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4 posts categorized "Singapore"

22 January 2018

Tales of the Malay World

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If you are in Singapore – or anywhere near – grab the opportunity to visit the exhibition Tales of the Malay World, at the National Library of Singapore, before it ends on 25 February 2018. The biggest international exhibition of Malay manuscripts ever held, the display of over a hundred Malay manuscripts and early printed books includes 16 manuscripts from the British Library, as well as 17 loans from the Royal Asiatic Society and 18 from Leiden University Library, which are being shown alongside treasures from the National Library of Singapore’s own collections.

Tales of the Malay World

This was not the only time that Malay books from the British Library have been exhibited in Southeast Asia. The first occasion was in Malaysia in 1990, when 22 early Malay printed books were loaned to the exhibition Early Printing in Malay (Pameran Percetakan Awal dalam Bahasa Melayu) held at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, from 4-9 June 1990. The following year, 25 manuscript letters and books in Malay, Javanese, Balinese, Bugis and Batak travelled to Indonesia for the exhibition Golden Letters: Writing Traditions of Indonesia (Surat Emas: Budaya Tulis di Indonesia), held at the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta and at the Palace (Kraton) of Yogyakarta in September 1991. In October 1995 five Malay manuscripts were loaned to the International Exhibition of Malay Manuscripts (Pameran Manuskrip Melayu Antarabangsa) at the National Library of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, including the beautifully illuminated Taj al-Salatin and the Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka currently on display in Singapore. But apart from the two latter books, for the 14 other Malay manuscripts from the British Library featured in Tales of the Malay World, it is the first time that they have travelled back to the ‘lands below the winds’ since sailing westwards in the 19th century.

As suggested by the title, the exhibition celebrates the rich seam of Malay literature, and in the judicious hands of curator Tan Huism, deftly draws out some interesting threads. Accorded its own showcase at the very start of the exhibition is the British Library manuscript of the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah. This work occupies a seminal position in the Malay literary imagination, as it is cited in the Sejarah Melayu as the story for which the warriors of Melaka clamoured to be recited to give them strength and courage, the night before the fateful final attack by the Portuguese in 1511.

Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, on display in the exhibition 'Tales of the Malay World'. British Library, MSS Malay B.6, ff. 3v-4r  noc

The exhibition includes many other Malay literary treasures from the British Library, including a tale of the Javanese culture-hero Prince Panji (Hikayat Carang Kulina) and the cycle of tales told by the wise parrot to detain his mistress from keeping her rendezvous with her lover (Hikayat Bayan Budiman). Yet some British Library manuscripts inevitably paled in comparison with other exhibits - our nicely-written copy of Sejarah Melayu, copied in Melaka in 1873, could not hope to attract as much attention as the Royal Asiatic Society's iconic manuscript Raffles Malay 18 of the same work, which though only copied in Java around 1814 preserves the text of the oldest known version of the work dated 1612.  Our copy of the Hikayat Hang Tuah, dating from ca. 1810, which I believe has particular value in that it is said to be copied from a manuscript belonging to the Sultan of Kedah, is much less well-known than the oldest known manuscript of the work, dated 1758, which had travelled from Leiden (Cod.Or.1762).

In some cases the exhibition enabled the material aspects of manuscripts to come to the fore. The British Library manuscript of episodes from the Mahabharata, Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, copied by Muhammad Kasim in 1804 probably in Penang or Kedah, has attractive double decorated frames. However, arguably a much more important and rarer feature of this manuscript is its original binding (carefully conserved before travelling to Singapore), comprising a printed Indian cotton outer cover over an inner plaited palm lining, which was placed on display next to the book itself.

MSS Malay B.12.jpg
Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, 1804. British Library, MSS Malay B.12, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, Indian cloth cover (photograph taken before conservation). British Library, MSS Malay B.12, cloth cover.  noc

Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya, inner lining made of plaited palm, to which the cloth cover has been stitched (photograph taken before conservation). British Library, MSS Malay B.12, inner palm cover  noc

As well as the manuscripts and early printed books on display, clips of old Malay films based on literary classics such as Tun Fatimah (1962) and Hang Jebat (1961) were shown during the exhibition, attracting a lot of nostalgic interest. There was also a programme of talks, and workshops on reading Jawi script. The atmospheric installation - expertly overseen by project manager Alvin Koh - with its attractive graphic panels and jewel-coloured walls, greatly enhanced the evocative beauty of the exhibits.

Given below is a full list of Malay manuscripts from the British Library loaned to the exhibition ‘Tales of the Malay World’, National Library of Singapore, 18 August 2017 – 25 February 2018. All the manuscripts have been fully digitised and can be read on the Digitised Manuscripts site by following the hyperlinks:
1. MSS Malay B.2, Hikayat Pelanduk Jenaka
2. MSS Malay B.6, Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah
3. MSS Malay B.7, Hikayat Bayan Budiman
4. MSS Malay B.12, Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya
5. MSS Malay D.3, Hikayat Parang Puting
6. MSS Malay D.4, Hikayat Nabi Yusuf
7. Add 12379, Hikayat Isma Yatim
8. Add 12383, Hikayat Carang Kulina
9. Add 12384, Hikayat Hang Tuah
10. Add 12386, Hikayat Perintah Negeri Benggala
11. Add 12393, Hikayat Raja Babi
12. Add 12394, Syair Sultan Maulana
13. Add 12397, Undang-Undang Melaka
14. Or 13295, Taj al-Salatin
15. Or 14734, Sejarah Melayu
16. Mss Eur.D.742/1, f 33a, Letter from Sultan Syarif Kasim of Pontianak to T.S. Raffles, 1811

Following the opening of the exhibition, on 18 August 2018 I gave a talk at the National Library of Singapore on 'Art and Artists in Malay manuscript books', excerpts of which can be watched here:

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


14 August 2015

Paintings of birds from the collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles

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The name of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781—1826) is best known today for his role in the founding of Singapore, and by a hotel there that bears only a nominal connection with him. By profession a colonial administrator, by inclination he was a passionate naturalist with broad interests in the humanities that first revealed themselves in his administration of Java (1811—15).

Portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles. British Library, Raffles MSS Eur D.742.14.6.8

Portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles. British Library, Raffles MSS Eur D.742.14.6.8  noc

In the East India Company he was a somewhat controversial figure, resulting in his being posted to the backwater of Fort Marlborough on the deeply unhealthy west coast of Sumatra (1818—24); here he indulged his hobbies, making substantial collections of naturalia and commissioning Chinese and French artists to illustrate the more spectacular of his finds. Tragically his huge collection was destroyed when packed up on the ship Fame, which in 1824 was to take him and his wife back to England to rejoin their single surviving daughter (in Sumatra Raffles had lost two naturalists and three of his children to fever!)

'Loss of the Fame, East Indiaman'. Engraved by T. Brown.  Published in Stationers Almanack for 1825. British Library, P411.
'Loss of the Fame, East Indiaman'. Engraved by T. Brown.  Published in Stationers Almanack for 1825. British Library, P411.  noc

In the eight weeks until the next ship sailed, he commissioned the artists to remake 44 bird drawings, seven of animals and 27 of plants. These drawings (along with some from his first Oriental period) were preserved by the Raffles family until his indirect descendants, the Drake family, deposited them on permanent loan to the British Library in 1969. In 2007  the collection was purchased for the nation, at which point a significant proportion of them was exhibited in the Central Library, Liverpool and at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The opportunity has now arisen to present a changing selection of these spectacular works in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery, starting with three of the bird paintings – the work of a little-known French artist ‘J. Briois’, who was possibly recruited by Raffles in Calcutta. The following three studies are currently on view. 

Nicobar pigeon, Sumatra, Indonesia, around 1824. Attributed to J. Brios, c. 1824. Watercolour, bodycolour, pencil, gold and silver leaf and gum arabic on paper. British Library, NHD 47/38.
Nicobar pigeon, Sumatra, Indonesia, around 1824. Attributed to J. Brios, c. 1824. Watercolour, bodycolour, pencil, gold and silver leaf and gum arabic on paper. British Library, NHD 47/38.  noc

Female crested fireback,Sumatra, Indonesia, around 1824. Attributed to J. Brios, c. 1824. Watercolour, bodycolour, pencil, gold and silver leaf and gum arabic on paper. British Library, NHD 47/42.
Female crested fireback,Sumatra, Indonesia, around 1824. Attributed to J. Brios, c. 1824. Watercolour, bodycolour, pencil, gold and silver leaf and gum arabic on paper. British Library, NHD 47/42.  noc

Crested fireback, Sumatra, Indonesia, around 1824. Attributed to J. Brios, c. 1824. Watercolour, bodycolour, pencil, gold and silver leaf and gum arabic on paper. British Library, NHD 47/43.
Crested fireback, Sumatra, Indonesia, around 1824. Attributed to J. Brios, c. 1824. Watercolour, bodycolour, pencil, gold and silver leaf and gum arabic on paper. British Library, NHD 47/43.  noc

The  Raffles Family Collection was purchased through the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, Friends of the British Library, Friends of the National Libraries, and John Koh of Singapore.  The BL Shop has a selection of fine art prints, postcards and publications on the Raffles Collection; you can have your own print of the Crested Fireback


Further reading:

Memoir of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles

H.J. Noltie, Raffles’ Ark Redrawn: Natural History Drawings from the Collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.  London: the British Library and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, in association with Bernard Quaritch, 2009.


Henry Noltie, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh  ccownwork


01 September 2014

A new catalogue of Malay and Indonesian manuscripts in British collections

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British libraries and museums hold some of the oldest and most important manuscripts in Malay and other Indonesian languages in the world. Although small by comparison with manuscript holdings in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Netherlands, British collections are especially notable for their antiquity and, in some cases, contain unique copies of important texts.  

Sampul Final
New Edition of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain (Jakarta, 2014), the front cover design based on the wadana (illuminated frame) from the Javanese manuscript Serat Jayalengkara Wulang shown below.

Serat Jayalengkara Wulang, Javanese manuscript copied at the court of Yogyakarta in 1803. One of the many Indonesian manuscripts described in Ricklefs and Voorhoeve (1977: 61), and which has just been digitised. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff.111v-112r.  noc

The publication in 1977 of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections, by M.C. Ricklefs & P. Voorhoeve (Oxford University Press), was a landmark event. Merle Ricklefs, whose main interest was in Javanese, was at the time Lecturer in the History of Southeast Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Petrus Voorhoeve (1899-1995) was formerly Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts at Leiden University Library, and a great expert on the languages of Sumatra – ranging from Acehnese and the various Batak dialects in the north to Lampung and Rejang in the south – as well as on Malay and Arabic. The catalogue listed over 1,200 manuscripts in the indigenous languages of Indonesia (except Papua), Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and the Philippines, including those in Cham and Malagasy, found in British public collections. Catalogue entries included names of authors, scribes, owners and collectors, dates and places of writing, watermarks and paper. The 1977 volume was soon followed by an Addenda et corrigenda, published in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1982, listing a further 92 manuscripts.

When I joined the British Library in 1986, I very soon became aware of how difficult my task as Curator for Maritime Southeast Asia would have been without the helping hand of ‘Ricklefs & Voorhoeve’.  As the indispensible guide to the British Library’s own collection of nearly five hundred manuscripts in Malay, Javanese, Balinese, Batak, Bugis, Makasarese, Old Javanese, I found myself consulting the book on a daily basis in order to answer enquiries about the British Library collections, and to select and describe manuscripts for exhibition, and, more recently, for digitisation.

Front cover of Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977).

While ‘Ricklefs & Voorhoeve’ continued to be of enormous value to scholars of the languages, literatures, cultures and history of maritime Southeast Asia, it became increasingly difficult to find a copy in bookshops. And so in March 2013, Arlo Griffiths, director of the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient in Jakarta, agreed to republish the catalogue in the EFEO’s valuable series Naskah dan Dokumen Nusantara (Manuscripts and documents from maritime Southeast Asia). The New Edition, which was published in Jakarta last month by EFEO in collaboration with Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, and with the support of the National Library of the Republic of Indonesia and the British Library, presents facsimiles of the original 1977 catalogue and the Addenda et corrigenda of 1982, together with a new supplement of 2014 describing 155 manuscripts not included in the previous editions.

The 155 additional manuscripts cover the following languages: Balinese (15), Batak (11), Bugis (2), Cham (1), Javanese (31), Maguindanao (1), Malay (86), Minangkabau (2), Old Javanese (5) and Tausug (1).  Nearly three-quarters of the total (114) are held in the British Library, and include both long-held but newly-documented manuscripts in Austronesian languages - such as the treaties in Tausug and Malay signed with the sultanate of Sulu in the 1760s, and vocabulary lists in various Indonesian languages collected by servants of the East India Company - and recent acquisitions, such as two Malay manuscripts of Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah transferred to the British Library from the University of Lampeter in Wales in 2003. Notable finds in other institutions include four Batak manuscripts acquired by the University of Hull from the estate of Dr Harry Parkin - author of Batak fruit of Hindu thought (1978) - and now held in the Hull History Centre; six Malay and one Balinese manuscript formerly belonging to Sir Harold Bailey and now in the Ancient India and Iran Trust in Cambridge; and a Malay manuscript of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. Shown below are some of the newly-described manuscripts.

Or.16802, f.4r (RH)

Illustrated Balinese manuscript on palm leaf with scenes from Ādiparwa, with the (unusual) use of red pigment in addition to black ink. Acquired in Bali in late 1938 by George and Ethel Fasal and donated by their daughter Jenny Fasal in 2010. British Library, Or.16802, f.4r (detail).  noc

Or.15026, ff.188v-189r

Panji romance, Javanese manuscript with 39 coloured drawings, dated 7 May 1861. British Library, Or.15026, ff.188v-189r.  noc


Genealogical chart in the form of a tree of the rulers of Java, from Adam to Pakuwana IV (of Surakarta) and Mataram IV (Hamengkubuwana IV of Yogykarta), in a Javanese manuscript, Papakem Pawukon, said to have come from Kyai Suradimanggala, Bupati sepuh of Demak, 1814/5. Formerly from the India Office Library collection. British Library, Or.15932, f.72r.  noc

Or.14808, f.a 27

Pustaha, Batak manuscript of Simalungun provenance, written on folded treebark, containing Poda ni suman-suman ma inon, instructions on the art of controlling forces by invoking the supernatural. British Library, Or.14808, f.a 27.  noc

AIIT Malay 1 (4)

Malay manuscript of Sejarah Melayu, 'Malay Annals', with an ownership note of D.F.A. Hervey, 1 May 1876. Ancient India and Iran Trust, Malay 1.  noc


M.C.Ricklefs & P.Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

M.C.Ricklefs & P.Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: addenda et corrigenda.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1982, Vol.XLV, Part 2, pp.300-322.

M.C.Ricklefs, P.Voorhoeve† & 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.  (Naskah dan Dokumen Nusantara; XXXIII). ISBN France 978-2-85539-189-2.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


29 January 2014

Rare Malay newspaper in the Wellcome Library

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This blog is normally used to present items from the British Library’s collections, but today I would like to introduce a Malay gem from a neighbouring institution in London. The Wellcome Library, housed at 186 Euston Road, was founded on the collections of Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936).  Best known for its medical materials, the Wellcome also holds important Asian collections especially pertaining to medicine, divination and magic, including Malay, Batak and Javanese manuscripts (described in Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1982).   

Last week Wellcome Images was launched, making over 100,000 images freely available for download and reuse, in both low and high resolution.  A search on the keyword ‘Malay’ yielded a wealth of items including Malay manuscripts on magic, photographs of Sarawak and Penang, and watercolour drawings of Singapore and Johor.  But the most exciting item to me was a copy of an early Malay newspaper published in Singapore in 1877, no other copies of which are known to survive anywhere else in the world: Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar, ‘The revolution of the sun and the moon’.  

Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar, issue no.20, 30 August 1877.  Wellcome Library, Malay collection / Hervey collection / Pamphlets / 1.  noc

The publication of the title was first noted in January 1880 by E.W. Birch, who mentioned Peridaran Shamsu Walkamer as one of two early Malay newspapers that had ‘after a short run, died out’.  When William Roff published his seminal guide to pre-war Malay periodicals in 1972, although no copies had been traced he guessed that the paper was hand-lithographed.  The existence of a copy of this rare newspaper in the D.F.A. Hervey collection in the Wellcome Library was first brought to light by Ellen, Hooker & Milner (1981: 92), but as their article was mainly about Hervey's Malay manuscripts, not many scholars of early Malay printing were alerted to this discovery.  In 1992, Ahmat Adam noted a contemporary reference in the Padang newspaper Bentara Melajoe, no.8, of 8 May 1887, which mentioned that Peridaran was a weekly, first published on 19 April 1877, and that the editor ‘had studied with Keasberry and Abdullah Munsyi’.  Benjamin Peach Keasberry (1811-1875) was an American missionary who had pioneered lithographic printing in Singapore, while Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir Munsyi (1796-1854) - a renowned Malay writer, scribe and teacher, and author of the Hikayat Abdullah (1849) - had first learned typeset printing from missionaries in Melaka, and later worked with Keasberry at his lithographic press at Bukit Zion in Singapore.

The issue of Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar shown here is no.20, dated 30 August 1877, with its 8 pages numbered 160-167, and it is indeed lithographed.  From information on the front page, the newspaper appeared every Thursday, and cost 15 cents per issue.  The list of agents covers not only the states of the Malay peninsula but also further afield: Johor and Teluk Belanga, Melaka, Kelang – Selangor, Pulau Pinang, Betawi [present-day Jakarta], Padang, Pontianak and Sarawak.  As well as articles on Aceh and Cirebon and the Russo-Turkish war, of great interest is the main story on the front page: a portion of the serialised Pelayaran Ibrahim Munsyi, ‘The voyages of Ibrahim Munsyi’.  This account by Ibrahim, Dato’ Bentara Dalam of Johor (d. 1904) and son of Abdullah Munsyi, was previously believed to have been printed for the first time posthumously in 1919 (Sweeney & Phillips 1975: xxxii).   Hervey had studied Malay with Ibrahim, and this might be a reason why he kept this issue of the newspaper.

The first Malay newspaper to be published in Singapore was the typeset Jawi Peranakkan, launched in 1876.  However, the earliest surviving copies of this title, which are held in the British Library, only date from March 1881.  This leaves the Wellcome Library’s copy of Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar of August 1877 not just the only known issue of this title, but also as the oldest known surviving issue of a Malay newspaper from Singapore.

OP434_0001_c0149-06_page 1
The oldest surviving issue of Jawi Peranakkan, vol.5, no.214, 28 March 1881.  British Library, OP 434.  noc

Further reading

Ahmat Adam, Sejarah dan bibliografi akhbar dan majalah Melayu abad kesembilan belas.  Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1992.
E.W. Birch, The vernacular press in the Straits. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1879, (4):51-5.
R.F. Ellen, M.B. Hooker and A.C. Milner, The Hervey Malay Collections in the Wellcome Institute.  Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1981, 54 (1): 82-92.
M.C. Ricklefs & P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: addenda et corrigenda.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1982, Vol.XLV, Part 2, pp.300-322.
William R. Roff, Bibliography of Malay and Arabic periodicals published in the Straits Settlements and Peninsular Malay States, 1876-1941. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Amin Sweeney and Nigel Phillips. The voyages of Mohamed Ibrahim Munsyi.  Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia