THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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14 posts categorized "Seals"

02 October 2014

Heirloom manuscripts from Jambi

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Throughout island Southeast Asia, the hot and humid tropical climate with attendant rodent and insect life is usually judged hostile to the preservation of manuscripts. And yet in certain highland communities in the province of Jambi in east Sumatra, manuscripts can and do survive for centuries, as reflected in a recent Endangered Archives project, EAP117, Digitising ‘sacred heirlooms’ in private collections in Kerinci, Sumatra, Indonesia.  
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Buffalo horn manuscript inscribed with the story of the journey of Uti Unduk Pinang Masak and Dayang Berani, written in the Kerinci incung script, in the collection of Depati Singolago Tuo (the text is transliterated in Tambo Kerinci no.37). British Library, EAP117/2/1

In many villages in the interior of Jambi, manuscripts in Malay on paper, horn and bamboo, written in Arabic or the Indic incung script, have been preserved as sacred village heirlooms along with other auspicious objects such as weapons, coins, pieces of porcelain and elephant teeth. Usually carefully stored in a wooden box in the loft of the house of the village headman, these precious items could only be brought out on occasional ritual feasts to celebrate the origins of the village (Watson 2009).  In retrospect, it can be seen that the combination of secure storage of these manuscripts at the top of the house, where smoke from the kitchen below would act both as an insect repellent and as a natural dehumidifier, together with very occasional ‘airings’, was an extremely effective form of preservation.  In one spectacular case, a code of laws from the village of Tanjung Tanah written on treebark paper has been carbon-dated to the 14th century, making it the oldest known surviving Malay manuscript in the world (Kozok 2006).

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Heirloom edict from Jambi dated 1794. When it was seen by P. Voorhoeve in 1941 and transliterated in Tambo Kerinci (no.43), the first line could still be read (Inilah cap serta tapak tangan Pangeran (Suria) Kesuma dan Pangeran Ratu serta Raja Sultan Ahmad Badruddin ... marhum). By the time the document was photographed in 2008 for the Endangered Archives Programme, it had been slightly damaged. British Library, EAP117/2/1/7.

In early 1941 a survey of village heirlooms of Kerinci was carried out by Petrus Voorhoeve, a Dutch language officer working for the colonial administration.  Voorhoeve and his team documented and photographed some 260 manuscripts, and then produced the 'Tambo Kerintji', an unpublished volume containing transliterations of all the texts into latin script. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, Voorhoeve was imprisoned and sent to work on the Burma railway.  At the end of the war, all his notes were feared lost – until 1973, when C.W. Watson discovered in Kerinci one surviving copy of ‘Tambo Kerintji’, and arranged for this to be retyped and distributed to a few libraries. And in 2006, Uli Kozok uploaded the Tambo Kerinci on to the website of the University of Hawaii, where it can now be freely consulted. 

Kozok returned to Kerinci in 2007 with an Endangered Archives grant to document the sacred heirlooms of 65 villages, including some of the very items seen by Voorhoeve in 1941; the results can be consulted online here. In addition to locally-produced manuscripts, there are copies of the Qur’an and songs in praise of the Prophet (the well-known Mawlid Barzanji) printed in Bombay in the second half of the 19th century, and colourful maps of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, evidently brought back to central Sumatra after the hajj pilgrimage.

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Map of Mecca and Medina, probably brought back to Kerinci by a pilgrim returning from the hajj, in the collection of Mangku Suka Rame.  British Library, EAP117/11/1/4

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A selection of copies of the Qur’an, printed in Bomby in the 19th century, in the collection of Mesjid Keramat, Kerinci. British Library, EAP117/22/1/8.

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Liha or rehal, stand for a copy of the Qur’an, from the collection of Mangku Rajo Perang. British Library, EAP117/46/2/23

Among the most historically significant manuscripts documented in these heirloom collections are royal edicts issued by the sultan and nobles of Jambi, to local leaders (dipati) upstream. For centuries, valuable products from the highlands such as gold, ivory and resin were brought downstream to the coastal regions for trade.  The economic and political relationship between the lowland court of the sultan of Jambi and the peoples of the highlands was formalised and cemented through the issuing of royal edicts (piagam) in Malay.  In these edicts, the sultan or his nobles would grant an honorific title and jurisdiction over a certain territory to highland leaders, who in return would be bound to uphold the law and respect the royal prerogative to certain types of forest produce.

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Sealed decree (piagam) issued by Pangeran Sukarta, probably 18th c., rolled and stored in a bamboo tube, from collection of Depati Lindo Indah Jati. Britsh Library, EAP117/9/1/2.

Some royal piagam contain detailed descriptions of the territory awarded to certain village leaders, and it is the boundary lists in these centuries-old documents that have ensured their contemporary relevance, particularly with the increasing threat of encroachment by commercial interests. While I was researching a group of 17th-century royal edicts found in Serampas, south of Kerinci, I was very interested to find out that in 2006, KKI Warsi - an Indonesian NGO promoting community-based forest management - had made use of an heirloom edict dated 1756 to support the village of Guguk in neighbouring Merangin in its successful struggle to manage its own ancestral lands.

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The heirloom royal edict (piagam) dated 1756 of Guguk, Merangin, Jambi. Photo: Kumiadi / KKI Warsi, 2006.

And so on a recent visit to Indonesia, I was delighted to be invited by the journal of Jambi studies, Seloko, to deliver a workshop on manuscripts, to be co-hosted by KKI Warsi.  The workshop was held in Jambi from 15-16 September and was attended by about 15 participants from KKI Warsi and educational establishments in Jambi. While covering the basics of philology (the study of the content of manuscripts) and codicology (the study of their outer form), and the 'social lives' of manuscripts, we focussed on royal edicts from Jambi, and in particular, the perceptible increase in importance of boundary lists in these piagam over time.

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At the manuscripts workshop held on 15-16 September 2014, Mrs Zarfina Yenty, a lecturer at IAIN Sultan Thaha Saifuddin Jambi, brought in a Qur'an manuscript inherited from her grandfather in Kerinci.  Copied on European paper and probably dating from the late 18th or early 19th century, despite lacking beginning and end, it is a fine example of penmanship.

Further reading:

Tambo Kerintji: disalin dari toelisan Djawa Koeno, toelisan rentjong dan toelisan Melajoe jang terdapat pada tandoek kerbau, daoen lontar, boeloeh dan kertas dan koelit kajoe, poesaka simpanan orang Kerintji.  P.Voorhoeve, dengan pertolongan R.Ng.Dr. Poerbatjaraka, toean H.Veldkamp, controleur B.B., njonja M.C.J. Voorhoeve Bernelot Moens, goeroe A.Hamid.  1941.  [Typescript, reproduced by C.W.Watson in 1973].
Tambo Kerinci, with updated spelling, uploaded to the internet by Uli Kozok in 2006:
http://ipll.manoa.hawaii.edu/indonesian/research/tambo-kerinci/

P. Voorhoeve, ‘Kerintji documents’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1970, 126 (4): 369-99. [Before the re-discovery of the 'Tambo Kerintji' in 1973, Voorhoeve published an article drawing on his memory and surviving notes to reconstruct his expedition to Kerinci in 1941.]

A.T.Gallop, ‘Piagam Serampas: Malay documents from highland Jambi’, From distant tales: archaeology and ethnohistory in the highlands of Sumatra, ed. Dominik Bonatz, John Miksic, J. David Neidel, Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz.  Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009, pp. 272-322.

A.T. Gallop, ‘Piagam Muara Mendras: more Malay documents from highland Jambi’, Seloko, 2013, 2 (1): 1-50.

Uli Kozok, Kitab undang-undang Tanjung Tanah: naskah Melayu yang tertua. Jakarta: Yayasan Naskah Nusantara, 2006.

C.W.Watson, ‘Tambo Kerinci’, From distant tales: archaeology and ethnohistory in the highlands of Sumatra, ed. Dominik Bonatz, John Miksic, J. David Neidel, Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz.  Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009, pp. 253-271.

Indonesian media coverage of the Manuscripts Workshop, 15-16 September 2014, Jambi.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

11 August 2014

The British capture of Java, 1811

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In 1795, the Dutch ruler William V fled to Britain to escape Napoleon’s advances. There he issued the ‘Kew Letters’, giving Britain temporary authority over Dutch possessions overseas, in an attempt to keep them out of French hands. Over the next decade, the Napoleonic war arena spilled across the Indian Ocean and into Southeast Asia, and by 1800 the British had captured the Dutch territories of Padang in west Sumatra, and Ambon and Ternate in the Moluccas.  In October 1810 Lord Minto, the Governor-General of Bengal, sent Thomas Stamford Raffles to Melaka as ‘Agent of the Governor General to the Malay States’, with the confidential mission of planning for the British invasion of Java, at the time in Franco-Dutch hands.

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View of Batavia from the sea.  From J. Nieuhof, An embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperour of China (London, 1669).  British Library, X.1202.  noc

The British expeditionary force set sail from Melaka in June 1811 and on 4 August 1811 landed at Cilincing in West Java. The city of Batavia fell on 8 August, and within six weeks the British had conquered the whole of the island of Java.  This proclamation in Malay announcing the capture of Batavia is dated 11 August 1811, exactly 203 years ago today. The manuscript (Or.9484), which has just been digitised, was issued in the name of Lord Minto and bears his seal but is signed by Raffles.  The document reflects the British desire to see trade return to normal as soon as possible, and invites the people of Batavia to compare conditions under British and Dutch rule, seemingly confidently anticipating a favourable response:
‘It is announced that Batavia is now British territory and is once again open to all ships, of whatever size and of any nationality, carrying trade goods and foodstuffs, who are all welcome to come and trade freely. There will be no obstruction by warships, because the port of Batavia is now controlled by the British and will be administered with justice. His Excellency the Governor General cordially welcomes merchants of all nationalities to trade in Batavia, and invites them to see how well their business and profits fare under the British administration of Java, and how this compares with Dutch rule.’ (Maka hendaklah diketahui bahwa sekarang ini negeri Betawi sudah menjadi bandar Inggeris dan adalah sedia terbuka akan menyambut segala kapal dan keci dan sebarang perahu yang ada bermuat dagangan dan makanan pada tiap2 bangsa dagang, supaya boleh datang berniaga dengan sukanya.  Maka tiada lagi boleh diadang oleh kapal perang sebab sud(ah) terdiri bandar Inggeris di dalam tanah Betawi serta dengan adilnya.  Adapun sekarang ini bahwa Seri Maharaja Gawarnur Jenderal Yang Maha Mulia dipersilakan segala bangsa orang dagang datang ke Betawi berniaga, serta boleh melihat untung dan laba dari sebab kedatangan Inggeris ke tanah Jawah dan bolehlah sekalian menimbangkan perintah Inggeris dengan Belandah atau persamaan.)

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Malay proclamation of the capture of Batavia by the British, 8 August 1811.  British Library, Or. 9484.  noc

The proclamation is stamped with a red ink seal, inscribed in Malay. The seal was probably commissioned by Raffles while in Melaka as part of the preparations for the Java expedition. The inscription may have therefore have been calligraphed by Ibrahim, head of Raffles’s secretariat, the brother of Ahmad Rijaluddin whose account of a visit to Calcutta appeared on this blog recently. As discussed in another posting on this blog, there was a tradition of the use of ‘local’ seals in Arabic script by British officials in Asia and the Middle East, due to the long-established custom of using Persian seals by British East India Company officials serving in Mughal India.

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Lord Minto’s seal, inscribed in Malay, ‘This is the seal of His Excellency the Maharaja, Gilbert Elliot Lord Minto, Governor General of Bengal, ruler of the whole of Hindustan, above the winds [and] below the winds’ (Inilah cap Paduka Seri Maharaja Gilbetelet Lard Minto Gurnur Jenral Benggala raja pada sekalian tanah Hindustan atas angin bawah angin adanya).  British Library, Or. 9484 (detail).  noc

Further reading

W. Thorn, Memoir of the conquest of Java.  London: Robert and Wilkes, 1815.
Victoria Glendinning, Raffles and the golden opportunity. London: Profile, 2012
Tim Hannigan, Raffles and the British invasion of Java. Singapore: Monsoon, 2012.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

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05 June 2014

Alexander Dalrymple’s Treaties with Sulu in Malay and Tausug

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When the East India Company began to look for a base in the Philippine islands in order to gain access to the China trade, attention focussed on the Sulu archipelago, lying east of the northern tip of Borneo. In January 1761, the Scottish hydrographer Alexander Dalrymple (1737-1808) arrived on the island of Jolo, the seat of the Sultan of Sulu, charged with the task of negotiating for a trading post for the Company. The then ruler of Sulu was Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin, also known as Bantilan. He was the younger brother of Sultan Azimuddin I, who at the time of Dalrymple’s visit had been in exile in Manila since 1748 because of local opposition towards his policy of friendship towards Spanish Jesuit missionaries. Following the death of Muizzuddin in 1763 and the brief accession of his son, Sultan Muhammad Azimuddin II, Dalrymple was instrumental in helping Sultan Azimuddin I (usually referred to in European-language sources as ‘Alimuddin’) to return from Manila to Sulu and re-accede to the throne in 1764, where he ruled until his death in 1778.  

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Alexander Dalrymple, in a painting of c.1765 attributed to John Thomas Seton (c.1735-1806). Copyright National Museums of Scotland.

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A mosque in Sulu, from Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, 1844.  British Library, 10001.d vol.5, opp. p. 354.  noc

Between 1761 and 1764 Dalrymple negotiated and signed four major treaties with successive sultans of Sulu, leading to the establishment of an East India Company trading post on the island of Balambangan in 1773. Most of the original bilingual treaty papers have survived in the India Office Records in the British Library: the first treaty of 1761 was in Malay and English; the second treaty of 1763 was also originally in Malay and English, but only the Spanish translation of the Malay has survived; and the third and fourth treaties of 1764 were in Tausug (the main language of Sulu) and English.

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First Sulu Treaty of 28 January 1761, signed between Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin of Sulu and Alexander Dalrymple for the East India Company. British Library, IOR: H/629, pp.456-457.  noc

The English texts of the Treaties are well known, but the Malay and Tausug texts, written in Arabic script, have never been studied, and a close examination inevitably reveals a number of differences with the English text. A typical example is the English text of the first Treaty of 1761, which in clause 1 states that the British shall be granted ‘perpetual’ possession of the ground for their settlement, a word which is absent in the Malay version. But perhaps the most poignant aspect of this Treaty is the addendum found on the reverse of the Malay page: a strong rejection of the sale of opium, and a tight control on arms.  This clause – which is unnumbered and does not appear in any published English version of the treaty – appears to have been included at the request of the Sulus, judging from the detailed exposition in four lines of Malay, ‘The aforementioned trade goods prohibited by His Highness Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin are opium, while no kinds of arms, big or small, may be sold to to anyone, even to the children and grandchildren of His Highness the Sultan, without the express permission of His Highness the Sultan; only His Highness the Sultan may buy these goods,’ compared with the laconic one-line English translation ‘Opium is contraband & arms & ammunition to any but the Sultan’.  Yet Dalrymple himself apparently strongly supported this prohibition; the culprit responsible for later developing the Sulu trade in opium and arms was the unscrupulous John Herbert, chief of the East India Company post at Balambangan, who was also responsible for a massive fraud against the Company itself which led to the financial collapse of the Balambangan settlement.

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Addendum to the first Sulu Treaty of 28 January 1761, banning the sale of opium and restricting the sale of arms, in Malay with brief English translation: Maka adapun dagangan yang dilarangkan Paduka Seri Sultan Muhammad Muizzuddin yang telah tersebut itu iaitu apiun, dan demikian lagi segala alat senjata besar kecil tiada boleh dijual kepada orang lain, jikalau pada pihak anak cucu Paduka Seri Sultan sekalipun jika bukan izin daripada Paduka Seri Sultan, hanya Paduka Seri Sultan yang membeli jua adanya. Opium is contraband & arms & ammunition to any but the Sultan.  British Library, IOR: H/629, p.455.  noc

The first Treaty is also notable for high standard of the formal Malay language used, and its proficient calligraphy. An unusual aspect of the diplomatics of the treaties is that when the various royal Sulu seals were stamped across two pages, the two sheets of paper were first folded along an inner vertical margin, with the seal applied across the folds, resulting in an impression of two halves when the paper was flattened out.  The East India Company seals on the same documents, however, are simply stamped on the flattened sheet of paper. This peculiar method of sealing is not found in any other Muslim kingdom in Southeast Asia. Interestingly, the only other Islamic seal impression known displaying the same characteristic of having been stamped across the folds of a document, yielding a two-part impression, is the iconic seal impression of the Mughal emperor Babur, found on what is possibly the oldest surviving original Mughal document, a land grant dated 1527.

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A second copy of the Malay text of the first Sulu Treaty of 28 January 1761, ratified in September 1761by 24 nobles of Sulu listed on the right-hand page. British Library, IOR: H/629, pp.460-461.   noc

IOR-H-629, pp.459-det

Further ratification of the first Sulu Treaty of January 1761, signed in Manila on 20 November 1761 by Sultan Muhammad Azimuddin I. This document was probably obtained by Dalrymple, who appears to have been in Manila from 9 November-1 December 1761 (pers.comm., Andrew Cook).  British Library, IOR: H/629, p.459.  noc

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Dalrymple’s third Sulu Treaty, in Tausug and English, signed between Sultan Muhammad Azimuddin I of Sulu and Alexander Dalrymple for the English East India Company, Jolo, Sulu, 2 July 1764.  British Library, IOR: H/629, p.488-489.  noc

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Dalrymple’s fourth Sulu Treaty, in Tausug and English, signed between Sultan Muhammad Azimuddin I of Sulu and Alexander Dalrymple for the English East India Company, Jolo, Sulu, 28 September 1764. British Library, IOR: H/629, p.pp. 495–502.  noc

Further reading:
Allen, J. de V., Stockwell, A. J., and Wright, L. R., A collection of treaties and other documents affecting the states of Malaysia 1761-1963.  London: Oceana, 1980. 2 v. [The Sulu treaties are published in v.2, pp.371-388.]
Cook, Andrew S., Alexander Dalrymple (1737-1808), hydrographer to the East India Company and the Admiralty, as publisher : a catalogue of books and charts.  Ph.D. thesis, University of St Andrews, 1993.
Costa, H. de la, ‘Muhammad Alimuddin I, Sultan of Sulu, 1735-1773’, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1965, 38 (1):43-76.
Majul,Cesar Adib, Muslims in the Philippines.  Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999.
Warren, James Francis, The Sulu Zone 1768-1898.  Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1981.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

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18 May 2014

The Khamsah of Nizami: A Timurid Masterpiece

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One of the best loved of the illustrated Persian manuscripts in the British Library is the Khamsah of Nizami Or. 6810. Made in Herat during the reign of Sultan Husayn Bayqara, and with one picture dated 900/1494-95, it contains some of the finest late 15th-century painting. The glorious colour and meticulous drawing of its illustrations strike the viewer immediately, while the depth and complexity of their meaning is endlessly fascinating. In addition the manuscript poses interesting problems of artistic attribution and patronage.

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Harun al-Rashid and the barber. Ascribed in notes to Bihzad and to Mirak (BL Or.6810, f. 27v).
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Illustrating a parable in Makhzan al-Asrar (‘Treasury of Secrets’), the first of the five books of the Khamsah, ‘Harun al-Rashid and the barber’ takes us inside a hammam (‘bathhouse’). We are well and truly inside since the plain doorway in the right marks the entry to an area of privacy, or relative privacy.  In its main saloon, men, with their gaze politely directed away from each other, are dressing or undressing with proper decorum. To the left is a more private space, its status is expressed in a more stately architecture: this is for the moment reserved for caliphal use. In it Harun al-Rashid is the direct object of attention of two attendants, and appears to have engrossed the activity of two more. This space is the focus of the narrative: the viewer’s eye has been led towards it from right to left, according to the reading direction of the Persian script. The text tells us that when Harun visits the hammam the barber who shaves his head asks for the hand of his daughter in marriage. Harun is incensed by this impertinence, which is, moreover, repeated on his subsequent visits.  Harun puts this problem to his vizier, remarking that it seems unwise to subject oneself to the double threat of an actual razor and a dagger-like word. The vizier speculates that the barber’s presumption might result from his standing over a treasure: the caliph should order him to move his position. Harun acts accordingly; standing on a different spot, the barber no longer feels himself the caliph’s equal; excavation reveals the treasure over which had been beneath his feet. 

Over and above the requirements of the narrative, the depiction of the hammam is the gift that the artist makes to the viewer. There are minutely observed practical details such as the soot deposited on the walls by the lamps in the private room, or the precise position of hands that wring a wet towel in the public space; and there is the symbolic detail that the caliph’s robes and crown are temporarily laid aside, so that in a sense he becomes a vulnerable man on a level with the others. There is careful observation and judgement in the use of colour: the dark buff tiles of the floor are evidently not glazed, so that even when wet they will not be slippery; their colour is beautifully set off by the array of blue towels of varying stripe that blazon the function of the establishment, and that are secured into the main composition by the rod that lifts them to or from the drying line.

Is this picture the work of the great painter Bihzad? The names of both Mirak, the older master, and of Bihzad have been written underneath it at an unknown date, but the majority of scholars would attribute it to Bihzad. Writing in 1605, the Mughal emperor Jahangir, then in possession of the manuscript and priding himself on his connoisseurship, asserted that 16 of its pictures were by Bihzad, five by Mirak, and one by ʿAbd al-Razzaq, though he did not specify which (See earlier post: ‘A Jewel in the Crown’).

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The Prophet mounted on the Buraq and escorted by angels passing over the Kaʻbah (BL Or.6810, f. 5v).
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One of the pictures to which no notes of attribution have been added is the ‘Miʿraj’ (‘ascent’), the picture of the Prophet Muhammad carried up into the heavens on the back of the Buraq, a mount with a human face—the Buraq’s face suggests the work of Mirak, the other faces less so. The Prophet is seen in a swirl of golden clouds and surrounded by angels, against a night sky. He is above the black-draped Kaʿbah, with the town of Mecca around it treated in fascinating detail, albeit in a rather persianate architecture replete with blue and turquoise tiling. The picture follows the type of one produced some 80 years earlier in the Miscellany for Iskandar Sultan BL Add. 27261 of 1410-11 (see earlier post: ‘The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan’). The later picture has, however, two brilliant innovations. The Prophet is here looking around him in wonder, and the precinct of the Kaʿbah contains two human figures that are so tiny that the viewer seems to look down on them from an immense height.

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Iskandar, in the likeness of Husayn Bayqara, with the seven sages. An inscription in the arch of the window is dated AH 900 (1494/95). (BL Or.6810, f. 214r).
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This magnificent manuscript clearly draws upon the talents of artists of the royal workshop, but it does not display the name of Sultan Husayn Bayqara, who ruled Herat from 1469 to 1506, as patron, instead a line on one of the arches of Shirin’s palace (f. 62v) says that it was made for the Amir ʿAli Farsi Barlas, and it seems that he is depicted in the frontispiece. Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that it is Sultan Husayn Bayqara who appears, in proxy portraiture, in illustrations to the story of Iskandar (Alexander the Great), as an ideal king, surrounded by philosophers (above) or showing respect for a holy man (below).

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Iskandar, in the likeness of Husayn Bayqara, visiting the wise man in a cave. Ascribed to Bihzad underneath, but to Qasim ʻAli in the text panel. (BL Or.6810, f. 273r).
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Thanks to the generosity of the Barakat Trust this manuscript has been fully digitised and can be viewed in our digitised manuscripts viewer (click here Or.6810). Follow this link for a detailed catalogue description with links to all of the miniatures.


Further Reading

Ebadollah Bahari, Bihzad: Master of Persian Painting, London and New York, 1996.
Basil Gray, Persian Painting, Geneva, 1961.
Thomas W. Lentz and Glenn D. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision, Los Angeles, 1989.
John Seyller, ‘Inspection and valuation of manuscripts in the Imperial Mughal Library’, Artibus Asiae, LVII, 3/4 (1997), pp. 243-349.
Ivan Stchoukine, Les peintures des manuscrits Tîmûrides, Paris, 1954.

 

Barbara Brend, Independent scholar
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04 April 2014

Islamic seal matrices in the British Library Philatelic Collections

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The word ‘seal’ can refer to two quite distinct, yet related, entities: the object used for stamping, sometimes called the ‘seal matrix’, and the seal impression, also called a ‘seal stamp’ or ‘sealing’, which refers to the mark made by the seal matrix.  Seal matrices are usually made of a hard material such as metal or gemstone, and may be set in a ring, and are most commonly found in museum collections.  Seal impressions, on the other hand, are found on manuscript documents or books, and are thus usually encountered in libraries and archives - as illustrated by a recent blog post on the 'Islamic' seals used by British colonial officials, found impressed on documents in the India Office Records.  

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An Indian seal engraver, preparing jewels for seal rings, drawn in the Benares style, ca. 1825.  British Library, Add. Or. 169.    noc

It was therefore a very natural partnership when the British Library and British Museum came together in 2010 to produce a travelling photographic exhibition, Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The British Museum’s rich collection of seals with inscriptions in Arabic and Persian, made of materials such as carnelian, onyx, turquoise and rock crystal as well as brass and silver, were complemented by royal letters, treaties and books bearing Islamic seal impressions from the British Library. The exhibition toured libraries and museums throughout the UK, and led to a further collaboration with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.

I was therefore very surprised when, in late 2011, my colleagues in the British Library’s Philatelic Collections, David Beech and Paul Skinner, mentioned in passing that the Library, too, had a small collection of Islamic seal matrices, alongside other European seals and philatelic paraphernalia. On further investigation there turned out to be ten metal seal matrices with inscriptions in Arabic script, unaccompanied, however, by any information on their provenance. On the basis of the calligraphy and style of inscription, nearly all the seals appear to be Ottoman, and all but one are dated.  A catalogue of the 10 seals, by A.T. Gallop and M.I. Waley, can be found here: Download BL Philatelic Collections Islamic seals-ATG-MIW.

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Seals and other objects in the Philatelic Collections of the British Library.  The ten seals with inscriptions in Arabic are in the cluster on the right.  noc

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The ten Islamic seals, together with three others in Greek.  British Library, Philatelic Collections.  noc
BL Philatelic seals handles (1)
Side view showing the handles of the ten Islamic seals.  British Library, Philatelic Collections, Islamic seals 1-10.  noc

In Ottoman Turkey, seal engraving was a well established and highly regulated profession. Seal engravers belonged to professional guilds, and had to adhere to a strict code of practice, designed to prevent the fraudulent use of seals.  In the early seventeenth century there were separate guilds for engravers who worked in semi-precious stones such as carnelians and jade, those who produced seals for the officials of the state, and those who worked in silver, producing talismans as well as seals.  From the late eighteenth century and into the early twentieth century some Istanbul sealmakers engraved their pseudonymous signatures in tiny letters on the face of the seal.  It is therefore of great interest to find that three seals in the British Library collection appear to bear the initials/signatures of their engravers, two of which occur in the list of Ottoman seal engravers’ signatures published in Acar (1999: 290-295).  These signatures are always written in much smaller letters than the main inscription.

BL Philatelic Islamic seal 3
Ottoman brass seal, engraved with the name Ahmad Bijan / Ahmed Bican and the date 1343 (AD 1924/5), with in the bottom right corner the tiny signature of its maker ‘Aşki, one of the seal engravers listed by Acar (1999: 295). Width 17 mm. British Library, Philatelic Collections, Islamic seal 10.  noc

Further reading:

M. Şinasi Acar. Türk Hat Sanati / Turkish calligraphy.  Istanbul: Antik A.S., 1999.

Annabel Teh Gallop & Venetia Porter.  Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World. A travelling photographic exhibition from the British Library and the British Museum. [London]: British Library and British Museum, 2010.

Annabel Teh Gallop & Venetia Porter.  Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World. With contributions from Heba Nayel Barakat ... [et al].  Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2012.  [Available online from Areca Books.]

Venetia Porter. Arabic and Persian seals and amulets in the British Museum.  London: British Museum Press, 2011.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

26 March 2014

Performing Authority: the ‘Islamic’ Seals of British Colonial Officers

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The function of seals as symbols of textual authority and ownership is deeply rooted in the Islamic world, especially in Arabic and Persian-speaking societies. Historically, seals were used for authorising various documents, including letters and legal contracts, and for marking the ownership of books and manuscripts. Edward William Lane attests to this in his record of 19th century Egyptian society: ‘Almost every person who can afford it has a seal-ring, even though he be a servant’ (Lane, p. 49).

It is interesting to learn that Arabic-script seals were also used by British colonial officers. This was a long-established practice in India where officials of the East India Company were theoretically acting as ‘servants’ of the Mughal emperor (Gallop and Porter, pp. 66-7). This custom set a lasting precedent and we find British colonial officers using Islamic-style seals well into the 19th and 20th centuries.

How might we understand the use of seals by non-Muslim Europeans in the context of Empire? A few examples from the Middle East and Persian Gulf are given here from the British Library’s manuscripts and the India Office Records.

Seals1and2
Left: Seal of the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf from a letter dated 10 August 1909  inscribed in Persian:  باليوز دولت انكليس در خليج فارس  Bālyūz[1]-i dawlat-i ingilīs dar khalīj-i fārs ‘British Resident in the Persian Gulf’ (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/752, f. 53v)‎
Right: Seal of the First Assistant to the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf from a letter dated 7 July 1898 inscribed in Persian: باليوزكري دولت بهية قيصرة انكليس در خليج فارس  Bā[ly]ū[z]karī dawlat-i bahīyat-i qayṣarat-i ingilīs dar khalīj-i fārs ‘Deputy Resident of Her Britannic Majesty in the Persian Gulf’ (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/753, f. 34v)
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Britain maintained its imperial hegemony over the Persian Gulf from its administrative headquarters, or Residency, at Bushire on the southern coast of modern-day Iran. In the latter half of the 19th century, both the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf and his deputy possessed seals with their positions rendered into Persian. Both seal impressions are rectangular and measure 22 x 20mm with inscriptions in a clear nasta‘liq script.

Another example is the seal of Edward Charles Ross who served as Political Resident in the Persian Gulf from 1872 to 1891 and was an avid collector of antiquities (his collections in the British Museum can be seen here). His seal is the same size, style and rectangular shape as that of the Resident’s seal, but also includes his name.

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Seal of Edward Charles Ross from a letter dated 1 June 1887, inscribed in Persian:
‎ادورد چارلس راص باليوز دولت بهية انكليس در خليج فارس  Idward Chārls Rāṣ bālyūz-i dawlat-i bahīyat-i ingilīs dar khalīj-i fārs ‘Edward Charles Ross, British Resident in the Persian Gulf’ (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/752, f. 147v)
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Not all seals were rectangular. Some appear as circles or ovals. One such example is that of Captain Robert Taylor who served as the British Resident in Baghdad and Basra from 1828 to 1843. As well as being a British colonial officer, Taylor amassed an extensive collection of Oriental manuscripts. Many of these were acquired by the British Museum and are now housed in the British Library (Add Ms. 23252-23606).  His seal appears in many of these manuscripts attesting to his ownership. It is a circle with a diameter of 18mm. It contains his name in naskh script with a tughra-like flourish: ‘abduhu Taylur, ‘his servant, Taylor’ (Cook, n. 20, p. 81). Again, Lane notes in respect of this usage (Lane, p. 48): ‘The name is accompanied by the words ‘his servant… signifying the servant, or worshipper of God’. According to Arabic codicology expert Adam Gacek, prefacing a name with ‘abduhu, ‘his servant’, that is the servant of Allāh, is a frequent feature of Arabic seals and expresses the possessor’s humility in relation to God (Gacek, p. 90).

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Colophon of the Arabic version of De sphaericis (Kitāb al-Akar) by Theodosius of Bithynia, copied at Yazd in 1605 by Ibn ‘Abd al-Raḥīm Abū al-Qāsim Yaḥyā al-Astarābādī, containing the seal of Captain Robert Taylor inscribed in Arabic: عبده تيلر  ‘abduhu Taylur  ‘His Servant, Taylor’ (British Library, Add. MS. 23570, f. 62r)
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Another example is the seal of John Calcott Gaskin who served as the assistant to the Political Resident at Bushire at the end of the 19th century, and later as the first Political Agent at Bahrain from 1900 to 1903. In comparison with the other seals presented here, his is oval and very small, measuring 19 x 9mm. The inscription consists of his name in nasta‘liq script and is decorated with a vine and floral motif.

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Seal of John Calcott Gaskin’s from a letter dated 25 June 1899 inscribed in Arabic script: كاسكين Kāskīn (IOR/R/15/1/753, f 88v)
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Outside the India Office, we find other Europeans employed in the Gulf using Arabic seals. One such example is Charles Dalrymple Belgrave who was employed as Adviser to the Bahrain Government from 1926 until 1957. His oval-shaped seal (below) is the same size as those of the ruling Al Khalifah family with his name, C D Belgrave [balkrayf sī dī] rendered into naskh script. There is also a decorative tughra design that does not appear to form part of the inscription.

IOR_R_15_2_181_0077
Letter of the Regency Council (majlis al-wisāyah), dated 30 January 1938, bearing the seals of Shaikh ‘Abdullah bin ‘Isa Al Khalifah (top), Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifah (middle) and Charles Dalrymple Belgrave (bottom). Belgrave’s seal is inscribed: بلكريف سي دي Balkrayf Sī Dī  ‘C[harles] D[alrymple] Belgrave’ (British Library, IOR/R/15/2/181, f 39)
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As documented in his diary, we find that Belgrave was well aware of the authority that seals carried. In an entry dated 30 May 1930, the elderly blind leader and legal authority of the Sunni community (qāḍī) of Bahrain had more or less insinuated to Belgrave that ‘his favourite wife had stolen [his seal] from him’ and had given it to another man to seal papers. Belgrave has a devastating realisation and notes: ‘If we admit the invalidity of his signature, all documents since he became blind are liable to be queried’.
 
Another incident a year later involved Belgrave’s own seal. In a diary entry dated 29 May 1932, he writes that a certain ‘Ali bin Husayn had recovered the seal out of his ring which had fallen out during an affray. He reflects: ‘I am lucky to have got it back as it is the one I seal all official papers with and it would be awkward if I lost it’.

The examples given demonstrate that the practice of British colonial officers using Arabic and Persian seals continued from the time of the Mughals well into the 20th century. As we have seen, seals could signify ownership, authorship and station, and British officials, such as Belgrave, understood their use and potential abuse. We can, therefore, understand the use of seals as a way of aesthetically and textually performing Empire, or as ‘Ornamentalism’, to borrow a term coined by David Cannadine. This was done by means of the cultural appropriation of a recognisable ‘Islamic’ symbol to make hierarchy, authority, legitimacy and power ‘visible, immanent and actual’ (Cannadine, p. 122).


Sources and Further Reading


‘Belgrave Diaries’, Papers of Charles Dalrymple Belgrave, 1926-1957, University of Exeter, Special Collections
David Cannadine, Ornamentalis: How the British Saw Their Empire (2001)
Michael Cook, ‘The Provenance of Kitāb Lam‘ al-Shihāb fī Sīrat Muḥammad ‘Abd al-Wahhāb’, Journal of Turkish Studies, 10 (1986), pp. 79-86
Adam Gacek, ‘Ownership statements and seals in Arabic manuscripts’, Manuscripts of the Middle East, 2 (1987), pp. 88-94
Annabel Teh Gallop and Venetia Porter, Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World (2012)
Edward William Lane, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1895 edition)

 

Daniel Lowe, Arabic Language and Gulf History Specialist,
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
Twitter: @dan_a_lowe
 ccownwork 


[1] The term bālyūz was used to refer to the Resident in both Arabic and Persian. Borrowed from Ottoman Turkish, it was derived from the Venetian Italian balio (ambassador), itself derived from the Latin bajulus (porter, carrier; administrator). The word has similar a origin to the word ‘bailiff’, which made its way into English through French.