Asian and African studies blog

8 posts from May 2016

31 May 2016

An 18th Century North African Travelling Physician's Handbook

POSTSCRIPT from editor: This manuscript has now been digitised and can be viewed online

While cataloguing the British Library’s collection of Arabic manuscripts from West Africa (see BL blog passim) I came across a very strange item. This manuscript, Or.6557, was given to the British Museum Library (the forerunner of the British Library) by a Muhammad Shami on the 10th of October 1903 and catalogued the following year. According to a slip of paper pasted on the blank recto of the first folio in the handwriting the donor, this work is a “book on Reml [Arabic: ʻIlm al-Raml, meaning divination by sand] and magic and some of austronomy by Saidi Saeed Abdoul Naim” with the date of composition given as 1202AH (1788 AD). The text block is loose-leaf, as is often the case in North and West Africa, and protected at either end by squares of animal hide.

OR6557 Magical writing_2000
Key to writing a secret alphabet (British Library Or.6557, f. 47r)

The reason for the work’s composition seems to be to detail practices for the curing of various physical and mental conditions. Throughout the work, subjects are itemised in the left-hand margin, suggesting ʻAbd al-Nāʼim used it as a reference guide during his practice. The lack of any clear order nor beginning or conclusion, along with various small pieces of paper scattered throughout the text block featuring simple arithmetic, receipts or aides-memoires, suggests that the work was compiled gradually over the course of ʻAbd al-Nāʼim's career and was meant to be a private document. The handwriting of  ʻAbd al-Nāʻim seems to be a mix of several different styles and –confirmed by the mention of various North African place names- it appears he travelled widely in search of learning, or perhaps new patients.

True to the words of the donor, among the subjects covered are sand divination and astronomy. However, the work is a veritable compendium of all kinds of knowledge, ranging from the purely scientific to the very occult. There are sections on alchemy, the fabrication of potions and talismans, the exorcism of demons and jinn and the voiding of black magic, to the treatment of a plethora of medical complaints, from sore eyes to bad backs. Toward the end of the work, ʻAbd al-Nāʻim also quotes versified works by the Egyptian al-Ḍimyātī, whose poems are still renowned in North Africa for their therapeutic properties. ʻAbd al-Nāʻim refers several times to the use of hashish as well as other recognisable drugs and chemical compounds, often noting that he has tried many of the cures on himself.

Tis'a_rahat3_2000 Tis'a_rahat2_2000
Two of the “nine family heads”. Text in red indicates that these are instructions for performing the exorcism, while the text in black gives their personal name and a description (British Library Or.6557, ff. 40r and 41r)

However, the most impressive aspect of the work is its full-page illustrations. The work features nine full-page illustrations of beings ʻAbd al-Nāʻim calls “tisʻa rahṭ”. This phrase can be traced to the Qur’an 27:48 in the line “And there were in the city nine family heads causing corruption in the land”. In the tafṣīr of al-Jalālayn, this city is identified as Thamud and the “corruption” is described as “sins such as clipping dinars and dirhams”. From this obscure Qur’anic reference, ʻAbd al-Nāʻim elaborates the story, giving each “family head” a personal name, listing his attributes, signs of the interference of this entity in the world of the living and the means to exorcise or remove him. His representations of each “family head” –executed in black or red ink- are highly original, ranging from a horned demon to a long-beaked red bird, to a long-armed creature with a brazier for a head. If these forms are not unsettling enough, ʻAbd al-Nāʻim ends his section on the “nine family heads” with the warning that “whoever says that they are birds or anything else has lied for I saw them [myself] in Safar 1214 (July/August 1799)”.

LegionsofJinn_2000 OR6557 Jinns shooting and riding_2000
Left: “Legions of Jinn” (Or.6557, f. 6v); right: group of Jinn or humans, engaged in shooting and riding (British Library Or.6557, f. 26v)

Aside from numerous astrological and alchemical diagrams and talismans, the work also includes many pictorial representations of jinn. ʻAbd al-Nāʻim’s illustrations are again highly idiosyncratic and he has taken pains to differentiate each jinn from the next. Some sprout three horns, some are stooped over while others stand tall, thrusting batons or other implements; some appear to be holding firearms while others ride on beasts of burden.

There is still much work to be done on this item -which I believe must be a unicum- and no doubt further textual analysis will shed more light on the circumstances of its composition.

My thanks to Constant Hamès, with whom I have corresponded concerning this item.

Paul Naylor, British Library Collaborative Doctoral Student, Asian and African Studies

Paul Naylor, British Library Collaborative Doctoral Student, Asian and African Studies
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27 May 2016

Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 1)

In a previous blog post, ‘Till death us do part – or not?’, we introduced the well-known episode of Ofuda-hagashi お札はがし(‘removing the ofuda’) in the story of the ghostly lover, Botandōrō 牡丹灯籠.  Ofuda-hagashi is one of the most thrilling scenes in the story where the servant betrays his master by removing the protective ofuda (paper amulets), allowing the ghosts to slip into the house where the hero is barricading himself from his ghost lover.

A sample page from the BL Ofuda collection. From left to right, Buddha, possibly in the Western Paradise; the figure of a high-ranking Buddhist monk; and the back of a mirror dedicated to the Sun goddess Amaterasu. From a collection of c.330 Japanese amulets printed up to the 1880s, mounted in 5 albums. Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library, 16007.d.1(5) 71-73r Noc

What are Ofuda? It is hard to give a quick and easy definition of these paper amulets, because there are so many varieties with different functions. If we attempt to give a general description of Ofuda for readers who have never come across them, we could say that an Ofuda is usually a piece of paper or a wooden amulet, on which is written or printed religious material such as figures of Shinto deities, Buddhas, high-ranking monks, Buddhist sutras, etc.  In the majority of cases, they are issued by Japanese religious bodies such as temples and shrines for their followers. Then, the owner of Ofuda can make devotional visits to the places from which they received their Ofuda to pray and renew them on a regular basis. In general, we can distinguish at least two types of Ofuda: one to give protection from bad spirits, and the other to bring good luck to the owners.

An Ofuda of Tsuno Daishi角大師, which featured in the previous blog postOfuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵. British Library, 16007.d.1 (2) 15-19r Noc

Shown above is an example of a protective Ofuda. In the story of Botandōrō, as long as the hero stays inside his house with the protection of the Ofuda, he is safe. But later in the story the Ofuda is secretly removed by someone else, allowing the ghost to slip into the house and take his life. From this story line, we can guess that the Ofuda which were put up to prevent ghosts from entering the house might be similar to Tsuno Daishi which is typically placed outside entrances to houses.

Daikoku 大黒, a god of wealth. One of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune in Japan. Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵. British Library, 16007.d.1 (1) 3-6 Noc

And shown above is an example of an Ofuda as a good luck amulet. Daikoku 大黒, who is known as Mahākāla in the original Hindu pantheon, became Maheśvara in the Buddhist pantheon with the spread of Buddhism into East Asia. Eventually when he reached Japan, he was not only accepted as one of the Buddhist Devas, but also merged with Japanese god Ōkuninushi 大国主 and transformed into the god of wealth.

Daikoku with the Seven Deities of Good Fortune in Japan. [Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library 16007.d.1 (2) 21-25r Noc

Kosazuke Kishimojin 子授鬼子母神, who is the guardian of women who wish to become pregnant, as well as the protector of childbirth and children. [Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library 16007.d.1(4)40-44r Noc

Items such as Ofuda and other types of talismans and amulets reflect fundamental human concerns about the uncertainties of life. The Kansai-kan of the National Diet Library, Japan, recently held a display of items from their collections showing how people prayed for good things, what they were afraid of, and how their wishes were transformed into objects, such as amulets, talismans and incantation spells.

Osore to inori : majinai no katachi おそれと祈り : まじないのかたち, "Awe and prayer – the forms of incantation," The 19th Small Exhibition at the Kansai-Kan of National Diet Library, 18 February – 15 March 2016.
Incidentally, it was Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904), the author of ‘Kwaidan: stories and studies of strange things’ who translated Botandōrō into English as ‘A Passion of Karma’ and collected Japanese Ofuda himself. Many of his Ofuda are now kept at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

In the second part of this blog post, we will explore further Hearn’s ‘A Passion of Karma’ and his other work ‘Goblin Poetry’ in which he described ofuda-hagashi, and introduce a newly acquired deluxe facsimile version of Goblin Poetry, Yōma shiwa 妖魔詩話, published in 2002.

Further reading:
Josef A. Kyburz, Ofuda: amulettes et talismans du Japon : actes du colloque international, Ofuda-images pieuses du Japon, Fondation Hugot, 1-2 mars 2012 = on Japanese charms.  Paris : Collège de France, Institut des hautes études japonaises, 2014. British Library JPN.2014.b.73
Josef A. Kyburz, ヨーロッパに来ている日本のお札 – その三つのコレクション
The Seven Deities of Good Fortune

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator, Japanese Collections Ccownwork

24 May 2016

Tang Xianzu, the great Ming dynasty playwright

This year the Library celebrates one of the greatest literary figures of all time, William Shakespeare (1564–1616), with a major exhibition and a rich series of events and on-line resources. Coincidently, two other world-famous writers died in the same year: Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), and the Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖(1550–1616). To commemorate these two writers, the Library recently presented in its permanent free exhibition space, the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, the display Imagining Don Quixote, and is currently showing a selection of woodblock printed editions from Tang Xiangzu’s work. For those who cannot visit the British Library to see the display on Tang in person, this blog post presents some information on the exhibits.

Tang Xianzu is one of the greatest Chinese playwrights. He was a native of Linchuan, Jiangxi province, and worked as an official during the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572–1620) of the Ming dynasty. Tang Xianzu’s masterpiece is called the ‘Peony Pavilion’ (牡丹亭 Mudan ting). The ‘Peony Pavilion’ was written and staged for the first time in 1598 and performed at the Pavilion of Prince Teng, one of the great Chinese towers in Southern China. It is still one of the most beloved and famous Chinese traditional operas today.

Tang blog 1 by Sara
Xu xiang mudan ting, 繡像牡丹亭, ‘Illustrated Peony Pavilion’ in 8 chapters, c. 1840, woodblock printed edition. In this illustration from a Qing dynasty edition of the text, we can see the opening scene, when the sixteen-year-old Du Liniang falls asleep in the garden and starts dreaming. British Library, 15327.b.15 Noc

The term ‘opera’ is often used in reference to Chinese theatre as it was common for dramatic performances to be highly choreographed and punctuated by singing and musical accompaniment. There are many forms of Chinese opera, but the ‘Peony Pavilion’ is traditionally performed as a kunqu or ‘Kun opera’, a style developed in the early Ming period, which combines spoken parts with singing and dance movements.

Tang blog 2 by Sara
The Peony Pavilion performed in Venice on 15th of June 2010 (photo by the author). The original version of the Peony Pavilion runs for 20 hours, and comprises a total of 55 scenes, but it is now usually performed in shorter adaptations.

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ is sometimes referred to as ‘A Ghost Story’, because part of it takes place in the underworld and the protagonist returns from the afterlife. It narrates the love story between a girl from a wealthy family, Du Liniang, and the scholar Liu Mengmei. After seeing Liu in a dream and falling in love with him, Du dies of sorrow. Her spirit keeps looking for the young scholar and the Judge of the Underworld promises to resurrect her so that she can see him again. After appearing in Liu’s dreams as a ghost, her body is exhumed by Liu and the couple live happily thereafter.

Tang blog 3 by Sara
Xu xiang mudan ting, 繡像牡丹亭, ‘Illustrated Peony Pavilion’ in 8 chapters, c. 1840, woodblock printed edition. British Library 15327.b.16, another copy of the same edition of the work as in 15327.b.15. Noc

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ is one of the so-called ‘Four Dreams’ (Lin chuan si meng), four of Tang’s most important plays in which dreams play a significant part in the story. They include also ‘The Purple Hairpin’, ‘The Dream of Handan’ and ‘The Dream of the Southern Bough’. The latter two in particular contain themes of rejection of traditional feudal values and the possibility of escape through love and compassion in order to achieve happiness.

Tang Blog 4 by Sara
The ‘Dream of Southern Bough’, in the collection Shi er zhong qu十二種曲, ‘Twelve operas’, by Li Yu, 1785, woodblock printed edition. British Library, 15327.a.3 Noc

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ has been translated into many languages and adapted several times for television and theatre productions such as contemporary opera, ballet and musical performances, both in China and abroad. The escape from the conventions of feudal society, the power of true love to conquer even death, and the cathartic role of dreams are central themes of the ‘Peony Pavilion’. Together they created a story that is universal and beloved by students, readers and audiences around the world.

Tang blog 5 by Sara
‘Die Rückkehr der Seele’ (The Return of the Soul), translated by Vincenz Hundhausen. Zürich/Leipzig, 1937. This edition of the ‘Peony Pavilion’, translated and edited by Vincenz Hundhausen, is accompanied by forty reproductions of Chinese woodcuts from the Ming period. British Library, 11101.f.28

Further reading:
Tan, Tian Yuan and Santangelo, Paolo 'Passion, Romance, and Qing: The World of Emotions and States of Mind in Peony Pavilion' (3 vols.),  in Emotions and States of Mind in East Asia, Vol. 4. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Tan, Tian Yuan, Edmondson, Paul and Wang, Shih-pe, 1616: Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu's China. London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2016.

Sara Chiesura, East Asian collections Ccownwork

20 May 2016

Can’t judge a book by its cover? Perhaps you can!

If you look at how museums choose to digitally engage with their audiences, especially in the past few years, it is evident that 3D technologies have become standard practice within their larger digital outreach. There is an increasing tendency to utilise 3D models and prints to enhance online resources featuring collection items, or as exhibition materials in galleries. Some museums still have limited experience of utilising 3D technologies, while others do it on a large-scale and on a regular basis. Overall, the 3D trend has already had a great impact on the cultural heritage sector as a whole. However, while a museum is more of a usual suspect for these novel technologies, libraries are perhaps less so. They are perceived to hold books, manuscripts, documents, or in short – compilations of two-dimensional text. But nothing physical that a library holds is in fact two-dimensional, and some items kept in libraries may be of unanticipated nature. Libraries have more potential to engage with 3D modelling and printing than one would expect. In the following examples, move your mouse over the object to see the item in 3D.

 Silk mantle (textile cover) for a Torah scroll, date unknown (British Library Or 13027)

What does it actually mean, to 3D model and print items? A 3D model is a full representation of an object that can be viewed and manipulated by a user in a digital space. There are two main ways to digitise and present real world objects: 3D scanning (or laser scanning) and photogrammetry – image based modelling. While the former method is more expensive and requires expert knowledge, the latter is affordable and easy to implement. If 3D modelling takes an object from the physical into the digital world, 3D printing takes it back into the physical. 3D printing is the process of using a 3D model to create a physical object via a variety of printing methods, such extrusion of plastics, resins, and other materials. One of the ways a 3D printer works is actually similar to how an inkjet printer works, but instead of using ink it uses a filament – laying the filament down and slowly building up a 3D structure.

3D technologies used in the cultural sector have many benefits. 3D models and prints can be supplemental tools for visualisation, enhancing the experience of viewing an object. They can be used in physical as well as virtual exhibitions online, as well as enhance a 2D collection catalogue hosted online or feature in other online content. In this way, curators and educators can use 3D data to tell a story, online visitors can explore the collections in a new and stimulating way, and there is a potential to engage the larger, international public. 3D prints can be displayed at touring locations, used in education systems as sustainable objects for teaching and training (instead of the real items), and used as event giveaways. There is also a commercial potential for prints, as replicas of objects can be sold, full scale or in miniature and in different materials and colours. In short, 3D technologies change how people access and engage with cultural resources.

All this is hardly news for the museum sector. What’s innovative here is that the British Library is joining the game too. It makes perfect sense for such a large library to re-examine its traditional approach to the delivery of information and to keep seeking novel means of public and scholarly engagement – especially in light of the huge variety of items it holds. Aside from the more predictable formats (books, newspapers, documents, maps), the Library’s physical collection spans from inscribed bones, seals, scrolls, wooden cases, fine textiles, and folding books with covers embellished with gold and jewels, to wooden cabinets, chests, ship models and even rifles! Some collection items such as manuscript chests cannot be called up by readers from the Library’s basement – they are too heavy and too fragile. And as most of the Library’s collection items are not on display in one of its galleries, 3D digitisation affords the opportunity to bring these items into the virtual light.

In the past year I’ve been involved in creating several 3D models for two British Library projects: the Hebrew Manuscripts and the Oracle Bones digitisation projects. The former digitised 1,300 Hebrew manuscripts – codices (manuscripts in book format), scrolls, charters and loose folios spanning 1,000 years from the 10th to the 20th century CE, mainly from Europe and the Middle East. This rare collection of manuscripts represents all the areas of Jewish knowledge, whether religious or secular.

Pentateuch from Italy, dated to 1486 CE (British Library Add MS 4709)

The latter project digitised more than 480 Chinese ‘oracle bones’, dating between 1600 and 1050 BCE (Shang Dynasty). These are the oldest objects in the Library, including mainly shoulder animal bones and some tortoise shells’ fragments, bearing the earliest known examples of Chinese writing. Used in divination rituals, the bones were inscribed with questions posed to ancestors, the answers to which were interpreted from cracks formed in the bones when heated. The digitised Hebrew manuscripts and oracle bones can be viewed on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. 

Inscribed oracle bone, dating to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1050 BCE; British Library Or 7694/1595)

The method that we use for 3D modelling at the Library is photogrammetry – creating a 3D structure from a series of overlapping 2D images. Before the imaging started, the items were called up from the Library’s storage facility, which closely monitors temperature and humidity levels. We benefited from the Imaging Studio’s advanced photography and lighting equipment and our only further investment in equipment was a £6 turntable. In the case of the oracle bones, which are mostly rather flat objects, conservator Karen Bradford created stands for them to be placed on securely, in a way that would allow for optimised photo capture but also protect the bones. Karen was present throughout the imaging process, to make sure the bones were safely handled.

British Library conservator Karen Bradford stabilising an oracle bone in a foam stand before imaging

The imaging process began with taking photographs of each item from different angles, with sufficient overlap. In order to do that, each object was placed on a turntable and the camera was mounted on a tripod. We rotated the turntable at roughly 5-10 degrees with a photo taken at each position. After completing a 360-degree circle the item was turned to its reverse side and the process was repeated. Once enough photos had been taken, the images were white balanced and then masked ready for the modelling process in Agisoft PhotoScan. When the models were complete, they were published to Sketchfab. The oracle bones were also printed by the 3D expert ThinkSee3D, who made sure the Chinese writing remains as legible as possible.

British Library senior imaging technician Neil McCowlen imaging oracle bone Or 7694/1595

Neil made sure the bones were in focus and the script was sharp and clear

ThinkSee3D founder Steven Dey holding the print of oracle bone Or 7694/1595

3D modelling at the British Library is still in its early stages, but the potential is immense. It suffices to make your way to Asian and African Studies on the third floor in the British Library building at St Pancras, and look at the current exhibition outside of the Reading Room, called ‘More than a Book’. Southeast Asian manuscripts come in different shapes and forms, such as an Indonesian divination manuscript inscribed on a bamboo container, or 19th-century wooden or bamboo Thai title indicators, which helped identify and retrieve manuscripts stored in large numbers in wooden cabinets in temple libraries (see for example Or 16555). Thai manuscripts were stored in boxes, chests or cabinets placed in Buddhist temple libraries or in palaces, and often decorated in red and gold and carved with beautiful designs. The Library holds six such magnificent items from the 19th century, some of which are displayed inside and outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, and others – in the basement (e.g. Foster 1057 – weighing over half a ton!).

Divination manuscript inscribed in Karo Batak on a bamboo container, Indonesia (British Library Or 16736)

19th century Northern Thai manuscript wooden box, decorated with gilt and lacquer (Foster 1056), displayed in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room

The Southeast Asian exhibition offers just a small taste to what the department of Asian and African Studies has to offer to 3D enthusiasts. The department has three tiny printed Qur’ans. Due to their very small size, the text is almost illegible which indicates that these Qur'ans were probably not intended to be read. They may have been owned as protective talismans (hama'il) since one comes with a locket to be worn around the neck. Another possibility is that they were ornamental, much like a similar example found in Queen Mary’s Doll House in the Royal Collection.

Opening up these tiny books and turning their pages in order to digitise their text could put pressure on their bindings and would therefore be harmful from a conservation point of view. Modelling these delicate Qur’ans may present a safer way to display these online – and to some extent a more engaging one. Other interesting three-dimensional items from the Arabic collections are three ox bones bearing magic Arabic inscriptions. These have undergone multispectral imaging by Imaging Scientist Christina Duffy, and have an unmistakable potential to be viewed in 3D. And when going back to the collection that initially inspired us to do 3D modelling – the collection of Hebrew manuscripts – there are so many more candidates: codices with interesting bindings, or intriguing scrolls such as Scrolls of Esther, telling the story of rescuing the Jews of Persia from an annihilation plot.

Two tiny Qur’ans, one from 1882 Delhi (left, British Library O.R.70.a.4), the other from 1889 Istanbul (right, British Library O.R.70.a.3)

Ox bones with Arabic inscriptions (British Library Or 9667)

15th-century liturgy from Italy in pre-1600 CE binding, made with red velvet and clasps (British Library Add MS 16577)|

16-17th-century Scrolls of Esther: with wooden roller and silk cover (British Library Add MS 11834; top); made of leather, wooden core with carved ivory roller mounted with brass, from Italy (British Library Or 1086; bottom)

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of what the British Library has to offer, 3D-wise. Some of its most famous and unique items (outside of Asian and African Studies) which would be wonderful to view in 3D include Elizabeth I prayer book, a rare item with its original 16th-century binding and embroidery, and the 8th-century St Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest intact European book. I’m very hopeful that the existing models and prints will inspire an increased use of 3D technologies at the British Library as well as other libraries worldwide.


Thank you Annabel Gallop, Christina Duffy, Daniel Lowe, Emma Goodliffe, Jana Igunma, and Steven Dey for providing materials for this blog post.

Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator (Polonsky Fellow) for the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project 

17 May 2016

Online Historical Resources for the Study of the Modern History of Bahrain and the Persian Gulf

The Qatar Digital Library (QDL), launched by the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership in October 2014, contains a huge – and growing – number of British colonial documents related to the history of the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East from the 18th to 20th Century, all of which are now freely available to search and download. This post will introduce two series of documents on the QDL that are useful for those interested in the history of Bahrain and the surrounding region in the first half of the twentieth century; namely the Intelligence Summaries of the British Political Agency in Bahrain and the Government of Bahrain’s Annual Administrative Reports.

Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (Feb. 1942 - Jan. 1943). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7

Bahrain Intelligence Summaries (1934-1949)

These summaries consist of fortnightly intelligence reports that were composed by the British Political Agent in Bahrain and distributed to a number of British officials in London, India and throughout the Middle East. They were subsequently grouped by year and filed in the archive of the Political Agency. These previously confidential records constitute a remarkable historical resource regarding a fascinating time in Bahrain’s history. Throughout this period, Bahrain was at the centre of Britain’s Informal Empire in the Gulf and Charles Belgrave, the British adviser of the country’s rulers, was a hugely influential figure in the country. From the mid-1930s onwards, Bahrain’s oil industry began to rapidly develop, leading to substantial changes in Bahraini society and this transformation is documented in detail in these reports. They are also a useful resource concerning the history of the Persian Gulf region more broadly, since events in Kuwait, Qatar, the Trucial Coast (modern-day UAE), Oman, Saudi Arabia and occasionally Iraq and Iran, are all mentioned too.
Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4

The summaries constitute an important historical record related to a wide range of topics including slave trafficking and smuggling, the development of the oil industry, labour movements, international shipping and trade, British colonial history, the Gulf’s relationship with the Arab World (notably the Palestinian cause), power struggles between – and within – the region’s ruling families, the impact of the Second World War and the local reaction to international events (such as the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the partition of Palestine). The records also contain details of every visit made to Bahrain by British and foreign notables during this period, as well as weather and meteorological data.

Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1357 (March 1938 - February 1939). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/3

Alongside serious intelligence reporting related to political, military and economic developments in the region, the summaries also contain dozens of surreal and humorous vignettes concerning everyday life in Bahrain, such as the wide-spread popularity of a restaurant that served alcoholic cider, as well as several stories regarding the misdemeanours of members of Bahrain’s ruling family. A number of tragic tales are also mentioned in the reports including the death of a Bahraini fisherman after he was impaled by a sword fish and the drowning of forty pilgrims in the so-called ‘Nebi Saleh Tragedy’.

Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926-1937. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750

Changes in the social and cultural life of the region are also documented in the summaries. Incidents recorded include a football match between a Bahraini team and a team of Sudanese and Italian ARAMCO workers in Saudi Arabia that had to be abandoned after members of the Bahraini team attacked the referee, and the first boxing tournament ever held by a Bahraini sporting club. The growing popularity of cinema in the country is also frequently mentioned.

The summaries can be accessed at the following links: 1934, 1935-37, 1938-40, 1941-42, 1943-44, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949

Government of Bahrain Annual Administrative Reports (1926-1944)

The Government of Bahrain’s Annual Reports that were compiled by the aforementioned Charles Belgrave from another significant historical resource for the study of the modern history of Bahrain. These reports document the significant expansion in government services that occurred during this period and contain detailed information related to Bahrain’s finances, oil industry, education, health and judicial systems, municipal projects, police force, pearl diving industry and several other topics.
Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940)
. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4

The reports are illustrated throughout including photographs that depict the visits of dignitaries such as Ibn Sa’ud, the King of Saudi Arabia and show the numerous municipal buildings that were constructed during a period of frenetic expansion including hospitals, law courts and schools. They also contain a number of tables, graphs and other statistical information.

A detailed administrative report for the years 1926-1937 can be found here and individual annual reports (that use the Islamic hijri calendar) at the following links: 1348-49 (June 1929 – May 1930), 1350 (May 1931 – May 1932), 1351 (May 1932 – April 1933), 1356 (March 1937 - February 1938), 1357 (March 1938 - February 1939), 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940), 1359 (February 1940 - February 1941), 1360 (January 1941 - February 1942), 1361 (February 1942 - January 1943), 1362 (January 1943 - December 1943), 1363 (January 1944 - December 1944)

Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1356 (March 1937 - February 1938). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/2  noc

The two series profiled in this article are merely an example of the wealth of rich archival resources now available on the QDL. Among a vast array of other materials the site also now holds copies of the Annual Administrative Reports of the Persian Gulf Political Residency and the Muscat Political Agency from 1873 until 1947 (1873-74, 1874-75, 1875-76, 1876-77, 1877-78, 1878-79, 1879-1880, 1880-81, 1881-82, 1882-83, 1883-84, 1884-85, 1885-86, 1886-87, 1887-88, 1888-89, 1889-90, 1890-91, 1891-92, 1892-93, 1893-94 1894-95, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1897-98, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1900-01, 1901-02, 1902-03, 1903-04, 1904-05, 1905-10, 1911-14, 1915-19, 1920-24, 1925-30, 1931-35 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939-44, 1945-46, 1947) and the Annual Administration Reports of the Political Agency in Bahrain from 1921 until 1949 (1921-1930, 1931-34, 1935-39, 1940-43, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949).

Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (February 1942 - January 1943)
. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7  noc

Together, all of these documents form an invaluable historical resource, both for researchers who were previously unable to visit the British Library in London and for students keen to gain experience using primary documents. New material is regularly uploaded to the QDL site and will continue to be added until at least the end of 2018.

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist

13 May 2016

The Perak Times: a rare Japanese-occupation newspaper from Malaya

The British Library holds what is probably the most important collection in the world of early printed works from Malaysia and Singapore, from the start of printing in the region in the early 19th century, right up until the independence of Malaya in 1957 and of Singapore in 1963. The strength of the collection is mainly due to colonial legal deposit legislation, which started with the Straits Settlements Book Registration Ordinance of 1886. The Ordinance required publishers in Singapore, Penang and Melaka to deposit three copies of each work registered, one copy of which was to be sent to the library of the British Museum (now the British Library) in London. All types of publications were despatched, from religious works and literature to school text books and ephemera, as well as complete runs of newspapers and periodicals, in all the languages of the region: Malay, Chinese, Tamil, Arabic and English.

The only significant gap in this coverage of 150 years of printing from the Malay peninsula and Singapore is the period of the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, from late 1941 to 1945. Not surprisingly, during the war years almost no publications were sent to London, and sources from this crucial period are generally only found in Malaysian and Singapore libraries.

Masthead of The Perak Times, 10 April 2603 (i.e. 1943). British Library, ORB.99/234

The British Library was therefore delighted and very grateful to receive as a donation copies of a rare Japanese-occupation era propaganda newspaper. The Perak Times was published in Ipoh, Perak from 1942 until at least the end of 1943. It was a daily newspaper in English, usually consisting of just one broadsheet page, which appeared every day of the week except Sunday. According to the colophon the paper was printed and published at 62-64 Belfield Street, Ipoh by John Victor Morais (1910-1991), a prominent Malaysian writer and journalist of south Indian origin, who later edited the Malaya Tribune and the Ipoh Daily News. Until recently, the only known copies of The Perak Times were held in the National Archives of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and in the Penang Public Library. Now a four-month run, from April to July 2603 (i.e. 1943) can be consulted in the British Library (ORB.99/234).

The Perak Times, 1 April - 31 July 2603 (i.e. 1943), Ipoh, Perak. British Library, ORB.99/234

According to the historian of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Paul Kratoska (1998: 143), the Japanese placed the press in occupied Malaya under the control of the Domei Press Agency, which published newspapers in Malay, Tamil, Chinese and Japanese as well as in English. Looking through the individual issues of The Perak Times, the front page headlines mainly trumpet the war triumphs of Japan and her Axis allies Germany and Italy, with headlines like 'Our Troops Wipe Out Main Enemy Force On Indo-Burmese Border' (9 April 2603), 'Another Smashing Attack On Enemy Fleet' (17 April 2603) and 'Rommel Determined To Fight To  Finish' (24 April 2603), while also emphasizing Japan's alliances with Asian nationalist and anti-colonial parties: '"Burma Must Forge Ahead With One Voice, One Blood & One Command" - Dr. Ba Maw' (19 April 2603); '"No Going Back, No Faltering" Subhas Chandra Bose Broadcasts To India' (28 June 2603); and 'Premier Tojo In Manila: Exchanges Views About Philippine Independence' (13 July 2603).


Front page headlines from The Perak Times, 22 July (top) and 7 July (bottom), 1943.

The back page of The Perak Times usually contained more local news, including results of sporting fixtures (soccer, hockey and keiba, horse racing) as well as advertisements for entertainment. Kratoska reports that at the start of the Japanese occupation there were 23,000 reels of American, English, Chinese, Malay and Indian films in circulation in Malaya, and these continued to be shown for the first year and a half. Thus The Perak Times contains advertisements for 'Only Angels Have Wings' starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur; a Laurel and Hardy film, 'Star On Parade'; and the film of the Daphne du Maurier novel, 'Rebecca', as well Cantonese, Hindi and Tamil hit movies. It was only on 1 September 1943 that the Japanese ordered cinemas to stop screening British and American productions (Kratoska 1998: 141). Of greater local historical interest are the numerous performances in July 1943 by the Sri Arjuna Bangsawan group, including the shows 'Anak Di Luar Nikah', 'Raja Laksamana Bintan', 'Pulau Pandan Gunung Diak [sic, i.e. Daik?]' and 'Dan Dan Stia' [i.e. Dandan Setia], described as 'That Grand Malai Historical Play You've All Been Anxiously Waiting To See! To Be Completed In 5 Nights'.

Local Perak news on the back page of The Perak Times, 24 April 2603 (i.e. 1943).

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Advertisements for American, Indian and Chinese films (29 May) and for a Sri Arjuna Bangsawan performance (12 July) in Ipoh in The Perak Times in 1943.

The copies of The Perak Times have been donated to the British Library by Ian Sampson, who found them amongst his family papers. Ian’s father, Geoffrey Sampson, was an engineer who had worked in Malaya for the Public Works Department (PWD), and Ian himself was born at the General Hospital in Alor Setar, Kedah, in May 1941, just before the Japanese invasion at the end of that year. The papers are bound together in months, and a stamp on one issue reads 'District Office Dindings', indicating the origin of this collection. As can be seen from the photos above, the paper is very brittle, and we plan this year to digitise these historic copies of The Perak Times, to ensure that they will continue to be accessible as a valuable resource for this period of Malaysian history.

Ian Sampson, with copies of The Perak Times which he has kindly donated to the British Library.

P. Lim Pui Huen, Singapore, Malaysian and Brunei newspapers: an international union list.  Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992.
Paul H. Kratoska, The Japanese occupation of Malaya: a social and economic history. London: Hurst, 1998.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

08 May 2016

Lights, Camera, Action! Filming for the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project

In late 2015 I was planning a short video to introduce the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project. This project, which started in 2013, has been digitising about 1,300 manuscripts from the British Library’s significant collection of Hebrew manuscripts. So far, almost 800 manuscripts have been uploaded to the Digitised Manuscripts website, and the rest will be uploaded within the next few months. Generously funded by The Polonsky Foundation, this project allows Hebrew manuscripts to be freely available online for scholars and the general public. It manages the complex task of manuscript conservation and imaging, catalogue creation and the online presentation of this unique collection.

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Two of the Anglo-Jewish charters stored at the British Library, the former granting the general release by Mosse son of Jacob, and Jacob son of Mosse, to Peter de Bending, 1236-7 CE (British Library Add Ch 16384, Cotton Ch XXVI 29)   noc

Bearing this in mind, I asked myself: how should we capture and communicate such a large-scale project in just a few minutes? Thinking of our key messages, the main goal of our digitisation project, and why it is so significant, the first video for the project was conceived.

Aside from describing the different stages of manuscript digitisation, we thought it would be interesting for viewers to have a taste of some of the challenges that we’ve been facing. In consultation with the Lead Curator of Hebrew and Christian Collections, Ilana Tahan, we decided not to focus necessarily on the most famous or popular items, such as illuminated Haggadahs, but instead to make viewers aware of other, perhaps less known manuscripts.

We started filming in the Asia & Africa Studies Reading Room early in the morning, before opening time. One topic that we focused on was the Jewish charters from 13th-century England. These unique documents, written in Hebrew or a combination of Hebrew and Latin, attest to the Jewish presence in England before the expulsion of 1290 CE by King Edward I. These include different types of contractual transactions between Jews and Gentiles, such as transactions with Jewish moneylenders or debt acquaintances. Four of these charters were on display in the Magna Carta exhibition, as two clauses of the Magna Carta, created in 1215 CE, dealt with debts owed to Jews.

Another topic which we thought would be interesting to showcase was the censorship of Jewish manuscripts, and how it reflected the life of Jewish communities under Christian domination. The Church attempted to control the dissemination of Hebrew books and manuscripts, therefore Christian censors examined Jewish texts and, if found disrespectful or blasphemous, they erased words or whole passages. Often, these censors were converted Jews, who could read Hebrew and were familiar with the content of Hebrew books. Many of our manuscripts were present in Italy, mainly during the 16th and 17th centuries, and include evidence that they were examined by censors there in the form of erasures and signatures of expurgators.

Matt Casswell filming Lead Curator Ilana Tahan browsing through a 15th-century censored manuscript (Arba’ah Ṭurim by Jacob ben Asher,  British Library Add MS 27150) in the Asia & Africa Studies Reading Room  noc

Another filming location was the Library’s Conservation Centre, where some of our manuscripts needed treatment prior to digitisation. In order to be safely digitised, each manuscript was inspected by a conservator, who determined whether any conservation measures were needed. Most manuscripts were in good condition, but some had to undergo repair and stabilisation in Conservation Centre. While most of our collection is comprised of codices (bound manuscripts), we have items in other formats: scrolls, charters, loose leaves – and several mantles as well, which were used as textile covers for scrolls. To showcase the variety of conservation challenges, we filmed conservators Ann Tomalak, Liz Rose and Jenny Snowdon handling some of our collection items.

Conservators at work at the British Library Conservation Centre (from left to right): Ann Tomalak unrolling our longest scroll (16th-century Pentateuch, British Library Or 1459), Jenny Snowdon with an Esther scroll (British Library Or 13028), and Liz Rose stitching a Torah scroll mantle (British Library Egerton 610)  noc

After conservation assessment or treatment, the Hebrew manuscripts arrive at the Library’s Imaging Studio for digitisation. They are photographed cover-to-cover using high resolution cameras. The digitisation of scrolls was especially challenging – and we wanted to demonstrate this in our video. Alex White and Kristin Phelps were filmed handling, imaging and post-processing an Esther scroll. Each of our scrolls required the Senior Imaging Technicians to work in pairs, following strict guidelines. Scrolls had to be removed from their box, rolled and unrolled in very specific ways. In addition, sufficient overlap between photos was necessary, so that the scrolls could be digitally stitched for online presentation.

Matt Casswell filming Kristin Phelps, former Senior Imaging Technician, handling an Esther scroll (British Library Harley 7620)  noc

Next in the digitisation process is quality assessment (QA) of the digitised manuscripts – making sure that the resulting images comply with the project’s standards. Our Project Support Officer, Catherine Cronin, was filmed examining a 16th-century Karaite manuscript from Egypt (British Library Or 5064) which has a tight binding, resulting in some potential text loss in the gutter. In cases such as this, she needs to check whether it’s possible to get the manuscript photographed without losing any of the text. Our former cataloguer, Agata Paluch, carefully went over each manuscript and wrote detailed descriptions, creating metadata records. We filmed her flipping through a 14th-century book of Nevi’im (Prophets; British Library Add MS 11657), while creating a record in the Library’s cataloguing system.

When this process is completed, the digitised images of the manuscripts are ready to be uploaded to the British Library Digitised Manuscripts website. When online, the manuscripts are available in high resolution for anyone to research and enjoy. The manuscript that we show at the end of the video is one of the most unique items in our collection – the North French Hebrew Miscellany (British Library Add MS 11639), penned and illuminated in France between 1278 and 1298 CE.


The resulting video gives just a small taste of the British Library’s collection of Hebrew manuscripts and of the extensive digitisation project that has been making many of them digitally accessible. For those who’d like to learn more, we have created a website dedicated to our digitised Hebrew manuscripts. Featuring articles written by leading experts, we aim to cover some of the themes emerging from our collection: the Hebrew Bible, illuminations, Jewish communities, kabbalah, science and more. The website also offers a glimpse into digital technologies that could be applied to manuscripts, either for research purposes or for an enhanced digital experience. We are hopeful that our digital collection and the website’s expert articles could spark interest and curiosity in the British Library’s collection of Hebrew manuscripts, as well as inspire further research.

Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator (Polonsky Fellow) for the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project


02 May 2016

Malaysia and Football

A few days ago I was invited by Raja Noorma Raja Othman, head of the London branch of the Malaysian bank CIMB, to a special screening of a new Malaysian film on football. Ola Bola is a feel-good movie about the multiracial Malaysian national football team which qualified for the Moscow Olympics in 1980, only to miss out on the Games when Malaysia joined the international boycott in protest at the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

Watching the film reminded me of a what a long history there is of interest in football in the Malay world, as reflected in the collection of Malay printed books in the British Library. Just three decades after the founding of the Football Association in England in 1863, a Malay version of the Rules was printed in Singapore in 1895, entitled Risalat peraturan bola sepak yang dinamai Inggeris fut bul, ‘A guide to the rules of the ball game called in English football’. Translated by Mahmud bin Sayid Abdul Kadir al-Hindi, the booklet was published by the Committee of the Ethical Association (Lembaga Keadilan Persekutuan Dar al-Adab) and printed at the American Mission Press, and sold for 25 cents a copy. It included a fold-out plan of a football field showing the position of the players, as shown below.

‘A plan of the field where Football is played, and directions for the players’ positions’ (Peta padang bermain Futbul dan peraturan mengatur pemain), drawn by Syed Mahmoed. Risalat peraturan bola sepak yang dinamai Inggeris fut bul, Singapore, 1895. British Library, 14628.b.2  noc

The Library’s Malay collection contains other gems of Malaysian football history, including a souvenir programme for the Gold Cup of 1947, Chendera Mata Piala Mas 1947, compiled by Md. Said bin A. Rahman and Rahmat bin Jais. The post-war formation of the first peninsular Malay football team (pasukan bola Melayu Semenanjong yang pertama diadakan) represented both a revival of and development on from the earlier Sultans’ Gold Cup, sponsored by the rulers of Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang, which had last been held in 1938. In the programme, the compilers also sought to shine the spotlight on earlier Malay football heroes, including Taib bin Haji Ishak, 'Backbone of Selangor' from 1935-1941; the dashing centre-forward Syed Alwi bin Syed Md. Alsagoff, who captained the Sultan Sulaiman Club from 1921-1924 and represented Selangor in the Malaya Cup; Md. Said bin Othman, head of the Negeri Sembilan squad; and Dool bin Budin, a former N.S. player and renowned referee. But the man who was named the 'King of Malay Football' in the pre-war years was Abdul Fattah bin Abdullah, known popularly as Dolfattah (d.1945).  When the Singapore Malay team toured to Sumatra, they were met by banners: 'DOLFATTAH - MALAY FOOTBALL KING - WE'VE SEEN HIS PICTURE - WE'VE READ THE NEWS - NOW THE MAN HIMSELF IS HERE.' In one match, when Dolfattah was unable to play due to an injury, the crowd started to shout 'Give us our money back! No point in watching if Dolfattah's not playing!'. In the end Dolfattah was forced to appear on the pitch and show his face, before the audience was appeased. Dolfattah later moved to Medan as a coach, and was said to be able to play all over the field - even when he was in goal.


Gold Cup souvenir  programme of 1947, with a list of the Malay Peninsula team members. Md. Said bin A. Rahman & Rahmat bin Jais, Chendera Mata Piala Mas 1947 (Kuala Lumpur: Nanyang Press, 1947). British Library, 14654.m.29

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A gallery of early Malay football stars, featured in Chendera Mata Piala Mas 1947. British Library, 14654.m.29

Publications on football have grown in popularity ever since. A new Malay translation of the Football Association Rules, Undang2 dan panduan bola sepak, by a former player and referee, H.A.B. Mansor was published in Penang in 1961 and sold widely. Countless magazines and newspapers were published to feed the appetite for news of the sport. 
H.A.B. Mansor, Undang2 dan panduan bola sepak (Penang: Sinaran, 1961). British Library, 14654.w.241

The inaugural issues of Suasana film dan sports (Singapore, 1963). British Library, Or.Mic.12061

Football is the most popular sport in Malaysia today, with the attention of fans often focussed on the birthplace of the game, and two British Championship teams have Malaysian owners: Cardiff City (Vincent Tan) and Queens Park Rangers (Tony Fernandes). But in today's hyper-professionalised game with its expensive and ever-changing kit, it is nice to read about one of the old Malay 'Greats'. In the 1920s the Selangor player Mohd. Yusoff bin Tahir was nicknamed Kaki Besi, ‘Iron Foot’, because he eschewed fancy 'modern' football garb and even refused to wear boots, but with his bare feet could still kick the ball as hard as a horse.

Mohd. Yusoff of Selangor, known as 'Iron Foot'. Chendera Mata Piala Mas 1947, p.20. British Library, 14654.m.29

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork