THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

14 November 2018

Pawukon, Javanese calendrical manuscripts

Today’s guest blog on the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project is by Prof. Ann Kumar of the Australian National University

The highly complex Javanese calendar has evolved over many centuries. The year dating system used is the Indian Shaka era, which begins in 78 A.D., but in the 17th century the Islamic lunar months were substituted for the solar months of the Shaka era. This unorthodox and hard-to-operate hybrid was presumably due to the desire to observe the major events of the Muslim year, particularly the Hajj, at the same time as Muslims around the world.

However, apart from these external influences, there are distinctively Javanese systems of time-keeping, such as the use of cycles not tied to any year-date. The principal ones are a seven-year cycle, the eight-year windu cycle, and the one described in this article: the 30-week wuku cycle, which has been referenced in inscriptions dating from the 8th century (Damais 1955).

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Early wuku illustrations, found at the end of a manuscript volume containing Babad ing Sangkala, dated 1738. British Library, MSS Jav 36B, ff. 374v-375r Noc

A wuku week lasts for 7 days, and there are 30 named weeks in the wuku year of 210 days, as follows:

1. Sinta
2. Landep
3. Wukir
4. Kurantil Go
5. Tolu
6. Gumbreg
7. Wariga alit
8. Wariga gung
9. ]ulung Wangi
10. Sungsang
11. Galungan
12. Kuningan
13. Langkir
14. Manḍasiya
15. Julung Pujud
16. Pahang
17. Kuru welut
18. Mrakeh
19. Tambir
20. Menđangkungan
21. Maktal
22. Wuye
23. Manail
24. Prang bakat
25. Bala
26. Wugeo [or Wuku, Wugu]
27. Wayang
28. Kulawu
29. Dukut
30. Watu Gunung

Much like a horoscope, a specific wuku gives a picture of the character and circumstances of a person born in that wuku which will determine their fortunes. Each wuku is assigned a god and a tree. It may also be assigned a bird; an icon depicting water, ie. forecasting rain; a house in different positions, referring to economic matters; and a pennant (umbul-umbul), an insignia of rank. The 30 wuku are depicted in illustrated manuscripts known as pawukon. The three pawukon manuscripts from the British Library collection illustrated here have all been fully digitised.

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Wuku Wariga Alit, in a Pawukon from Yogyakarta, 1807. British Library, Add. 12338, ff. 90v-91r  Noc

Shown above is the seventh wuku, Wariga Alit, which has the following elements:
• The god is Yang Asmara, another name for Kama, the god of love (he holds an arrow à la Cupid). His name is written in Javanese characters on his left. This indicates that a child born in this wuku will be beautiful.
• The red-eyed bird is the solitary kapoḍang, or black-naped oriole, perching on a sulastri tree, well known for its fragrance.
• The structure in the left foreground is a canḍi, or funerary temple, indicating melancholy.
Interpreting these symbols, a child born in this wuku is beautiful, but fickle, and is solitary, shy, or melancholy. This wuku is also said to be bad for leaders of troops.

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The same wuku, Wariga Alit, depicted in Papakĕm Pawukon, with explanation in Javanese on the left hand page, and in Malay in roman script on the right hand page. The MS was acquired by Col. Colin Mackenzie from Kyai Suradimanggala, Bupati sĕpuh of Dĕmak, in ‘Bagor’ (Bogor) in [A.J.] 1742 [A.D. 1814-15].   British Library, Or 15932, ff. 17v-18r  Noc

Or 15932 f.17v
Unlike the stylized canḍi depicted in the Yogyakarta Pawukon of 1807, in Kyai Suradimanggala's Pawukon the canḍi recalls the profile of Borobudur, which in 1814 was only just being excavated. British Library, Or 15932, f. 17v (detail)  Noc

More elaborate versions of the wuku calendar are also known, where each wuku might have a particular danger inherent in it, such as being bitten by a snake or wounded with a weapon. Some wuku calendars also include information about the movements of a monster called Jabung Kala who watches over the wuku and rotates in a circle synchronically with the wuku weeks, changing position every seven days. His position is considered important for generals, who should orientate their battle lines so as not to get across him.

The American sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel describes the Javanese wuku calendar as the most remarkable and intricate week-calendar ever invented (1985: 68-9). Unrelated to the seasons and to solar and lunar phases, he points out it is a unique product of the rational human mind and of humans’ ability to live in accordance with entirely artificial rhythms which they create.

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On the left, the 9th wuku, Julung Wangi, and on the right, the 12th wuku, Kuningan, from a Pawukon from Yogyakarta, 1807. British Library, Add. 12338, f. 95r and f. 101r Noc

The wuku calendar is often said to be based on the Watu Gunung myth.In this, Watu Gunung is a powerful warrior who by defeating the incumbent king and his allies became ruler of Giling Wesi. He married two heavenly nymphs with whom he had thirteen sets of male twins, plus one single male birth. The parents and children gave their names to the thirty wuku, listed above. Watu Gunung was enterprising and undertook to build an iron city. A voice from heaven warned him to offer the proper prayers to Batara Guru, the supreme Hindu god, and to do asceticism, after which he built the iron city in less than seven years. He subsequently became more and more conceited and populated the city with 40 men resembling the gods and 40 maids like the Widadaris (heavenly nymphs), claiming that it was like the palace of Batara Guru, the chief god. This eventually led to war with the gods, in which Watu Gunung was killed. Thanks to his wives interceding with the gods he and all his family were admitted to heaven. However, it is difficult to see how the Watu Gunung myth, with its incredible story of thirteen sets of all-male twins plus a single son, could have been the founding myth on which the wuku calendar was subsequently based. It seems more likely that it was composed after the wuku calendar, to provide a mythic basis, or that a previous myth has been substantially modified. Thus the origin of the wuku remains unclear.

The thirty wuku are subdivided into five groups of six wuku each (wuku 1-6, 7-12, 13-18, 19-24, and 25-30); this system is called ringkel ing wuku. The ringkel ing wuku are classified as follows:
1. Humans (jalma: wuku 1, 7, 13, 19, 25)
2. Animals (sato: wuku 2, 8, 14, 20, 26)
3. Fish (iwak: wuku 3, 9, 15, 21, 27)
4. Birds (manuk, wuku 4, 10, 16, 22, 28)
5. Wuku (wuku 5, 11, 17, 23, 29)
6. Leaves (goḍong, wuku 6, 12, 18, 24, 30)

The wuku calendar is no longer used in Java, but its maximum complexity is fully preserved in Bali. In this, the 210 days of the wuku year are divided into weeks of differing lengths. They may be 10, 9, or 8 days long, or down to just one day long. Each week has a particular name and so does each day of each week, meaning that every day has a total of ten names! This is not just academic complexity, but has practical significance. For example, the three-day week determines the markets in Bali which shift from one village to another in a three-day cycle. The five-, six- and seven-day weeks are the most important, especially when they co-occur. Only once in 210 days does a day fall on all three cycles (5 x 6 x 7), and that day is Galungan, which is the main Balinese religious festival. Another important day, Kajeng-Keliwon, is when the third day of the three-day week, Kajeng, falls on the same day as the fifth day of the five-day week, Keliwon. This happens every 15 days, and many temple ceremonies are held on this day. Not surprisingly, to stay on top of all this a special calendar is needed, called a tika, of which there are some finely illustrated examples.

Or Bali crop
Illustrations from a Balinese calendar on palm leaf, ca. 1981. British Library, Or 16911, f. 7r

References:

For a full listing of the 30 wuku and their associated characteristics, see:
Ann Kumar, Java and modern Europe: ambiguous encounters. Richmond: Curzon, 1996; chapter 3.

Louis-Charles Damais, 'Ếtudes d’Ếpigraphie Indonésiennes’, Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient XLVII, 1955, pp. 7-290.
Roelof Goris, ‘Holidays and holy days in Bali', Studies in life, thought and ritual: selected studies on Indonesia by Dutch scholars, vol.5, ed. W.F. Wertheim et al., The Hague and Bandung: W. van Hoeve, 1960, pp.113-29.
M.C. Ricklefs, Modern Javanese historical tradition: a study of an original Kartasura chronicle and related materials, London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1978.
Eviatar Zerubavel, The seven day cycle: the history and meaning of the week, New York: The Free Press, 1985.

Ann Kumar Ccownwork
Australian National University, Canberra

 

09 November 2018

Buddhism Illuminated through Southeast Asian Manuscript Art (2)

Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia is a lavishly-illustrated book published  earlier this year by the British Library in collaboration with Washington University Press. The book aims to share many years of research on the British Library’s unique collection of Southeast Asian manuscripts on Buddhism, which illustrate not only the life and teachings of the historical Buddha, but also everyday Buddhist practice, life within the monastic order, festivals, cosmology, and ethical principles and values.

Blog2 01
Extracts from the Tipitaka in Pali language, written in Khmer script. Folding book from Central Thailand, second half of the eighteenth century. British Library, Or 14027, f. 4 

The first two chapters, which introduce the outstanding art of Southeast Asian Buddhist manuscripts as well as the Life of the Buddha, were discussed in our previous blog. The third chapter of the book focuses on the teachings of the Buddha, or Dhamma, also known as the “righteous way”. Gotama Buddha spent more than half of his life walking around northern India over 2500 years ago, teaching his ever growing group of followers. Shortly after the Buddha’s parinibbana and physical death, the first Buddhist council was held at Rajagaha. Five hundred of the most senior Buddhist monks are said to have convened to recite and verify all the sermons they had heard during the Buddha’s forty-five years of teaching. They began to systematically arrange and compile the Buddha’s teachings called Tipitaka, or the 'Three Baskets', which include the Sutta Pitaka (the basket of discourses), the Vinaya Pitaka (the basket of discipline and monastic rules), and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (the basket of higher teachings of the Buddha). Five more councils were held over the centuries, with the most recent one taking place in Rangoon at Kaba Aye Pagoda from May 1954 to May 1956 to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s parinibbana.

Blog2 02
This manuscript, written in Pali - the canonical language of Theravada Buddhism - in yellow Burmese square characters, is inscribed on 49 palm leaves coated with lacquer. It contains fragments of Atthakathas, or commentaries on the Tipitaka. The manuscript is bound up with a green velvet wrapper and a ribbon, or sazigyo. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 3672

Buddhist texts that were compiled in addition to the Tipitaka are commentaries by important Buddhist scholars like for example Buddhaghosa, a fifth-century scholar who played a defining role in the development of Theravada Buddhism. Commentaries as well as translations were crucial for the spread of Buddhism to mainland Southeast Asia, where it is widely practised up till today.

Chapter four of the book provides information about the Sangha, the Buddhist monastic community. Themes in this chapter include aspects of monastic ordination in Theravada Buddhism, how the Buddha founded the Sangha, and the rules of monastic discipline and interaction between the Sangha and the lay community. Soon after attaining enlightenment the Buddha founded the order of monks, or Bhikkhu-sangha, which was later extended to the order of nuns, or Bhikkhuni-sangha.

Blog2 03
This image shows the Buddha’s ordination of Yasa, who went to the deer park near Varanasi
to become a Bhikkhu. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 14553, f. 2

After listening to Buddha’s first sermon, his five closest followers joined the Buddha and became his disciples, forming the first Sangha. Yasa, the son of a wealthy man, left his home as he was dissatisfied with his life. After hearing the teachings of the Buddha, Yasa became the sixth disciple to achieve the first stage of perfection. Yasa’s 54 friends followed his example. Later on, three brothers of the Kassapa family asked to be ordained into the Sangha after the Buddha tamed a naga (serpent).

The book’s fifth chapter deals with Kamma, or the principle of cause and effect that tells us that every action produces an effect, and the effects of all our actions will return to us in the future. Our accumulated positive Kamma will come back to us in the form of blessings and the opportunity to lead a good future life or to experience a better rebirth, while negative Kamma will result in deterioration and lower forms of rebirth. Burmese and Thai artistic expressions of Kamma often include scenes of the Buddhist heavens and hells and the sixteen sacred lands of Buddhism.

Blog2 04
Paper folding book featuring extracts from the Tipitaka and Phra Malai, written in Khmer script, with illustrations of Mahabrahma bhum (the Brahma heaven) and Tavatimsa bhum (heaven of the Four Kings). Thailand, 1849. British Library, Or 14838, f. 1

The illustrations portray the god Brahma with his four-faced head and a red aura (left) and the god Indra, or Sakka, also with a red aura (right). Both are seated on a marble pedestal before a red background decorated with delicate flower ornaments. Brahma and Indra are considered to have converted to Buddhism, therefore they are depicted in a respectful pose facing the Pali text passages from the Tipitaka that lie between them.

Blog2 05
Illustration of Tiracchana loka, the world of animals. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 14004, f. 37

The idyllic scene above shows the legendary region of Himavanta. Located in the animal realm of Tiracchana loka, it is covered in forests with great lakes and mountain ranges. It is inhabited by wild animals such as tigers, monkeys, deer, bears, birds, rabbits, cockerels and buffaloes who live together peacefully. Groves of mangoes, bananas and bamboo are featured in this illustration; all play a critical role as the animals’ survival depends almost entirely on these plants.

The final chapter in the book provides details around “making merit” in every-day Buddhist life, which include activities that aim to support the Sangha, like the Kathina robe-offering ceremony, Uposatha or observance ceremony, and royal donations, but also rituals related to death and after-life, as well as communal festivals around the year which are open to everyone.

Blog2 06
Scenes from the Uposatha observance ceremony. Burma, nineteenth century. British Library, Or 16761, ff. 25–6

This painting depicts the Uposatha ceremony, held on new and full moon days of every month. Lay people bring food and other offerings to the Buddhist monastery and observe five or eight precepts on these days. Three Buddhist monks, shown seated in a pavilion with their large fans, administer eight precepts to the lay community. These precepts are: not to kill, steal, engage in sexual activity, lie, become intoxicated, eat after noon, adorn their bodies or sleep on luxurious beds. Uposatha days provide time for people to listen to the teachings of the Dhamma and the chanting of special Suttas, as well as to practise meditation.

Blog2 07
Scene from the Vessantara Jataka in a book containing drawings from the Ramayana and the Ten Birth Tales on European paper, with captions in Khmer script. Thailand or Cambodia, 1880. British Library, Or 14859, ff. 182–3

During the Bun Phawet festival in January the Vessantara Jataka is recited by monks or performed in puppet or shadow puppet theatres in the monasteries, mainly in Laos and northeast Thailand. In preparation for Bun Phawet lay people create long paper or cotton scrolls and banners decorated with paintings of scenes from the Vessantara Jataka. These scrolls, often tens of metres in length, are hung on the indoor walls of monasteries while recitations of the Vessantara Jataka are being performed. The illustration shown here depicts a scene from the Vessantara Jataka which typically features on scrolls made for the festival: the final grand scene in which Prince Vessantara and his wife Maddi are reunited with their children who had been taken away by the Brahmin Jujaka. This happy occasion is celebrated with music (right).

The book also contains a detailed bibliography, a glossary and three appendices providing a list of the 28 Buddhas of the past, explanations of symbols of the Buddha’s footprint, and an overview of the scriptures of the Tipitaka.

San San May and Jana Igunma, Buddhism Illuminated: Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia, London: British Library, 2018. (ISBN 978 0 7123 5206 2)

The book is available from all major booksellers and online.

San San May, Curator for Burmese
Jana Igunma, Henry D. Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian

05 November 2018

The Judeo-Persian manuscript collection in the British Library

The newly launched Judeo-Persian collection guide is an important and valuable addition to the British Library’s repertoire of Middle Eastern on-line resources, that have been made accessible to increasing numbers of researchers and users worldwide. Additionally, as part of our on-going Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project, we have already digitised 34 Judeo-Persian manuscripts and will continue to do more in the months ahead.

Or_2459_f064v
Judeo-Persian introduction to the commentary on Proverbs, 11th-2th century (BL Or 2459, f.64v)
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Introduction and brief historical note
Although quantitatively modest, the diversity and richness of its content, and the indisputable rarity and significance of some the items found in it, make the Judeo-Persian manuscript collection stand out. It moreover attests to the close, centuries-old cultural and historical ties that have existed between local Jewish and Persian communities.

These links can be traced back to pre-antiquity, more precisely to the period of the Babylonian captivity when, in 597 and 586 BCE, the entire Jewish population in the Kingdom of Judea was exiled by King Nabuchadnezzar II. In 539 BCE Babylon fell to the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great whose famous declaration, recounted in the Bible, and alluded to in the famous Cyrus Cylinder, allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland, rebuild their national life, and most importantly, the Jerusalem Temple which Nabuchadnezzar had sacked and raised to the ground.

Those exiles who decided to remain on Babylonian-Persian territory, formed the core of the permanent Jewish settlements, which little by little spread from the Babylonian centres, to the inner cities and regions of Persia. The tolerance showed by Persian rulers towards their Jewish subjects, especially during the early medieval period, enabled them to prosper and thrive. Biblical luminaries such as Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah for instance, emerged from the newly established colonies, and managed to play leading roles at the royal Persian court.

The history of Persian Jewry is an extensive and fascinating topic, which is far beyond the scope of this short blog. For a clear and concise historical account of the Jewish communities that lived in Persia, from antiquity to the modern era, I recommend Elias J. Bickerman and Walter Joseph Fischel's article "Persia" in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., 2007, vol.15, pp.782-792.

The Manuscripts
The star item in our Judeo-Persian manuscript collection is undoubtedly the eighth-century trade letter found in 1901 in a Buddhist monastery at Dandan-Uiliq, present-day Xinjiang, China (Or 8212/166). Information recently received from a reliable researcher, who has studied in-depth a number of our Judeo-Persian manuscripts, has revealed that the biblical commentaries in Or 2459 and Or 2460, are in fact datable to the 11th to 12th century, i.e. some 400 years earlier than George Margoliouth let us believe (G. Margoliouth’s Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan manuscripts in the British Museum, 1965, vol.1, pp.184-185). This discovery makes them the second earliest Judeo-Persian manuscripts in our keep.

The blog Important Judeo-Persian bibles in the British Library posted in 2014, provided descriptions of the rarest handwritten and printed Judeo-Persian biblical works the Library holds. These included the Pentateuch dated 6th March 1319 CE (Or 5446), regarded as the earliest dated Torah text in Judeo-Persian, and the beautifully crafted copy of Torat Adonai (God’s Law) issued in 1546 at Constantinople, by Eliezer ben Gershom Soncino. In this edition, the Judeo-Persian tafsir (translation) was printed alongside the original Hebrew text, the Aramaic translation, and the Judeo-Arabic rendition of the eminent rabbinic authority and scholar Sa’adia Gaon (882-942 CE). The Torat Adonai, moreover, was the first printed Persian text of any kind, and the first Judeo-Persian translation of the Pentateuch to become known in the Western world.

The number and quality of our illustrated Judeo-Persian manuscripts are comparatively few and unrefined, yet pleasing nevertheless. Apart from the better-known Or 13704, which was the subject of a special blog posted last year, A Judeo-Persian epic, the Fath Nama (Book of Conquest), there are two other specimens which exhibit stylistic traits common to both Persian and Judeo-Persian manuscript painting. Lack of a colophon (the inscription at the end of a manuscript providing details about its production), is an additional common characteristic defining the manuscripts discussed here. Consequently, data about the original commission, and most importantly the identities of the artists responsible for the illustrations, remain shrouded in mystery.

Or 4730 is an incomplete 18th-century paper manuscript of Nizami’s Persian medieval epic Haft Paykar (The Seven Beauties). The text has been copied in a neat Persian Hebrew semi-cursive script as can be seen here:

Or_4730_f049v Or_4730_f049v
Left (f.49v): a royal feast showing Bahram Gur in the upper register, offering a cup to the lady seated on his right. Below, musicians are seen playing on a lyre, flute and tambourine, while a female performer executes a balancing act with bottles; right (f.44v): an example of the neat Persian Hebrew script used throughout (BL Or 4730)
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Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209) is acknowledged as the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, with the Haft Paykar perhaps regarded as his masterpiece. A polymath with a phenomenal intellect, Nizami was not only versed in Arabic and Persian literature, but was also intimately familiar with diverse fields of knowledge, ranging from astronomy, astrology, botany, mathematics, to medicine, Islamic law, history, philosophy and many other. In the Haft Paykar Nizami succeeded in illustrating masterfully the harmony of the universe, and the affinity between the sacred and the temporal. Nizami’s erudition and scholarship are perfectly reflected in his intensely lyrical and sensory poetical output, earning him the well-deserved appellation of Hakim (Sage).

Or_4730_f073r Or_4730_f128r
Left (f.73r): squatting on a decorated bench alongside one of the Seven Beauties, is Bahram Gur feasting in the Golden Pavilion; right (f.128r): Bahram Gur feasting in the White Pavilion. Two female musicians are seen playing the lyre and the tambourine (BL Or 4730)
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Completed in 1197, Haft Paykar was a romanticized biography of Bahram Gur (the Sassanian ruler Bahram V, ruled 420-438 CE). The Seven Beauties were princesses who became Bahram’s wives, and who received their own distinctly colored and themed pavilions in his palace. The princesses would entertain the king with compelling and captivating stories, whenever he visited them. In the story, Bahram’s royal prowess was tested, and he had to learn lessons on fairness, justice and responsibility. The 13 illustrations in our manuscript depict scenes closely related to the central narrative. Though crudely drafted, they are nonetheless likeable, owing chiefly to their colors, as attested by the examples included above.

Or_10194_f028v Or_10194_f028v Or_10194_f028v
Left (f.8v): a girl holding a bouquet of flowers; centre (f.28v): a warrior in Qajar attire carrying a sword and a bludgeon(?); right (f.46v): an old, bearded dervish carrying an axe and begging bowl (BL Or 10194)
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Written on thick paper between 1785 and 1825, the album Or 10194 is a poetical anthology by various poets. The poor calligraphy is mitigated by the five full-page vividly coloured paintings executed in opaque watercolors. These are effectively portraits of various characters, executed in traditional Qajar style.

The largest portion of our Judeo-Persian holdings, however, are unadorned textual manuscripts. Among them the following are worthy of attention:

  • Or 8659, contains a theological-apologetic section of Sefer ha-mitsvot (Book of Commandments). It largely consists of a religious discussion of various aspects of the commandment of circumcision. Despite its brevity (ten leaves only), the manuscript is significant as a very early specimen of Karaite apologetic literature written in Judeo-Persian.
  • Or 10576, is an important fragmentary example of a Sidur (Daily Prayer book) according to the Persian rite.
  • Or 4743, the only known complete manuscript of Daniyal Nameh (the story of biblical Daniel).
  • Or 2451, a Pentateuch copied at Qum, 1483-1484, that includes Josiah ben Mevorakh al-ʿAqūlī's calendar of the cycles with rules for fixing the Jewish festivals (ff. 363v-375v).
  • Or 10482, a miscellaneous compilation comprising ‘Amukot Shemu’el (Samuel’s depths), definitions of difficult words in the Book of Samuel, arranged in order of the biblical verses (ff.99r-114v). An early work of great lexical importance.

In this blog I have endeavored to discuss significant collection items written in Judeo-Persian, pinpointing at the same time some commonalities and differences between them and Persian manuscripts. Place of production, artistic and thematic elements, along with language and history, constitute principal areas of intersection, that offer ample scope for discovery, interpretation and research.

Watch out for my follow-up blog, when I will be focussing on the Judeo-Persian printed book collection the Library owns.

For a complete list of our Judeo-Persian manuscripts with brief metadata, and hyperlinks to those that are already online see our list of Digitised Judeo-Persian manuscripts.


Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator Hebrew & Christian Orient Studies
 ccownwork