Asian and African studies blog

265 posts categorized "South East Asia"

20 June 2022

The provenance histories of Batak manuscripts in the British Library (2): The India Office collection

This is the second part of a series of blog posts about the provenances of all the Batak manuscripts now held in the British Library, which have just been digitised. The first part looked at  early acquisitions in the British Museum to 1900, while this second part considers manuscripts from the library of East India Company, later known as the India Office Library (IOL).

In 1972 the Library of the British Museum became the British Library.  Ten years later, in 1982, the India Office Library and Records joined the British Library, bringing a collection of ten Batak manuscripts, numbered MSS Batak 1-10.

The first six Batak manuscripts were inspected and described in 1848 by the pioneering Batak scholar Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk (1824-1894). Van der Tuuk was an exceptional linguist who had studied Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and Malay, and had been selected by the Netherlands Bible Society to learn Batak in order to translate the Bible into Batak. His visit to London took place before he set sail for Java and Sumatra, and therefore his knowledge of Batak at the time was based on the few manuscripts then available in the Netherlands. Van der Tuuk’s three-page report ( Download BL MSS Eur B105-Van der Tuuk 1848) is of great importance for provenance research, firstly for confirming the presence in the IOL of MSS Batak 1-6 by 1848, and secondly for his records of various paper labels at the time attached to the manuscripts, which have since disappeared.

MSS Batak 1 is a piece of bamboo inscribed with Batak writing, which is accompanied by a small knife and four darts from a blowpipe.  The manuscript was written in 1823 by the Raja of Bunto Pane in Asahan for his visitor John Anderson (1795-1845), an East India Company official from Penang who was exploring trading possibilities along the east coast of Sumatra.  As described in an earlier blog post, the bamboo is engraved with the Batak words for the numbers one to ten, and a memorandum to Anderson to remind him to send the Raja two hunting dogs on his return to Penang. According to Van der Tuuk the bamboo had a small piece of paper attached saying ‘specimen of Batta writing, with a knife written and presented by J. Anderson Esqr.’; this label is no longer present. The manuscript was presumably presented to the East India Company by Anderson following his return to London in 1830.

A piece of bamboo inscribed by the Raja of Bunto Pane, 1823, together with four blowpipe darts and a small knife, which may have been used to write the manuscript
A piece of bamboo inscribed by the Raja of Bunto Pane, 1823, together with four blowpipe darts and a small knife, which may have been used to write the manuscript. British Library, MSS Batak 1  Noc

Three decades before Van der Tuuk's visit, Prof. C. J. C. Reuvens of Leiden University visited East India House in 1819, and noted that there were four Batak manuscripts, said to have been sent from Sumatra by a ‘Governor some 8 years earlier’.  These are the folded treebark pustaha now numbered MSS Batak 2-5 (Ricklefs and Voorhoeve 1977: 13). All four manuscripts were described by Van der Tuuk, and the identity of the donor was revealed on a crucial piece of paper (which is now lost) said to have been attached to MSS Batak 5: ‘Presented by R. Parry Esqr. 3d Jan. 1817’. Richard Parry (1776-1817) was Resident of Bengkulu from 1808 to 1810, and on returning to England presented to the East India Company on 26 June 1812 a collection of 202 drawings of ‘Plants and Animals from Sumatra’ (Archer 1962: 19). The Batak manuscripts may have been presented just before Parry's death in 1817, or – in view of Reuvens’ information – Van der Tuuk may possibly have misread ‘1812’ for ‘1817’ on the paper label, and the Batak manuscripts may have been donated around the same time as the drawings. In any case, the four manuscripts MSS Batak 2-5 can all be securely dated to before 1811, when Parry left Sumatra.

Vdt2
Van der Tuuk’s 1848 description of MSS Batak 5, recording the paper label reading ‘presented by R. Parry Esqr. 3d Jan. 1817’. British Library, MSS Eur B105, p. 2

Three of the four manuscripts given by Richard Parry bear inscriptions in English describing the contents. Van der Tuuk noted that MSS Batak 2 bore a note on the outside: 'Surgery', but this label too seems to have disappeared in the interim. However, on the first page of the manuscript, above the text Poda ni taoar sati, on medicine, is clearly inscribed ‘Antidotes against poison’ (although Van der Tuuk recorded this as ‘Prescriptions against poison’). The first page of the reverse side, which contains a a text on protective magic for a pregnant woman (Poda ni pagarta, pagar ni na di bortiyan), is inscribed 'Midwifry'.

Batak text, identified in English as 'Antidote against poison'. British Library, MSS Batak 2, f. 1r.
Batak text on medicine, described as 'Antidotes ag[ain]st Poison', before 1811. British Library, MSS Batak 2, f. 1r. Noc

Batak text on protective magic for a pregnant woman, labelled 'Midwifry'
Batak text on protective magic for a pregnant woman, labelled 'Midwifry', before 1811. British Library, MSS Batak 2, f. 41v  Noc

Voorhoeve noted that MSS Batak 4 was carelessly written with ink of inferior quality, and was probably made for a foreigner (probably Parry?), as the colophon explains the contents: "this is writing from Tapanuli, words of Batak lore from masters of olden times, O young student!". Van der Tuuk noted that the cover bore an English note, ‘lessons and invocations respecting a regular conduct so as to obtain the good will of the community’ (this note too is no longer found with the manuscript). A faint ink inscription can still be discerned on the bottom wooden cover, which has been greatly enhanced through ultraviolet lighting by BL photographer Elizabeth Hunter (see both images below).  Although parts of the inscription are still uncertain, it may be read: 'Old Stories of Battles / & Contests of former times[?] / between Datto Sangmay- / ma & Datto Dallooh of / Tohbah'.

Batak pustaha, with a faint English note on the back wooden cover
Batak pustaha, with a faint English note on the back wooden cover, before 1811. British Library, MSS Batak 4, back cover   Noc

Ultraviolet lighting image of the back wooden cover of the pustaha
Ultraviolet lighting has enhanced the legibility of the note on the back wooden cover of the pustaha, before 1811. British Library, MSS Batak 4, back cover Noc

MSS Batak 5 is a beautiful manuscript copiously illustrated in red and black ink, with unusual red borders to all pages on the first side. Above the first texts – poda ni taoar, on medicine, and poda ni na hona rasun, antidotes against poison – is an accurate description of the contents in English: ‘Medical Prescriptions against Poisons & other …’. On the other side of manuscript, containing protective magic, the explanation at the top reads: ‘Charms Used by the Battas against the Machinations of Evil Spirits’.

Start of medical texts in a Batak manuscript
Start of medical texts, described ‘Medical Prescrip/tions against Poi/sons & other ...’, before 1811. British Library, MSS Batak 5, f. 1r  Noc

The texts on protective magic are described as ‘Charms Used by the Battas against the Machinations of Evil Spirits’
The texts on protective magic are described as ‘Charms Used by the Battas against the Machinations of Evil Spirits’, before 1811. MSS Batak 5, f. 33v Noc

Thus the Batak manuscripts given by Richard Parry nearly all seem to bear evidence of a serious interest in their contents, with the English explanations fairly accurately describing the texts within; the selection perhaps even suggests an attempt to seek out manuscripts concerning medical matters. This would not be surprising in view of Parry’s known interest in natural history. Parry had arrived in India in 1793, and when he left Calcutta for Bengkulu in 1807, he commissioned the artist Manu Lal to accompany him.  In Sumatra, Manu Lal made the drawings of flowers, birds and animals which Parry later presented to East India House (Archer 1962: 19). (Artistry appears to have run on in the family: Richard's son Thomas Gambier Parry (1816-1888) was a noted fresco artist, while his grandson was the eminent composer Hubert Parry (1848-1918)).

A drawing of a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, ‘Dicaeum cruentatum’, by Manu Lal for Richard Parry in Sumatra, ca. 1807-1811
A drawing of a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, ‘Dicaeum cruentatum’, by Manu Lal for Richard Parry in Sumatra, ca. 1807-1811. The inscription in Urdu at the bottom reads: ‘The painter of this picture is Manu Lal, artist, an inhabitant of Azimabad (Patna City)’ (Archer 1962: 87). British Library, NHD 2/288. Noc

There is no information on the origins of the remaining Batak manuscripts from the India Office Library collection, MSS Batak 6-10, or even dates of acquisition. MSS Batak 6, which has an exceptionally fine carved wooden cover, was seen and described by Van der Tuuk in 1848, who thought it was ‘of considerable antiquity’, but this view was not repeated by Voorhoeve in his description of the manuscript (Ricklefs and Voorhoeve 1977: 14).

MSS Batak 7, 8, 9 and 10 are probably more recent acquisitions from the 20th century. MSS Batak 8 and 9 were evidently acquired from the same source as they have similar price labels stuck to their outer leaves, in a style of handwriting dating from around 1900. MSS Batak 10 was not listed in Ricklefs and Voorhoeve (1977), and was either acquired shortly after that date, or may have been found subsequently within the older collections.

Cover of MSS Batak 8   Cover of MSS Batak 9
MSS Batak 8 (left) and MSS Batak 9 (right), each bearing a price tag of £1.10.0, probably written around 1900, when the sum of one pound and ten shillings would be equivalent to £175 today. Noc

Further reading:
Mildred Archer, Natural history drawings in the India Office Library. London: HMSO, 1962.
M.C. Ricklefs, P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain. New edition with Addenda et corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014. [Includes a facsimile of the 1977 edition.]
Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk, 'A short account of the Batak manuscripts belonging to the Library of the East India Company', 1848. British Library, Download BL MSS Eur B105-VanderTuuk1848.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

30 May 2022

The Nomadic Chemist: Alfred Sercombe Griffin (1878-1943) and Burma

Griffin in the doorway of his Weston-super-Mare pharmacy after his return from Burma
Griffin in the doorway of his Weston-super-Mare pharmacy after his return from Burma. Griffin family archives.

The Burmese collection at the British Library has recently received two donations of fascinating memorabilia that belonged to Alfred Sercombe Griffin. He is known for his adventure novels for boys, but made his main living as a pharmacist. He described himself as a “nomadic chemist”, and was drawn to work as a locum pharmacist around England and in other parts of the world. In 1906 he accepted a post at the English pharmacy in Rangoon. As a result, many of his adventure novels are set in Burma. He also wrote extensively of his work as a pharmacist in Burma in the Chemist & Druggist and the Pharmaceutical Journal.

He writes in “Avoiding the humdrum”, Pharmaceutical Journal, 1925, under the pen name “Sasayah” (Burmese for writer): “My father spent the greater part of forty-five years within a small chemist’s shop, looking out on a dull grey wall. I was apprenticed to him, and early vowed that such an existence should not be mine, though I might be a chemist and I might be poor.”

Port of Henzada
Port of Henzada. Alfred Sercombe Griffin, 1906-08. British Library, Photo 1402(15)

Born in Bath and apprenticed by his father, Alfred Sercombe Griffin moved from Bournemouth to London and on to San Remo in 1904-05. After returning to England and working as a locum pharmacist in many parts of the country, he applied for posts in Uganda and China but was not successful. He then found an advertisement for a vacant position in the Supplement of the Pharmaceutical Journal, and was accepted for the post at the pharmacy of Mesrrs. E.M. de Souza & Co., Dalhousie Street, Rangoon, where he arrived in December 1906 after a long boat journey.

Travellers coming on board a boat at Martaban, 1906-08
Travellers coming on board a boat at Martaban, 1906-08. Alfred Sercombe Griffin. British Library, Photo 1402(28)

He writes in one of his novels, Burma Road Calling! (1943): “An intensely varied crowd surged along the road for the early morning shopping and promenade: Burmese women gay in pink silks with the daintiest replicas of themselves beside them; shaven-headed monks in yellow robes, bearing golden sunshades; sturdy Shans with enormous plantain-leaf hats from the hills; tall Paloungs with black robes and tight skull-caps who had brought tea from over the border; an English soldier or two from the barracks; Chinamen in blue pantaloons; Kachins of wild appearance, Karens of gentler aspect; and half a dozen races that even Mr Wrekin himself could not identify. ‘Just come from Babel?’ inquired Roger as he listened to the many languages being spoken all round him.”

In "Avoiding the humdrum" Griffin gives a similar description of his work place: “In the pharmacy in Rangoon fifty languages were spoken everyday; my dispensers and assistants were Burmese, Chinese, Goanese, Hindoos, Brahmins, and Eurasians…”  Griffin aimed to avoid the English circles with its bridge parties and English plays that he found rather boring, and much preferred a Burmese pwai instead, sitting leisurely on a mat and passing down a betel box to chew. He however also describes in the letters to his family Friday evenings and parties at the Rangoon YMCA. Griffin was also involved with the Boys’ Brigade (or new Scouts) and attended their camp at Kokine (Rangoon) in 1907. He was also part of the Boys’ Work Committee. Two of his adventure novels, The Scouts of Ching’s Island and Scouts in the Shan Jungle are about boy scouts based in Rangoon and lodging at the YMCA (“Ching’s Island” was located at Kokine Lake). Griffin clearly enjoyed similar literature himself, as he asked for the Boy’s Own Paper to be sent regularly to him from England. Later on he would write stories for the paper himself.

Alfred Sercombe Griffin
Alfred Sercombe Griffin (1878-1943). Griffin family archives.

Griffin was soon appointed the manager of the dispensing department, but like many British in Southeast Asia at this time soon fell gravely ill (with dysentery or malaria). In late 1907 he was sent to the branch in Maymyo, Shan States, to recuperate. With a more temperate climate than Rangoon, Maymyo was a favourite hill station for the British. Griffin used his own experiences in Burma to provide colour and detail to his adventure stories, and even the Maymyo pharmacy features in one of them: “Roger went up the steps and passed into a marble-floored pharmacy which had rows of medicine bottles, glass show-cases, and a smiling young Englishman behind the counter.” (Burma Road Calling!, 1943).

Griffin (with his Burmese name Maung Na Gyi) journeyed back to England in late 1908 due to his health, and was apparently banned from returning to the Tropics on medical grounds, which he greatly lamented. From his many writings it becomes clear that he sincerely loved his time in Burma and had a soft spot not just for the Burmese, but also for the variety of people who inhabited the country at this time. Despite staying in Burma for only  two years, one of them while very ill, the experience left a lasting impression on him, which he revisited via his writings in pharmaceutical journals, illustrated lectures, and adventure stories, published decades later.

After returning to Europe Griffin continued work as a locum pharmacist in Paris, but returned to Bath to take care of his father’s pharmacy in 1910. A few years later, he took over a bankrupt pharmacy in Weston-super-Mare, which he transformed into a thriving business, and then married and settled down there. In 1917 he built a bungalow in Sidcot, Winscombe, named Wingaba (according to Griffin Burmese for a beautiful view). He retired to Sidcot in 1925 early at 47 due to his poor health. He became a Quaker in the early 30s and subsequently travelled to Palestine, where one of his novels is set (Where the Master Lived, 1936).

Griffin writes in “Avoiding the humdrum” (1925): “In the duller days when I was to become a proprietor of a pharmacy of my very own I could jump out of the humdrum of income-tax returns and N.H.I. by picking up one of my books on Burma and fly instanter to a land of brilliant sunshine and kindly memories.”

Cover of Scouts in the Shan Jungle, 1937
Cover of Scouts in the Shan Jungle, 1937. Illustrator Richard B. Ogle. British Library, 20059.f.26

Griffin’s novels are light, entertaining stories of adventure replete with snakes and man-eating tigers, kidnappings, rides through waterfalls, lost cities, mystery and intrigue as well as a varied collection of personalities. The international group of Scouts that also includes Burmese, Shan, Indian and Chinese members nevertheless dress in khaki breeches and sun-helmets, and never miss their coffee and rolls in the morning, a tiffin and a siesta in the afternoon, and a wholesome dinner in the evening. Inevitably, the stories are written from an English perspective, and enjoy the stereotypes of the time, whether European or Asian. All of Griffin’s writings, however, relay an enjoyment of travel, wonder and humour in the small moments of life, as well as the joy of telling a story. The stress is firmly on the character of the individual.

Griffin’s interest in illnesses and their cure has also been included in the stories. Leprosy features in several novels, where a knee-jerk fear of contagion is dismissed with new medical knowledge. Snake bites can be dealt with the right treatment and some characters even catch malaria and recover.

A little girl infected with leprosy near temple steps walking towards Griffin
A little girl infected with leprosy near temple steps walking towards Griffin. Alfred Sercombe Griffin, 1906-08. British Library, Photo 1402(37)

The two donations that the British Library has received were given by Michael Bruce, the maternal grandson of Alfred Sercombe Griffin, and a traveller and an author himself (Malta: A Geographical Monograph, 1965). The donations include a box of 50 photographic glass slides that Griffin took and collected while in Burma. Once back in Europe, he would give illustrated 'lantern lectures' of his travels with these slides. This lecture is still included with the glass slides and the numerous times the lecture was given between 1910-1941 are recorded on the inside lid (33 times altogether). Some of these slides were used as a basis for illustrations in Griffin’s novels.

Medical prescription in Burmese inscribed for Alfred Sercombe Griffin in Maymyo in 1907
Medical prescription in Burmese inscribed for Alfred Sercombe Griffin in Maymyo in 1907. Photograph by Michael Bruce. British Library, Or 17020.

The second donation is a framed palm-leaf prescription with the cure for “tropical sprue”, custom-made for Griffin while he was recuperating in Maymyo. He received it from a young monk who resided in the temple across the road from Griffin’s pharmacy, which he visited, with the aid of his walking sticks, for Burmese lessons. The prescription was given to him in return for a picture of the Shwedagon Pagoda that Griffin had found at the back of a pharmaceutical catalogue. Griffin describes watching the inscription being made, and indeed one of his glass slides depicts the young monk in question. A description of the process can also be found in Burma Road Calling!: “Roger was particularly interested in the monastery scribe who was making the holy books – from start to finish.” “First there were dried strips of palm leaf, eighteen inches long by two and a half inches deep, stretched taut on a special sort of frame. On this dried leaf the words were slowly inscribed with an instrument like a knitting-needle; letter by letter in the round script of the Burmese alphabet the young monk cut into the outer tissue of the palm leaf.”

Shan scribe working on a palm leaf inscription
Shan scribe working on a palm leaf inscription. Alfred Sercombe Griffin, Maymyo, 1907. British Library, Photo 1402(31)

Griffin framed the prescription and wrote about it in the Druggist & Chemist and other medical papers, trying to find help in translating it. Apparently a portion reads: “Take the leaves of the Juju tree, plucked at midnight when Mars is in the ascendant. Pound them intimately with the dried tail of a rat and the sting of a cobra…” The inscription is undeciphered as of today and is still awaiting translation.

School boys saying their alphabet
School boys saying their alphabet. Alfred Sercombe Griffin. 1906-08. British Library, Photo 1402(35)

Bibliography of Alfred Sercombe Griffin’s monographs:
The Scouts of Ching’s Island, 1929. Set in Kokine (Rangoon), with the Kemendeen Scouts.
The Treasure of Gems, 1934. Set in 16th century Martaban and Pegu, where an English boy Roger ends up in King Tabinshweti’s court.
Fetters of Freedom, 1934
Within the Golden Globe, 1934
The Crimson Caterpillar, 1935
Where the Master Lived, 1936
Scouts in the Shan Jungle, 1937. Kemendeen Scouts’ adventures in the Shan States.
Burma Road Calling!, 1943. A journey from Rangoon to Chungking during the second Sino-Japanese War.

Maria Kekki, Curator for Burmese  Ccownwork

This blog was written courtesy of Michael Bruce and Christopher Griffin (both grandsons of Alfred Sercombe Griffin), who generously provided information, articles, letters and photographs from the family archives.

16 May 2022

Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project: 120 more Javanese manuscripts to be digitised

With the generous support of William and Judith Bollinger, 120 Javanese manuscripts in the British Library are being digitised. The manuscripts date from the 18th to the late 19th centuries, and cover a wide range of subjects, from Javanese literature, history and calendrical traditions to Islamic texts on theology, law and Sufism, and include some finely illuminated or illustrated volumes. A full list of the manuscripts to be digitised can be found here. On completion of this project by 2023, a great milestone will have been reached: all the Javanese manuscripts written on paper in the British Library will have been digitised, and will be freely and fully accessible online.

This project continues and complements the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project (2017-2019), supported by Mr S.P. Lohia, which digitised 75 manuscripts originating from the Palace (Kraton) of Yogyakarta, which had been seized by British forces in 1812 and are now held in the British Library. In the present Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project, the great majority of manuscripts to be digitised – over a hundred of the 120 – were also acquired during the British administration of Java from 1811 to 1816, and are thus substantially earlier than most other Javanese manuscripts held in libraries today.

Serat Angling Darma, undated but written on English paper watermarked 1808, with ‘temple’-style illuminated frames with brick pedestals, columns and domes
Serat Angling Darma, undated but written on English paper watermarked 1808, with ‘temple’-style illuminated frames with brick pedestals, columns and domes. British Library, Add 12285, ff. 1v-2r Noc

In this new digitisation project, 41 of the Javanese manuscripts are from the collection of John Crawfurd, who was Resident of Yogyakarta from 1811 to 1814. While these manuscripts are not from the Kraton library in Yogyakarta, many of them have royal connections through the Pakualaman, the minor court set up in Yogyakarta under British patronage in 1812 in return for support during the attack on the Sultan's palace. Crawfurd and Prince Paku Alam I enjoyed warm relations founded on a shared interest in Javanese literature and history. The Pakualaman court became renowned as an artistic centre, and many of the manuscripts presented to Crawfurd by Paku Alam are illuminated in the characteristic candi or ‘temple’ style, with decorated frames (wadana) in the form of distinctly architectural constructs, as shown above (Behrend 2005; Saktimulya 2016).

Another British official with an interest in Javanese history was Colin Mackenzie, Chief Engineer in Java from 1811 to 1813, and 43 manuscripts to be digitised in this project come from the Mackenzie collection. In contrast to the Crawfurd collection, which mostly comprises manuscripts from Yogyakarta, a considerable number of manuscripts owned by Mackenzie originate from other regions of Java including the pasisir, the northern coastal strip. Mackenzie received manuscripts from Kudus and Rembang (MSS Jav 90, 99), from the Adipati of Gresik (MSS Jav 12), and from the son of the Panembahan of Sumenep in Madura (MSS Jav 25, 31). Five of Mackenzie’s manuscripts came from Kyai Adipati Sura Adimanggala, the erudite Regent of Semarang (MSS Jav 1, 2, 3, 18, 67), including a divination almanac, Papakem Watugunung, dated 1812 (MSS Jav 67), written and illustrated by Sura Adimanggala himself.

Papakem Watugunung, with illustrations of attributes of each of the thirty wuku or weeks
Papakem Watugunung, with illustrations of attributes of each of the thirty wuku or weeks, written and illustrated by Kyai Adipati Sura Adimanggala of Semarang, 1812. British Library, MSS Jav 67, f. 38r Noc

From the Dutch official F.J. Rothenbuhler, former Governor (Gezaghebber) of the Eastern Coast of Java, based in Surabaya, Mackenzie received two of the finest early illustrated Javanese manuscripts known, which appear to have been commissioned by Rothenbuhler’s wife, named in the text as Nyonya Sakeber (i.e. Gezaghebber). Serat Sela Rasa (MSS Jav 28), copied in 1804, was one of the first Javanese manuscripts in the British Library to be digitised, since when its wayang-style drawings have attracted wide attention and adorned numerous book covers published internationally. Much less known is its equally lavishly illustrated sister manuscript, Panji Jaya Kusuma (MSS Jav 68), but its planned digitisation will bring this beautiful manuscript too into the limelight, and is certainly one of the highlights of the project.

Mss_jav_68_f024v-ed
Prince Dewakusuma (father of Panji) entering his wife's bed-chamber; her presence is only hinted at, tantalizingly, by her foot peeping out from under the bed-covers. Panji Jaya Kusuma, Surabaya, 1805. British Library, MSS Jav 68, f. 24v Noc

The Mackenzie collection is also rich in Islamic works, written in Javanese in both Javanese script (hanacaraka) and modified Arabic script (pegon). Manuscripts may include texts in Arabic, in some cases with interlinear translations in Javanese. Subjects range from stories of Islamic saints and heroes such as Anbiya (MSS Jav 51) and Carita satus (MSS Jav 73), texts on mysticism and prayer, and Sufi silsilah or chains of transmission of teachings, as well as compilations of prayers and vows. There are also a number of primbon, compendia of religious teachings combined with divination guides, mantras and protective prayers.

Mystical presentation of the name Allah, in a compendium of Islamic works, late 18th-early 19th century
Mystical presentation of the name Allah, in a compendium of Islamic works, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, MSS Jav 69, f. 40v Noc

The manuscripts to be digitised also include 13 from the collection of Raffles, comprising fragments of literary works, copies of Old Javanese inscriptions, and notes on language. Raffles, Mackenzie and Crawfurd all collected manuscripts in order to support their researches. In their publications – such as Raffles’ History of Java (1817) and Crawfurd’s Grammar and Dictionary of the Malay language (1852) and his Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands and Adjacent Countries (1856) – references to the manuscripts in their own collections can be traced, but many other ‘works in progress’ remained unpublished. Mackenzie never published anything of substance arising out of his Javanese collections, while among Crawfurd’s manuscripts to be digitised are three volumes of materials for a planned grammar and dictionary of Javanese which never fully materialised.

English-Javanese dictionary compiled by John Crawfurd
A glimpse of an English-Javanese dictionary compiled by John Crawfurd, before 1851. British Library, Add 18577, f. 123r Noc

Account of the family of the late regent of Tuban, in Javanese
Punika atur pratela kawula Adipati Sura Adinagara Bupati ing Lasem, ‘Account of the family of the late regent of Tuban’, collected by Raffles. British Library, MSS Jav 100, f. 3r Noc

The Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project will also digitise around 17 manuscripts mostly dating from the second half of the 19th century, comprising more recent acquisitions in the British Library. These include an illustrated volume of Panji stories, probably from the north coast of Java, a collection of drawings of wayang figures, and a number of Islamic texts copied on local treebark paper (dluwang), most likely from an educational (pesantren) milieu.

Illustration from a Panji romance, 1861
A foreign Balinese soldier confronting Urawan, who is actually Panji's wife in male disguise; an illustration from a Panji romance, 1861. British Library, Or 15026, f. 69r Noc

Over the coming year, the British Library will be working with partners in Indonesia, especially with the National Library of Indonesia (Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia or Perpusnas), the very active Indonesian Association of Manuscript Scholars MANASSA, and DREAMSEA (Digital Repository of Endangered and Affected Manuscripts in Southeast Asia), to broaden awareness and usage of these new resources, including through a conference to be held in Indonesia.  Selected newly-digitised Javanese manuscripts from the British Library will also be transliterated in cooperation with the Lestari Literary Foundation (Yayasan Sastra Lestari) and will be made accessible through the pioneering portal for Javanese literature, Sastra Jawa.

All the manuscripts to be digitised over the coming year through the Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project are listed on the Digital Access to Javanese Manuscripts page. As each manuscript becomes accessible, the shelfmark will be hyperlinked directly to the digitised images. This post has highlighted some of the most interesting and beautiful manuscripts which will soon be available online to be read in full – or even just to be gazed at and enjoyed as a visual feast.  

References:

T.E. Behrend, Frontispiece architecture in Ngayogyakarta: notes on structure and sources. Archipel, 2005, (69): 39-60.
M.C. Ricklefs, P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.
Sri Ratna Saktimulya, Naskah-Naskah Skriptorium Pakualaman periode Paku Alam II (1830-1858). Jakarta: KPG (Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia), Ecole française d’Extrrême Orient, Perpustakaan Widyapustaka, Pura Pakualaman, 2016.
Donald E.Weatherbee. 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.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

 

02 May 2022

Three unusual illuminated Javanese manuscripts

This guest blog is by Dr Dick van der Meij, Digital Repository of Endangered and Affected Manuscripts in Southeast Asia (DREAMSEA), Hamburg University

How Javanese manuscripts were actually produced is still largely a puzzle, and therefore it is important to describe manuscripts in a way that can shed light on this issue. Comparing manuscripts is also crucial to discover whether manuscripts might be related through their scribes, or in terms of other codicological aspects such as their illustrations, illuminations and bindings.

The start of many manuscripts from Central Java from the royal palaces and from other affluent owners often comprises two facing pages with highly intricate illuminations around a text block that is much smaller than that found in the rest of the manuscript. These illuminations, usually called wadana renggan in Javanese, are hard to interpret for someone not truly versed in Javanese literature and culture. It is generally thought that these illuminated frames are unrelated to the content of the manuscript, but this supposition is often wrong, as may be seen from the work of Sri Ratna Saktimulya from Yogyakarta who has dealt with this issue in many of her publications, most notably in her book on the manuscripts made during the reign of Paku Alam II (1830-1858) of the Pakualaman court in Yogyakarta (Saktimulya 2016).

It appears to be the case that when illumination was planned, the text was usually written first, after which an artist provided the illuminations, with or without consulting the scribe of the manuscript (Van der Meij 2017: 81). In many cases, however, illuminated frames were not added, for whatever reason, and the wide space set aside for the illumination around the text was left blank, as can be seen in the manuscript of the Sĕrat Asmarasupi (MSS Jav 26), written in AJ 1695/AD 1769, shown below.

Two initial pages with blank borders which have not been illuminated in Sĕrat Asmarasupi, 1769
Two initial pages with blank borders which have not been illuminated in Sĕrat Asmarasupi, 1769. British Library, MSS Jav 26, ff. 6v-7r Noc

Often in Javanese manuscripts the text on the illuminated pages starts with a colophon, which states when the manuscript was made and by whom, or other information the scribe felt the need to tell, such as his emotional state of mind when he or she started writing. The poetic text often also starts on these pages, and then continues without any interruption on the reverse of the page that follows the illuminated one, in the same hand. A typical example is shown below, in a manuscript from the collection of John Crawfurd, British Resident of Yogyakarta, containing legendary tales, Add MS 12300 (Ricklefs, Voorhoeve and Gallop 2014: 47 ).

Illuminated frames (wadana renggan) at the start of a manuscript of legendary tales
Illuminated frames (wadana renggan) at the start of a manuscript of legendary tales, AJ 1743/AD 1815 (?). British Library, Add MS 12300, ff. 2v-3r Noc

the text on the first page following the illuminations continues seamlessly, without interruption or repetition
In this manuscript the text on the first page following the illuminations continues seamlessly, without interruption or repetition, from the text within the wadana. British Library, Add MS 12300, f. 3v Noc

Below we will have a look at three Javanese manuscripts from the early 19th century, which have all been recently digitised through the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta digitisation project. They are Add MS 12281 of the Sĕrat Panji Angronang Pakualaman, also called Sĕrat Jaya Lĕngkara, written in AJ 1741 (AD 1813); Add MS 12288 of the Babad Sultanan utawi Mangkunĕgaran [Mangkubumen?] (undated); and Add MS 12302 of the Sĕrat Rĕjunawijaya, written in AJ 1729 (AD 1801) (Ricklefs, Voorhoeve and Gallop 2014: 45-47).

In these three manuscripts, something quite different has happened in the preparation of the illuminated pages. In all three, the same scribe wrote the text enclosed within the illuminated frames and, by the look of it, the same artist was at work on the three pairs of illuminated frames, but all three subsequent texts were written in different hands. Also, the texts do not immediately follow the illuminated pages on the verso, but one or more pages between the illuminated page and the start of the main text have been left blank.

Text in the illuminated frame from Sĕrat Rĕjunawijaya
Text in the illuminated frame from Sĕrat Rĕjunawijaya, AJ 1728-29/AD 1801-2. British Library, Add MS 12302, f. 2v  Noc

However, in all three manuscripts the illuminated frames contain the exact same text that starts on the subsequent pages. Add MS 12288 contains the first stanza of the first canto written in the long poetic meter Dhangdhanggula, while Add MS 12281 contains the first two stanzas of the first canto of the text in the short poetic meter Mijil. Because the poetic metre Mijil does not have many lines, Add MS 12281 needed two stanzas, as otherwise there would not have been enough text to fill the two illuminated frames. Add MS 12302 has two stanzas in another short metre, Pangkur, as otherwise both text blocks would not have been filled. However, in this manuscript the start of the text after the illuminated pages skips the first stanza that is included in the first illuminated page. In all three manuscripts the text blocks are completely filled with text, which means that the scribe knew exactly how large his letters should be in order to fill the space available precisely. It is also clear that the writing is by the same hand in all three manuscripts, but the scribe used a different pen for each.

Illuminated frames (wadana) at the start of Sĕrat Panji Angronang Pakualaman, 1813
Illuminated frames (wadana) at the start of Sĕrat Panji Angronang Pakualaman, 1813. British Library, Add MS 12281, ff. 1v-2r  Noc

The start of the actual text after the illuminated pages in Sĕrat Panji Angronang Pakualaman
The start of the actual text after the illuminated pages in Sĕrat Panji Angronang Pakualaman, in a cursive forward-sloping hand. British Library, Add MS 12281, f. 3r Noc

Opening illuminated frames of Babad Sultanan utawi Mangkunĕgaran
Opening illuminated frames of Babad Sultanan utawi Mangkunĕgaran [Mangkubumen?], (undated). British Library, Add MS 12288, ff. 2v-3r Noc

The start of the actual text after the illuminated pages in Babad Sultanan utawi Mangkunĕgaran
The start of the actual text after the illuminated pages in Babad Sultanan utawi Mangkunĕgaran. British Library, Add MS 12288, f. 4v Noc

Double illuminated frames at the start of Sĕrat Rĕjunawijaya
Double illuminated frames at the start of Sĕrat Rĕjunawijaya, 1801. British Library, Add MS 12302, ff. 2v-3r  Noc

The start of the actual text of Sĕrat Rĕjunawijaya after the illuminated pages.
The start of the actual text of Sĕrat Rĕjunawijaya after the illuminated pages. While the illuminated pages open with the indication of the poetic meter that starts the text, Pangkur, this page starts with the Javanese numerals '1 7 2 8' indicating the year 1728 (as stated in the first line: angkaning warsa sinurat, ‘number of the year of writing’) in the Javanese calendar which is equivalent to AD 1801, and omits the indication of the poetic meter. British Library, Add MS 12302, f. 5v  Noc

As can be seen in the illustrations above, in all three manuscripts, the illuminator has added one small golden leaf-shaped ornament on the stanza divider at the end of the text within the illuminated frames, and has marked the identical spot on the first subsequent page of text with a golden leaf on the stanza divider as well. This is possibly to denote to the reader/singer that after having read/sung the text from the illuminated pages, he/she should subsequently continue at the small golden ornament on the following page to avoid repetition of the text.

small illuminated gold leaf markings at the end of the poetic lines in Add 12281-ill   small illuminated gold leaf markings at the end of the poetic lines in Add 12281-text

small illuminated gold leaf markings at the end of the poetic lines in Add 12288-ill   Small illuminated leaf in Add 12288-text

Small golden leaf in Add 12302-ill   Small gold leaf in Add 12302-text
Details of the same small illuminated gold leaf markings at the end of the poetic lines within the illuminated frames, all written in the same scribal hand (left) and the equivalent locations on the first page of full text following the illuminated frames, all in different hands (right); from top to bottom: Add MS 12281, f. 2r and f. 3r, Add MS 12288, f. 3r and f. 4v, and Add MS 12302, f. 3r and f. 5v.  Noc

In the three manuscripts discussed above it is clear that, as happens frequently in Javanese paper manuscrips, pages were left empty at the start of the writing process. This is usually done to avoid text being lost because the opening pages are most prone to damage, and in this case probably also to allow illuminated pages to be executed later. Why this was done in this peculiar way in these manuscripts remains unclear, but the study of many more of these illuminations may shed further light on the writing and illuminating practices of manuscripts in Java.

Further reading:
Dick van der Meij, Indonesian Manuscripts from the Islands of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok. Leiden: Brill, 2017.
M.C. Ricklefs, P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian Manuscripts in Great Britain. A catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda and Corrigenda, Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.
Sri Ratna Saktimulya, Naskah-Naskah Skriptorium Pakualaman periode Paku Alam II (1830-1858). Jakarta: KPG (Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia), Ecole française d’Extrrême Orient, Perpustakaan Widyapustaka, Pura Pakualaman, 2016.

Dick van der Meij, Leiden  Ccownwork

25 April 2022

Reunited at last: a classical Thai verse novel from Ayutthaya

A unique set of five folding books containing the story of Sang Sinchai in Thai language has recently been reunited after a separation of about 200 years. The manuscripts, dating to before 1796, contain a retelling of an older text that was lost or destroyed during the devastation of the former Thai capital Ayutthaya in 1767 in the war with Burma. The existence of this copy of the verse novel remained widely unknown until 1958 when Thai historian Khachon Sukkhaphanit (1913-78) examined manuscripts at the British Museum and identified three volumes of Sang Sinchai. In 1973, these three volumes were transferred from the British Museum, along with other books and manuscripts, to the newly-formed British Library.

Thai text written in yellow gamboge ink on black mulberry paper; third volume of Sang Sinchai
Thai text written in yellow gamboge ink on black mulberry paper; third volume of Sang Sinchai. British Library, MSS Siamese 17/A, f. 7 Noc

The folding books discovered in 1958 are volumes one (Add MS 12261), two (Add MS 12262/A) and four (Add MS 12264). Volumes three and five were thought to be missing until recently when a photocopy of an undated, handwritten list by King Chulalongkorn’s private advisor Henry Alabaster  (1836-1884) came to light during an initiative to catalogue Thai backlog material. The list describes seventeen Thai manuscripts found in the former India Office Library, among which were the two “missing” volumes of Sang Sinchai.

The reunited set consists of five folding books made from black mulberry paper in differing sizes. The Thai text was written in yellow gamboge ink, without illustrations. The title on the first folio of volume one reads Sang Sinchai samut nu’ng (สังสินชัย สหมุดนึ่ง original spelling). The spelling in all five volumes is generally consistent with 18th-century Thai orthography. The entire text is written in klon verse, in the same hand in all volumes, with extensive descriptions of places, characters and their emotions. Only volume 3 has red lacquered covers with small flower decorations.

Complete set of five volumes containing the story of Sang Sinchai
Complete set of five volumes containing the story of Sang Sinchai. British Library, Add MS 12261, Add MS 12262/A, Add MS 12264 and MSS Siamese 17/A-B Noc

The provenance of the manuscript is partially known. Three volumes were acquired for the British Museum in January 1842 from Thomas Rodd, a London bookseller, as part of the collection of Scotsman Sir John MacGregor Murray (1745-1822, biographic details in this article).

Murray served in the British establishment in Bengal from 1770 to 1797 and was auditor general of Bengal. He never travelled to Burma, but his connection with Burma was through Dr Francis Buchanan who participated in an embassy to Amarapura in 1795 and published his observations  afterwards. On Murray’s request, Buchanan collected Burmese  and Thai manuscripts, with the assistance of a missionary resident in Ava, Father Vincentius Sangermano. Murray, a passionate collector and commissioner of mainly Persian and Arakanese manuscripts, brought his collection back to the UK when he returned from Bengal in 1797. After his death, Murray’s collection was split up: some manuscripts were purchased by the British Museum, others ended up in the India Office Library and the major part is now kept at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin in Germany.

Henry Alabaster’s description of volumes 3 and 5
Henry Alabaster’s description of volumes 3 and 5 in a photocopy of a “Catalogue of Siamese manuscripts in the Library of Her Majesty’s India Office” [no place, no date]. Noc

A colophon in volume 1 (Add MS 12261) mentions that the text was compiled after the siege of the “Great City” (เมื่องไหย่) to preserve the original text that had been lost or destroyed. The phrase “siege of the Great City” is thought to refer to the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767, and the scribe as well as the patrons may have been war captives taken from Ayutthaya to Ava. The anonymous scribe states that “this ancient Mon story” (นิยายมอนแตกอนมา original spelling) was written down from memory. Another colophon on f. 42 of the second volume mentions two grandparents, Ta Khong and Yai Mun (ตาคง ยายมูน), who commissioned this manuscript. And a colophon on the last folio of volume 3 records that this volume was completed on “Saturday, ninth month, [uposatha day before] the 3rd quarter moon, year of the rat” corresponding to 20 August 1791.

Colophon in the first volume mentioning the loss of the original text during the “siege of the Great City” (second line)
Colophon in the first volume mentioning the loss of the original text during the “siege of the Great City” (second line). British Library, Add MS 12261, f.2 Noc

The text tells the story of King Senakut and his younger sister Keson Sumontha, who was abducted by the giant Yak Kumphan. The pair later had a daughter, Sri Suphan, whom Yak Kumphan lost in a gamble to the king of serpents. Senakut, distraught by the kidnapping of his sister, set up a hermitage in the forest where he met seven beautiful maidens who became his consorts. Six of them gave birth to sons, but the seventh consort, Pathuma, and her attendant Kraison gave birth to two very special sons. Pathuma’s child, Sang Sinchai, was born in a conch shell and with an ivory bow, and Kraison’s son Sing had the shape of a mythical lion.

The six other jealous consorts plotted to convince the king that the two strange sons were a bad omen, so he banished them and their mothers from the city. Growing up in the forest, the boys acquired super-human skills in addition to powers they were born with. One day, the king ordered his other six sons to search for Keson Sumontha who he could not forget. Being cowards, they looked for Sang Sinchai and Sing and tricked them into joining the search for their aunt. Sang Sinchai located Keson Sumontha, but she told him about her daughter Sri Suphan who lived with the serpent king. Sang Sinchai and Sing rescued both women and brought them back to the other six brothers who pushed Sang Sinchai down a water hole before taking the women to King Senakut. However, Keson Sumontha left her scarf at the spot and vowed that should she ever get it back, it meant Sang Sinchai was still alive.

After some time, a merchant brought Keson Sumontha’s scarf to the city. She implored the king to find Sang Sinchai in the forest. Senakut followed her wish and finally welcomed Sang Sinchai, Sing and their mothers back into the city. Sang Sinchai married Sri Suphan and became king while Senakut ordered the six other sons and their mothers to become the new king’s servants. Senakut, Keson Sumontha and Pathuma became ascetics.

Illustration of King Senakut’s city in a dramatised version of Sang Sinchai by Rama II
Illustration of King Senakut’s city in a dramatised version of Sang Sinchai by Rama II, published in Bangkok, 1922. British Library, Siam.160, p. 471.

It is often assumed that Sang Sinchai is simply the Thai pronunciation of Sang Sinsai, a well-known work attributed to the 17th-century Lao scribe Pangkham. The Lao text is considered a masterpiece of Lao literature and is very popular across Laos thanks to the extensive research and publications of Maha Sila Viravong. He transcribed the story from palm leaf manuscripts for publication by the Kasuang Thammakan (1949) which formed the basis for numerous subsequent editions and translations into other languages. Lao Isan (Northeast Thai) and Thai versions of the story have been retold, researched and published by several Thai authors since the 1920s.

Mural depicting a scene from Sang Sinsai at Wat Sanuan Wari Phatthanaram in Khon Kaen Province, Thailand
Mural depicting a scene from Sang Sinsai at Wat Sanuan Wari Phatthanaram in Khon Kaen Province, Thailand. Photo courtesy of Peter Whittlesey. Source: Sinxay.com 

However, the Thai text of Sang Sinchai in this manuscript differs significantly from the Lao and Lao Isan versions, as it features some different characters, with different names and a storyline inspired by an ancient legend of the Mon ethnic group with the title Sangada. The motif of a boy born with a conch shell also appears in a Buddhist tale entitled Suvannasankha Jātaka (Golden Conch Birth Story) belonging to the corpus of Paññāsa Jātaka.

The verse novel Sang Sinchai is little known today, despite the fact that it once inspired Thai kings and princes - King Rama II, King Rama III and Prince Naritsaranuwattiwong - to write dramatised adaptations of the story in the 19th and early 20th century.

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Collections Ccownwork
This article is an updated summary of “A Thai text of Sang Sinchai from the late Ayutthaya era” in Manuscript Cultures and Epigraphy of the Tai World, ed. Volker Grabowsky. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2022, pp. 225-254.

Further reading
Baker, Chris and Pasuk Phongpaichit. 53 Suvaṇṇasaṅkha: The golden conch
Brereton, Bonnie Pacala and Somroay Yencheuy. Buddhist murals of Northeast Thailand. Reflections of the Isan heartland. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2010.
Jenny, Mathias. The story of Prince Sangada. A Mon legend in Southeast Asia context. The Mon over two millennia. Monuments, manuscripts, movements. Ed. Patrick McCormick, Mathias Jenny and Chris Baker. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University, 2011, pp. 147-167. 
Nangklao, King of Siam. Botlakhō̜n rư̄ang Sangsinchai. [Bangkok]: Rōngphim Sōphonphiphatthanākō̜n, 1929-30.
Naritsarānuwattiwong, Prince. Prachum bot lakhō̜n du’kdamban chabap lūang. [Bangkok]: Rōngphim Thai, 1924.
Phutthalœtlā Naphālai, Phra, King of Siam. Phrarātchaniphon bot lakhǭn rū’ang Sang Sinchai. Bangkok: Sophon, 1917.
Phutthalœtlā Naphālai, Phra, King of Siam. Bot lakhǭn nǭk rūam hok rư̄ang. Bangkok, 1922.
Sang Sinsai phap thī 1. [Transcript and foreword by Maha Sila Viravong]. Vientiane: Kasūang thammakān, 1949.
Songwit Phimphakō̜n et al. Sinsai sō̜ng fang Khōng. Khō̜n Kǣn: Sūn Khō̜mūn Lāo Mahāwitthayālai Khō̜nkǣn, 2014.
Whittlesey, Peter and Baythong S. Whittlesey, Sinxay. Renaissance of a Lao-Thai epic hero. [n.p.], Sinxay Press, 2015.

18 April 2022

The provenance histories of Batak manuscripts in the British Library (1): The British Museum collection to 1900

Provenance research is increasingly acknowledged as an essential part of the study of manuscripts, which was long dominated by a focus on the texts within.  More recently philological studies have increasingly been complemented by considerations of materiality, with an enhanced appreciation of materials, decorative elements, graphic layouts and paratextual elements.  Our understandings of writing cultures can be further enhanced by exploring the 'social life' of manuscripts (alluding to Arjun Appadurai's influential 1986 volume) and in particular the changing meanings of books through time and place as they were created, used, sold, seized, stolen, traded, discarded or treasured.

Following the digitisation of the complete collection of 37 Batak manuscripts in the British Library, in collaboration with CMSC Hamburg University, this series of three blog posts attempts to trace the complex journeys that each manuscript undertook, from north Sumatra to London.  The task is also important for scholarly reasons, for Batak manuscripts are never dated, and therefore the date of acquisition is often the only firm evidence towards dating the manuscript, providing at the very least a latest possible date for the writing of the book. This first part considers manuscripts from the collections of the British Museum up to 1900. The second installment looks at Batak manuscripts from the India Office Library and Records, which joined the British Library in 1982. The third and final part presents more recent aquisitions up to the present.

Provenance note in a manuscript
Provenance note in Batak manuscript Add 11546, with the red 'British Museum' crown stamp. British Library, Add 11546 Noc

An important element of provenance research is understanding the system of shelfmarks or reference numbers used by libraries and museums, because often these offer clear indications of the likely date of acquisition. The British Museum was founded in 1753 through the bequest of Sir Hans Sloane, whose own manuscripts were assigned the shelfmarks 'Sloane MS 1-4100'.  Following the end of the Sloane sequence, subsequent manuscripts which entered the British Museum were given 'Additional' manuscript numbers, now abbreviated as 'Add', starting with Add MS 4101.  The first Batak manuscript to enter the British Museum, just a decade after its founding, was Add MS 4726, a pustaha or tree-bark book folded in concertina form, in Toba Batak script.  This is in fact the first known Batak manuscript to enter a European collection, and also gives us the earliest terminus ante quem or 'earliest latest date of writing' for any Batak manuscript (the complex formulation reflecting the difficulties of establishing chronological frameworks for Batak manuscripts). A black ink inscription on the first page identifies the donor: ‘Presented by Alexander Hall, Esq., 18 May 1764’.

Thanks to research by Ellen Filor (2014), Alexander Hall (1731/2-1764) can be identified as the youngest son of a Scottish aristocrat, James Hall, 2nd Baronet of Dunglass. Hall entered the East India Company in 1750 and was sent out as a factor or merchant to Fort Marlborough at Bengkulu (then called Bencoolen) on the west coast of Sumatra, and in 1753 was appointed assistant to the Resident at Natal, in Mandailing Batak territory. He is cited – in the context of a discussion of the cannibalism of the Bataks – in William Marsden’s History of Sumatra (1783, p. 303): ‘Mr. Alexander Hall made a charge in his public accounts of a sum paid to a raja as an inducement to him to spare a man whom he had seen preparing for a victim’. Hall returned to Britain in 1762 and unsuccessfully petitioned the Company to be transferred to Bengal. He departed again for India in 1763 and in September 1764 arrived back in Bengkulu, where he died two months later. As in May 1764 Hall would have been en route to Bengkulu, the Batak manuscript was probably brought to England in 1762, and then delivered to the British Museum either personally before he set sail again in 1763, or in 1764 by someone acting on his behalf.

Donation inscription of Alexander Hall, 18 May 1764. British Library, Add 4726
Inscription naming the donor as Alexander Hall, 18 May 1764. British Library, Add 4726, f. 19r, start of text on side b Noc

We have no information on how Alexander Hall acquired this manuscript. However, inscriptions on the book itself suggest an informed exchange enquiring into the contents of the book. On the first page is written with a European pen in Latin characters: ‘Ompoo Nee Ha ee doo punn / Harryen Soocoo nya / Punn ampoo Hee wrote this / Witness Raja Muntaggar’, which can be read in conjunction with the Batak text to understand that Ompu Ni Haidupan, of the clan Harean, wrote this panampuhi or text on the divination oracle through analysis of the cut slices of a lemon. 

Romanised inscription identifying the author and subject of this Batak manuscript. British Library, Add 4726
Romanised inscription identifying the author and subject of this Batak manuscript. British Library, Add 4726, f. 1r  Noc

The next two Batak manuscripts to enter the British Museum were both purchased from dealers who were major suppliers to the Museum. Add 11546 was bought in 1839 from Harry (Henry) Osborne Cureton (1785-1858), a dealer in coins and antiquities based at 81 Aldersgate, Barbican, London (see illustration at the top of this post).  Add 15678 was acquired in 1846 from Joseph Lilly (1804-1870), a well-known London bookseller.  No further information is available on where or how these manuscripts ended up in London.

A substantial collection of eight pustaha, Add 19378 to Add 19385, was purchased from a Dr E.G. Latham in 1853. Latham had received them from Baron Oscar von Kessel, who had travelled in the southern regions of Batak country from Tobing via Sipirok in south Tapanuli to Sigompulon in 1844 as part of a survey expedition (see von Kessel, 1856). A further manuscript, Or 2445, sold to the British Museum by Dr E. G. Latham in 1881, evidently came from the same source. The connection between Dr Latham and Baron von Kessel is not known.

One of the eight pustaha acquired in 1844 by Baron von Kessel in Mandailing territory, and sold to the British Museum in 1853 by Dr E. G. Latham. British Library, Add 19378, f. 53r
One of the eight pustaha acquired in 1844 by Baron von Kessel in Mandailing territory, and sold to the British Museum in 1853 by Dr E. G. Latham. British Library, Add 19378, f. 35r Noc

Or 5309 is a bamboo cylinder which was given to the British Museum by Lord Crawford in 1897. Ludovic Lindsay (1847-1913), 26th Earl of Crawford, inherited his father Lord Lindsay’s bibliophilia, including for Oriental manuscripts. Lord Lindsay had acquired a number of Batak pustaha from the sale of H.C. Millies in 1870, and Ludovic continued to seek out Batak and other Southeast Asian manuscripts. On 15 October 1897 he wrote to his librarian, instructing him to contact C.M. Pleyte at the booksellers Brill in Leiden, and: ‘Get all the Batak he [Pleyte] will let you have especially the Bamboo ones’ (Hodgson 2020: 1021). Is it therefore not rather surprising that Ludovic presented a bamboo Batak manuscript to the British Museum in this very year? The answer probably lies in its condition: Or 5309 is split in two halves. The placement of the old British Museum labels on the inside of the bamboo suggests that the manuscript was already broken when it arrived, and this is perhaps why Ludovic did not retain it in his collection, and instead donated it to the British Museum.

Bamboo manuscript, split into two halves. British Library, Or 5309
Bamboo manuscript, split into two halves. British Library, Or 5309 Noc

The next part of this blog will look at Batak manuscripts from the India Office Library collection.

Further reading:
Ellen Filor. Alexander Hall (c. 1731/2-1764) in Scotland and Sumatra. East India Company at Home, 1757-1857: The British country house in an imperial and global context. 2014.
John R. Hodgson, ‘Spoils of Many a Distant Land’: The Earls of Crawford and the collecting of Oriental manuscripts in the nineteenth century. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 2020, 48(6): 1011-1047.
Oscar von Kessel, Reis in de Nog Onafhankelijke Batak-Landen van Klein-Toba, op Sumatra, in 1844. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1856, 4(1): 55-97.
M.C. Ricklefs, P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain. New edition with Addenda et corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

04 April 2022

Ariya Metteyya, the Buddha of the future

Ariya Metteyya (Sanskrit: Maitreya), the future Buddha, is at the centre of some of the most beautiful illustrations in Thai Buddhist manuscripts. According to canonical scriptures, Ariya Metteyya is the fifth in the lineage of Buddhas (Tathāgata) of the current aeon, and successor of the 28 Buddhas of the past. Ariya means “noble”, and Metteyya is derived from the Pali word mātreyya which refers to “one's mother” and “motherloving”. The previous Buddha Gotama predicted in the Cakkavatti-sῑhanāda-sutta that Ariya Metteyya will be the Buddha of the future, following his rebirth in the human realm, renunciation of worldly life and attainment of enlightenment under a Naga tree (cobra saffron, Lat. Mesua ferrea).

The future Buddha, surrounded by deities in Tuṣita heaven
The future Buddha, surrounded by deities in Tuṣita heaven, illustrated in a folding book containing extracts from the Tipiṭaka and the story of Phra Malai, central Thailand, 1875. British Library Or 6630, f. 43  Noc

The story of the future Buddha appears in another canonical source entitled Buddhavaṃsa (chronicle of Buddhas) in the Khuddaka Nikāya. It gives details of the life of Buddha Gotama and the 24 Buddhas before him, as well as Ariya Metteyya.

An extra-canonical source that mentions the future Buddha is the Mahāvaṃsa (“Great Chronicle” of Sri Lanka), attributed to the monk Mahānāma. In this text, written in the 5th or 6th century CE, it is stated that Ariya Metteyya currently resides in the Tuṣita heaven as a deity called Natha-deva awaiting rebirth in the human realm.

Another source that describes the life, meritorious acts and attainment of enlightenment of Ariya Metteyya is known under the title Anāgatavaṃsa (account of the future), a work attributed to Ashin Kassapa (1160-1230 CE).

The future Buddha with a red aura (left) and deities (right
The future Buddha with a red aura (left) and deities (right) in a folding book containing the legend of Phra Malai. Central Thailand, 19th century. British Library Add MS 15347, f. 48  Noc

The above-mentioned sources brought knowledge of Ariya Metteyya from Sri Lanka to Southeast Asia. In the Thai Buddhist tradition, the future Buddha is also known as Phra Sri An. Exquisite paintings of him, often lavishly decorated with gold leaf, can be found in manuscripts containing the popular legend of Phra Malai, a monk-saint who was able to travel to the Buddhist heavens and hells as a result of his accumulated merit. The story is often included, among extracts from the Abhidhamma-piṭaka, in Thai funeral and commemoration books from the 19th century. The oldest known extant manuscript containing this legend is a palm-leaf book in Northern Thai (Lanna) Dhamma script, dating back to 1516 CE (Brereton, 1993, p. 141)

Illustrations of Phra Malai with Indra at the Chulamani Chedi (left) and arrival of Ariya Metteyya with deities (right) from Tuṣita heaven
Illustrations of Phra Malai with Indra at the Chulamani Chedi (left) and arrival of Ariya Metteyya with deities (right) from Tuṣita heaven to pay reverence to the celestial stupa. Folding book from central Thailand, 19th century. British Library Or 14115, f. 59  Noc

One episode in this legend elaborates on Phra Malai’s visit to the Tāvatiṃsa heaven, where he meets the god Indra (Sakka) at the celestial stupa Chulamani Chedi. While the two are conversing, myriads of devatā (deities) and finally also the future Buddha appear from another heaven, Tuṣita, to pay reverence to the stupa. Ariya Metteyya then gives Phra Malai a message about the future of mankind, and advice to make merit and to listen to recitations of the Vessantara Jātaka for those who wish to be reborn in the era of the future Buddha.

The future Buddha with deities (right) and withayathon as flag-bearers (left)
The future Buddha with deities (right) and withayathon as flag-bearers (left) in a folding book with extracts from the Abhidhamma-piṭaka and Phra Malai. Central Thailand, 1894. British Library Or 16101, f. 51  Noc

Although most illustrated Phra Malai manuscripts include the standardised pair of paintings showing the scene at the celestial stupa, Thai artists of the 19th century used many other options to depict Ariya Metteyya. In the image above one can see the future Buddha in an elaborately decorated red aura with two deities partially hidden in clouds (right), whereas on the left side the artist decided to paint male withayathon (Pali: vijjadhara, “keepers of knowledge”, in Thai also “scholars of magic”) as flag-bearers announcing the arrival of Ariya Metteyya.

Painted in a similar manner, but with more attention to detail and in extraordinary artistic quality, are the illustrations below showing the future Buddha in a red aura with six deities (right), and two female deities as flag-bearers (left).

The future Buddha in a large red aura (right) with deities as flag-bearers (left
The future Buddha in a large red aura (right) with deities as flag-bearers (left). Folding book with extracts from the Abhidhamma-piṭaka and Phra Malai. Central Thailand, 1849. British Library Or 14838, f. 57  Noc

In the same manuscript, dated 1849, there is another - very unusual - illustration of the scene in Tāvatiṃsa heaven (shown below): as expected, on the left side is Phra Malai in conversation with Indra and another deity at the celestial stupa. However, on the right side, where normally the future Buddha appears, there is a female figure in a large red aura, floating on clouds in the sky. Like the future Buddha on the preceding folio, she is holding a lotus bud, symbol of imminent enlightenment, and she is accompanied by female deities – just in the same way Ariya Metteyya is usually depicted. We do not know if the painter aimed to express the thought that the future Buddha could be a woman, or whether they may have drawn inspiration from the idea of female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in esoteric Buddhism. Or perhaps it may have been the wish of the patrons, a mother and her two children, who commissioned this manuscript to make merit on behalf of the mother’s parents, and who expressed in the colophon their hope to attain enlightenment.

Phra Malai with Indra and another deity at the Chulamani Chedi (left) and female figure with red aura in place of the future Buddha (right) with deities
Phra Malai with Indra and another deity at the Chulamani Chedi (left) and female figure with red aura in place of the future Buddha (right) with deities. Folding book from central Thailand, 1849. British Library, Or 14838, f. 58  Noc

The story of Phra Malai concludes with Ariya Metteyya’s prediction of the deterioration of Buddhism and degeneration of mankind 5000 years after Buddha Gotama. This is then followed by the birth of the Buddha-to-be in an era in which the earth flourishes and humans are living meritorious lives free from suffering. The future Buddha promises to help all people to transcend saṃsāra - the cycle of birth, death and rebirth - through liberation from greed, hatred and delusion. Sometimes depictions of the blissful life in the future are included in Phra Malai manuscripts, like the example shown below where people are plucking gold jewellery from a wishing tree (left) and enjoying sweets while resting in the shade of a blossoming tree (right).

Illustrations of blissful life in the future era of Ariya Metteyya
Illustrations of blissful life in the future era of Ariya Metteyya. Folding book from central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or 14115, f. 75 Noc

Indeed, the hope of encountering Ariya Metteyya is frequently mentioned in a colophon on the last folio of Thai Buddhist manuscripts. The example below shows a detail from a colophon in a folding book dated 1882, which contains extracts from the Tipiṭaka and the legend of Phra Malai. The future Buddha is mentioned twice here: once called Phra Sri An (underlined orange) and once called Phra Sri Anriya (underlined red), both times referring to Ariya Metteyya.

Ariya Metteyya mentioned twice in the colophon of a folding book
Ariya Metteyya mentioned twice in the colophon of a folding book. Central Thailand, 1882. British Library, Or 15207, f. 91 Noc

The idea of Ariya Metteyya still enjoys great popularity among Buddhists in Thailand today, not least because it is part of the Thai Buddhist concept of a perfect world. It describes an idealised future state of society with prosperity, health, happiness, justice, righteousness and peace which is symbolically expressed through images of Ariya Metteyya in temple murals and sculptures. The examples below from three different Thai manuscripts show that depictions of the future Buddha are easily recognisable because they are highly standardised, although minor variations can be visible like the size of the aura, background, the number of accompanying deities and objects held in the hand of Ariya Metteyya.

Illustrations of the future Buddha in three Thai folding books
Illustrations of the future Buddha in three Thai folding books, from left to right: British Library Or 6630, f. 56 (dated 1875); British Library Or 14838, f. 42 (dated 1849); British Library Or 16710, f. 39 (19th century) Noc

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

Further reading
Aphilak Kasempholkoon, Phra Sri An (Maitreya) as a hero: A structural analysis of Phra Sri An myths in Thai society. Manusya 14/3 (2011), pp. 21-32 
Brereton, Bonnie Pacala, Some comments on a northern Phra Malai text dated C.S. 878 (A.D. 1516). Journal of the Siam Society 81 (1993), pp. 141-5
Brereton, Bonnie Pacala, Thai tellings of Phra Malai: texts and rituals concerning a popular Buddhist saint. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona State University, 1995 
Saya U Chit Tin, assisted by William Pruitt, The coming Buddha Ariya Metteyya. 2nd revised ed. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1992
Phramaha Inwong Issaraphani, Chantras Tapuling, Metteyya: The Concept of Ideal World in Buddhism. MCU Haripunchai Review 2/1 (2018), pp. 35–45.

14 March 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

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