Asian and African studies blog

276 posts categorized "South East Asia"

05 December 2022

A book of Malay pantuns from Portugal

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to sail around the southern tip of Africa and across the Indian Ocean to reach India and then Southeast Asia. In 1511 Portuguese forces captured Melaka, the greatest Malay kingdom in Southeast Asia, and held it until 1641. Throughout the 16th century armed Portuguese envoys-cum-merchants roamed across the Malay archipelago in search of spices, without competition from northern European traders, who only arrived on the scene at the turn of the 17th century. It is thus a source of consternation that almost no Malay or other vernacular Southeast Asian manuscripts can be found today in Portugal, compared with the many hundreds held in Britain, the Netherlands, France and Germany. Admittedly, the oldest surviving paper manuscript in Arabic script from Southeast Asia – a letter in Arabic of 1516 from the ruler of Pasai in Sumatra to the Portuguese governor of Goa in India – is held in the Torre do Tombo Archives in Lisbon, as are the two earliest known Malay manuscript letters, from Ternate in 1521 and 1522. But not a single Malay manuscript volume or ‘book’ is known to be held in Portugal.

Livro de Pantuns: um Manuscrito Asiático do Museo Nacional de Arqueologia, LisboaIvo Castro, Hugo C. Cardoso, Alan Baxter, Alexander Adelaar, and Gijs Koster (eds), Livro de Pantuns: um Manuscrito Asiático do Museo Nacional de Arqueologia, Lisboa / Book of Pantuns: an Asian Manuscript of the National Museum of Archeology, Lisbon (Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional, 2022).  British Library (shelfmark forthcoming). 

Therefore, the news of the recent publication this year of Livro de Pantuns / Book of Pantuns, presenting a manuscript containing Malay pantun or quatrains, from the collection of the National Museum of Archaeology, Lisbon, was greeted with much interest all over the world. The manuscript was said to date probably to the late 17th/early 18th century, and contained a number of sequences of poems written in both Portuguese creole and Malay in romanised script, created and circulated in the mixed Mardijker communities of Tugu and Batavia around present-day Jakarta in Java. Would this discovery perhaps lead to the unearthing of other Malay manuscripts long hidden in repositories in Portugal?

We are most grateful to the publishers for kindly sending a copy to the British Library, and as soon as it arrived on my desk, I eagerly unwrapped the package to browse the volume. To my surprise, it transpired that the manuscript had not, as I had assumed, been resting undisturbed for several centuries in Portugal since making its way to Europe from Java (p. 97). Instead, it had first surfaced in London in around 1865, in the hands of the now venerable but then newly-established antiquarian bookseller, Bernard Quaritch (whose firm has just celebrated its 175th birthday). The purchaser, Ernst Reinhold Rost (1822-1896), was a polymath linguist who had close connections both with the British Library and Malay scholarship: from 1869 to 1893 he served as Librarian of the India Office, and he also contributed the articles on ‘Malay Language and Literature’, amongst others, to the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Rost was in contact with Hugo Schuchardt (1842-1927), a professor at Graz in Austria who had a lifelong interest in creoles or dialectal variants formed through contact between European and other languages. The Pantuns manuscript was of enormous interest to Schuchardt, to whom Rost sent the manuscript in 1885, initially on loan before formally gifting it in August 1895 (pp. 98-99). On his own death in 1927, Schuchardt in turn bequeathed the manuscript to a Portuguese scholar, José Leite de Vasconcelos (1858-1941), who had visited Graz especially to study the book. Leite was the founder of the National Museum of Archaeology in Lisbon, and on his death his papers and collections were all willed to the Museum. However, as Leite never mentioned that the Malay manuscript was in his possession, it was only ‘rediscovered’ in a box in the Museum in 2018 (p. 96) – which happy event led to the publication of the present book.

This fully bilingual book is a rich collaboration between a large number of scholars, with detailed contextual studies on the history of the manuscript by Ivo Castro and Hugo C. Cardoso; on the ‘Portuguese-lexified Creole’ verses by Alan Baxter and Cardoso; on the Malay poems by Gijs Koster; and on the spelling and language of the Malay used by Alexander Adelaar. As shown below, the manuscript itself is presented generously and impeccably, with a beautifully printed full facsimile accompanied on each page with a diplomatic transcription of the text. This is followed by the edition proper in which the Malay pantuns appear in turn in diplomatic transcription, modernised spelling, modern Malay rendering, Portuguese translation and English translation, with full bilingual annotations at the foot of each page for easy reference.

Facsimile of the manuscript
Facsimile of the manuscript, with the diplomatic transcription of the text in the margins of each page. Livro de Pantuns, pp. 224-225

Text edition of the manuscript, presented in five columns
Text edition of the manuscript, presented in five columns, with on the left hand page first the diplomatic transcription of the Malay, followed by the modernised spelling in the centre and then the modern Malay rendering. On the right hand page are the Portuguese and English translations of the Malay. Livro de Pantuns, pp. 332-333.

I chose the pages above because they contain the section entitled Panton Dari Sitie Lela maijan, ‘The poem about Siti Lela Mayang’, which, as Gijs Koster explains (p. 138), bears strong similarities in parts to a well-known narrative poem called Syair Sinyor Kosta, ‘Poem on Sinyor Kosta’. This poem is also known as Syair Silambari, and is found in the Malay manuscript shown below (MSS Malay B 3), from the collection of the India Office Library and now held in the British Library, copied in Penang in 1806 by the scribe Ibrahim.  The Penang version begins with this verse:

Penang, 1806:
Ada satu silam bari / bunga kembang dini hari
pari bijak si Peringgi / kita karang satu nyanyi

In a tale from long ago / A flower blossomed in the early morning
About the wisdom of that Portuguese / I have composed a song

While the Batavia 'Panton', written down perhaps a century and a quarter earlier, begins:
Ayo silam konon bari  / kembang bunga dini hari
kita karang satu nyanyi / akan bijak si Peranggi

Long ago, they say, in the distant past / A flower blossomed in the early morning
I have composed a song / About the wisdom of that Portuguese

And indeed, the next quatrain in the Penang manuscript - introducing Siti Lela Mayang - occurs on the following page of the Batavia manuscript too. Hearing exactly the same phrases and words in the Batavia panton and the opening of the Penang syair, even with the lines transposed, hints at just how familiar this repertory of verses would have been to the audiences of port cities throughout the Malay world in the 17th and 18th centuries. It furthermore illustrates the crucial importance of the Lisbon manuscript as an early chronological marker for the circulation of these poems.

It is tempting to wonder whether Reinhold Rost ever considered presenting his Malay manuscript of pantuns to the India Office Library, to join its 'sibling' Syair Silambari MSS Malay B.3.  However, if this had happened, it is unlikely that the Livro de Pantuns / Book of Pantuns would have benefitted from the combined attentions of such an impressive array of experts as has been assembled in Lisbon, resulting in this wonderful new publication.

Syair Silambari, copied by Ibrahim, Penang, 1806-MSS Malay B.3  ff.22v-23r
Syair Silambari, Malay narrative poem, copied by Ibrahim, Penang, 1806. MSS Malay B 3, ff. 22v-23r   

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

 

28 November 2022

Batik designs in a Javanese manuscript: Serat Damar Wulan

Serat Damar Wulan (MSS Jav 89) is probably the earliest surviving fully illustrated Javanese manuscript, and is full of lively and humorous scenes of everyday life in late 18th-century Java. In this guest blog Dr Fiona Kerlogue examines the clothes and textiles depicted in Serat Damar Wulan, extracted from her new book on the history of batik, Batik: Traces through time (2021), which is illustrated by collections in the National Museum of the Czech Republic.

The earliest compelling evidence indicating how batik was once worn is a copiously illustrated manuscript entitled Serat Damar Wulan (MSS Jav 89) presented to the library of the East India Company (and now in the British Library) by Lieutenant-Colonel Raban, the former Resident of Cirebon, in January 1815. Although the manuscript was said to be 200 years old, watermarks in the paper indicate that it more likely dates from the late 18th century. Whether the manuscript was written and illustrated in Cirebon or elsewhere is another question. The absence in the clothing depicted of three batik patterns generally regarded by modern commentators as quintessential and historic Cirebon designs – megamendung (clouds); taman arum (perfumed garden); and peksinagaliman (a mythical composite animal) – suggests that a Cirebon origin is unlikely.

DW f.10r
Figure 1. Damar Wulan kneels before Layang Setra and Layang Kumir, all three wearing jarit, or kain panjang. Serat Damar Wulan. British Library MSS Jav. 89, f. 10r Noc

The legend of Damar Wulan is associated with East Java, centring as it does on the Majapahit kingdom and especially its vassal state Blambangan (now Banyuwangi), which was located in the easternmost part of Java between the 13th and 18th centuries. The story seems to be based on events which took place in the early 15th century, when war broke out between Majapahit and Blambangan, ending in the defeat of Blambangan.

The story is particularly significant in relation to costume, partly because of the changes in status which the characters undergo and how these are reflected in the clothes they wear. The cast includes noblemen and their henchmen, an aristocratic lady, servants, both male and female, soldiers, stallholders and a blacksmith. The central character, Damar Wulan, is a nobleman but is appointed as stable boy to the ruler of Majapahit, and then imprisoned; eventually he himself becomes king of Majapahit. His changes in status are reflected in the clothes he wears; the clothing worn by other actors in the story also indicates their status (Coster-Wijsman 1953).

It seems likely that the clothing in the illustrations, which corresponds quite closely with the descriptions of clothing in Raffles’ slightly later History of Java, published in 1817, reflects quite accurately the type of clothing worn at the time the drawings were made. Had they been drawn to reflect clothing of the age in which the story is set, there would not be the European-influenced styles of buttoned long jackets, trews and hats which characterise the clothing of Damar Wulan’s opponents especially. Some of the batik designs depicted can be identified today.

The main characters in the story are Damar Wulan, the hero; Layang Setra and Layang Kumir, the sons of Patih (regent or chief minister) Logender of the Majapahit empire; and Damar Wulan and his servants (panakawan) Sabda Palon and Naya Genggong. Menak Jingga, Damar Wulan’s rival, who threatens the empire and is eventually slain by Damar Wulan at the request of the queen, plays a key role. When he first appears (Figure 1), Damar Wulan is kneeling before Layang Setra and Layang Kumir, wearing a batik jarit decorated in bands of different motifs, the bands drawn bent to follow his kneeling posture. Layang Setra and Layang Kumir also wear batik jarit, one (on the left) with a parang or ‘knife’ design, the other with a semen pattern. The parang design marks the wearer as a man of high status, an aristocrat, and Damar Wulan’s attitude is appropriately respectful. All three skirt cloths have a dotted or striped border along the lower edge. The elaborately wrapped headcloths worn by the two nobles have pengada borders. The two servants wear skirt cloths with simple triangular and check patterns, probably representing simple country-style batik.

DW f.05r
Figure 2. A woman of high status waxing a batik headcloth. Serat Damar Wulan. British Library MSS Jav. 89, f. 5r   Noc

Figure 2, showing a woman of high status waxing a batik headcloth, occurs early in the manuscript. She is the daughter of Ki Buyut Paluhomba, the wife of the minister Patih Udara, who was the brother of Patih Logender and his predecessor as chief minister of Majapahit. The cloth hangs over a wooden or bamboo rack, gawangan, which supports it while the wax is applied. It has a plain white tengahan in the centre, a main field where motifs are set against a ground filled with parallel lines as the filling motif, or isen, and a pengada with short stripes arranged in pairs, separated from the main field by a white border with uneven or wavy edges. Her father’s skirt cloth has a pattern of circular or floral motifs arranged at the intersections of the squares into which the field is divided.

DW f.136r
Figure 3. Four captive princesses wearing symmetrical designs arranged in squares on their skirt cloths. Serat Damar Wulan.  British Library, MSS Jav. 89, f. 136r  Noc

Symmetrical designs arranged in squares repeating across the field feature frequently in skirt cloths in the manuscript, as shown in Figure 3. This type of pattern is known as ceplokan, and was one of the most common design types in the 19th century, at least in Central Java. This type of design persisted into the 20th century.

In the manuscript there are frequent depictions of women’s breast cloths, or kemben, with patterned or plain lozenges. These are worn by nearly all the women, including stall holders and court ladies. In one scene Kencanawungu, the maiden queen of Majapahit, on a raised platform on the right, receives the widow of the ruler of Tuban, who is fainting on the left (Figure 4). She is accompanied by her daughter and other women, who wear a variety of designs on their kemben. The queen herself is wearing an exotic upper garment, probably intending to represent a richly embroidered cloth rather than batik. The tall woman at the centre is the bereaved mother. Her kemben is decorated with cemukiran around the tengahan, befitting her status. Elsewhere in the manuscript the most common kemben has a red central lozenge.

DW f.59r
Figure 4. The maiden queen of Majapahit receives the widow of the ruler of Tuban. Serat Damar Wulan. British Library, MSS Jav. 89 f. 59r Noc

All of the male characters of high status appear in dodot, in a variety of designs. In one scene, the villain Menak Jingga wears a dodot with a striking cemukiran (Figure 5). His dodot is lifted high, revealing a good length of trouser and reflecting his high status. Menak Jingga tends to wear ostentatious clothing, always with a huge parang design on his dodot as opposed to that worn by the ruler of the smaller polity, Tuban, whose lesser status is revealed in the smaller size of his motifs, and by Patih Logender.

DW f.106v
Figure 5. Menak Jingga wearing a dodot with a very large pattern. Serat Damar Wulan. British Library, MSS Jav. 89, f. 106v  Noc

Once his noble birth is revealed Damar Wulan wears a plain red dodot, perhaps symbolic of his courage, and towards the end of the story, when his status is elevated further, cemukiran appear. When Damar Wulan is visited in the stables by Patih Logender’s daughter, Anjasmara, he is wearing a humble lurik skirt cloth (Figure 6); later in the story, as king of Majapahit he wears a dodot (Figure 7).

DW f.18r
Figure 6. Damar Wulan (left) wears a simple lurik skirt cloth, while Anjasmara wears batik. Serat Damar Wulan. British Library, MSS Jav. 89, f. 18r  Noc

DW f.179r
Figure 7. Damar Wulan, now king, wears a red dodot. Serat Damar Wulan.  British Library, MSS Jav. 89, f. 179r  Noc

His two servants, Sabda Palon and Naya Genggong, begin the story in short trousers made of lurik (Figure 8) but by the end one of them, too, is wearing a dodot (Figure 9). There is humour in this pretentious adoption of the clothing of a man of power, but through his loyalty to his master he has earned the right to wear it.

DW f.116v
Figure 8. Damar Wulan’s servants in short trousers of striped lurik early in the story. Serat Damar Wulan. British Library, MSS Jav. 89, f. 116v  Noc

DW f.206r
Figure 9. Now ennobled, Damar Wulan’s servants have adopted superior garments, and have servants of their own wearing lurik. Serat Damar Wulan. British Library, MSS Jav. 89, f. 206r  Noc

The patterns drawn in these illustrations reveal the way in which clothing, and in particular batik clothing, was worn to express both status and character in Java at the end of the 18th century. In the century which followed, great changes took place, with the introduction of new ideas and techniques that led to the development of both commercially-produced, low-quality batik for the masses and batik of exceptionally high quality, workmanship and beauty.

Further reading

This blog has been extracted from: Fiona Kerlogue, Batik. Traces through time. Batik Collections in the National Museum – Náprstek Museum. Vydání první. (Prague: National Museum, 2021. ISBN 978-80-7036-673-8), pp. 56-63.

All the pictorial scenes in the Serat Damar Wulan (MSS Jav 89) are described in: Coster-Wijsman, L. ‘Illustrations in a Javanese manuscript’. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1953, 109 (2): 153-163.

Fiona Kerlogue Ccownwork

Fiona Kerlogue was formerly Assistant Keeper of Anthropology at the Horniman Museum.

21 November 2022

Three northern Thai manuscripts from Carl Bock’s collection

A currently ongoing initiative to add provenance details to catalogue records of manuscripts in the British Library’s Thai, Lao and Cambodian collections  has brought to light that three palm leaf manuscripts were previously part of Carl Bock’s collection of Southeast Asian artefacts. Carl Alfred Bock (1849-1932) was a Norwegian natural scientist and explorer, who travelled in Southeast Asia between 1878 to 1882. A zoological collecting trip took him first to Sumatra, followed by an expedition to gather information on the peoples of Borneo for Johan Willem van Lansberge, governor-general of the Dutch East Indies. In 1881 Bock travelled to Siam (Thailand) for fourteen months on a mission to collect botanical and zoological specimens, with the backing of the Zoological Society in London and the financial support of the Scottish Marquis of Tweddale, William M. Haye, an enthusiastic botanist. What Bock brought back from his expedition was much more than natural specimens though.

mpression of Carl Bock and his team during the expedition to Borneo
Impression of Carl Bock and his team during the expedition to Borneo. Lithograph by C. F. Kell of Castle St, Holborn, London, published in The head-hunters of Borneo by Carl Bock (London, 1881).  British Library, V10009, plate 29. Noc

With the permission and support of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), Bock travelled on a steamer up the Chao Phraya river, then continued on smaller boats on the Ping river to Chiang Mai, and finally by boat and elephant further north to Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen on the Mekong. He had to promise the king to refrain from any political allusions and was accompanied by Siamese soldiers. In the northern regions he passed through Tak, Lamphun, Lakhon, and Fang. Bock met Lao- and Shan-speaking people in the larger settlements along the rivers and was closely observed, and sometimes delayed, by local rulers. He noted that from Tak northwards it became increasingly difficult to move around and to purchase objects because Siamese money was not recognised, nor were the visa and letters issued by the Siamese government and the king. He concluded that the border between Siam and the polities of Lao-speaking people was running near Tak by the River Ping.

Bock’s travel route from Bangkok to Chiang Saen and back
Bock’s travel route from Bangkok to Chiang Saen and back, published in Temples and Elephants: The Narrative of a Journey of Exploration Through Upper Siam and Lao by Carl Bock (London, 1884). British Library, T 38901, p. [xv] Noc

During the expedition Bock acquired – normally by way of negotiations and purchase using Siamese Baht and Rupees of British Burma - objects of everyday use like textiles, hats, baskets, Bencharong porcelain, silverware, lacquerware, amulets, jewellery, small Buddha and Bodhisatta images, musical instruments, knives, daggers, opium weights, traditional medicines, an ivory seal, palm leaf manuscripts etc. Nearly 400 objects from Bock’s collection – including objects from Indonesia - are kept in the British Museum.

Text passage in Northern Thai Dhamma script from a text on Buddhist psychology, Mahawibak, incised on palm leaf, dated 1856
Text passage in Northern Thai Dhamma script from a text on Buddhist psychology, Mahawibak, incised on palm leaf, dated 1856. From the collection of Carl Bock. British Library, Or 2629, first bundle Noc

Three palm leaf manuscripts that were originally part of Bock’s collection at the British Museum were transferred to the British Library in or shortly after 1973. All three are incised in Dhamma (or Tham) script, seen in the image above, which was used in the historical kingdoms of Lanna (northern Thailand) and Lan Sang (Laos and north-eastern Thailand). They are not by the same scribe since the writing styles differ, and there are also some physical differences. Or 2629 consists of eleven palm leaf bundles with gilt and red lacquered edges. They contain a variety of Buddhists texts, mainly in Pali language, including one chapter from the Vessantara Jataka.

Nine palm leaf bundles containing the Mahosadha Jataka in Northern Thai Dhamma script, held together with wooden sticks to form one large manuscript, dated 1842
Nine palm leaf bundles containing the Mahosadha Jataka in Northern Thai Dhamma script, held together with wooden sticks to form one large manuscript, dated 1842. From the collection of Carl Bock. British Library, Or 2630 Noc

One manuscript that stands out in terms of binding methods is a palm leaf manuscript (Or 2630) consisting of nine bundles that are not bound with a cord, which is usually the case with palm leaf manuscripts in the Thai and Lao traditions, but stacked together using two wooden sticks (shown above). This method is well known in the Burmese manuscript tradition. However, the bundles probably were originally bound with a white-and-red cotton cord with human hair woven in, which was removed and is now kept alongside the manuscript. The edges of the palm leaves are covered with gold and black lacquer. Each bundle contains a chapter from the Mahosadha Jataka in Dhamma script, together with a colophon mentioning 1842 as the year of its creation.

The third manuscript (Or 2631, shown below) consists of palm leaves with gilt and red lacquered edges and wooden covers. The content, six chapters of the Vidhura Jataka (partially fragmented), is written neatly in Dhamma script, in a cursive calligraphy-like style. The leaves are held together with a black cord, however, this cord was inserted later as it is of a more recent make. Originally, the six chapters may have been bound in six separate bundles. Three of the six chapters mention 1860 as the year of creation.

Palm leaf manuscript with wooden covers, containing six chapters of the Vidhura Jataka in northern Thai Dhamma script, dated 1860
Palm leaf manuscript with wooden covers, containing six chapters of the Vidhura Jataka in northern Thai Dhamma script, dated 1860. From the collection of Carl Bock. British Library, Or 2631 Noc

From the shelfmarks with the prefix “Or” of these three manuscripts it was known that they were previously among a large number of manuscripts transferred from the British Museum’s library when it was absorbed into the British Library according to the British Library Act of 1972. To find out more details about the provenance of these manuscripts, the original records from the British Museum, now held in the corporate archive of the British Library, had to be consulted. With the help of Records and Archives Assistant Victoria Ogunsanya it was possible to establish that the three manuscripts were purchased from Carl Bock himself and accessioned into the British Museum collections on 22 November 1882, shortly after his return from mainland Southeast Asia.

We have no certainty as to where and how Bock acquired the manuscripts, but he reported that in Lakhon he was shown the temple library on stilts at Wat Luang: “Passing through a trap-door in this upper floor – the door is always religiously bolted against intruders – we enter a room containing a number of large chests, coloured red or black and decorated with figures or scroll-work in gold-leaf, in which the sacred palm leaf MSS are kept. Each volume is carefully wrapped in a gay-coloured cloth, and the chests are kept closely locked.” (Bock, 1884, p. 167)

Acquisition records for Or 2629 and Or 2630
Acquisition records for Or 2629 and Or 2630 in BLCA/S81/01 (DH40/1): British Museum, Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts: Registers of Oriental Manuscripts, Or.1 - Or.3480 (1867-1886)

Bock published his observations and experiences in a book with the title Temples and Elephants: The Narrative of a Journey of Exploration Through Upper Siam and Lao (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1884), which was translated into various languages (Norwegian 1884, German 1885, French 1889, Thai 1962) and re-published several times (Bangkok 1985, Singapore 1986, Geneva 2013, Nonthaburi 2019).
Other works by Bock include academic articles in Proceedings from the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London (1878, 1879, and 1881) and the book The Head-Hunters of Borneo: a narrative of Travel up the Mahakkam and down the Barito; also, Journeyings in Sumatra (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1881).

Bang Pa-In Palace on the Chao Phraya river near Ayutthaya
Lithograph depicting the Bang Pa-In Palace on the Chao Phraya river near Ayutthaya, published in Temples and Elephants: The Narrative of a Journey of Exploration Through Upper Siam and Lao by Carl Bock (London, 1884). British Library, T 38901, p. [70] Noc

Apart from natural specimens, cultural artefacts and information about the peoples of northern Thailand, Bock reportedly brought back a young girl named Krao who was born with hypertrichosis. Although there is no mention in Bock’s publications of Krao or of one Professor George G. Shelly who had apparently accompanied Bock on his expedition, newspaper articles and numerous advertisements featuring Krao were published upon their return to Europe. They believed that in Krao they had found Darwin’s “missing link between man and ape”, and she was exhibited in Farini’s “wonder shows” in London and New York. It soon became very clear that Krao, who after only a few months had learned to speak some English and German, had acquired basic reading and writing skills, and was able to entertain large crowds of people with wit and humour, was more human than those who had taken her from her family and her world. Later she had a successful career in the show business and toured the US and Europe until her death from influenza in 1926.

Advertisement for “Krao, the ‘missing link’” shows in London in January 1883
Advertisement for “Krao, the ‘missing link’” shows in London in January 1883. British Library, Evan.2474 Noc

After his expeditions in Southeast Asia, Bock joined the diplomatic service and became Norwegian-Swedish vice-consul in Shanghai in 1886, then consul-general in Shanghai in 1893, consul in Antwerp in 1899, and consul-general in Lisbon from 1900 to 1903. He travelled in Sichuan and Tibet in 1893. From 1906 until his death in 1932 he lived in Brussels.

Further reading
Men living in trees. Timaru Herald, vol. XL, issue 3198, 26 December 1884, p. 3.
Nielsen, Flemming Winther: Carl Bock: a scientist among ghosts and white elephants. Scandasia, 10 December 2011.
Nielsen, Flemming Winther: Carl Bock (2): the wilderness and the power. Scandasia, 28 February 2012.
Explorers of South-East Asia: Six Lives, ed. Victor T King, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Collections Ccownwork

07 November 2022

Manuscript Textiles in the Southeast Asian collections

A Chevening Fellowship is currently being hosted for twelve months by the Library’s Asian and African Collections department with the aim of researching and cataloguing manuscript textiles in the Southeast Asian collections. The Library holds about 3000 manuscripts from Southeast Asia, forming the largest and most significant collection of Southeast Asian manuscripts in the UK. Highlights include illustrated paper folding books and gilded manuscript chests from Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, rare palm leaf manuscripts from Cambodia, Laos and northern Thailand, royal letters in Malay from the courts of the archipelago, some of the earliest known Batak divination manuals from Sumatra, as well as unique royal letters and edicts from Vietnam and Thailand.

Palm leaf manuscript containing a Buddhist commentary, from central Thailand c. 1824-52, with a silk wrapping cloth with gold thread, of Indian origin, made to order for the Thai royal court. British Library, Or 5107
Palm leaf manuscript containing a Buddhist commentary, from central Thailand c. 1824-52, with a silk wrapping cloth with gold thread, of Indian origin, made to order for the Thai royal court. British Library, Or 5107 Noc

Within this body of material, recent digitisation projects and exhibitions have brought to light over one hundred manuscript textiles - either wrapped around or attached to manuscripts as a form of protective cover or binding - without or with only minimal documentation and cataloguing data. Often the textiles were custom-made for one particular manuscript, and such objects could be made from valuable hand-woven silk brocades, ikat fabrics, dyed or printed cotton and imported materials like chintz and silk damask. Specially designed textiles were commissioned to add meritorious value to a Buddhist manuscript or to an entire set of Buddhist texts. Sometimes discarded textiles like monks’ robes, used and unused clothes of deceased people, or leftover pieces of cloths made for other purposes were utilised to create beautiful manuscript textiles.

The provenance of these textiles is often difficult to establish due to the lack of recorded information in the Library's catalogues and acquisition records. Another reason is that some of the manuscript textiles appear to be of a different date than the manuscripts themselves, and some may originate from a different place than the manuscripts they belong to, since there was a practice to replace worn out or damaged manuscript textiles with new ones to provide protection to the manuscripts.

Methaporn Singhanan on her first day as Chevening Fellow at the British Library, September 2022
Methaporn Singhanan on her first day as Chevening Fellow at the British Library, September 2022

The Chevening Fellow who is currently surveying and assessing these under-researched and often fragile Southeast Asian manuscript textiles is Methaporn Singhanan, a Ph.D. student from the Social Science Faculty at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, where she is also running a volunteer project to conserve Buddhist arts in northern Thailand. Her upcoming dissertation focuses on Southeast Asian textiles and trade routes, highlighting the importance of textiles as a source of information about the world's economy and trade links between countries and continents. Methaporn Singhanan has over seven years of experience as a curator at the Money and Textile Museum, Bank of Thailand, Northern Region Office, where she worked with textiles and curated exhibitions. She holds a B.A. in History as well as an M.A. in Art and Cultural Management from Chiang Mai University. Before joining the Bank of Thailand in 2013, Methaporn Singhanan worked as a historian for the Northern Archaeology Center (NAC) at Chiang Mai University, where she assisted in the conservation of artifacts from temples and the establishment of a local museum in northern Thailand. Her knowledge and expertise will help to provide comprehensive catalogue records and to plan and inform future conservation work and public engagement with the manuscript textiles.

Shan paper manuscript bound with a patterned cotton cloth cover and a felt binding ribbon, Shan State, first half of the 20th century. British Library, Or 15368
Shan paper manuscript bound with a patterned cotton cloth cover and a felt binding ribbon, Shan State, first half of the 20th century. British Library, Or 15368. From the collection of Søren Egerod. Noc

The aims of this project are not only to identify the Library’s holdings of Southeast Asian manuscript textiles dating mainly from the 18th to the 20th century, but also to document in detail the materials, size, estimated age, pattern, technique of creation, country of origin, provenance and general condition of each item and, where possible, to recommend which items should be prioritised for conservation treatment. Methaporn Singhanan works closely with the Library’s curators of Southeast Asian collections to share information about these manuscript textiles internally, especially with colleagues in the Library’s Conservation Centre, as well as externally with organisations in the UK and abroad that have an interest in the curation and conservation of Asian textiles.

Chevening is the UK government’s international awards scheme aimed at developing global leaders. Funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and partner organisations, Chevening offers fellowships to mid-career professionals to undertake a bespoke short course in the UK.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Collections Ccownwork
Methaporn Singhanan, Chevening Fellow at the British Library 2022-23 Ccownwork

17 October 2022

Verhandelingen: a rare 1816 issue of a periodical printed in Java

The Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, or Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences, was established in Batavia in 1778. Founded by the botanist Jacob Radermacher, the Bataviaasch Genootschap is the oldest learned society in Asia founded by Europeans. After a failed attempt to gain the patronage of Stadtholder Willem V (1748–1806; William V, Prince of Orange), the governors of the BG focussed their attentions on their publication Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap der Kunsten en Wetenschappen, ‘Transactions of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences’.  They envisaged Verhandelingen as a vehicle for building an academic reputation in Holland and more widely in Europe, modelling themselves on the Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen (Dutch Society of Sciences) in Haarlem.

A view of Batavia
A view of Batavia, the capital of the Dutch Settlements in India, by John Wells, ca. 1800. British Library, P 494 Noc

The editors (governors) of Verhandelingen announced competitions to attract contributions, with limited success. Therefore, many of the articles were written by the editors themselves. Both Radermacher and Van Iperen wrote no fewer than three articles for Vol. 1 (printed in 1779 and 1781) and van Hogendorp wrote two, including one jointly with Radermacher. Perhaps due partly to a shortage of material, during the course of the 18th century only six volumes of Verhandelingen were published: Vol. 1 in the year after its founding, in 1779, Vol. 2 in 1780, Vol. 3 in 1787, Vol. 4 in 1786 (sic), Vol. 5 in 1790 and Vol. 6 in 1792.

These early volumes of Verhandelingen are not only extremely rare, but appear to have a complex publication history, with copies of the same volume bearing different dates of printing, and sometimes being reissued at a later date. The British Library holds an incomplete set of Verhandelingen under two main shelfmark series. The earliest volumes - all originating from the private collection of Sir Joseph Banks - are assigned individual shelfmarks in the range 438.k.10-29, which covers Vols 1-15, but in a range of different editions. The earliest are Vol. 1, which contains the ‘Constitution of the Society’, printed in Batavia in 1781 and held at 438.k.13, and two issues of Vol. 2 held at 438.k.15 and 438.k.14, while copies of a third edition of Vols 1 and 2, printed in Batavia in 1825 and 1826, are also held as 438.k.28 and 438.k.29.

Because of the Society’s academic ambitions, as mentioned above, the governors also looked for printers in the Dutch Republic to print Dutch/European editions of the volumes published in Batavia. They commissioned the book sellers Arrenberg in Rotterdam and the printer Allard from Amsterdam to do a reprint of the first volume as soon as it had appeared in Batavia. Thus, the first three volumes appeared in the Dutch Republic in 1781, 1784 and 1787 respectively, and are held in the British Library as 438.k.10, 438.k.11 and 438.k.12. These Dutch editions were more elaborate than the Batavian ones, with copper engraved foldout plates in them, although Vol.1 lacks the Constitution. The British Library’s copies of Vols. 4-15 held at the 438.k. shelfmark are all printed in Batavia.

Vol. 13 of Verhandelingen
Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap der Kunsten en Wetenschappen, Vol. 13, printed in Batavia in 1832. British Library, 438.k.25 Noc

By the beginning of the 19th century the Society was almost moribund, but major political changes were then afoot. At the time of the founding of the Bataviaasch Genootschap in 1778, Batavia was the seat of administration of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC), but in 1799 the VOC collapsed into bankruptcy and the governance was taken over by the Dutch state. In the early years of the 19th century, the Napoleonic wars in Europe spilled over into the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. A fleet assembled by the Governor-General of Bengal, Lord Minto, invaded Java in August 1811 and defeated the Franco-Dutch forces. For the next five years, Java was governed by a British administration, with Thomas Stamford Raffles as Lieutenant-Governor, and in 1812 Raffles took over the Presidency of the Batavian Society.

With Raffles’ encouragement, Vol. 7 of Verhandelingen was published in 1814, and was the first to appear mainly in English. It contained an address by Raffles as well as a number of articles by Thomas Horsfield and one each by Colin Mackenzie and John Leyden. The next issue, Vol. 8, published in 1816 – the final year of the British administration of Java – was also mainly in English.

After the departure of the British from Java in 1816, the Verhandelingen reverted to publication in Dutch, with some contributions in French or German. In 1857, on the occasion of the publication of Vol. 25, P. J. Veth wrote a short history of the Society drawing primarily on copies of the Verhandelingen. This appeared in vol. 21 of De Gids (‘The Guide’), the most distinguished literary journal in Holland, of which Veth was the editor (the British Library’s copy is held at 3535.930200 with another copy at P.P.4595). The British Library also holds an incomplete set of later issues of Verhandelingen, shelved at Ac.975/6, dating from 1860 to 1950, when the journal ceased publication. Following Indonesian independence in 1945, by 1962 the Society had essentially ceased activities, but was eventually transformed into the National Museum, with the books and manuscripts joining the newly-formed National Library in 1980.

The initial, English, title page, of the Transactions of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences, Vol. VIII, printed in Batavia in 1816
The initial, English, title page, of the Transactions of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences, Vol. VIII, printed in Batavia in 1816. This is followed by the Dutch title page, of the Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen. British Library, RB.23.a.39867 Noc

We were therefore delighted to be able to acquire recently for the British Library, from Voewood Rare Books, a copy of Vol. 8, printed in Batavia in 1816, which has been assigned the rare book shelfmark of RB.23.a.39867. Vol. 8 contains 10 articles, of which three are in Dutch and seven in English, all paginated separately, starting with an Address from the President, Raffles himself (95 pp). Raffles is also responsible for an account of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 (25 pp), while John Crawfurd contributed the text and English summaries of two 'ancient Javanese' (actually Sanskrit) inscriptions (6 pp).

Contents pages of Vol. 8 of the Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, Batavia, 1816 Continuation of contents pages of Vol. 8 of the Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, Batavia, 1816
Contents pages of Vol. 8 of the Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, Batavia, 1816. British Library, RB.23.a.39867 Noc

The largest number of pages in the volume are occupied by three lengthy articles by Thomas Horsfield, on Medical plants of Java (53 pp), the Mineralogy of Java (47 pp), and a long ‘Essay on the Geography, Mineralogy and Botany, of the Western portion of the territory of the native Princes of Java’ (183 pp), this last essay being the only portion of this volume which is presently widely available digitally. Thomas Horsfield (1773-1859) was an American doctor who first visited Java in 1800. Entranced by the riches of the natural environment, he returned in 1801 and entered the service of the Dutch authorities. His appointment enabled him to carry out intensive research into the geology and natural history of Java, as well as indulging his interest in antiquities. Following the British occupation of Java, he continued his work with Raffles’ encouragement. While on his extensive travels around Java by river, sea and on horseback, Horsfield was constantly sketching, and some of his pictures include in the corner what appears to be a self-portrait: a small drawing of a European man, invariably with a sketchbook. When Horsfield left Java in 1818, he retired to England, where he became the first Keeper of the East India Company’s Museum from 1820 to 1859. Many of his drawings of natural history and antiquities are held today in the British Library.

Pencil sketch of of the ruins of Candi Sari in Central Java, by Thomas Horsfield, with possibly a self-portrait in the bottom right foreground
Pencil sketch of of the ruins of Candi Sari in Central Java, by Thomas Horsfield, with possibly a self-portrait in the bottom right foreground, ca. 1800-1818. British Library, WD 957, f. 9 (99) Noc

References:
Hans Groot, Van Batavia naar Weltevreden; Het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappan, 1778-1867. Leiden: KITLV, 2009. 
Register op de artikelen voorkomende in het Tijdschrift voor Indische taal-land- en volkenkunde en de Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, etc. ‘Index to the articles appearing in the Journal for Indian languages,- country and anthropological studies and the Transactions of the Batavian Society for Arts and Sciences’ by Hinloopen Labberton. Batavia, ‘s Hage, 1908. [An overview of the contents of the Verhandelingen from 1779 to 1907.]
Lian The and Paul W. van der Veur, The Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap: an Annotated Content Analysis. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, Southeast Asia Program, 1973.

Probably the best open access to Verhandelingen is provided by the digitised set available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which - albeit incomplete - ranges from an 1825 printing of Vol. 1 to Vol. 61 of 1915.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator for Southeast Asia, and Marja Kingma, Curator for Dutch collections Ccownwork

26 September 2022

Frederik Jacob Rothenbühler and his wife as collectors of Javanese manuscripts in the early 19th century

This guest blog is by Prof. Peter Carey, University of Indonesia, Jakarta.

As a collector of Javanese manuscripts, the name of Frederik Jacob Rothenbühler (1758-1836), has long been recognised. In 1977, when Merle Ricklefs and Peter Voorhoeve first published their benchmark catalogue of Indonesian Manuscripts in Great Britain, the German is mentioned in four entries for Javanese manuscripts from the collection of Col. Colin Mackenzie, Chief Engineer from 1811 to 1813 during the British administration in Java (1811-1816).

Two manuscripts, both Javanese histories or babad, may have derived from the five-day (20-25 June 1812) plunder of the Yogyakarta court library following the British attack on the Sultan’s palace or keraton. MSS Jav 7, Babad Pajajaran, which was dated by Donald E. Weatherbee (2018: 87) to AJ 1713 (1786), is almost certainly from the Yogyakarta keraton as it has a dated note at the back referring to the Swedish army surgeon, 'Dr Stutzer' (Johan Arnold Stutzer [1763-1821], spelt erroneously as “Studzee” in Ricklefs and Voorhoeve 1977: 58), who participated in the British attack. The date, 6 July 1812, is just a week prior to the departure of the last British troops, Mackenzie’s engineers, from the Sultan’s capital on 14 July (Carey 1992: 483 note 394).

Babad Pajajaran, 1786
Babad Pajajaran, 1786. British Library, MSS Jav 7, ff. 3v-4r  Noc

From Mr Rothenbühler
‘From Mr Rothenbühler', pencilled note at the beginning of the volume. British Library, MSS Jav 7, flyleaf. Noc

‘From Djocjokarta / From Dr Stutzer July 6 1812’
‘From Djocjokarta / From Dr Stutzer July 6 1812’, note at the end of the volume. British Library, MSS Jav 7, f. 141r  Noc

Another manuscript, MSS Jav 40, Babad Kartasura, is less obviously from the keraton library (it was not identified as such in the listing compiled by Ricklefs) but it is a finely decorated volume and the date of writing – AJ 1723 (31 August 1796) – would be consistent with a Yogya court manuscript taken in June 1812.

Babad Kartasura, 1796
Babad Kartasura, 1796. British Library, MSS Jav 40, ff. 4v-5r  Noc

Inscription at the begining of Babad Kartasura, 'received from Mr Rothenbuhler at Sourabaya
Inscription at the begining of Babad Kartasura, 'received from Mr Rothenbuhler at Sourabaya'. MSS Jav 40, f. 6r Noc

Rothenbühler's name is also linked with two of the most beautifully illustrated early Javanese manuscripts known held in the British Library, MSS Jav 28 and MSS Jav 68, both dated to AJ 1731 (1804/5). Both of these manuscripts are inscribed as belonging to Rothenbühler’s wife, referred to as Nyonyah Sakeber, ‘Mrs Gezaghebber’, her husband’s title as Chief Administrator of the Eastern Salient of Java (Oosthoek), in the decade 1799-1809. The Javanese text reads in both manuscripts: punika serat kagunganipun Nyonyah Sekaber, ‘this manuscript belongs to Mrs Gezaghebber', and in MSS Jav 68 continues, ing panegri Surapringga, 'in the town of Surabaya’ (see Ricklefs and Voorhoeve 1977: 61, 68).

MSS Jav 28, Serat Selarasa, which has the date 28 Sapar AJ 1731 (8 June 1804), recounts the tale of the Ni Rumsari, the daughter of a respected sage, who dreams of three handsome suitors, one of whom, Raden Sélarasa, eventually becomes her husband. This was one of the first Javanese manuscripts in the British Library to be digitised in 2012, and has since become well known all over the world, adorning numerous covers of books relating to Java.

Sailing ships in Serat Sela Rasa, 1804
Serat Sela Rasa, 1804. British Library, MSS Jav 28, ff. 105v-106r  Noc

Newly digitised this year through the Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project is MSS Jav 68, Panji Jaya Kusuma, erroneously dated within the text as 29 Besar AJ 1701 (20 February 1776), which Weatherbee (2018: 95) corrected to 29 Besar AJ 1731 (31 March 1805). Among the sumptuous coloured illustrations in both manuscripts are several depicting contemporary Dutch warships flying the Dutch tricolour from their mastheads and sterns. One wonders if Nyonyah Sakeber, possibly a native of Surabaya, chose these maritime themes herself given her proximity to Surabaya’s Tanjung Perak harbour and the crowded shipping lanes of Java’s foremost naval port?

Illustration of ships in the sea
Panji Jaya Kusuma, 1805. British Library, MSS Jav 68, ff. 34v-35r Noc

All four manuscripts were presented by Rothenbühler to his superior on the Mackenzie Land Tenure Commission (1812-13), Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), on different dates: the two illustrated manuscripts being handed over in February 1812, when Mackenzie was passing through Surabaya on his first survey tour of East Java, and the two babad sometime after July 1812.  So, who was Frederik Jacob Rothenbühler, and, more pertinently, who was his wife, the eponymous “Nyonyah Gezaghebber”, and why might they both have been collectors of Javanese manuscripts?

Rothenbühler was born in Zweibrücken (Pfalz), a town in the Rhineland-Palatinate, on 9 November 1758. There are different accounts of under what circumstances he came out to Batavia. One account states states that he arrived in Batavia in 1769 with his parents. When his father, Frederik Hendrik, then serving as a senior surgeon (opperchirugijn) in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) died shortly thereafter (1770), the young Rothenbühler is also said to have joined the VOC. Other, perhaps more reliable, sources (Ketjen 1880-81:71; Encyclopaedia 1905, IV:638; De Haan 1935:634) hold that he joined the VOC as a cadet through the Amsterdam Kamer in the Netherlands on 11 January 1771, having just turned twelve, and sailed for Batavia on the ship Huis te Bijweg, arriving in the colonial capital on 10 August. He then worked his way up through the VOC bureaucracy, applying himself to the study of Javanese and becoming an official VOC translator (Gezworen Translateur) following his move to Semarang in 1780. After promotion as boekhouder (accountant) and secretary of police (secretaris van politie) in the North Coast city, he became Resident of Pekalongan (1794-99). Unlike many aspiring VOC officials who went to the Indies with recommendations from well-placed patrons and soon secured promotion to profitable positions, Rothenbühler was one of those who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. By dint of skill, diligence and linguistic talent he eventually achieved high office. The most important here was his ten-year incumbency of the Gezaghebber (Chief Administrator, 1799-1809) post in Surabaya. He was also more briefly a supernumerary member of Daendels’ Council of the Indies (Raad van Indië, 1809-11) and the Mackenzie land tenure commission (1812-13) established by Raffles’ British interim administration ( Encyclopaedie 1905:638; De Haan 1935:634).

The German was particularly renowned for his love of the Javanese and he appears to have married a local (pribumi), almost certainly a Javanese who most likely conversed with him in her mother tongue and shared his love of Javanese culture. We can surmise this from two sources: first, there is no trace in the very comprehensive Dutch Indies genealogical records of his wife’s name as one might expect if she was a totok or full-blooded Dutch woman or a scion of a prominent local Dutch-Javanese family (although his three childless daughters do make an appearance, one of whom, Frederika Jacoba, married a German from Stuttgart). Secondly, Frederik de Haan (1863-1938), the colonial state archivist (landsarchivaris, 1905-22), described Rothenbühler as “a very handsome man [...] with an exaggeratedly good idea of the natives [een zeer knap man […] met een overdreven goed idee van den Inlander]”, which indicates that he may have been seen, even in the richly diverse mestizo society of the late VOC Indies (1603-1799), as a man who had aligned himself closely with Java’s local inhabitants (pribumi) (De Haan 1935:634). Certainly, he was appreciated by the local inhabitants of Surabaya for his concern for public health and social welfare issues, including public sanitation, the eradication of smallpox (by the provision of vaccination) and the rehabilitation of beggars through the creation of a special community at Kali Pegirian where the urban poor were fed, clothed, housed and provided with pocket money and medical care. He was later credited by no less an authority than Cornelis van Vollenhoven (1874-1933) with writing the first ever description of Javanese customary law (adatrecht) (Van Vollenhoven 1928:47).

An insight into just how richly diverse this society was in late eighteenth-century Surabaya can be found in a document in the Royal Asiatic Society entitled “Miscellaneous memorandum on Surakarta” (circa November 1811) (Carey 2008:181 fn.71). This relates how Ratu Kencana, the mother of the future Pakubuwana VII (born 1796 - died, 1858; r. 1830-58; known as Pangeran Purbaya before 1830), who would later facilitate the copying of Dipanegara’s requested manuscripts in the Surakarta kraton library in the mid-1840s (Carey 2022), was sent to Surabaya for her education in the late 1770s. A daughter of the seventh Panembahan of Bangkalan (West Madura, r.1780-1815; after 21 July 1808 known as Sultan Cakradiningrat I), she was apparently lodged with the family of Ambrosina Wilhelmina van Rijck (1785-1864) who was the wife of Jacob Andries van Braam (1771-1820), no.2 in the Daendels’ administration (1808-11), and, according to some accounts, the Marshal’s secret lover. Born around 1770, Ratu Kencana seems to have spent the period 1778-84 in Surabaya so would not have overlapped directly with Rothenbühler (in post as Gezaghebber, 1799-1809), but her presence in Surabaya in a prominent mixed-blood 'Indo' family, who saw to her education, gives an insight into the relationship between members of the native and Dutch Indies elite in this great East Javanese port city in the waning years of the VOC. Rothenbühler’s wife could well have stemmed from this milieu.

Rothenbuhler’s grave in Surabaya
Rothenbuhler’s grave in Surabaya. Wikimapia.org.

Seemingly agnostic in religious matters, and possibly a Free Mason (Jordaan 2019:56, 146), Rothenbühler elected to be buried at the ripe old age (at a time when life expectancy for European males in Java was around 45) of 77 on his Gunungsari estate in Surabaya rather than in consecrated ground. Post-February 1914, when the Surabaya, now Ahmad Yani, Golf Club was opened, his grave abutted on the northern boundary of 18-hole course. Revered to this day as the tomb of “Mbah Deler [Grandfather Edelheer/member of the Council of the Indies]”, memories of Rothenbühler’s deep concern for the cleanliness, health and welfare of Surabaya and its inhabitants remain vivid for contemporary Surabayans, where he is also known as the “Father of Public Sanitation [Bapak Sanitasi]”. These concerns were also expressed in his writings such as his voluminous “Rapport van den staat en gesteldheid van het landschap Soerabaja [Report on the state and condition of the Surabaya area]”, which he left for his successor. His direct contemporary and senior VOC colleague, Wouter Hendrik van IJsseldijk (1757-1817), wrote of him: “if one were to make a recommendation to the next Governor-General regarding the most effective way of managing Java’s domestic economy and containing corruption, Surabaya’s Gezaghebber, Rothenbühler, is, in my view, best placed to introduce the changes and improvements which will correspond most effectively with local conditions” (Ketjen 1880-81:72).

It is thus fitting that this German collector and lover of all things Javanese should live on in the memory of the inhabitants of the East Java city, which he made his home, and in the manuscripts which he presented to his boss, Colin Mackenzie, over two centuries ago.

Peter Carey Ccownwork

Peter Carey is Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College, Oxford and Adjunct (Visiting) Professor of the Faculty of Humanities, University of Indonesia (2013 to present). His latest books (with Farish Noor) are Racial Difference and the Colonial Wars of 19th Century Southeast Asia (AUP, 2021) and Ras, Kuasa dan Kekerasan Kolonial di Hindia Belanda, 1808-1830 (KPG, 2022).

Bibliography
Carey, Peter, 1992. The British in Java 1811-1816: A Javanese Account. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
_________ 2008. The Power of Prophecy: Prince Dipanagara and the end of an old order in Java, 1785-1855. Leiden: KITLV Press.
_________ 2022. Ratu Ageng Tegalreja, Prince Dipanagara, and the British Library’s Serat Menak manuscript. British Library, Asian and African studies blog, 18 July 2022.
Encyclopaedie, 1905. “Rothenbuhler (Frederik Jacob)”, entry in Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch-Indië, 4: 638.
Haan, Frederik de, 1935. “Personalia der periode van het Engelsch bestuur over Java, 1811-1816”, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 92: 477-681.
Jordaan, Roy, 2019. De politieke betekenis van de vrijmetselarij op Java tijdens het Britse Tussenbestuur (1811-1816). ‘s-Gravenhage: Ritus en Tempelbouw. (Quatuor Coronati – Studieblad; 4).
Ketjen, E., 1880-81. “Levensbericht van E.J. Rothenbühler”, Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen 41: 71-73.
Ricklefs, M.C. and P. Voorhoeve, 1977. Indonesian Manuscripts in Great Britain: A Catalogue of Indonesian manuscripts in British public collections. London: Oxford University Press.
Vollenhoven, Cornelis van 1928. De Ontdekking van het Adatrecht. Leiden: EJ Brill.
Weatherbee, Donald E. 'An inventory of the Javanese paper manuscripts in the Mackenzie Collection, India Office Library, London, with a note on some additional Raffles MSS.' SEALG Newsletter, 2018, pp. 80-111.

20 September 2022

Two Golden Commissions from the Shan States

This guest blog is by Dr Frances O’Morchoe, Yale University.

In 1882, King Thibaw, the last king of Burma (Myanmar), issued two royal sanads, or commissions, appointing an individual, Twek Nga Lu, as chief of the Shan states of Mong Nai (Mone) and Kengtawng. These golden commissions – thin strips of gold foil embossed with the royal seal – are currently on display in the British Library's GOLD exhibition, which runs until the 2nd of October 2022. With the seals is a hand-written note, likely written by Lady Scott, wife of the below-mentioned George. This note explains: ‘These two strips of gold foil are the sanads or commissions from Theebaw to Twek Nga Lu, the bandit chief who dispossessed Mone of that State and Kengtawng by force (no doubt Theebaw was bribed). George went up with a handful of men when Britain took over and restored the old chief. See “Scott of the Shan Hills”.’

The two golden commissions bear the ruling titles of the cities
The two golden commissions bear the ruling titles of the cities: ကမ္ပောစဝံသဇေယရာဇာ (Kampocavaṃsajeyarājā) (A) and မဟာသီဟရာဇထိုစံထွား (Mahāsīharāja thui caṃ thvāʺ) (B). British Library, Mss Burmese 211 A and B Noc

Looking deeper into the story behind these commissions gives us a snapshot of what was happening in Burma and the Shan states at a pivotal moment in their history.

The golden commissions tell us first about the complex internal politics of the Shan states in the nineteenth century, as well as the nature of the political relations between the Shan rulers and the Burmese kings. The Shan states in the nineteenth century were a mass of different statelets ruled by Sawbwas (chiefs), varying hugely in size and power. Unlike today’s conception of sovereignty with territorially-defined borders dividing states, chiefs had spheres of influence rather than territorial sovereignty, and sovereign power was exercised through relationships between people.

The Shan states had a complicated relationship with the Burmese kings at Ava. While the Shan are culturally and linguistically different from the Burmese, many of the Shan Sawbwas paid tribute to the Burmese kings. For some this involved hosting a Burmese deputy, or even a garrison of Burmese soldiers, while for others this tributary status was merely nominal. The Salween River, which runs through the middle of the Shan states, is an approximate marker of a cultural divide between the western Shan states, which tended to be influenced by Burmese culture, and the eastern Shan states, which tended to be influenced by China and Siam. Thus Mong Nai, which lay on the western side of the Salween, paid tribute to the Burmese kings in Mandalay, while so-called ‘trans-Salween’ Shan states like Kengtung paid tribute to China. Complicating this, many states paid tribute in multiple directions at the same time.

The Gateway of Mong Nai.
The Gateway of Mong Nai. Photograph by Sir James Scott George, 1890s. British Library, Photo 92/2(59)

The story of how these Burmese royal sealed commissions came to be held by the British Library also gives us a snapshot of how the British annexation of Upper Burma unfolded on the ground.

The British annexed Burma in three stages, with Arakan and Tenasserim in 1825, Lower Burma in 1852, and Upper Burma in 1885. The annexation of Upper Burma in 1885 and the exile of the last king of Burma, King Thibaw, was followed by a decade-long campaign of resistance to the British across Upper Burma and the Shan, Kachin and Chin hills. This guerrilla war was the longest campaign fought by the Victorian army, yet it has been all but forgotten in Britain today. The British overthrew Thibaw in a month, but it took several years to put down the diffuse rebellions which sprang up all over Upper Burma.

After deposing King Thibaw, the British immediately claimed as British territory all states which had been vassal states to the Burmese kings. This turned out to be more complicated than they had thought. They discovered that many states paid multiple allegiance, e.g. to both Burma and China, or to Burma and Siam. Some even paid triple allegiance. As a result, annexation triggered several years of trying to determine the new colony’s boundaries with China and Siam. Adding to these complications, at the time of the annexation of Upper Burma many of the Shan states were already in open revolt against the Burmese King.

In 1882, the Mong Nai Sawbwa, Hkun Kyi, rebelled against the Burmese King Thibaw. Resenting Thibaw's perceived slights against him, and feeling the burden of hosting the main Burmese garrison in the Shan States, the Sawbwa invited the Burmese resident sitke and soldiers to a feast in the palace, shut the gates and had them all killed. King Thibaw sent a punitive expedition in response, and the Sawbwa, Hkun Kyi, fled the town. This punitive expedition was when Thibaw issued Twek Nga Lu with the golden seals which are now on display in the British Library.

Twek Nga Lu was a ‘defrocked’ monk (Twek, in Burmese ထွက်, denotes someone who has left the monkhood) who had been in a feud with Hkun Kyi, the Mong Nai Sawbwa, for several years before this point. After failing to take Mong Nai by force, Twek Nga Lu worked to cultivate a relationship with King Thibaw, at one point visiting him in Mandalay. Thibaw’s punitive expedition installed Twek Nga Lu as ruler of Mong Nai in 1882, but when Mandalay fell in 1885 all the Burmese troops were recalled. Twek Nga Lu was left without support and in 1886 Hkun Kyi recaptured Mong Nai.

In May 1887 the British arrived in Mong Nai and persuaded Hkun Kyi, the newly-reinstated Sawbwa, to surrender. Hkun Kyi surrendered without resistance. Going further, he requested permission to fly the Union Jack in Mong Nai. On 12th May 1887, in the presence of the townspeople and fifty Sikh colonial soldiers, the British solemnly hoisted the Union Jack.

The timing of this declaration of allegiance turned out well for Hkun Kyi. A couple of months later, Twek Nga Lu visited Fort Stedman, the main British garrison in the southern Shan states. He showed the British the golden seals which Thibaw had given him in 1882 and claimed to be the rightful ruler of Mong Nai. He was rebuffed, however, and the British told him they had already recognised Hkun Kyi as Sawbwa.

Twek Nga Lu regrouped and launched another attack, managing to capture Mong Nai for the second time in May 1888. This time the British rather than the Sawbwa were the ones to turn him out. A week after Twek Nga Lu took the town, James George Scott (1851-1935, from 1901 Sir James George Scott) arrived from Fort Stedman. With nine men on horseback Scott galloped into the town in the early hours of 10th of May, and captured Twek Nga Lu while he was asleep in the Haw, or palace. It was most likely at this point that Scott took possession of the golden seals.

A view of Mong Nai
A view of Mong Nai. Photograph by Sir James George Scott, 1890s. British Library, Photo 92/2(68)

Scott was an important figure in the story of the extension of British rule into the Shan States. Formerly a journalist and school master in Rangoon, he made his name with the annexation of Upper Burma. He spent his career working in the British administration of the Shan hills, and became an expert on the country.

The British had had problems recruiting enough people to ‘pacify’ Upper Burma (with ‘pacification’ in practice meaning extracting allegiance at gunpoint and torching noncompliant villages). Finding it difficult to persuade Indian Civil Service (ICS) officers to come from India, the British recruited non-ICS Burma experts then living in Lower Burma. As a result, at the same time as he was marching around the Shan hills burning villages and accepting promises of allegiance from Shan rulers, Scott was studying for his ICS exams.

Scott arrested Twek Nga Lu and sent him to Fort Stedman. On the way to Fort Stedman, Twek Nga Lu tried to escape and a guard shot him dead. His body was buried in a shallow roadside grave. Scott, perhaps believing some of the myths surrounding Twek Nga Lu’s magical powers, decided he had better check that he was actually dead. He went to look but the body had already been exhumed, the head cut off and the rest of his body cooked and sold for its magical powers. Scott retold this Twek Nga Lu story several times in different talks and publications.

Military post at Mong Nai
Military post at Mong Nai. Photograph by Sir James George Scott, c. 1888. British Library, Photo 92/4(24)

As well as being a prolific writer and giver of talks to various learned societies, Scott was also a photographer, and the British Library has a large collection of his photographs of the Shan States. These photographs are a record of the British annexation of Upper Burma, and also show how Scott used photographs to demonstrate the military might of the British. An image of a gathering of Shan chiefs for the Mong Nai Durbar (shown below) demonstrates the number of chiefs who had submitted to British rule – although most did not look particularly happy to be there. His wife Lady Scott included many of his photographs in Scott of the Shan Hills, a book she published in 1936, a year after Scott’s death.

Shan Chiefs, Mong Nai Durbar, 1889
Shan Chiefs, Mong Nai Durbar, 1889. Photograph by Sir James George Scott, May 1889. British Library, Photo 92/11(75)

The photos, like the act of taking the sealed commissions, were part of the process of establishing dominance and suppressing resistance in the Shan states. The taking of photographs and the taking of the seals alike tell us about how Scott wanted to present the annexation of Upper Burma to a British audience. The gates and city walls feature prominently in both written and visual depictions of the scene of the British victory over Twek Nga Lu. The walls symbolise the strength, now subjugated, of the Burmese garrison, and the images of wide open gates are symbols of the British entrance into the city, at full gallop, a detail that was repeated in several accounts of the event. The photographs, like the seals, were taken and displayed in order to prove the symbolic and actual domination of the British over the Shans and Burmese. They also give us a chance to see a how a crucial moment in Shan and Burmese history played out on the ground.

Bibliography:
Jane Ferguson, Repossessing Shanland: Myanmar, Thailand and a Nation-State Deferred. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2022.
Patricia Herbert, ‘The Making of a Collection: Burmese Manuscripts in the British Library’, The British Library Journal, 15:1 (1989), 59-70
Sao Saimong Mangrai, The Shan States and the British Annexation. Ithaca: Cornell University, 1965.
G.E. Mitton, Scott of the Shan Hills. London: John Murray, 1936.
James Scott, Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States. Rangoon, 1899.

Frances O’Morchoe Ccownwork

Dr Frances O’Morchoe is a Postdoctoral Associate in Myanmar Studies at the Macmillan Center, Yale University. She received her DPhil in History from the University of Oxford in 2019.

The exhibition Gold: 50 spectacular manuscripts from around the world is on at the British Library until 2 October 2022. To visit, book your tickets here.

An accompanying book, Gold, presenting 21 highlights from the exhibition, is available from the British Library shop.

Supported by:

BullionVault logo

The exhibition is supported by the Goldhammer Foundation and the American Trust for the British Library, with thanks to The John S Cohen Foundation, The Finnis Scott Foundation, the Owen Family Trust and all supporters who wish to remain anonymous.

05 September 2022

Glimpses from the ‘Golden Land’: Decorative manuscript art in Thailand and beyond

One of the most enchanting items in the 'Bound in Gold' section of the British Library's GOLD exhibition (20 May - 2 October 2022) is the gold and laquer front cover on a Thai manuscript (Or 15257) depicting animals and plants in the heavenly Himavanta forest of the Buddhist cosmos, a detail of which is shown below.  This blog will discuss the techniques that were used in Thailand and other parts of mainland Southeast Asia to create this book cover and other examples of gilded manuscript art.

The beauty of illustrated Buddhist manuscripts from mainland Southeast Asia is often further enhanced by lavish gold embellishments. The region, rich in natural gold deposits found in rocks and as “gold sand” in and along rivers, was once called Suvarnabhumi, ‘Golden Land’, by Indian merchants in the first millennium CE. A Thai inscription dated 1292 CE, attributed to King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai, documents free trade in gold and silver. Gold was not only important in the commerce with the outside world, but also had and continues to have religious significance: gold images of the Buddha and gold-covered stupa monuments, texts written in gold ink, gold-leaf ornaments on Buddhist temple buildings and furniture can be found across the Southeast Asian mainland. In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, gold decorations were applied to increase the meritorious value of a manuscript, but also to reflect on the social status of the person who commissioned a manuscript or whom such a work was dedicated to. Gold-leaf applications in illustrations helped to give prominence to representations of the Buddha as well as Buddhist and Hindu deities. This blog explores the use of gold to decorate manuscripts in Thailand (formerly Siam) and techniques of applying gold on paper, palm leaves, wood and cloth.

Detail from the back cover of a Thai folding book decorated with gold on black lacquer
Detail from the back cover of a Thai folding book decorated with gold on black lacquer in lai rot nam technique. Central Thailand, second half of the 19th century. British Library, Or 15257  Noc

A popular method to apply gold leaf on the covers of Thai paper folding books, palm leaf manuscripts, furniture and musical instruments is called lai rot nam. This technique goes back at least to the late Ayutthaya period (17th-18th century CE).

The first step consists of applying on the chosen surface several coats of black lacquer, a resin from a tree in the sumac family. The design is traced on parchment paper, and small holes are punched along the lines with a needle. The artist then places the perforated paper on the dried lacquer and wipes it with white clay to copy the design on to the lacquered surface. With a yellow gummy paint made from gamboge and river tamarind rubber the parts which remain black are covered in all their smallest details.

Front cover of a folding book containing the story of Phra Malai, with gold decorations made in lai rot nam technique
Front cover of a folding book containing the story of Phra Malai, with gold decorations made in lai rot nam technique. Central Thailand, 1894. British Library, Or 16101  Noc

The next step in this process is to add a thin coat of lacquer glue over the surface, and when it is semi-dry, gold leaf is applied. After about twelve to twenty hours the work is “washed with water”: using a wet cotton ball or sponge the artist gently detaches the gummy paint to expose the lacquer while the remaining gold design, glued to the lacquered surface, appears. Hence this art is called lai rot nam, which is the Thai expression for ‘designs washed with water’. The beauty of the finished work depends first upon an exquisite design and afterwards a perfect execution which require artistic talent as well as excellent technological knowledge and skills.

Front cover of a folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka, with gold decorations made in lai rot nam technique
Front cover of a folding book containing extracts from the Tipitaka, with gold decorations made in lai rot nam technique. Central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 16009  Noc

The finest examples of Thai folding books have black lacquer covers with lavish gold decorations made in the lai rot nam technique. Often these were funeral or commemoration books commissioned by royals or wealthy members of the society and offered to the Buddhist order of monastics, Sangha. Made from several layers of sturdy mulberry paper, their covers provide more space to apply decorative designs in gold than the much narrower palm leaf manuscripts. Motifs of these decorations include scenes from the heavenly Himavanta forest, plants, mythical and real animals, deities and repetitive floral patterns.

Wooden covers of a palm leaf manuscript containing Buddhist tales with floral decorations in gold on black lacquer
Wooden covers of a palm leaf manuscript containing Buddhist tales with floral decorations in gold on black lacquer. Central Thailand, c. 1851-68. British Library, Or 12524  Noc

Despite the narrow format of palm leaf manuscripts, which offers only limited space for embellishment, the lai rot nam technique was also used to decorate the wooden covers of palm leaf manuscripts. Occasionally, the front and back leaves of palm leaf bundles were illuminated in this way, too, incorporating the title of the text contained in the manuscript.

Palm leaf bundles with cover decorations made in this technique are also found in the manuscript traditions of North Thailand (Lanna) and Laos. Here, the floral patterns are often less repetitive and reflect the artistic traditions of this cultural area.

Detail of the wooden front cover of a Kammavaca palm leaf manuscript with gold floral ornaments made in lai rot nam technique on black lacquer
Detail of the wooden front cover of a Kammavaca palm leaf manuscript with gold floral ornaments made in lai rot nam technique on black lacquer. North Thailand, 1903. British Library, Or 11799  Noc

Gilded pieces of Thai furniture show how manuscripts were traditionally kept in temple libraries. They are also outstanding examples of gold-and-lacquer art applied to larger surfaces. Unique designs were executed in the lai rot nam technique on wooden cabinets to house an entire set of the Buddhist canon (Tipitaka), depicting scenes from the Birth Tales of the Buddha or from the heavenly forest Himavanta. With numerous such cabinets, the libraries of royal temples truly looked like enormous treasure chests, in which the actual treasure were the teachings of the Buddha.

Side view of a wooden manuscript cabinet showing a scene from the Mahosadha Jataka in gold and lacquer
Side view of a wooden manuscript cabinet showing a scene from the Mahosadha Jataka in gold and lacquer, made in the lai rot nam technique. Central Thailand, 19th century. Gift from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. British Library, Foster 1057  Noc

Another method to apply gold on lacquer is the stencil technique, which was and continues to be popular in North Thailand and Laos, but it was also known in Cambodia and the Shan State of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Entire temple walls, pillars, ceilings, window panels, doors and furniture could be decorated with this technique. Buddhist temples well-known for their interiors adorned with exquisite gold stencil-designs are Vat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, and Wat Phra Sing in Chiang Mai, for example. Custom-made chests for single paper or palm-leaf manuscripts were frequently embellished with gold leaf on red or black lacquer, applied with the stencil technique.

Front view of a wooden chest for a single folding book with gold pattern made in stencil technique on red lacquer
Front view of a wooden chest for a single folding book with gold pattern made in stencil technique on red lacquer. Thailand, late 19th or early 20th century. British Library, Or 16840  Noc

To create the stencil ornaments the artist draws or copies the desired design on a thin sheet of paper. This is affixed to a piece of sturdy mulberry paper, which the artist places on a wooden plank. The parts that shall appear in gold are cut out, using straight and curved chisels of varying sizes. Once the entire pattern has been cut out, the artist attaches the stencil to the lacquered surface of the object to be decorated, then applies gold leaf or gold paint through the stencil openings with a soft sponge or brush. When the stencil is removed from the surface carefully, the design comes to light.

Manuscript covers containing Buddhist scriptures, especially Kammavaca ordination texts, were often decorated with gold in the stencil technique. The image below shows the wooden covers of a Kammavaca manuscript from North Thailand. This manuscript was made in the folding book format with text in gold script and illustrations on blackened cloth. The sturdy covers were added to give stability and protection to the textile. This example is interesting as it combines red and black lacquer on which the gold pattern of lotus flowers was applied in the stencil technique.

Wooden covers of a Kammavaca manuscript in folding book format made from cloth
Wooden covers of a Kammavaca manuscript in folding book format made from cloth. The floral ornaments were executed in stencil technique on black lacquer, with a red lacquer frame. North Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 14025  Noc

Whereas the lai rot nam and stencil techniques are found across mainland Southeast Asia, a third method to apply gold embellishments on manuscripts was popular in Burma (now Myanmar). Here, the lacquered surface was covered entirely with gold leaf before the design was drawn on it with a pen in bright red paint made from lacquer and cinnabar. Decorative text portions in Burmese square script, especially in Kammavaca manuscripts, were executed in this technique as well, but afterwards filled in with a thick layer of black lacquer. The tradition to fill the spaces between the lines of text with delicate floral patterns lends these unique manuscripts an air of lightness and elegance.

Kammavaca manuscript with text in Burmese square script in black lacquer on a gilded surface
Kammavaca manuscript with text in Burmese square script in black lacquer on a gilded surface. On the sides and between the lines of text are decorations drawn in red colour. Myanmar, 19th century. British Library, Or 13896, f. 2r   Noc

Further reading
Aphiwan Adunyaphichet: Lai rot nam. Thai lacquer works. Bangkok: Muang Boran, 2012
Bennett, Anna T. N.: Gold in early Southeast Asia. Archeosciences 33 (2009), pp. 99-107  (viewed on 20/08/2022)
Chaichana Phojaroen: Sinlapa lai rot nam. Lairotnamart.  (viewed on 21/08/2022)
Lammerts, Christian: Notes on Burmese Manuscripts: Text and Images. Journal of Burma Studies 14 (2010), pp. 229-253  (viewed on 23/08/2022)
No. Na. Paknam: Tu Phra Traipidok sut yot haeng sinlapa lai rot nam. Bangkok: Muang Boran, 2000

Jana Igunma, Henry D. Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork

The exhibition Gold: 50 spectacular manuscripts from around the world is on at the British Library until 2 October 2022. To visit, book your tickets here.

An accompanying book, Gold, presenting 21 highlights from the exhibition, is available from the British Library shop.

Supported by:

BullionVault logo

The exhibition is supported by the Goldhammer Foundation and the American Trust for the British Library, with thanks to The John S Cohen Foundation, The Finnis Scott Foundation, the Owen Family Trust and all supporters who wish to remain anonymous.

Asian and African studies blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs