Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

17 July 2023

Edmund Edwards McKinnon: donor of rare books on north Sumatra

Edmund Edwards McKinnon (1936-2023) – known to all as Ed McKinnon – first came to Indonesia in the 1960s to work in the field of plantation agriculture in Sumatra. After discovering the mediaeval harbour site of Kota Cina near Belawan, Deli in 1972, he embarked on an MA and then a PhD in art history at Cornell University leading to his doctoral dissertation of 1984 on Kota Cina: its context and meaning in the trade of Southeast Asia in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. Thereafter, alongside his professional consulting career, he never ceased to be deeply involved in archaeological and art historical research in Sumatra. Ed McKinnon published widely on subjects ranging from early inter-regional commerce between the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China; the trading activities of the Tamil guilds in west Sumatra; medieval trade ceramics in Sumatra; the location of the historic Sumatran ports of Lamuri and Fansur; and on Batak material imagery. In March 2023, over fifty years after his initial work at Kota Cina, he returned to North Sumatra and on this visit – much-feted in the Indonesian press – he urged the Governor to take measures to protect the many historical and archaeological sites of world importance. His sudden passing of a heart attack, on 23 June 2023, came as a great shock to his family, friends, colleagues and admirers.

Ed McKinnon in the museum store room at Muara Jambi, during the First International Conference on Jambi Studies, 2013
Ed McKinnon in the museum store room at Muara Jambi, during the First International Conference on Jambi Studies, 2013. Photograph by A.T. Gallop.

Over the past few years, Ed McKinnon generously donated to the British Library a number of rare books relating to the history of north Sumatra from his personal collection, some dating from the 1970s. These books were mostly printed in Medan, the capital of the province of North Sumatra and the second largest city in Indonesia, and an important centre of the Malay press since the 1920s. One such local publication is a history of the city of Medan, Sejarah Kota Medan (2012) which by coincidence shows on page 2 a photograph of Ed McKinnon in a very characteristic activity: sorting through ceramic sherds.

Sejarah Kota Medan Ed McKinnon inspecting ceramic sherds
Sejarah Kota Medan (2012). British Library, YP.2020.a.625

The oldest book donated by Ed McKinnon to the British Library was a work by the Sumatran writer and poet Dada Meuraxa published in 1974 on a cultural history of Sumatra, covering the whole island from Aceh in the north to Lampung in the south.

Front cover of Dada Meuraxa, Sejarah kebudayaan Sumatera (1974)
Front cover of: Dada Meuraxa, Sejarah kebudayaan Sumatera (1974). British Library, YP.2018.a.162

Also dating from the 1970s are three booklets by M.B. Purba, a retired army officer, all concerning the art and cultural heritage of the Simalungun Batak region to the north east of Lake Toba.

Three booklets by Let. Col. (Retired) M.B. Purba on aspects of Simalungun Batak culture
Three booklets by Let. Col. (Retired) M.B. Purba on aspects of Simalungun Batak culture: a history of the Simalungun Museum in Pematang Siantar (1978); a compendium of painted and carved design motifs (1979); and a treatise on the cultural traits of the Simalungun people (1977). British Library, YP.2018.a.165; YP.2018.a.163; YP.2018.a.164

A pictorial account of the growth of the Simalungun Museum in Pematang Siantar
A pictorial account of the growth of the Simalungun Museum in Pematang Siantar, from a single building in 1939 to a cluster of 11 traditional structures in the 1970s. M.B. Purba, Museum Simalungun (1978). British Library, YP.2018.a.165, p. 29

Another group of books given by Ed McKinnon relate to the renowned historian and cultural figurehead, Tengku Luckman Sinar (1933-2011), who published widely on all aspects of Sumatran Malay history and traditions. Tengku Luckman Sinar was the third son of Sultan Sulaiman Syariful Alam Syah (r. 1879-1946) of Serdang, on the northeast coast of Sumatra. Following the declaration of Indonesian indepencence in 1945 and the ensuing ‘Social Revolution’ in east Sumatra, which saw violent local uprisings against aristocratic families for perceived collaboration with the Dutch colonial forces, for most of the 20th century the royal courts of Sumatra lost all political power and functioned purely as guardians of traditional customs. However, after the fall of President Suharto in 1998 and subsequent state decentralisation, in many parts of Indonesia sultanates were revived and played an increasingly visible and influential role. Thus in 2001, after a long professional career as a writer and academic, and following the deaths of his two older brothers, Tengku Luckman Sinar was installed as Sultan Lukman Sinar Bashar Shah II of Serdang. The donations from Ed McKinnon include a biography of Tengku Luckman Sinar by his daughter Tengku Mira Sinar, accompanied by the programme of the launch event for that publication in Medan in 2016.

Publications relating to Tengku Luckman Sinar of north Sumatra
Publications relating to Tengku Luckman Sinar of north Sumatra donated by Ed McKinnon.

List of books donated to the British Library by Ed McKinnon, 2017-2022:
• Dada Meuraxa, Sejarah Kebudayaan Sumatera. Medan: Firma Hasmar, 1974. YP.2018.a.162
• Purba, M.D., Lingga Sitopu, S.A., Mengenal Lukis & Ukir Tradisional Simalungun (Painting and Ca[r]ving). Medan: M.D. Purba, 1979. YP.2018.a.163
• Purba, M.D., Mengenal Kepribadian Asli Rakyat Simalungun. Medan: M.D. Purba, 1977. YP.2018.a.164
• Purba, M.D., Obyek Wisata Museum Simalungun. Medan: M.D. Purba, 1978. YP.2018.a.165
Sejarah Kota Medan. Medan: Pemerintah Kota Medan, Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Daerah, 2012. YP.2020.a.625
• Yayasan Kesultanan Serdang (Medan). Sumatera Utara tempo doeloe. Koleksi gambar: Tuanku Luckman Sinar Basarshah II S.H. Medan: Yayasan Kesultanan Serdang, 2009. YP.2020.a.665
• Tengku Luckman Sinar. Mengenang kewiraan pemuka adat dan masyarakat adatnya di Sumatera Utara menentang kolonialism Belanda, oleh Tuanku Luckman Sinar Basarshah. Medan: Forkala, 2017. YP.2020.b.124
• Tengku Mira Sinar. Tengku Luckman Sinar, Melayu Nusantara dan strategi kebudayaan, oleh Tengku Mira Sinar; editor dan kata pengantar, Heddy Shri Ahimsa-Putra. Yogyakarta: Kepel Press, 2016. YP.2018.a.3499
Peluncuran buku: ‘Tengku Luckman Sinar, Melayu Nusantara dan strategi kebudayaan’. Medan, 2016. YP.2020.a.664
Ragam Pusaka Warisan Leluhur Nusantara: Pekan Raya Sumatera Utara, 18-24 Maret 2016. [Medan]: Pusaka Semenda Deli, 2016. YP.2023.b.194
• Tengku Lah Husny, Lintasan Sejarah. Peradaban dan Budaya Penduduk Melayu-Pesisir Deli, Sumatera Timur 1612-1950. Medan: privately printed by T. Lah Husny. (n.d. (1975))?. [shelfmark pending]

Ed and Sinta McKinnon at the British Library, 2022
Ed and Sinta McKinnon at the British Library, June 2022. Photograph by A.T. Gallop.

Selamat jalan, Pak Ed.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

(Updated with correct date of birth, 1.8.2023)