxing, martial arts, cock-fighting and chinlone, reflecting popular activities in daily life.

One of the national games of Burma is chinlone, or the cane-ball game, played with a ball made of six hoops of interwoven smoothly-cut cane or rattan. The idea of the game is to try to keep the chinlone up in the air for as long as possible by foot-work, and to not let it drop to the ground. The chinlone can be kicked by the instep, outer and inner sides of the foot, sole, heel and knee, but may not be touched with the hand. It can be played indoors and outdoors, in all seasons and by all ages, and is often played barefoot. Burmese people regard this traditional game as good for exercising leg muscles, building strength and developing body flexibility.

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The illustration depicts a professional solo player playing chinlone in a court yard, while the king and queen in the pavilion watch the game. In the painting, the player has heavily tattoed legs, and his longyi (waist-cloth) is tucked up close round the middle, so that his legs may be quite free to play. In the game, the player sends the chinlone into the air again and again with decreasing force till he allows it to alight in the hollow of his shoulder, and he then rolls it down the back of the arm and jerks the chinlone off at his elbow to catch it on his knee. Up to seven chinlone may be tossed by master players; in this painting the player is playing with three chinlone. In the bottom right, musicians perform with a traditional orchestra and drum. British Library, Or 13291, f. 13 Noc

The game of chinlone can be played solo, but it more enjoyable with teams of six players. The team stands in a circle, the players standing three or four feet apart from one another and the chinlone is passed from one to another, by flipping it in the air using a succession of thirty techniques. There are rules for chinlone competitions between teams. The game exercises the body in a way that restores elasticity to the back and limbs, but it is believed that the game is good not only for physical exercise but also for mental control.

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The above scene shows a chinlone tournament. Court musicians play in a traditional Burmese orchestra while the king and queen under the white umbrellas watch a chinlone game. Four players each toss a chinlone with their feet, without touching it with their hands, trying to keep it in the air as long as possible. They may also touch or flip the chinlones with their knees, ankles, soles and shoulders. British Library, Or 14551, f. 8 Noc

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Four players play chinlone in the monastery compound, watched by a group of monks. Photograph of the national Burmese game of chinlone, taken by Watts and Skeen in the 1890s, British Library, Photo 430/15(63) Noc

Other games depicted in Burmese parabaik include polo, javelin throwing, horse racing and cock fighting. Illustrations in parabaiks show that historically, Burmese royals were very fond of watching polo.

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The above scene shows nine military men on horseback playing polo in a courtyard. According to  Burmese historical sources, this game was probably brought to Burma from Manipur in northeast India. British Library, Or. 6779, f. 8 Noc

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This painting depicts Burmese courtiers on horseback playing a game of polo, watched by the king and queen in the pavilion. The teams of four players on horseback try to hit the ball through the goal posts in order to score. In the illustration, the team wearing green (on the left) is competing against the team wearing red (on the right). British Library, Or 14963 f. 9 Noc

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Shown here are two large long legged fowls fighting each other, and people betting. Cock fighting was a favourite game of village people in the past, and despite being condemned by religion, people still bet heavily on their birds. British Library, Or 13291, f. 15 Noc

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The above painting shows the traditional Burmese form of boxing. The two boxers have their longyis gathered up over their groins to their waists, in order to move their knees and legs easily. Tattoos can be seen on their legs, but other parts of their bodies are left bare. No gloves are worn in Burmese boxing; instead, the skill in this game lies in leaping into the air and kicking each other with their bare feet. On the left, the royals watch the boxing tournament, while to the right, musicians  entertain them. British Library, Or 16761, f. 31 Noc

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An equestrian competition. This painting shows the king and queen watching a competition in martial skills. The competitors are princes, officials of ranks, and officers of the army, who are throwing spears from horseback at a gallop at targets placed on poles ranging from 15 to 50 or 100 cubits in height, standing at intervals one after the other. Under the monarchy, kings held equestrian competitions to select the best soldiers for the cavalry. British Library, Or 14963, f. 10 Noc

All the scenes of games in these Burmese folding books are painted in water colours and enclosed in yellow panels with a single line or a few words of explanatory text in Burmese script along the bottom border.

In Burma today, the game of chinlone can still be seen being played everywhere, by players young or old, male or damile, in fields and yards or in tournaments. Young girls play hop scotch at school or in playgrounds. Some seasonal festivals in Burma involve athletic competitions, with games such as climbing a greased pole, tugs of war, pulling a rope and pillow fights. In the mid-nineteenth century, western sports such as football, badminton, tennis, volleyball and golf were introduced to Burma.

Further reading:
'Chinlone: the Burmese Cane-ball game', by U Ah Yein. Guardian magazine, August 1960.

San San May, Curator for Burmese  ccownwork

06 July 2018

Bugis manuscript art

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In my recent post on a court diary from Bone in south Sulawesi, I noted the tradition in Bugis diaries of leaving blank pages between each year, which could then be filled with notes and copies of important documents. Such pages also often contain doodles and, not infrequently, small sketches such as floral motifs. Quite exceptional, though, is a full-page, highly accomplished painting of a winged horse, found at the end of the diary of the Maqdanrang of Bone, Muhammad Ramadan, uncle of the Sultan of Bone, Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin (r. 1775-1812).

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Painting of a winged horse, found in the Bugis diary of Muhammad Ramadan, Maqdanrang of Bone, 1790-1800.  British Library, Or. 8154, f. 3v  noc

My attention was particularly drawn to the sage-green clump of rocks in the foreground on the left, with an undulating outline and with small tufts of vegetation. Although green is fairly common in Javanese illustrated manuscripts, as in the copy of Serat Sela Rasa below, this pigment is only rarely encountered in manuscript art from other parts of the Southeast Asian archipelago such as Sumatra or the Malay peninsula. Indeed, the use of this particular shade of green for landscape features, and the small sprigs of grass, cannot help but recall certain paintings in Persian manuscripts, such as the two Mughal examples shown below. It is well-known that the refined tradition of miniature painting which flourished in Persianate courts, and others influenced by them, never took root in Islamic kingdoms in the Malay world. But the green rocks in the Bugis painting might be the smallest hint that even if the tradition itself never developed in Southeast Asia, such paintings may occasionally have been glimpsed in the courts of south Sulawesi. In the 17th century, Makassar was one of the most cosmopolitan and cultured cities in the Malay world, and the sultan of Talloq who was also the chancellor of Gowa, Pattingaloang, was known to have possessed a great library, including many European books.

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A partridge (durraj) against a hilly green backdrop, by Manṣūr Naqqāsh, from the Memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Babur, c. 1590-93. British Library, Or. 3714, f. 387r  noc

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Gushtasp kills a rhinocerous, in a landscape of green hills with grassy tufts, from Firdawsi's Shāhnāmah, North India, 1719. British Library, Add. 18804, f. 7r  noc

Within the field of Islamic manuscript art, a winged horse often suggests Buraq, the steed on which the prophet Muhammad travelled to heaven during his miraculous night journey (al-Isrā’ wa-al-Mir‘āj). And yet Buraq is usually portrayed with a human-like face, which is not the case here. A closer parallel may be drawn with winged horses occasionally encountered in Javanese illustrated manuscripts, for example in Serat Sela Rasa shown below. However the significance of this Bugis horse, and any possible literary allusions, remains enigmatic. 

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Winged horse in a Javanese manuscript of Serat Sela Rasa, 1804. British Library, MSS Jav 28, f. 68r  noc

The painting of the horse in the Maqdanrang's diary is of very great significance in being the only known example of developed figural painting in a manuscript from Sulawesi, although anthropomorphic stick-figures are frequently encountered in divination and calendrical manuscripts. The confident presentation of the horse—with the stylized single-plane wings contrasting with the naturalistic portrayal of the body—and the skillful colouring hint at a tradition of Bugis manuscript art, as also manifest in a number of impressive illuminated Qur'an manuscripts known from south Sulawesi (cf. Gallop 2010).

More drawings, albeit uncoloured, are found on other pages of the Maqdanrang’s diary, and similar sketches can also be seen in the Bugis diary of the Maqdanrang's brother, Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin himself, for the years 1775-1795. These sketches are reproduced below.

Or_8154_f007v-crop   Or_8154_f002r-crop
Two sketches from the diary of the Maqdanrang of Bone, 1790-1800. Left, a highly stylised representation of a peacock, Or. 8154, f. 7v; right, a peacock fan, Or. 8154, f. 7v and f. 2r.  noc

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Calligraphic composition with the first two verses of Surat al-Ikhlas in the diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin of Bone, 1775-1795. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 201v  noc

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Doodled sketches on the first page of the diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin of Bone. The floral design in the middle, with the word Allah at the centre, may be of of mystical significance. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 1r   noc

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Beautiful eight-pointed star design within a circle, sketched in the diary Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin of Bone, 1775-1795. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 172v   noc

With many thanks to Ursula Sims-Williams, Elaine Wright and Marianna Shreve Simpson for advice on paintings in Persian manuscripts.

Further reading:

Annabel Teh Gallop, The Boné Qur’an from South SulawesiTreasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Arts of the book and calligraphy, ed. Margaret S. Graves and Benoît Junod.  Istanbul: Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Sakip Sabanci University & Museum, 2010, pp.162-173.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

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