Asian and African studies blog

4 posts from March 2022

28 March 2022

Photographs of the Government Printer in Tanganiyka

In September 2021, the British Library acquired 10 photographs taken in the 1920s of the Government Printer in Tanganyika (Photo 1403). The items were donated by a descendant of a former civil servant, working at the press. The collection comprises of 9 black-and-white photographs, mounted on a single card, showing the office spaces and printing rooms. The tenth photograph, mounted separately, is a group portrait of the employees. A copy of A History of German East Africa by C. C. F. Dundas, published by the Government Printer in 1923, was also donated alongside the photographs.

Photo 1403(3)
View of the Composing Room – where the typesetting took place, Govt. Printer, Tanganyika, 1920-1930. Unknown photographer. British Library, Photo 1403(3).

The new acquisition enhances the library’s visual materials related to the history of Tanganyika, while also documenting printing technology and machinery in the early twentieth century. The Government Printer was established in Dar es Salaam following WWI, after Great Britain gained control over this area of German East Africa. One of the earliest titles printed by the new administration was The Tanganyika Territory Gazette, with its first issue running in 1919 and its last in 1964. The press also printed annual reports and works related to law, civil administration, agriculture, geology and medicine. A list of the Government Printer’s publications from 1940s onwards is available on Open Access in the Social Science Reading Room (OPL 967.8).

Photo 1403(4)
Employee at Typesetting Machine- Govt. Printer, Tanganyika. 1920-1930. Unknown photographer. British Library, Photo 1403(4).

In 1922, Tanganyika formally became a League of Nations mandated territory under British administration. In 1928, the British government implemented the requirement of a security bond to be payable by any periodical printed as frequently as every fortnight (Sturmer 1998). The ordinance effectively curtailed any attempts at establishing African-language newspapers outside of missionary or government periodicals until 1937, when the Swahili-language Kwetu was finally launched. Kwetu’s founder, Erica Fiah, had circumvented the bond by issuing a print run every 18 days (Sturmer 1998).  

Photo 1403(5)
Press Room- Govt. Printer, Tanganyika. 1920-1930. Unknown photographer. British Library, Photo 1403(5).

Tanganyika gained sovereignty in 1961 and is now part of modern-day Tanzania. For the role Kwetu and other independently-owned presses played in fuelling the independence movement, see Scotton 1978.

All the photographs reproduced above can be consulted by appointment to the British Library’s Print Room. For more information, please contact:



Brennan, J. R. (2011), “Politics and Business in the Indian Newspapers of Colonial Tanganyika.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 81(1), 42-67.

Hunter, E. (2012), “‘Our Common Humanity:’ Print, Power, and the Colonial Press in Interwar Tanganyika and French Cameroun.’’ Journal of Global History 7, 279-301.

Iliffe, J. (1979), A Modern History of Tanganyika. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scotton, J. (1978), “Tanganyika's African Press, 1937-1960: A Nearly Forgotten Pre-Independence Forum.” African Studies Review 21(1), 1-18.

Sturmer, M. (1998), The Media History of Tanzania. Tanzania: Ndanda Mission Press.

List of Publications published by the Government of Tanganyika, January 1944 [etc.]. (1944). Dar es Salaam: Tanganyika Territory Government Publications. OPL 967.8

Nicole Ioffredi, Print Room Coordinator and Cataloguer Ccownwork

21 March 2022

Recent acquisitions in Asian and African Collections

At last month’s departmental meeting of the British Library's Asian and African Collections (AAC), staff were invited to talk about recent acquisitions of interest from their respective sections. Individuals were free to choose anything that they thought might intrigue their colleagues, whether manuscript or print, old or new, a representative of a genre or a unique exemplar. A selection of these acquistions is presented here, each introduced by the relevant curator or specialist, highlighting the significance of the item.

Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator for Hebrew and the Christian Orient, introduced a rare Samaritan imprint, which she acquired for AAC jointly with Sophie Defrance, Romance Collections Curator in European and American Collections:

Alphabethum Samaritanum was printed by Jean-Joseph Marcel, and published in Paris by the Imprimerie Nationale in c. 1815. It is a book of type specimens, which features Samaritan text cut specifically for it, some with Hebrew transliterations. The book has 48 leaves, with pages numbered 5 to 100. This copy, which is unbound, is one of only two known complete copies, the other being in the National Library of Israel. There are also two incomplete copies known: one in The Houghton Library at Harvard, lacking the last leaf, and another at Oxford, lacking the last three leaves.’

Rare printed Samaritan book

Alphabethum Samaritanum, [Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, c. 1815]
Alphabethum Samaritanum, [Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, c. 1815] (shelfmark pending).

Michael Erdman, Curator for Turkish and Turkic Collections, presented three Kurdish periodicals:

‘In recent years, the Library has expanded greatly its holdings of periodicals in Kurdish languages and Kırmancki, including magazines that have long since ceased publication. Recently, it acquired two periodicals from the 1990s, when the use of Kurdish was banned in Turkey. These include Tewlo, the oldest Kurdish-language satirical magazine from Turkey, and its successor Pîne. In addition, the Library purchased the later satirical publication Golik, which collects drawings and prose from inmates of Turkish prisons. All works are examples of the vibrant and diverse field of satirical illustration in the Kurdish community.'

Three rare Kurdish periodicals

Three rare Kurdish periodicals, from left to right: Pîne, Tewlo andGolik (shelfmarks pending).

Alireza Sedighi, Persian specialist in Acquisitions South, selected a newly-published book on manuscript illumination:

'One of the most exquisite and important Persian books that the British library purchased last year is Kitāb'ārāyī-i nuskhah'hā-yi hunarī-i dawrah-i Qājār, ‘Book decoration and illumination of the Qajar period’, based on manuscripts held in the National Library of Iran. The author, Ḥabīb Allāh `Aẓīmī, selected images of 80 manuscripts of the Qajar period (1794-1925), which all reproduced in high-quality colour. The first chapter deals with theoretical aspects of decoration and illumination of manuscripts in the Qajar period. In the second chapter the author has analysed decorations and illustrations inside the manuscripts and finally the third chapter deals with methods by which manuscript covers were decorated and designed. The book was published by Majmaʿ-i Z̲akhāʾir-i Islāmī (Qum, Iran) in 2021, and has the shelfmark YP.2021.b.429.'

Persian book on manuscript illuminationḤabīb Allāh ʻAẓīmī, Kitāb'ārāyī-i nuskhah'hā-yi hunarī-i dawrah-i Qājār (Qum: Majmaʻ-i Z̲akhāʼir-i Islāmī, 2021). YP.2021.b.429

Emma Harrison, Curator for Chinese, discussed 23 nineteenth-century Chinese export paintings on fig leaves (Or 17015):

‘These beautifully illustrated leaves represent an intriguing cross-over between two categories of material that already exist within the Chinese collections of the British Library. Leaves from the peepal tree (a.k.a. sacred fig, Bodhi tree, or ficus relgiosa) can be found painted with religious imagery in some Buddhist albums, but here we see them used for distinctly secular purposes. They depict street scenes, occupations, ships, flowers, birds, and other themes that are typical of late Qing export paintings. These illustrations had once been bound in a single album but were removed for sale as individual artworks. One leaf had already been sold this way before the album was acquired by the British Library so it was sadly not a complete set, but the original album covers were retained and will be preserved alongside the 23 remaining leaves.’

A Chinese export painting of boats, on a fig leafA Chinese export painting of boats, on a fig leaf, 19th century. Or 17015

The original album in which the Chinese export paintings on fig leaves were housed

The original album in which the Chinese export paintings on fig leaves were housed. Or 17015

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator for Japanese, spoke about how the Japanese collections have continued to develop holdings of Japanese textile design and pattern books:

‘A notable recent acquisition is Or 17024: Japanese textile designs, Echigoya Magobei, late 18th century. This untitled manuscript contains 35 water-colour illustrations depicting patterns for textiles. The name Echigoya Magobē 越後屋孫兵衛 is written on the inside of the rear cover. Echigoya was a large kimono shop founded in 1673 in Nihonbashi (Tokyo). Later this shop was incorporated into the Mitsukoshi Department store. The manuscript was probably used as a customer manual or an “idea book” for designs for ordering kimonos and other types of textiles.’

Japanese textile designs, late 18th century the name Echigoya Magobei on the inside of the rear cover

Japanese textile designs, late 18th century, with the name Echigoya Magobei on the inside of the rear cover. Or 17024

For more information on the Library’s collection of Japanese kimono pattern and design books, see the Collection Guide on the British Library website and two previous blogs, Exquisite patterns: Japanese textile design books and Zuan Cho: Japanese design albums in the late Meiji period.

Hamish Todd, Head of East Asian collections, reminded us that libraries don’t only hold books, but also related paraphernalia:

‘ORB Misc 181 is an early 20th century set of 48 metal movable type  for printing the Japanese hiragana syllabary, one of two syllabaries used in combination with Chinese characters to write Japanese. The type are organised according to iroha order, a traditional way of ordering the symbols of the syllabary derived from a poem in which each syllable occurs only once.’

A box of moveable type A set of Japanese moveable type
A set of 48 metal movable type  for printing the Japanese hiragana syllabary, in a wooden box. ORB Misc 181

Hamish also spoke on a small collection of LGBT items which have recently been added to the Japanese collection.

‘“The Mystery of Same-Sex Love” (Shinpinaru dōseiai 神秘なる同性愛), ORB.30/9094, by prominent sexologist Sawada Junjirō 沢田順次郎 (1863-1944) was an important early Japanese study of homosexuality published in 1920.

The Mystery of Same-Sex Love'The Mystery of Same-Sex Love' (Shinpinaru dōseiai 神秘なる同性愛), 1920. ORB.30/9094

Shizu no Odamaki 賤のおだまき or ‘The Humble Man’s Bobbin’ (ORB.30/9093) is a novel which recounts the martial exploits and romantic relationship of a pair of 16th-century warriors. It was a popular example of nanshoku (homosexual) literature – this version was published in 1884.

An illustration of same-sex love in Japan

Illustrations from Shizu no Odamaki

Illustrations from Shizu no Odamaki 賤のおだまき, ‘The Humble Man’s Bobbin’, 1884. ORB.30/9093

This is just a small selection of the varied items acquired within the past year or so by the Asian and African Collections of the British Library.  As recent acquisitions, some of the items are still being processed, but eventually all the printed materials will be accessible via the British Library's online catalogue Explore, while manuscript material can be found on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

Asian and African Collections staff

14 March 2022

Lost and refound: a Batak note on bamboo to John Anderson

John Anderson (1795-1845) was a Scottish official of the East India Company who was based in Penang from 1813 to 1830. In February and March 1823 Anderson undertook a politico-commercial mission on behalf of the governor of Penang to various states along the east coast of Sumatra, including Deli, Asahan, Langkat and Siak, as well as venturing into Batak territories. His account of this journey was published a few years later, as Mission to the East Coast of Sumatra, in 1823, under the direction of the Government of Prince of Wales' Island: including historical and descriptive Sketches of the Country, an Account of the Commerce, Population, and the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants, and a Visit to the Batta Cannibal States in the Interior, (Edinburgh, 1826).

Seated in the centre of this drawing is the Raja of Bunto Pane
Seated in the centre of this drawing is the Raja of Buntu Pane, in Mission to the East Coast of Sumatra in 1823 by John Anderson, first published in Edinburgh by William Blackwood, 1826; republished in facsimile (with coloured plates) in Kuala Lumpur by Oxford University Press, 1970; facing p. 143. According to Anderson, ‘The Drawings were executed by a Chinese draughtsman, under a great variety of impediments and disadvantages, sometimes in great haste, in a small boat.’

One of the local Sumatran rulers who Anderson encountered was the Batak Raja of Buntu Pane in Asahan (referred to in Anderson’s account as Munto Panei). In his book Anderson included a portrait of the ‘Rajah of Munto Panei’, seated on a mat surrounded by his weapons, a musical instrument and other accoutrements (see above). As Anderson was particularly interested in the market for British trade products, he noted carefully the dress of the Raja and his chiefs: ‘European chintz bajoos [baju, jacket], Buggues sarongs, and Acehen or Batubara trowsers, with neat handkerchief on their head, of Java or British manusfacture’ (Anderson 1826: 153). Anderson spent some time with the Raja of Bunto Pane, and when he finally took leave, the Raja ‘begged me to send him two dogs to catch deer; and in order that I might not forget his commission, he wrote upon a joint of bamboo, a memorandum to that effect in his own language, which I brought with me; also the numbers one to ten’ (Anderson 1826: 154).

Batak message inscribed on bamboo from the Raja of Bunto Pane to John Anderson, 1823, stored together with a small knife and four blowpipe darts
Batak message inscribed on bamboo from the Raja of Buntu Pane to John Anderson, 1823, stored together with a small knife and four blowpipe darts. British Library, MSS Batak 1 Noc

It is not known if Anderson did ever send the requested dogs, but he evidently presented his aide-memoire to the East India Company, for this ‘joint of bamboo’ appears to have been the first Batak manuscript to enter the India Office Library. Today it bears the shelfmark MSS Batak 1, and is stored together with a small knife and four darts from a blowpipe. A small piece of paper (originally) attached says ‘specimen of Batta writing, with a knife written and presented by J. Anderson, Esqr.'; the piece of paper is no longer present but a discoloured rectangle visible on the bamboo presumably indicated its location. It is not known whether the knife was that used to incise the writing on the bamboo; perhaps the darts (with poisoned tips) were the type that would have been used for hunting deer.

In 1848 the Dutch linguist Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk visited London and examined the six Batak manuscripts held in the India Office Library (MSS Batak 1-6). He wrote ‘A short account of the Batta manuscripts belonging to the Library of the East India Company’, the autograph manuscript of which is still in the British Library (MSS Eur B105: Download VanderTuuk1848). Van der Tuuk described the bamboo as being inscribed on the left side with the Batak words for the numbers from one to ten, written by the King of Buntu Pane at the request of Anderson, and on the right side with a memorandum to Anderson (called Darsen) asking him not to forget to send to the King of Buntu Pane two dogs from Penang.

Van der Tuuk's description of MSS Batak 1 in 1848
Van der Tuuk's description of MSS Batak 1, written in 1848. British Library, MSS Eur B105, f. 1r. Noc

on the left is the list of numbers, and following the vertical line to the right is the note to Andersen requesting two dogs to be sent from Penang. 1823
The start of the inscribed Batak texts, marked by decorative panels: on the left is the list of numbers, and following the vertical line to the right is the note to Andersen requesting two dogs to be sent from Penang, 1823. British Library, MSS Batak 1  Noc

However, when M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve came to compile their landmark catalogue of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain, first published in 1977, this manuscript was nowhere to be seen. They reached the gloomy conclusion: “This MS is now missing, and has probably decomposed since it was seen by van der Tuuk in 1848” (Ricklefs and Voorhoeve 1977: 12).

Happily, this was not actually the case. Soon after I joined the British Library in 1986, during a visit to the India Office Library and Records (at the time still housed in Blackfriars Road), my colleague Salim Qureishi, one of the IOLR curators, alerted me to a strange object he had found and asked if it was from my collection. It turned out to be the long-lost MSS Batak 1, which had simply been misplaced on another shelf. However Van der Tuuk’s description still proved invaluable, for in the intervening century the paper label, identifying J. Anderson as the donor, had disappeared.

Manuscripts are, by definition, unique witnesses to place and time. The loss of a manuscript can thus be a harrowing tragedy, as exemplified by the website Lost manuscripts: what happens when words disappear. Among the various types of losses explored in articles on this site – alongside Burned manuscripts, Eaten manuscripts and Stolen manuscripts – is the category of Misplaced manuscripts. MSS Batak 1 is clearly not alone in having been lost, and then re-found.

MSS Batak 1, and all other Batak manuscripts in the British Library, have recently been digitised in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) at the University of Hamburg.

Further reading:

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

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

07 March 2022

Arabic Manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library

Today's guest post is by Prof. Andrew Peacock of the University of St. Andrews.

Despite the status of Arabic as the sacred language of Islam, and of Islamic law, across the Muslim world, surprisingly little is known about its history and textual production in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia. The first edition of the standard reference work on Arabic literature, Brockelmann’s Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur (1902, vol. 2, 422 ), lists only three texts from the region, and while its Supplement (1942, vol. 3, 628-9) adds a handful more, but these references are marred by errors such as confusing the African kingdom of Bornu on Lake Chad with Borneo. However, a significant tradition of composing as well as reading Arabic texts existed in Southeast Asia, but one which is scarcely known owing to the fact it is very little represented in western libraries.

The British Library holds a small but interesting collection of Arabic works from the region which illustrate some of their characteristics. A manuscript (Add 12367) from the royal library of the kingdom of Bone in South Sulawesi, seized in the British attack of 1814, contains two Arabic works by ‘Abu’l-Fath Yayha ‘Abd al-Basir al-Dariri, who is said by local tradition to have been an Arab who came to Sulawesi in 1678 and died there 1723. Both ‘Abd al-Basir’s works were dedicated to local rulers. The Bahjat al-Tanwir (‘The Beauty of Illumination’) was written at the behest of the sultan of Gowa (Makassar), Fakhr al-Din ‘Abd al-Jalil (r. c. 1677-1709), while the Daqa’iq al-Asrar (‘Subtleties of Secrets’) was written for a sultan of Bone, Idris A‘zam al-Din (1696-1714). Apart from the British Library manuscript, Add 12367, these works -which constitute our sole evidence for ‘Abd al-Basir’s activities – are known from only one other manuscript, also from the court of early nineteenth century Bone, now held in Jakarta (National Library of Indonesia, MS A 108; it is this manuscript which provides the title of Daqa’iq al-Asrar, missing in Add 12367).

‘Abd Basir al-Dariri’s Bahjat al-Tanwir, composed for Sultan ‘Abd al-Jalil of Makassar
‘Abd Basir al-Dariri’s Bahjat al-Tanwir, composed for Sultan ‘Abd al-Jalil of Makassar. British Library, Add 12367, fol. 28v Noc

As this very limited manuscript circulation suggests, Arabic literary production was primarily associated with royal courts, and scarcely circulated beyond them even within Southeast Asia. These characteristics are also suggested by a library from Buton in Southeast Sulawesi recently digitised by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, the Abdul Mulku Zahari collection (EAP212/2). This collection remains in the hands of the descendant of the hereditary secretaries to the sultans of Buton, and contains numerous works composed in Arabic by Sultan Muhammad ‘Aydarus of Buton (r. 1824-1851). Yet as far as we know, none of Muhammad ‘Aydarus’s Arabic works ever circulated beyond the island of Buton, and possibly not even beyond the court there. Even today, these Butonese Arabic works remain in private hands on the island, without even any copies in regional collections such as the National Library of Indonesia.

The Sabil al-Salam li-Bulugh al-Maram (‘Way of Peace to the Attainment of Desire’) by Sultan Muhammad ‘Aydarus of Buton
The Sabil al-Salam li-Bulugh al-Maram (‘Way of Peace to the Attainment of Desire’) by Sultan Muhammad ‘Aydarus of Buton (EAP 212/2/17)

Almost all the Arabic works known from Southeast Asia deal with Sufism. ‘Abd al-Basir’s Bahjat al-Tanwir, for instance, emphasises prayer, contemplation and the recitation of God’s name (dhikr) as means of attaining the divine presence. His Daqa’iq al-Asrar discusses similar themes while emphasising that attainment of the divine presence was only open to the elite of the elite (khass al-khawass). While this concept in Sufism has long roots stretching back to al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) and originally designated those who were especially advanced on the Sufi path in piety and understanding, in Southeast Asia it evidently attained distinctly political undertones as well. Sufism became embedded in local political systems; for instance, in the Bone sultanate admission to certain Sufi orders was banned to all but the nobles and the sultan. In Buton, the Sufi concept of the Seven Grades of Being was transposed into the political organisation of the sultanate, and the sultan was elected on the basis of his learning and Sufi credentials. One reason for the extensive Arabic production of Muhammad ‘Aydarus may have been to underline these credentials.

These Arabic works thus were intended for the consumption of a small political elite. Their composition in Arabic, rather than one of the numerous written local languages such as Makassarese or Bugis, or the regional lingua franca of Malay, was precisely because it was less readily understood. Although on occasion these works were later translated – again largely for a court audience - Arabic became a marker not just of possession of esoteric religious knowledge, but also of political power, as is also suggested by the consistent use of Arabic on royal seals in Sulawesi (Gallop 2019: 547-8).

The ending of ‘Abd al-Basir al-Dariri’s Daqa’iq al-Asrar, written for Sultan Idris A‘zam al-Din of Bone
The ending of ‘Abd al-Basir al-Dariri’s Daqa’iq al-Asrar, written for Sultan Idris A‘zam al-Din of Bone and dated the beginning of Safar 1126 (February 1714), which is followed immediately by a translation into Bugis. British Library, Add 12367, fol. 11r Noc

Works in Arabic were also composed specifically for Southeast Asian audiences by scholars in the Hijaz, of whom the most notable was Ibrahim al-Kurani of Medina (1615-1690), the towering figure of seventeenth century Islamic intellectual life. Al-Kurani attracted a circle of Southeast Asian students (known as al-Jawa), with some of whom he maintained a correspondence after their return to their homeland. In contrast to the very limited distribution of Southeast Asian Arabic works, al-Kurani’s fame ensured his answers to questions from the Jawa were widely read in the central Islamic lands. His best known work of this type was the Ithaf al-Dhaki bi-Sharh al-Tuhfa al-Mursala ila Ruh al-Nabi (‘Gifting of the Sagacious commenting on “The Gift Descended to the Prophet’s Spirit”'), a commentary on Sufi metaphysics, but in 1673 he also composed a work specifically responding to debates over Sufism that raged at the court of Aceh in North Sumatra, al-Maslak al-Jali fi Hukm Shath al-Wali (‘The Manifest Way to Judge the Ecstatic Utterances of the Saint’). The international interest such questions attracted is suggested by the British Library copy of this treatise, which comes from the royal Mughal library, seized by the British after the Mutiny in 1857 (Delhi Arabic 710, fol. 40b-51b).

al-Maslak al-Jali fi Hukm Shath al-Wali by Ibrahim al-Kurani. British Library, Delhi Arabic 710, ff. 40b-41a.
al-Maslak al-Jali fi Hukm Shath al-Wali by Ibrahim al-Kurani. British Library, Delhi Arabic 710, ff. 40b-41a. Noc

Further reading
Fathurahman, Oman, “New Textual Evidence for the Intellectual and Religious Connections between the Ottomans and Aceh” in A.C.S. Peacock & Annnabel Gallop [eds.]. From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia (Oxford, 2015).
Peacock, A.C.S., “Arabic manuscripts from Buton, Southeast Sulawesi, and the literary activities of Sultan Muhammad ‘Aydarus (1824-1851),” Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 10 (2019): 44-83.
Gallop, Annabel Teh, Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia: Content, Form, Context, Catalogue (Singapore, 2019)

Andrew Peacock, University of St Andrews Ccownwork
This research was supported by the British Academy through a Mid-Career Fellowship.