THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

8 posts from December 2019

30 December 2019

African Literature through the Language Lens: The Yorùbá Example

As one of the two 2019/2020 Chevening Research Fellows at the British Library, my work revolves around literature produced in Yorùbá.

Literature written by Africans in African languages existed before African literature in English (or other European languages). This fact, frequently overlooked, has coloured the discussion of what we talk about whenever we explore “African literature”. Some of the first writings we instinctively think or talk about when discussing African literature, for instance, are usually in English: Amos Tútùọlá’s Palm Wine Drinkard (1952), Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana (1961), among others. But the history of writing and publishing literature by Africans in Africa started much earlier, and in other African languages.

Periodicals
You can find some earlier newspapers published in Yorùbá at the British Library.
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On November 23, 1859, the first newspaper in Nigeria was published in Abeokuta, titled Ìwé Ìròhìn Fún Àwọn Ará Ẹ̀gbá àti Yorùbá. It was printed by the printing press of Henry Townsend, established five years earlier as an arm of the missionary endeavour he was involved in, and as a way to keep the few literate people in “high society” engaged in the day-to-day of society. The newspaper was published in both Yorùbá and English. It was published every fifteen days and sold for 120 cowries (about a penny at the time). Its readership rose to around 3000 subscribers before it went belly-up after the printing press was burnt during one of the skirmishes between the British visitors and the Ẹ̀gbá residents.

In 1891, another iteration of the paper resurrected in Lagos, retaining a version of the original name. Now it was called Ìwé Ìròhìn Yorùbá àti Èkó — the newspaper of Yorùbá and Lagos. The word “Yorùbá” at this point had just begun to be adopted as the general name for all the people who speak associated languages and dialect, and who live in South-western Nigeria. Before then, the word had only referred to the Oyo people. Others retained their own ethnic names: Ẹ̀gbá, Ìjẹ̀bú, Èkìtì, Ìjẹ̀ṣà, Yàgbà, etc.

Masthead of Yoruba paper Ìwé Ìròhìn Èkó. First page of Yoruba newspaper Ìwé Ìròhìn Èkó 9 May 1891.
Ìwé Ìròhìn Èkó (1891) was one of the first newspapers published in both Yorùbá and English. (1866.c.5.(18.))
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Through these publications, many of which were printed in both Yorùbá and English, the educated elite found ways to learn about what was going on in other parts of the world. Through letters to the editor, they were also able to respond, and participate in ongoing civil and social debates. It was not surprising to read then, for instance, that many Africans had read, debated, and written rejoinders to the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884 which codified the demarcation of the continent. According to this Al Jazeera news opinion , “a week before it closed, the Lagos Observer declared that ‘the world had, perhaps, never witnessed a robbery on so large a scale.’" The Lagos Observer was another one of those newspapers at the time, established in 1882. (The British Library holds copies from 1882 to 1888 in microfilm).

In 1928, another one of those newspapers was founded, called Akéde Èkó (The Lagos Herald). It was edited by Isaac Babalọlá Thomas (1888-1963), journalist and writer. In 1929, he wrote what has been generally agreed upon as “the first Yorùbá novel.” The work, titled Ìtàn Ìgbésí Ayé Èmi Ṣẹ̀gílọlá Ẹlẹ́yinjú Ẹgẹ́ Ẹlẹ́gbẹ̀rún Ọkọ L’áíyé ( The story of my life; me, Segilola, one with delicate eyes and a thousand living husbands ), was published first as a serial, disguised as a letter to the editor by a dying old lady willing to spill the story of her exciting and sometimes tawdry adventures on the pages of the newspapers. When it was eventually published, with the author being credited merely as a custodian of the story by the “anonymous” lady, it caused some scandal in the new society not used to reading such open discussion of sexual relationships.

Cover of Print Culture and the first Yoruba Novel.
Print Culture and the First Yorùbá Novel” edited by Karin Barber. (Print culture and the first Yoruba novel : I.B. Thomas's 'Life story of me, Sẹgilọla' and other texts , edited by Karin Barber (Leiden: Brill, 2012). (YD.2012.a.5228)
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There had been many pamphlets, religious texts, poems, tracts, etc. published before this time, some of them unattributed to anyone but religious organisations. But over the next decades, scores of literary works — short stories, novelettes, novels, travelogues, poetry and other personal narratives were published to limited audiences literate in Yorùbá and in the culture of the changing times. By the time the first notable English language novel The Palm Wine Drinkard was published in 1952, it had a whole generation of Nigerian Yorùbá literary oeuvre to longingly gesture towards, and borrow from.

The fame of the English language genre would come to eventually supplant and stunt the growth of Nigerian-language creative output in the subsequent generations. By the mid-eighties, long after the departure or nationalization of the earlier British establishment firms that had published some of the earlier Nigerian writers, including D.O. Fágúnwà, J.F. Ọdúnjọ and Adébáyọ̀ Fálétí, the creative output in the local language also seemed to gradually disappear. Today, there is no reputable institution publishing Nigerian language fiction or drama or poetry. There are still publications, but they are mostly self-publications with no peer review or professional vetting and critical appraising mechanism.

As a 2019/2020 Chevening Research Fellow, my work over this next year will examine the Yorùbá language collections in the British Library — containing over two hundred years of documentation and preservation — to draw patterns, find gaps, identify trends and relevant research directions for future researchers who will come to use the Library, and generally provide expert analysis of the Library’s Yorùbá language material holdings. And sometimes, non-Yorùbá texts of relevance will also come my way, as one did a few weeks ago when I discovered that the original typescript of Wọlé Ṣóyínká’s Ìdànrè, eventually published in 1965, resides in the manuscript section at the Library, still bearing the marking, handwritings and musical directions of the then 31 year-old-author.

I also happen to be a linguist, interested in the growth, development, and sustenance of the Yorùbá language (and other Nigerian languages) in literature, education, governance and technology in the 21st century. And so, I will be looking to better understand the evolution of the orthography of the language, through the texts that have carried it in literature from its early beginnings until today. The work of forbearers like Samuel Ajayi Crowther to Ayo Bamgbose stand as guiding lights, as do the work of faceless and notable writers of the Yorùbá language whose texts provide the most visible account of the language and its journey from just a spoken language to a medium of transmitting generations of stories, both in fiction and history, in the many written patterns and styles.

My thought process on these discoveries will be shared on the British Library blog as the year unfolds.

Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún is a Nigerian linguist and writer, author of Edwardsville by Heart, a collection of poetry. He is 2019/2020 Chevening Research Fellow at the British Library.
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24 December 2019

Christmas from Bethlehem to Bethnahrein

On December 25, Christians around the world (except most Orthodox Christians) will mark the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they believe to be the son of God and the Messiah. Jesus, who was born in a manger in Bethlehem, grew up speaking a dialect of Aramaic, once the lingua franca of West Asia. The Gospels, which relate Jesus’ life and teachings, were written in Greek, but the language that Jesus spoke continued to be used long past his death. Aramaic gradually evolved into various languages, with different speech communities surviving to the present day, albeit none of them in the vicinity of Jesus’ birthplace. Linguistic retention has been most tenacious in Mesopotamia, known as Beth-Nahrein (ܒܝܬ ܢܗܪܝܢ; "Between the Rivers"). For those groups that still speak it, language and culture continue to be important aspects of identity, including in the birthday celebrations of the world’s most famous Aramaic speaker, Jesus of Nazareth.


A recording of a 2016 Assyrian Church of the East Christmas celebration in Baghdad. (YouTube, uploaded by Rev. Shmoel Maqdis)

From the 1st century CE, an Aramaic language, Syriac, rose to become an important vehicle for Christianity and Christian philosophy in the Middle East. Based on the dialect of Urfa (Edessa/Εδεσσα in Greek, Urhoi/ܐܘܪܗܝ in Syriac), it has been used continuously by Syriac Christians in their liturgy and theological writings, as well as their secular histories and literature, for over a millennium and a half. Syriac Christianity is a rich and varied collection of faith practices, one that incorporates some 11 different churches of various theological and cultural orientations. Some, such as the Syriac Orthodox Church, are in communion with the Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches. The Syriac Maronite Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church are in communion with the Catholic Church based in Rome. Other groups, such as the Assyrian Church of the East, are completely independent of broader structures, while the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Kerala, India is in communion with the Anglican Church. What they all have in common, however, is their use of one of two Syriac rites, continuing on the religious significance of this Aramaic dialect, even in communities where it was never spoken as a daily language.

The Nativity scene from Add MS 7170.
An illustration of the Nativity from a 13th century Syriac lectionary copied in Syria or northern Iraq. (Syriac Lectionary, Add MS 7170)
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It should be no surprise, then, that Christmas too is described and celebrated in this linguistic relative of Jesus’ speech, whether in India, Lebanon, Iraq, or among the diaspora. The story of Jesus’ birth is found in the Peshitta, or simplified Syriac translation of the Gospels. Just as in the King James Bible, the Peshitta version provides us with a description of the manger in Luke 2:1, while Matthew 2:11 tells of the visit of the Magi. The British Library holds one of the largest and richest – if not the largest and richest – collections of Syriac manuscripts in the world, which include many copies of the Peshitta. Given the importance of the birth of the Christian Messiah as a milestone in Christian history, some of the works within our collections contain beautifully illuminated and illustrated narrations of the Nativity. One of the most spectacular depictions of the event comes from the manuscript Add MS 7170, a 13th century Lectionary that was copied in northern Iraq near the city of Mosul. The painting shows the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus lying side by side and watched over by angels, while the Magi arrive bearing gifts. Their presence in a manger is noted by the fact that both a donkey and an ox look down upon the infant, just as enraptured by his being as the humans.

Header of the Gospel of John from Or. 14365. Story of the Nativity from Gospel of Luke in Or 14365.
The start of the Gospel of John, with instructions that it is to be read for Christmas, as well as the story of the Nativity in the Gospel of Matthew, from a 15th century Peshitta from Tur Abdin, Turkey (Peshiṭtā, Or. 14365). 
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The story of the Nativity appears in all of copies of the Peshitta that contain all four of the Gospels, just as it does in all versions of the New Testament copied or published in other languages. As time went on, not only the event but its commemoration too became an important part of organizing the teachings and life of the Church and its faithful. In addition to the passages in both Luke and Matthew, whole sections of the Gospels were assigned for reading during the Christmas season. Excerpts from Or. 14365, a 15th century manuscript produced in Tur Abdin, Turkey, show not only Luke 2:1-10, telling the story of the Nativity, but also the header of the Gospel of John, which is intended to be read at Christmas. It features an intricate geometrical pattern of interlacing red, green and yellow bands, and is accompanied by a cloth thumb-tab, indicating that this section was indeed meant to be found and actively read by literate believers.

Illustrated cover page of Children's Christmas stories in Swadaya.
The cover of a collection of Christmas stories for children translated from English into Swadaya (neo-Aramic from northwestern Iran). (Lilā Abrāhaām Taymúrāzi, Ilānā qaṣomā d-'i'dā za'orā (Ṭahran : Ṭabíʿā b-Maṭbāʿtā d-síʿtā sefrāytā d-ʿālíme atúrāye b-ziqtā minyānā d-trín, 1959) (YP.2018.a.1677).
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Christianity has been a cornerstone of Aramaic-speakers’ identities right up to the present. As Adam H. Becker has explored in his book Revival and Awakening: American Evangelical Missionaries in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism, the 19th century brought an onslaught of American and British Protestant missionaries to northern Iraq and western Iran. This added a new layer to the relationship between history, language, religion and ethnicity in the region. European and American insistence on linking the ancient Assyrian Empire with contemporary Aramaic speakers, as well as the importation of European Christmas traditions, allowed for new means of celebrating the holiday alongside traditional ones. The British Library holds small but notable collections of contemporary poetry and prose works in Classical Syriac as well as the neo-Aramaic languages Turoyo and Swadaya. Within these, some include works dedicated to the celebration of Christmas. Writing targeted at children is especially rich with examples, as the holiday – beloved by children – also provides a good opportunity to teach these endangered languages to future generations. Some poems come with imagery that is clearly influenced by Western European symbolism, including Christmas trees and a portly, jolly and bearded Santa Claus. In mid-20th century works, such as the pamphlet above produced in Tehran, this is a reflection of the influence of British and American missionaries in the homeland of many neo-Aramaic speakers. Christmas stories were translated from English into the Swadaya dialect of the Urmia Region, ensuring a transfer of Euro-American Christmas traditions and symbols to a part of the Assyrian people.

A poem in Turoyo about Father Christmas including illustrations.
A song about Father Christmas in from an anthology of children's verse in Classical Syriac published in the Netherlands. (Murat Can, Zmiroṯo d šabre men Beṯ-nahrin : 41 zmiroṯo lan nacime b Surayt (Enschede : Ganaṯ Šarwoye, 1998). (YP.2018.b.125)
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The gradual infiltration of European ideas about Christmas also occurred because of the geography of Syriac Christian communities. Although originally from West Asia, more people who identify as Assyrians or Syriacs might live in the diaspora than do in the homeland. Conservative guesses are that half the community live outside of West Asia, with the United States and Sweden the largest populations. The British Library’s collections feature numerous works published by authors or community groups in Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany, many of them focused on the preservation and promulgation of culture and language. The example above, sourced from the Netherlands, shows the use of images familiar to anyone who might have grown up in Western Europe or North America, alongside a Turoyo song about Father Christmas.

News from Baghdad's Assyrian community including the 1973 Christmas party.
News from Baghdad's Assyrian community, including a piece on female students' Christmas party in December 1973. ("Akhbar al-mujtama'at al-āthūrī", Múrdinā Atúrāyā, Issue 3-4 (Baghdād : al-Nādī al-Thaqāfī al-Āthūrī, April 1974). (ZP.9.b.189)
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In the homeland, Christmas continues to be celebrated and woven into contemporary culture, despite the numerous pressures exerted on Aramaic speakers to go into hiding or depart. In the 1970s, the Assyrians of Baghdad openly celebrated Christmas as a group event, as seen in the community news section of the periodical Múrdinā Aturāyā (The Educated Assyrian). In December 1973, female Assyrian students marked the occasion with a party that included dance and song, among other entertainment. Christmas was not only a chance to mark the passage of time and to celebrate the birth of Christ, but also an opportunity to take stock and look towards the community's future. 

The Iran-Iraq War, decades of sanctions, unrest in the south-east of Turkey, and, eventually, the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have all led to a drastic reduction in the presence of Syriac Christians in their homeland, as well as the celebration of Christian festivities there. Nonetheless, communities remain, and occasionally grow, allowing for Christmas Mass to be sung across the region. This year, too, the Nativity will be celebrated, in Syriac, in churches from Ainkawa to Adelaide, Mardin to Malmö, and Qamishlo to Kerala. Neither time nor distance can erase the sense of hope and yearning for peace represented by the celebration of Christmas.

Dr. Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Collections Curator, British Library
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21 December 2019

Chinese Botanical Paintings in the British Library Visual Arts Collection

Rita dal Martello is completing her doctorate at UCL and has completed a doctoral placement at the British Library in November 2019. 

In 2019 the Visual Arts team has been pleased to welcome Rita Dal Martello as the section’s PhD placement focusing on Chinese works on paper. Rita has primarily been working on translating, identifying and cataloguing a collection of over 300 watercolour painting of botanical subjects along with additional paintings related to Chinese furniture and interiors, methods of torture and also the Macartney Embassy to China in 1792-1794. This blog will explore some of Rita’s research related to the Chinese botanical paintings cared for by the Visual Arts team.

In 1975, a collection of Chinese botanical paintings was received from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office comprising of 6 volumes of mostly quarto-size sheets of watercolour illustrations. On four different types of paper, the majority of the paintings are on paper watermarked Whatman 1794 II or Whatman 1794 I, whilst a small percentage are on cartridge type paper and a few on a very thin paper.

The paintings are provisionally dated to c. 1800, and are by unknown Chinese artists. 234 of the paintings represent flowering plants belonging to over 60 families, which have now been identified as including Rosaceae, Orchidaceae, Rutaceae, Fabaceae, Lythraceae, Ericaceae, Theaceae, Malvaceae, Magnoliaceae, Annonaceae, Apocynaceae, Asteraceae, Myrtaceae, Paeoniaceae, and Sapindaceae families, which have multiple examples across the collection. The remaining 76 illustrations in the collection are of unidentified flowering plants.

Over half of the identified plants are Asian ornamental flowers, such as orchids, azaleas, camellias, roses, chrysanthemums, peonies, magnolias and lilies among other.

Illustration of a camellia
Pale pink Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) by an unknown Chinese artist, c.1800. British Library, NHD 52/37  noc

The rest of the paintings illustrate mostly Asian economic fruit and legume species, such as oranges, peaches, pears, persimmons, wampees, kumquat, litchi, longan, Bauhinia, and rosary pea among other. Finally, a few examples of Asian trees are illustrated in the later volumes of this collection, including one example of a willow tree, Japanese oaks, pines, and tallow trees.

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Sweet orange (Citrus x sinensis) by an unknown Chinese artist, c. 1800. British Library, NHD 55/32.  noc

Most of the paintings show one or multiple flowering leafy branches, with fruits illustrated on a separate, smaller branch on the side. The drawings and colouring are accurate, with detailed illustration of individual petals and stamens, and veins on the leaves’ surface.

The floral and fruit dissections are meticulously illustrated on the lower corners of the paintings; individual pedicels, sepals, pistils, stamens and petals are all represented in these dissected illustrations; for fruit dissections fleshy interiors and seeds are often represented both within the fruit and separately on the side, often dissected themselves. Leaves, flowers, and fruits are illustrated at different stages of their life cycle, including in buds, at full bloom, and decaying, as well as immature and mature for fruits.

The depiction of floral and fruit dissections was becoming the norm in botanical paintings and allowed botanists to accurately identify different plant species from illustrations rather than from living or dried specimens, which could die or become damaged in transit.

At least one third of the paintings present visible pencil underdrawings; these most often represent changes in the final painted outcome, but rarely whole flowers and fruits are drawn in pencil on front and have not been painted. One instance of upside-down pencil sketches mirroring the front painting is found on the reverse of NHD56/49.

Numerous inscriptions are present on the front and reverse of the paintings. On the front, these usually include a set of Chinese characters, written in ink either on the lower right or lower left hand corner; these typically relate to the Chinese common name of the illustrated plant, some have folkloristic names which have now become obsolete. On the front, always written in ink on the lower left hand corner, there is one of two sets of initials – ‘W. Ch.’ on 152 paintings, and ‘H. Sh.’ on 129 paintings. Additionally, about a third of the paintings also have Latin plant names, rarely with English translation, written in pencil on the front lower right hand corner.

On the reverse, Chinese characters and their corresponding Cantonese transliteration are written on the lower right corner in pencil; these usually match the characters written on front, but in a few paintings additional characters are written on reverse, indicating the edibility of the plants or other noteworthy characteristics. The Cantonese transliteration are written in European script.

On a number of paintings, flowering times are indicated through Chinese characters written in ink on the reverse lower left hand corner; this is present only in paintings that bear the front inscription of H. Sh.; flowering times are given in individual months, and these match current known flowering times of the species illustrated in South China.

During my time at the British Library, I spent many hours transcribing and translating all the different inscriptions on the paintings, including updating plant Latin names according to the most recent scientific knowledge. I also compared the British Library collection with other Chinese botanical paintings such as the William Kerr collection held at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, as well as consulted online and printed Chinese floras. This allowed for the accurate taxonomic identification of many of the plant depicted which were previously catalogued as unidentified botanical illustrations. This will enhance greatly future research and discoverability of this collection.

The records of each individual painting, including detailed information regarding plant species depicted (both common English names and Latin names when available), painting composition, and inscriptions (both front and reverse) can be found on the British Library Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, by searching for the specific references of the collection (NHD52, NHD53, NHD54, NHD55, NHD56, NHD57), or otherwise by searching for specific plant names.

These paintings are also available for consultation on appointment only, through contacting the Asian and African Studies Print Room Staff in advance.

Rita dal Martello, doctoral candidate at UCL  ccownwork

18 December 2019

The Avar Miscellany, a rare manuscript from the North Caucasus: (1) Historical background

The first appearance of Muslims in the Caucasus region dates back to the first century of the Islamic era; but their presence developed gradually over many hundreds of years. The variegation of Islam as practised in this region reflects the divergence of cultural and other traditions between the peoples of a land where immense peaks and valleys separate neighbouring communities whose languages are often not mutually intelligible, but where Arabic has long acted as the common language of the learned.

In the nineteenth century, as in the twentieth, the northern regions of Caucasia, including Chechnia and Daghistan, were frequently riven by conflict. For a few short years in mid-century, while the Imperial Russian Army was engaged in the Crimean War against Britain and her allies, the pressure on the Chechens in their forests and the Daghistanis in their mountain fastnesses was relaxed to a certain degree. Yet they were unable to profit to any great extent from the situation, at least partly because of limitations on communication with the outside world.

That short-lived respite is, however, reflected in the existence of a very special survivor, now preserved in the British Library as Or. 16389: a manuscript of great rarity. This manuscript was previously MS. 39 in the collection of C.S. Mundy, a British Turcologist who was a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Many of the most important items in Mundy’s manuscript collection were eventually acquired, in uneasy instalments, by the British Library. His books, regrettably, were entirely dispersed; Graham Shaw, former Head of Asian and African Collections, noticed some of them on sale on a street stall in Greenwich, southeast London.

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Avar Miscellany, with ownership inscription of Ghayūr Beg al-Ṭānusī al-Awarī, son of Ḥājj al-Ḥaramayn Yaḥyà Efendi. British Library, Or. 16389, f. 1r

The Avar Miscellany, as BL manuscript Or. 16389 has been named, is a majmū‘a (or in Turkish mecmua), or composite volume, of Islamic religious texts in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and Avar, one of the languages of the Northeast Caucasus region. It was copied for al-Amīr al-Muhājir Dāniyāl Sulṭān by Ghāzī Muḥammad in 1270/1853-4. According to an inscription in Arabic on f. 84v, the manuscript was given to Dāniyāl in that year by a man named Muḥammad Beg al-Ākhidī (or al-Āżidī?) who describes himself as al-gharīb al-ghabī, literally meaning ‘the strange’ (or, perhaps, ‘the stranger’), ‘the stupid’. The calligraphed main ex libris page (f. 1r) with highly distinctive ornamentation in puce and black – a rather surprising colour scheme, found also on the second ex libris page (f. 8r) – states that this volume was owned by (ṣāḥibuh wa mālikuh) Ghayūr Beg al-Ṭānusī al-Awarī, son of Ḥājj al-Ḥaramayn Yaḥyà Efendi. Surprising, too, is the latter’s title, which means ‘Pilgrim to the Two Sanctuaries’). Although most Ḥājjīs visit Madīna as well as Makka, that visit does not count as part of the Ḥajj. Possibly he had also visited Jerusalem, which for Greek Christians at least gave them the right to prefix their names with the epithet ‘Khatzi’.

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Avar Miscellany, with another ownership inscription of Ghayūr Beg al-Ṭānusī al-Awarī, son of Ḥājj al-Ḥaramayn Yaḥyà Efendi. British Library, Or. 16389, f. 8r

Another interesting feature of the volume is the binding, which is in brown goatskin and is broadly similar to medium-quality Ottoman bindings of the period. The front and back covers, and also the spine, contain impressed inscribed cartouches. Those on the right, as one looks from the side, contain a name which begins ‘Mullā Muḥammad’; this is followed by a name which is probably a nisba, or affiliation name, connected to a place or region. Those on the left appear to begin with the words ‘Ṣāḥib hādhā’ (‘The owner of this…’) and to end with the name ‘Mullā ‘Alī’. These readings are altogether tentative. More adept readers will, one hopes, be able to solve these epigraphic puzzles.

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Binding of the Avar Miscellany, with inscribed cartouches. British Library, Or. 16389

Several different copyists seem to have been involved in the production of this manuscript, at one stage or another. Ghayūr Beg himself appears to have copied two of the brief texts included in the volume. The text describes him as governor (vālī) of the Avaria region of the Caucasus in the time of Imam Shamū’īl (1797-1871), commonly known as Imam Shamyl, the overlord of Daghistan and Chechenia (and leading shaykh of the Naqshbandī Sufi Order there) from 1834 to 1859. The actual situation, however, was not so straightforward. Ghayūr was the Imam’s nā’ib or deputy in the region of Aukh, there being other na’ibs elsewhere. Ghāzī Muḥammad, who was the son of Shamyl and the son-in-law of Dāniyāl Sulṭān, claims in this manuscript (in text 3) to be the Mujaddid, or Renewer of Islam, in his time. Dāniyāl Sulṭān, described in this volume as ‘The Commander, the Emigrant [for the Faith]’, was ruler of Elisu and a major-general in the Russian army when in 1844 he defected (this being his ‘emigration’) to join forces with Shamyl; in 1859, however, he capitulated to the Russian invading force together with all his men. By the time of Shamyl’s capture by the Russians, he considered Dāniyāl a traitor who had deserted him.

Ghayūr Beg himself (called Gairbek in Russian) came from a place called Burtuna and was among the four nā’ibs to whom Imam Shamyl addressed a stern letter dated 17 Ṣafar 1269/30 November 1852, enjoining them to be zealous in upholding Islamic prohibitions, curbing worldly inclinations, and other matters – and threatening to send representatives to investigate whether his instructions were being followed. [See Sharafutdinova (2001), pp. 120-123, 199; for an earlier (1267/1850-51) letter from Shamyl to his followers, to much the same effect, see pp. 84-85.]

The texts included in the Avar anthology reflect, inter alia, a concern to direct the Muslims of the region towards theological orthodoxy and strict observance of Sharī‘a rulings and away from the adherence to ‘urf, or local custom, which was prevalent among these fiercely independent-minded mountain people.

The second part of this blog post will describe the contents of the manuscript.

Further reading:
Araboíàzychnye dokumenty ėpokhi Shamilíà. Ed. and tr. R. Sh. Sharafutdinova. Moscow: Vostochnaíà Literatura, 2001.
Baddeley, John F. The Russian conquest of the Caucasus. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1908 and reprinted.
Charachidzé. Georges. Grammaire da la langue avar. Saint-Sulpice de Favières: Éditions Jean-Favard, 1981.
Gammer, Moshe (ed.). Islam and Sufism in Daghestan. Sastamala : Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, 2009.
Gammer, Moshe (ed.). Muslim resistance to the Tsar: Shamil and the conquest of Chechnia and Daghestan. London: Frank Cass, 1994.

Muhammad Isa Waley, former Curator for Persian and Turkish

12 December 2019

Three fish with one head (2): from the Buddha’s footprints to Beat poetry

The first part of this blog post explored diagrams of three fish with one head in manuscripts association with the Shattariyah Sufi order in Java. In this second part the motif is traced through nearly four thousand years, from ancient Egypt to contemporary Buddhist Japan via the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

The earliest known manifestation of the three-fish-one-head symbol is in ancient Egypt, where it was a familar motif on ceramic dishes from the New Kingdom period between the 16th to 11th centuries BC. Representing the tilapia fish and found together with depictions of the lotus, it is associated with the Goddess Hathor.  

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Three fish with one head, on an Egyptian bowl, New Kingdom, 16th-11th centuries BC (Image source: G. Maspero, L'archeologie egyptienne. Paris: Maison Quantin, 1887; p. 255, fig. 228).

Two millenia later the motif appears well entrenched in Christian contexts in Europe: it is clearly portrayed in the famous album of Villard de Honnecourt, a French architect active between 1225 and 1250 who worked for the Cistercian Order of monks, and who left a sketchbook full of architectural drawings and geometrical diagrams now held in the. Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, MS 19093. In Christian circles the fish is a symbol of Christ, and the three fish were believed to represent the Trinity.

F.19v
Three fish with one head, together with other geometrical patterns in the sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, ca. 1240.  Bibliotheque nationale, MS 19093, f. 19v

Around the same period the motif was also known in Yuan China, as attested by a brown-glazed stoneware jar excavated at Hancheng City, and now on display at the Shaanxi History Museum in Xi'an.

Hancheng-city-brown-glazed-jar-three-fish-yuan
Jar with motif of three fish, Yuan dynasty, on display in Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an, 2011, photograph by John Hill.

Intriguingly, what may be an early Buddhist use of this motif seems to have been brought to attention by the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), who adopted it as his logo.  According to Ginsberg, he first saw this symbol in 1962, engraved on a stone sculpture of the footprint of the Buddha at Bodh Gaya in India.  He describes the incident in a letter published in the Catholic Worker in May 1967, along with his sketch: ‘I saw the three fish one head, carved on insole of naked Buddha Footprint stone at Bodh-Gaya under the Bo-tree. Large – 6 or 10 foot size – feet or soles made of stone are a traditional form of votive marker. Mythologically the 32 signs – stigmata, like – of the Buddha include chakaras (magic wheels symbolic of energy) on hands and feet. This is a sort of a fish chakra.’ In 1982, Ginsberg’s sketch was reworked by Harry Smith and in this form appeared on the front cover of his books. [Source of quote and images below: The Allen Ginsburg Project: Buddha's Footprint, 1 April 2010).

Buddha27sFootprint    Footprint harry smith
(Left) Allen Ginsberg’s sketch of three fish with one head, from in his Indian Journals (1982).  Reproduced by permission of the Ginsberg Estate.
(Right) Harry Smith’s design of three fish with one head, based on Ginsberg’s sketch, published on the front cover of Allen Ginsberg, Collected poems (1985). Reproduced by permission of the Ginsberg Estate.

In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in Buddhist circles in Japan in this particular manifestation of the Buddha’s footprint at Bodh Gaya – said to be dated to the 5th century AD – and some replicas have been created; one such Buddhapada was erected in 2010 at Nanshoin temple at Kasaoka City in Okayama Prefecture.

DPP_0021 (683x1024)
Representation of the Buddha’s footprint (Buddhapada) with symbol of three fish with one head, 2010, Nanshoin temple, Japan. Photograph Midori Kawashima, October 2013.

There are many unanswered questions though, for while the fish by itself or in pairs is commonly encountered in Buddhist iconography, the three fish with one head is not a standard Buddhist symbol, and the footprint at Bodh Gaya does not appear to be firmly established in the scholarly literature. Nor is the ‘three fish’ symbol mentioned in a study of footprints of the Buddha by Anna Quagliotti, who found no early stone footprints of the Buddha in Indonesia. 

In fact, a different origin altogether for Allen Ginsberg’s logo is asserted by Malay Roy Chaudhury (b. 1939), one of the Bengali ‘Hungryalist’ poets of the 1960s who influenced Ginsberg during his Indian travels.  According to Roy Choudhury, it was he who pointed out to Ginsberg the design of three fishes with one head on the floor of the tomb of the Mughal emperor Akbar, and they later saw the same design in Patna Khudabaksh Library on the leather cover of a Persian book on Akbar's 'composite' faith, Din-i Ilahi, combining the major tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam (Tridib & Alo Mitra, Hungryalist influence on Allen Ginsberg, 9 May 2008). However, these references to the motif on the floor of Akbar's mausoleum and on the book binding appear just as elusive as the Buddha footprint at Bodh Gaya, for no corroborative documentation can be found. 

The symbol of three fish with one head does, however, appear occasionally in a variety of later non-Buddhist contexts in India, notably in the southern region of Karnataka.  It is found on the 13th-century Hindu Harihareshwara temple in Harihar and in a flat schematic depiction on the wall of the  Bangalore Fort - fortified between the 16th and 18th centuries, latterly by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan - as well as in a few other visible architectural contexts linked to the Muslim ascendency in the south.

Three Fish
Three fish with one head, low relief on the wall of Bangalore Fort.  Photograph of 2012, reproduced courtesy of Siddeshwar Prasad, from his evocative blog, ‘Journeys across Karnataka’

In two examples from Hindu contexts - carved in stone, in the Hanuman temple in Munvalli Fort, and in a 19th-century drawing from Oudh (Awadh) of Krishna with two Gopis, standing on a lotus - the fish are depicted with wavy tails, unlike all the other straight-tailed examples shown.

BostonMFA-Krishna
Krishna with two Gopis, standing on a lotus, with a design of three fish on a triangle, watercolour on paper, Oudh, 19th century. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Ross-Coomaraswamy Collection, 17.2680

Returning to Southeast Asia, the question remains about how and when this motif of three fish with one head reached Sufi circles in Java.  If it was indeed familiar as an early Buddhist or Hindu symbol, we would expect to find manifestations in pre-Islamic antiquities from Java, but none are known so far.  Perhaps the image was introduced from southern India through mystical networks, but it is also equally possible that a chance encounter with this motif resonated so deeply with one individual in the Shaṭṭārīyah chain of transmission in Southeast Asia that it was incorporated into the guidance texts. Indeed, citing the 16th-century Malay mystical poet Hamzah Fansuri, the scholar Karel Steenbrink noted the profound attachment to fish imagery in the region: ‘The fishes, of course, remind us of the frequent use of the symbolism of the ocean, the waves and the fishes in the mystical poetry of the Southeast Asian divines. […] This is imagery far away from the sand of the Arabian Desert: it developed when the Indian Ocean became an Islamic Mediterranean and the Indonesian archipelago the most populous Islamic civilisation’ (Steenbrink 2009: 70).

MSS Jav 50  f.6v
Three fish with one head, in a Javanese manuscript containing a spiritual genealogy of the Shattariya Sufi order from Batavia, Java, ca. late 18th c.  British Library, MSS Jav 50, f. 6v  noc

In short, just like the equally enigmatic 'three hares', the motif of ‘three fish with one head’, which may have originated in ancient Egypt, appears to have so been universally appreciated as such a perfect graphical manifestation of threefold unity that at certain times and in certain places it has been appropriated by almost every great world religion – Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam – yet without ever having evolved into a recognized essential component of the respective religious iconography.

Further reading:

This study of the motif of ‘three fish with one head’ was initiated as part of a research project on Mindanao manuscripts coordinated by Prof. Midori Kawashim, which resulted in the publication: A.T.Gallop, Cultural interactions in Islamic manuscript art: a scholar's library from MindanaoThe library of an Islamic scholar of Mindanao: the collection of Sheik Muhammad Said bin Imam sa Bayang at the Al-Imam As-Sadiq (A.S.) Library, Marawi City, Philippines:  an annotated catalogue with essays, edited by Oman Fathurahman, Kawashima Midori and Labi Sarip Riwarung.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian, African and Middle Eastern Studies, Sophia University; pp. 205-248.

Karel Steenbrink, Circling around an unknowable truth: on the flexibility of Islamic art.  Visual arts and religion, eds Hans Alma, Marcel Barnard & Volker Küster; pp. 65-78.  Berlin: LIT, 2009.

5 December 2019, Three fish with one head (1): Sufi sources from Southeast Asia

Following the publication of Part 1 of this blog post, through Twitter I was alerted to the images of the Yuan jar and the drawing of Krishna shown above, for which I would like to thank Alfan Firman @alfanfirmanto and Sanjeev Khandekaar @Chemburstudio.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Head, Southeast Asia section  ccownwork

09 December 2019

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Designers promoting Aids awareness on Asian, African & Middle Eastern postage stamps (2)

World Aids Day was first marked on 1 December 1988, an historic event commemorated by the issue of postage stamps all over the world, including in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As noted in the first of this two-part blog post, issued on 1 December 2019, the philatelic material produced then and in subsequent years can thus provide important insights into Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) contributions towards art and design, and more examples are presented in the second part of this post.

Ethiopia issued three stamps commemorating World Aids Day on 18 June 1991. Lithograph-printed by the State Printing Works in Vienna, each one depicts a design created by Ethiopian artist Million Abiyou.
Figure 14_20191126_10405191  Figure 15_20191126_10414529
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Ethiopia
The 15c stamp charts the decline of a young Ethiopian man’s heath until his death after contracting HIV and Aids. The 85c stamp depicts a lecturer teaching an unspecified audience about Aids prevention.
Figure 16_20191126_10422793
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Ethiopia
This 1b stamp depicts preventative measures to reduce the risk of contracting HIV and Aids, including practicing ‘safe sex’ as well as avoiding needles, razors and other items containing blood possibly contaminated with HIV and Aids. It also depicts a family sheltered underneath an umbrella symbolising protection.

Figure 17_20191126_10512158  Figure 18_20191126_10514990
British Library, Philatelic Collections: Publicity Material, Cyprus
On 13 December 1991, the Turkish Cypriot Post issued a 1000 TL stamp commemorating World Aids Day. Designed by Sanatcinin Adi it depicts four different sources of infection including safe sex, drug, transmission of infected blood and an unborn baby contracting the disease of an infected mother. The British Library’s Philatelic Collections does not hold an example of the stamp but does have the publicity leaflet released by the Postal Authority containing information on its manufacture, production and sale.

Figure 19_20191126_10532183
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Morocco
Morocco issued a 3f stamp commemorating World Aids Day on 20 November 1991. Produced by Belgian artist Lisette Delooz’s design depicts two figures within a splash of blood.

On 31 January 1992, Kenya issued four stamps lithograph-printed by Cartor as part of an Anti-Aids Campaign. Each one has a separate design created by designer H. Mogul.

Figure 20_20191126_10071468  Figure 21_20191126_10073416
British Library, Philatelic Collections: Crown Agents Philatelic & Security Printing Archive, Kenya
The 2/- stamp depicts a generic male figure with a hand touching his right shoulder with the statement ‘AIDS. YOU TOO CAN BE INFECTED.’ The 6/- stamp depicts a man within a Petrie dish above medications overlaid with a red cross with the statement Surmounting the design is the statement ‘AIDS HAS NO CURE.’

Figure 22_20191126_10075251  Figure 23_20191126_10080899
British Library, Philatelic Collections: Crown Agents Philatelic & Security Printing Archive, Kenya
This 8/50 stamp depicts the male and female symbol representing a heterosexual couple accompanied by the statement ‘AIDS. CASUAL SEX IS UNSAFE.’ The 11/- stamp depicts a generic male figure standing behind a hypodermic syringe in the foreground with the text ‘AIDS. STERILISE SYRINGE BEFORE USE.’

On 22 January 2001 Lesotho issued four Anti-Aids Campaign stamps for the Positive Action Society Lesotho designed by Seatile Nkhomo and lithograph-printed by Questa.
Figure 24  Figure 25
British Library, Philatelic Collections: General Collection
The 70s stamp depicts a Basotho warrior fighting Aids whilst the 1m carries the text ‘SPEED KILLS SO DOES AIDS. Go Slow’

Figure 26  Figure 27
British Library, Philatelic Collections: General Collection
The 1m.50 stamp depicts two women with the statement ‘People with AIDS need friends not rejection’; and the 2m.10 stamp illustrates a rifle, military helmet, unused condom and boots beside the text ‘Even when you’re off duty protect the nation.’

Finally, Nigeria issued two stamps commemorating World Aids Day on 3 May 2003, all designed by Nigerian artist T. Faluyi.
Figure 28_20191126_10544746  Figure 29_20191126_10550580
British Library, Philatelic Collections: Crown Agents Philatelic & Security Printing Archive, Nigeria
The 20N stamp illustrates a nurse tending to a seriously ill patient accompanied by the text ‘Caring for Aids victim.’ On the left side of the stamp can be seen the iconic World Aids Day ribbon. Meanwhile, the 50N stamp depicts a woman using a microphone addressing a crowd whilst gesturing towards a poster with the text ‘AIDS is REAL Beware!’

The philatelic materials discussed from Africa, Asia and the Middle East show how important stamps are in researching consistent contributions from the BAME community towards art and design. An obvious question remains: where is the original design and artwork located? Sadly, it is impossible to answer this question at present. We suspect such artwork and design material will exist within various official archival and unofficial private collections scattered globally. As its cultural value becomes increasingly recognised, the locations of such material will hopefully become known.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, almost thirty seven million individuals around the globe live with the HIV virus whilst nearly as many people have died from HIV-related complications, including Aids, since the 1980s. Such figures of course fail to take into account the stigma that individuals who have contracted Aids can suffer. Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit region, with more than seventy percent of the world’s people living with HIV. The study of Aids can therefore extend way beyond medical science and incorporate intensely personal cultural and historic perspectives, a deserving issue demanding further research.

In addition to surveying the British Library’s Philatelic Collections, both authors conducted a wider scoping exercise to identify Aids-related material in various languages held within the British Library’s collections. From a visual and textual culture perspective, our rich holdings include journals, monographs, research papers, pamphlets, NGO publications and audio material. We call upon curators and academics to research this important subject further, to develop a resource for mainstream audiences in a more sustainable form.

Richard Scott Morel, Curator, Philatelic Collections
Eyob Derillo, Ethiopic Collections Engagement Support Ccownwork

05 December 2019

Three fish with one head: (1) Sufi sources from Southeast Asia

This two-part blog post will examine a striking motif of three interlocking fish with one head, which is found in widely varied locations all over the world. This first post looks at examples in Javanese mystical manuscripts; in the second post, the motif will be traced from ancient Egypt through medieval France to modern Japan.

The motif of three fish with one head is familiar from manuscripts on mystical practices from Java, where it is referred to in Javanese as iwak telu sirah sanunggal, ‘three fish with a single head’.  All known examples occur in texts relating to the Shaṭṭārīyah brotherhood, a Sufi order founded in Persia by Shaykh Sirajuddin Abdullah Shattar (d. 1406) and which spread to Southeast Asia through disciples of the eminent Meccan teacher Shaykh Ahmad al-Qushāshī (d. 1660).  Presented here are a number of examples from Javanese manuscripts in the British Library and also from manuscripts still held in Java digitised through the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.

The earliest dateable examples of this motif from Java are in two manuscripts from the collection of Col. Colin Mackenzie, who served in the British administration of Java from 1811 to 1813. Both manuscripts containing Shaṭṭārīyah silsilah or spiritual genealogies, one of which is dated 1790, originate from Mataraman in Batavia, present-day Jakarta, situated on the north-west coast of Java. 

MSS.Jav.77  f.16v-fish
Three fish with one head, in a Javanese manuscript from Mataraman, Batavia, containing mystical texts, dated AH 1205 (AD 1790/1).  British Library, MSS Jav 77, f. 16v   noc

Two later manuscripts containing this motif are from Lamongan on the north coast of East Java, both of which have been digitised through the Endangered Archives programme.  The manuscripts are held in the Islamic boarding school Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyyah al-Thalabah at Kranji, near the tomb of Sunan Drajat, one of the nine wali credited with bringing Islam to Java.  In both the Batavia and Lamongan manuscripts the diagram is used to illustrate the Oneness (tawhid) of God, by visualising graphically the unity of the first three stages of the ‘seven grades of being’ (martabat tujuh), and making this reference explicit through accompanying captions:  aḥadīyah - Allāh / waḥdah - Muḥammad / wāḥidīyah - Adam

EAP061_2_50-033b_L-34a
Three fish with one head, shown on the left-hand page, in a manuscript  (EAP061/2/44-52) containing texts of Sufism, dated in the Javanese era 5 wulan Sawal tahun jawi 1854 (10 May 1924). Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyyah al-Thalabah, Kranji, Lamongan, East Java, EAP061/2/50, f. 34a

The second manuscript from Lamongan (EAP061/2/55-61), which is undated but probably also dates from around the late 19th or early 20th century, has a very finely executed drawing of the three fish with one head.  In contrast to nearly all known diagrams of this motif where the three fish are depicted identically, in the undated Lamongan manuscript, while the two fish labelled Muhammad and Adam are decorated with delicate scales, the fish labelled Allah is left plain and unadorned, most likely to reflect the 'emptiness' associated with the first of the seven grades of being, aḥadīyah.

EAP061_2_59-029b_L
Three fish with one head in a manuscript containing Sufi texts, ca. late 19th c.; this is the only known example where the three fish are differentiated from one another visually. Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyyah al-Thalabah, Kranji, Lamongan, East Java, EAP061/2/59, f.29b   [This page has been rotated through 180 degrees to allow the reading of the Javanese text.]

According to Mahrus eL-Mahwa, who has carried out a study of this motif in the Cirebon region of north Java, there are three late-19th century manuscripts which are all copies of a text of the Shaṭṭārīyah wa-Muḥammadīyah Sufi order closely linked to the Kaprabonan court (one of the three princely houses of Cirebon which emerged from the sultanate in 1677 following a succession dispute).  In all three Cirebon manuscripts, each fish is labelled with a different descriptor of the stage represented: zat ‘ibarat Allāh - ṣifat ‘ibarat rūḥ/Muḥammad - af‘āl ‘ibarat jasad/Adam (Essence symbolising God / attributes symbolising the soul/Muḥammad / Deeds symbolising the body/Adam).  It was thus probably one such Cirebon manuscript which was cited by the scholar Karel Steenbrink in his discussion of how simple figures and diagrams were used in the Malay world to elucidate ideas about the mystical reality: ‘A quite peculiar example of this style of summarising the totality of being is that of the three fishes, as found in a 19th century Malay tract on the unity of being, according to the Shattariyah brotherhood, composed in Java. The three fishes were given the names of Essence of Allah, Deeds (af’āl) and Attributes (sifāt). The drawing symbolises the unity of the original essence and the first emanations within the divine being … When looked upon from the tails, the figures seem to be different, but in their heads, they are identical. Difference and change have disappeared as so often in the neo-Platonic reasoning that has since long dominated Islamic mystical thinking about God’ (Steenbrink 2009: 69-79).

Mahrus eL-Mawa has suggested that the iwak telu sirah sanunggal diagram has a particular association with the Shaṭṭārīyah order in Cirebon, where it functioned as a suluk or an aid to mystical practice.  There may be a particular association with court culture in Cirebon: the motif of three fish with one head is currently the symbol of the Kacirebonan, the fourth and youngest princely house of Cirebon, which was founded in 1808, while Mahrus’s research also reveals that the past five heads of the Kaprabonan court have all been initiated into the Shaṭṭārīyah wa-Muḥammadīyah order. 

 HUT Kacirebonan lambang
Three fish with one head as the symbol of the Kacirebonan court, Cirebon, founded in 1808. Source: Cirebon Insight, 3 June 2011

The motif does appear to be particularly strongly associated with Cirebon: in addition to its appearance in manuscripts it also occurs on batik, wood carvings  and glass paintings.  The ‘three fish with one head’ also appears frolicking alongside ‘ordinary’ fish in two separate scenes in a delightful illustrated late 18th-century Javanese manuscript of the Serat Damar Wulan probably from Cirebon; this is the only known appearance of the motif in a non-mystical manuscript, and may reflect a deep entrenchment in the repertoire of local artists . 

MSS Jav 89  f.41r-det
The ‘three-in-one’ fish depicted with soldiers crossing a river, in a Javanese manuscript of the Serat Damar Wulan,  late 18th century. The manuscript was given to the India Office Library in 1815 by Lt. Col. Raban, who had been Resident of Cirebon from 1812 to 1814.  British Library, MSS Jav 89, f. 41r  noc

Yet the origin and meaning of this motif remains obscure. Even within Cirebon the diagram of three fish with one head is not found in all Shaṭṭārīyah manuscripts, while outside Java, apart from one manuscript in Malay from the Lanao area of Mindanao, the diagram is not encountered in any Shaṭṭārīyah manuscripts from other parts of the Malay world, for example from Aceh or west Sumatra, or in mystical manuscripts in Arabic, Turkish or Persian from the broader Islamic world.   The reason may lie in differing lines of transmission of Shaṭṭārīyah teachings, as traced through the spiritual genealogies (silsilah) contained in manuscripts.  A recent detailed philological study of Shaṭṭārīyah silsilah in Aceh, Java and Mindanao by Oman Fathurahman (2016) reveals four main lines of descent from Aḥmad Qushāshī, most notably demonstrating that not all adherents traced their spiritual genealogy from the famous Acehnese scholar and Sufi Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ra’ūf of Singkil (d. 1661), who is usually associated with the introduction of the Shaṭṭārīyah to the Malay world. 

The proposition that the diagram of ‘three fish with one head’ used to illustrate the Unity of God is linked with one particular descent line of the Shaṭṭārīyah would explain why this motif is only found in a small number of manuscripts found along the north coast of Java, particularly centred on Cirebon.  Nonetheless it remains puzzling that the motif of three fish with one head is unknown in either manuscript or other material cultural manifestations in other parts of the archipelago and even in mainland Southeast Asia, when, as will be shown in the second part of this blog post, it has in fact an exceptionally long history in many far-flung parts of the world, dating back thousands of years. 

MSS Jav 89  f.3v det
The ‘three fish with one head' depicted clustered around the anchor of a ship, at the start of a Javanese manuscript of the Serat Damar Wulan, probably from Cirebon, late 18th century.  British Library, MSS Jav 89, f. 3v  noc

Further reading:

This study of the motif of ‘three fish with one head’ was initiated as part of a research project on Mindanao manuscripts coordinated by Prof. Midori Kawashima, which resulted in the publication: A.T.Gallop, Cultural interactions in Islamic manuscript art: a scholar's library from MindanaoThe library of an Islamic scholar of Mindanao: the collection of Sheik Muhammad Said bin Imam sa Bayang at the Al-Imam As-Sadiq (A.S.) Library, Marawi City, Philippines:  an annotated catalogue with essays, edited by Oman Fathurahman, Kawashima Midori and Labi Sarip Riwarung.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian, African and Middle Eastern Studies, Sophia University; pp. 205-248.

Karel Steenbrink, Circling around an unknowable truth: on the flexibility of Islamic art.  Visual arts and religion, eds Hans Alma, Marcel Barnard & Volker Küster; pp. 65-78.  Berlin: LIT, 2009.
Mahrus eL-Mawa, Suluk iwak telu sirah sanunggal: dalam naskah 'Syatariyah wa Muhammadiyah' di Cirebon. [Paper presented at: Simposium Internasional ke-16 Pernaskahan Manassa, Perpustakaan Nasional RI, 26-28 September 2016].  Jakarta.
Oman Fathurahman, Shattariyah silsilah in Aceh, Java, and the Lanao area of Mindanao.  Tokyo: Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 2016.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Head, Southeast Asia section  ccownwork

01 December 2019

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic designers promoting Aids awareness on Asian, African & Middle Eastern postage stamps (1)

Mass reproduced for global dissemination and consumption, postage stamps play an important role in promoting awareness and raising revenues for a wide range of public health issues on the national and international stage. To mark the thirty-first World Aids Day on 1 December 2019, this two-part blog post will illustrate stamp issues from Africa, Asia and the Middle East promoting Aids awareness. It is also important to remember that numerous far-sighted postcolonial nation states commissioned national artists and designers to produce the rich visual imagery on many of the stamps now under discussion. Consequently, such philatelic material also provides important insights into Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) contributions towards art and design, bridging the gap between art and science within a public health context and raising Aids awareness.

Figure 1_20191126_10395437
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Ethiopia

World Aids Day was first marked on 1 December 1988 and postal authorities issued commemorative postage stamps promoting this historic event. Ethiopia issued a set of four overprinted stamps in denominations of 20c, 25c, 45c and 55c commemorating World Aids Day on 1 December 1988. The actual stamps formed part of an earlier stamp issue lithograph printed by French security-printing firm Cartor, released for sale on 22 May 1987. The commemorative issue was signalled by the overprint , ‘WORLD AIDS DAY’ in Amharic and English.

Senegal issued four stamps commemorating World Aids Day on 1 December 1989. Lithograph-printed by Cartor, each stamp bears separate designs created by the Senegalese artist, Momar Ndiaye.

Figure 2_20191126_10450045 Figure 3_20191126_10451455
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Senegal

The 5f stamp depicts the Aids virus above two clasped hands, shielding people of different races. Adopting a similar theme, the 100f stamp depicts men, women and children beneath an umbrella shielding them from the French word ‘SIDA’ (AIDS) written in blood.

Figure 4_20191126_10452790  Figure 5_20191126_10454461
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Senegal

The 145f stamp depicts a sleeved arm with the UN symbol smashing and breaking up the Aids virus; likewise, the 180f stamp depicts a hand grasping a hammer that is smashing into the Aids virus.
Zaïre issued three stamps and a mini-sheet in 1989 commemorating a Red Cross Anti-Aids Campaign, produced by various African designers and printed by the English security-printing firm Harrisons & Sons Ltd.


Figure 6_20191126_10473688  Figure 7_20191126_10475039
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Zaire

The 30Z stamp designed by Mba-Nzeh depicts the French word for Aids forming the face of an owl, accompanied with the French text ‘La Sida est un Danger qui nous quette’ (Aids is a danger that lurks). For the 40Z stamp, designer Makonga Mokombelwa produced an image of an African bowman firing an arrow through the word SIDA, accompanied with the French text ‘Lutter contre le Sida, C’est lutter pour la vie’ (Fight against Aids, it’s the fight for life).

Figure 8_20191126_10480365  Figure 9_20191126_10482247
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Zaire

The design for the 80Z stamp designed by Bibesse depicts the word SIDA making up the body of a leopard with the statement ‘Sida plus q’un Fauve’ (Aids more than a fawn). The mini-sheet containing a 150Z stamp designed by Nkomo Nkonda comprises a map of the world dotted with the campaign logo comprising a red heart split in two by a blue skull and the statements ‘l’humanitie Lutte Contre le Sida’ (Humanity fights against Aids) and ‘Un effort Mondial le Vaincra’ (A world effort will overcome it).


Figure 10_20191126_10110449
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Thailand

As part of the same campaign, Thailand also issued a 2-baht stamp lithograph-printed by Cartor on 29 March 1990 commemorating the Red Cross Anti-Aids Campaign. Thai artist S. Sothonbun adopted the campaign’s official emblem comprising a blue skill splitting a heart for the design.

On 30 November 1990, Sri Lanka issued two stamps for World Aids Day designed by Sri-Lankan artist Sanath Rohana Wickramasinghe and lithograph-printed by Malaysian security printers.


Figure 11_20191126_10044336  Figure 12_20191126_10050101
British Library, Philatelic Collections: Crown Agents Philatelic & Security Printing Archive, Sri Lanka

The 1 rupee stamp promotes Aids Education, depicting a female health worker talking to villagers about Aids as indicated by the poster she holds up depicting an image of the HIV virus with the word Aids in two languages. Meanwhile, the 8 rupees stamp promotes worldwide scientific engagement to combat Aids by depicting of an official emblem for the campaign next to a HIV virus.


Figure 13_20191126_10502632
British Library, Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection, Syria

Syria issued a 500p stamp commemorating World Aids Day on 24 December 1990. The design exhorts individuals to conduct themselves in a particular manner to reduce the risk of contracting AIDS.

In the second part of this blog, to be published next week, we will feature stamps from a range of African countries incluing Ethiopia, Lesotho and Kenya.

Richard Scott Morel, Curator, Philatelic Collections
Eyob Derillo, Ethiopic Collections Engagement Support