THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

200 posts categorized "South East Asia"

03 June 2019

Some new old books on and from the Malay world

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Most of my blog posts are about manuscripts from maritime Southeast Asia, but the majority of items in the British Library are printed, including perhaps the most important collection in the world of early Malay printing. The Library also holds printed books in languages such as Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, Batak and Bugis, dating from the earliest printed examples through to contemporary publications, as well as rare imprints in all languages from Southeast Asia. Occasionally there are opportunities to fill in gaps in our holdings, and presented below is a selection of early or relatively rare printed books from or on the Malay world acquired over the past few years.

Notes on secret societies, compiled by C.T. Dobrée, is a guide to Chinese triads or secret societies operating in Malaya in the post-war era, with information on the secret codes of language and gestures by which members could identify each other.  This book was compiled as a report for the Federation of Malay Police service in 1953, and printed at the Caxton Press in Kuala Lumpur. Charles Thomas Winston Dobree was appointed Superintendent in the Federation of Malaya Police service in 1948, and at the time of writing was Assistant Commissioner. He appears to have become quite an authority on Chinese gambling syndicates, for he also authored Gambling games of Malaya, printed at the Caxton Press in 1955.

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C.T. Dobrée, Notes on secret societies. Kuala Lumpur: printed at the Caxton Press, [1953]. British Library, ORB.30/8724

The study of languages is one of the great strengths of British Library collections, and whenever possible I try to add to our collection of early grammars and dictionaries of Austronesian languages. One new acquisition is by G.J. Grashuis, Maleische spraakkunst met vertaaloefeningen, printed in Zwolle in 1898. This copy bears the ex libris inscription of H. Kreemer; it is tempting to wonder if he was a relation of J. Kreemer, author of the Acehnese-Dutch dictionary Atjehsch handwoordenboek: Atjehsch-Nederlandsch, published in Leiden by E.J. Brill in 1931 (British Library, 14635.d.17). H. Kreemer evidently did not find this book of much interest, for the pages are still uncut.

From the following century is a small English-Iban phrase book, by Father Leo J. Barry of the Roman Catholic mission in Sarawak. The work was first printed in Kuching at the Government Press in 1958, and this is an (undated) copy of a later printing, probably of 1962.  As indicated by the title, this book was arranged by whole phrases rather than words, and covered the type of sentences deemed helpful for a European working in Sarawak.

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Left: G.J. Grashuis, Maleische spraakkunst met vertaaloefeningen, Zwolle: W.E.J. Tjeenk Willink, 1898. British Library, ORB.30/8733.  Right: Leo J. Barry, English-Iban phrase book, Kuching, [1962?]. British Library, ORB.30/8723.

Of interest to print historians, linguists, epigraphers, typographers and graphic designers is a book with samples of type in different scripts from the famous Lettergieterij 'Amsterdam' voorheen N. Tetterode (Type Foundry 'Amsterdam', formerly known as N. Tetterode), entitled Proeven van Oostersche schriften, published in 1910. It contains examples of its types for scripts ranging from Chinese and Japanese to Coptic and Syriac and Hieroglyphic, as well as Malay, Javanese, Old Javanese, Bugis, Makassarese (including a 'cypher' script), Batak and Mandailing.

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Proeven van Oostersche schriften, Amsterdam: Lettergieterij "Amsterdam", 1910; with a list of the scripts presented. British Library, ORB.30/8729

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Arabic and Malay types, from Proeven van Oostersche schriften, 1910. British Library, ORB.30/8729

The preferred technology for Muslim printing in Southeast Asia was lithography, but the first Malay newspaper, Jawi Peranakkan, published in Singapore in 1876, was typeset. The small book shown below – Hikayat Aluddin, or the Story of Aladdin – was issued by the prolific publisher Haji Muhammad Siraj in Singapore and printed at the Jawi Peranakkan press, using the same small type familiar from the newspaper.  However, lithography is used for the illustrations and captions within the book. The front cover, with the date 1889, may have been the first part of the book to be prepared, for the colophon on the last page gives the date of completion of printing clearly as 1 Ramadan 1307  equivalent to 20 April 1890 (Proudfoot 1993: 121).

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Hikayat Alauddin dengan pelita ajaib = Hikayat Aluddin (in Malay), translated by A.F. von Dewall. 
Singapore: Haji Muhammad Siraj bin Haji Muhammad Salih, 1890. British Library, ORB.30/5554  noc

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Lithographed illustration of Aladdin being importuned by a sorcerer (Tuk Nujum). British Library, ORB.30/5554  noc

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Colophon to Hikayat Aluddin, giving the date of printing at the Jawi Peranakkan press as 20 April 1890 and the name of the publisher as Haji Muhammad Siraj. British Library, ORB.30/5554  noc

As noted above, throughout the second half of the 19th century lithography was the print technology of choice for Muslim publishers because of its ability to reproduce the elegant flowing lines of Arabic calligraphy and to emulate the look of Islamic manuscript books.  Shown below is a typical lithographed publication of this period from a Malay Muslim press, published by Haji Muhammad Taib of Kampung Bali Lane, Singapore, in 1895 (Proudfoot 1993: 483). This is a work on the practice of Islamic law (fiqh), Sullam al-mubtadi fi makrifat tarikat al-muhtadi, composed in 1836 by Syaikh Daud ibn Abdullah al-Fatani (1769-1847), a renowned scholar from Patani in southern Thailand, who spent most of his life studying and writing in Mecca. According to Bradley, this is one of Syaikh Daud's most popular and influential works, and no fewer than 75 manuscript copies are known, in addition to at least eight published editions. The book is inscribed at the beginning and end of the book with the name of its owner, Muhammad Syam bin Abdullah Menjalar, who has also added manuscript annotations in the margin, explaining in Malay certain words in Arabic. 

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First and last pages of Sullam al-mubtadi by Daud bin Abdullah al-Fatani, lithographed in Singapore in 1895. British Library, ORB.30/4335  noc

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Muhammad Syam's manuscript annotations in Malay in the margins of the lithographed book, explaining difficult legal terms in Arabic. British Library, ORB.30/4335  noc

Further reading:

Francis Bradley, Center for Patani Studies.
John Randall (Books of Asia). Southeast Asia: Orientalia 7. London, 2018 (items 2 and 7).
I. Proudfoot. 1993. Early Malay printed books: a provisional account of materials published in the Singapore-Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in major public collections.  [Kuala Lumpur]: Academy of Malay Studies and The Library, University of Malaya.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

With thanks to my colleagues Sud Chonchirdsin and Marja Kingma for cataloguing these items.

10 May 2019

The Buddhist Vesak Festival or Buddha Day

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This is the first of a series of blog posts looking forward to the British Library exhibition on Buddhism, 25 Oct 2019 - 23 Feb 2020

Every full moon day is an auspicious day for Buddhists, but the most important of all is the day of the full moon in May, because three major events in the life of the Gotama Buddha took place on this day. Firstly, the Buddha-to-be, Prince Siddhattha was born at Lumbini Grove on the full moon day in May. Secondly, after six years of hardship, he attained enlightenment under the shade of the Bodhi tree and became Gotama Buddha at Bodh Gaya also on the full moon day of May. Thirdly, after 45 years of teaching the Truth, when he was eighty, at Kusinara, he passed away to nibbana, the cessation of all desire, on the full moon day of May. Therefore, Vesak or Wesak - the day of the full moon in the lunar month of Vesakha, which falls this year on 19 May - is a very important day for Buddhists to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and parinibbana of the Buddha.

The birth of Siddhattha Gotama
The Buddha-to-be was born in about the year 563 BCE in the kingdom of the Sakyas (in present-day southern Nepal) on the full moon day of the month of Vesakha. His father was King Suddhodana and his mother was Queen Maya. They named their son Siddhattha, which means ‘He who achieves his Goal’. Soon after the birth, the king's wise men predicted that the little prince would become either a universal monarch, or a Buddha, ‘awakened one’. His father tried to prevent his son from coming into contact with any religious path, as he wanted his son to be his successor.

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The king took his little son, Prince Siddhattha, to the royal ploughing ceremony and left him to sleep in a tent under a nearby Eugenia tree. Instead, the boy seated himself cross-legged on the bed, and entered into his first state of meditation. On seeing this, the king was amazed, and paid homage to his son. British Library, Or. 14297, f. 8 Noc

Enlightenment
The young prince Siddhattha was brought up in great luxury and at the age of 16 married his cousin, princess Yasodhara. At the age of 29, when he encountered four signs - an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic - he decided to leave his life of luxury, and set out in search of truth and peace. He thus left the city of Kapilavastu and became a wandering ascetic. For nearly six years, in the course of his search for the truth, he practised various forms of severe austerity and extreme self-mortification, until he became weak and realised that such mortifications could not lead him to what he sought. He changed his way of life and followed his own path, the middle way. He sat cross-legged under the foot of the peepal bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) and determined not to rise without attaining enlightenment.

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Prince Siddhattha rides out of the palace after encountering the Four Signs: an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a monk. British Library, Or. 14297, f.11 Noc

Siddhattha continued to search for the solution to the true meaning of life. After six years of hardship, working to find the right spiritual path and practising on his own to seek enlightenment, the prince reached his goal. After forty-nine days, at the age of 35, he attained enlightenment and became a supreme Buddha, on the full moon day of the month of Vesakha at Bodh Gaya. He also became known as Siddhattha Gotama, Gotama Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha or simply the Buddha.

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The Buddha preached his first sermon to five ascetics (left) and gods (right) in the deer park at Isipatana. British Library, Or. 14297, f. 26 Noc

Soon after his enlightenment he gave his first discourse, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta or Turning the Wheel of Dhamma, to five ascetics in the deer park at Isipatana in Benares. After hearing his teaching, the five ascetics became his first disciples. His teaching attracted many followers and they joined the Sangha, the community of monks. He then visited his father, who was ill, to preach the Dhamma. After hearing the Buddha’s teachings the king attained arahatta (perfect sanctity) before he passed away. The Buddha then preached the Abhidhamma or the Higher Doctrine to his former mother, who was reborn as a deva with other deities in the Tavatimsa heaven. He also founded the order of Buddhist nuns. During his long ministry of forty-five years, the Buddha walked throughout the northern districts of India, and taught about the suffering of life, how to end it, and how to attain peace and nibbana, to those who would listen.

Mahaparinibbana (Death)
At the age of 80 the Buddha set out on his last journey with Ananda, his cousin and beloved disciple, and a group of bhikkhus from Rajagaha to Kusinara. The Buddha arrived at Vesali and stayed there during the rainy retreat (vassa). After leaving Vesali, on his way to Kusinara, he arrived at Pava where he had an attack of dysentery. The Buddha then arrived at Kusinara and lay down on a couch between two sal trees in the grove of the Malla kings. Though he was very weak, he addressed Ananda and the bhikkhus, and preached the Mahasudasana Sutta and made one last convert. Then the Buddha attained parinibbana or entry into the final nibbana on the full moon day of the month of Vesakha (May).

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The Buddha’s body was placed in a golden coffin upon a pyre, and a gilded and white umbrella was held above. Mahakassapa, the Buddha’s senior disciple, kneels before the Buddha’s coffin, uncovers the Buddha’s feet and pays homage with full prostrations. The grieving monks are gathered at the Buddha’s funeral in respectful adoration. The Malla kings also gather together to pay their respects to the Buddha with perfume, incense, dancing and music. British Library, Or. 14298, f. 20 Noc

The sacred relics of the Buddha were divided and enshrined across Asia in monuments called stupas. These stupas are considered by Buddhists to be the living presence of the Buddha. These sacred places became centres of pilgrimage where people come and honour the Buddha, who taught the Dhamma and established the Sangha.

The Vesak Festival
Vesak, also known as Buddha Day, is observed by Buddhists in South, Southeast and East Asia, as well as in other parts of the world, as "Buddha's Birthday". The festival of Vesak commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinibbana) of Gotama Buddha in the Buddhist tradition. As the Vesak full moon day is the most important day in the Buddhist calendar, many Buddhists go to the pagodas in procession to pour water at the foot of the sacred tree in remembrance of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. The Peepal Bodhi tree is the most sacred tree for Buddhists as it was under this tree at Bodh Gaya that Siddhattha attained Enlightenment and became a Buddha. Buddhists celebrate these historically significant events by going to monasteries, giving alms, keeping precepts and practising meditation. In return, the monks chant the scriptures, lead periods of meditation and give teachings on the themes of the festival. Vesak is widely celebrated across much of the Buddhist world, but especially in Southeast Asia, where it is considered an especially important time to perform meritorious deeds.

Further reading:
Herbert, Patricia M. The Life of the Buddha. London: British Library, 1993.
San San May and Jana Igunma. Buddhism Illuminated. London: British Library, 2018.

San San May, Curator for Burmese  Ccownwork

 

01 April 2019

Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta digitisation project completed

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Over 30,000 digital images of Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta are now fully accessible online through the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website. The project, generously supported by Mr S P Lohia, has digitised 75 Javanese manuscripts held in the British Library from the collections of John Crawfurd and Colin Mackenzie, who both served in Java under Thomas Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor from 1811 to 1816. The manuscripts had been identified by historians Peter Carey and Merle Ricklefs as having been taken from the Kraton (palace) of Yogyakarta following a British attack in June 1812, when Crawfurd was Resident of Yogyakarta and Mackenzie was Chief Engineer of the British army in Java.

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Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang, copied in Yogyakarta, 1803. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 2v-3r  noc

The completion of the digitisation project was celebrated with an impressive ceremony at the Kraton of Yogyakarta on 7 March, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X. The British Ambassador to Indonesia, Moazzam Malik, presented complete sets of digital images of the 75 manuscripts to Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, and also to the head of the National Library of Indonesia Mohd. Syarif Bando, and the head of the Libraries and Archives Service of Yogyakarta, Monika Nur Lastiyani. The digitised manuscripts will eventually also be accessible through the Kraton Jogja website.

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Ambassador Moazzam Malik presenting to Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwomo X the set of digital images of 75 Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta in the British Library, 7 March 2019

The celebrations also included a two-day International Symposium on Javanese Studies and Manuscripts of Keraton Yogyakarta from 5-6 March 2019, organised by Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hayu, the fourth daughter of Sri Sultan.  Princess Hayu is an IT specialist, and this was evident in the impressive digital presentation and styling of the Symposium, with the electronic submission of audience questions via an app. 

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Princess Hayu and her youngest sister Princess Bendoro answer audience questions posted electronically, in the session on ‘The Millenial Palace: Reconstructing Tradition in the Modern Era’ (Kraton Milenial: rekonstruksi tradisi dalam era kekinian), at the International Symposium on Javanese Culture and Manuscripts, Yogyakarta, 6 March 2019.

In her opening speech to the Symposium, Princess Hayu noted that even after the calamity of June 1812 - remembered in Yogyakarta as Geger Sepehi, the attack of the Sepoys, after the Indian troops commanded by the British - the Kraton had never ceased to be a centre for the production and reproduction of knowledge. Nevertheless, with the loss of the royal library there had been a definite break in the chain of transmission of knowledge (ada mata rantai yang terputus).

Responding to Princess Hayu's call for the recovery of the 'missing links' of traditional learning from the manuscripts, four of the 16 papers presented at the Symposium were based on newly-digitised manuscripts from the British Library. Ghis Nggar Dwiatmojo of Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta delved into a royal Yogyakarta primbon (divination) manuscript (Add. 12311) on palintangan (astrology), palindhon (earthquakes) and pakedutan (portentous tingling of the nerve-ends), looking specifically at predictions linked to earthquakes and eclipses. This paper was paired with Ahmad Arif's presentation, collating similar fruits of local wisdom born of collective memories of natural disasters from throughout the Indonesian archipelago.  Rudy Wiratama (shown below) of Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) found evidence in two manuscripts from the Mackenzie collection, MSS Jav 44 and MSS Jav 62, for the popularity of wayang gedhog - shadow-puppet plays based on the cycle of tales about Prince Panji - at the court of Yogyakarta before 1812. Stefanus K. Setiawan, also from UGM, had completely transliterated the beautiful copy of Jaya Lengkara Wulang pictured above (MSS Jav 24) for his undergraduate dissertatation, and was continuing his study of this manuscript for his masters degree; while Hazmirullah, from Universitas Padjajaran, Bandung, discussed a Malay version of judicial regulations issued by Raffles in Java (MSS Eur D742/1, ff. 155-166).

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Rudy Wiratama of UGM showing the digitised wayang gedhog manuscript MSS Jav 44 used in his research on wayang performance at the court of Yogyakarta in the late 18th century.

The manuscripts were not only subjects of academic research, but also bore fruit in performance. The Symposium was opened with the Beksan Jebeng, a dance involving a shield-bow, while the ceremony at the Kraton on 7 March was heralded by an impressive performance of the Beksan Lawung Ageng, a martial dance accompanied by the venerable 18th-century gamelan Kiai Kanjeng Guntursari. As explained by Princess Hayu’s husband Prince Notonegoro to Ambassador Malik, both dances - creations of the first sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengku Buwana I (r.1756-1804) - were being staged in their original form for the first time in two centuries, on the basis of information only now reaccessble through the digitised manuscripts.

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Performance of Beksan Lawung Ageng at the palace of Yogyakarta, 7 March 2019

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Left, Beksan jebeng text (Add. 12325, f. 26v); right, Beksan Lawung text (MSS Jav 4, f. 177r)  noc

The evening also celebrated the opening of an exhibition at the Kraton of manuscripts from Yogyakarta collections, curated by Fajar Wijanarko of the Sonobudoyo Museum. Fajar noted that the earliest dated manuscript copied after 1812 now found in the Kraton library is the beautifully illuminated first volume of the Babad Ngayogyakarta, written in 1817.

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Babad Ngoyogyakarta, vol. 1, covering the reigns of Hamengku Buwono I to Hamengku Buwono III, dated 1817, on display in the Kraton exhibition. Widyo Budoyo, W78/A27

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(Left) royal librarian Romo Rinto showing a visitor to the Kraton exhibition a manuscript of Babad Ngoyogyakarta, covering the reigns of Hamengku Buwono III to Hamengku Buwono IV, dated 1854, with (right) a detail of the fine illumination. Widyo Budoyo, W84/A22

Back in London, alongside events marking Indonesia's role as Market Focus Country at the London Book Fair (12-14 March 2019), a small display of the Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta was launched in the Treasures exhibition gallery in the British Library. At a talk at the British Library on 12 March entitled Beauty and History: Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta, I was joined by maestro Ki Sujarwo Joko Prehatin, who brought the manuscripts to life in song (macapat). Javanese literature is traditionally written in verse, according to set metres, and was designed to be sung aloud to an audience.  To listen to mas Jarwo singing from the Babad bedhah ing Ngayogyakarta by Pangeran Arya Panular, describing the British attack on Yogyakarta (Add 12330, f. 43v), click here (with thanks to Mariska Adamson for this recording).

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Ki Sujarwo Joko Prehatin, singing (menembang) the texts of Javanese manuscripts, at the British Library, 12 March 2019.

After the British attack on the Kraton of Yogyakarta in 1812, only three manuscripts were left in the royal library: a copy of the Qur'an copied in 1797, a manuscript of Serat Suryaraja written in 1774, and a copy of Arjunwiwaha dated 1778 (Carey 1980: 13 n. 11). During the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the palace scriptorium was kept busy with the creation of new literary works as well as the re-copying of classics, and a recent catalogue lists 700 manuscripts now held in the Widyo Budoyo and Krido Mardowo royal libraries (Lindsay, Soetanto & Feinstein 1994: xi-xii). Following the presentation of the digital copies of the Yogyakarta manuscripts from the British Library, Princess Bendoro informed me that Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X has decided that rather than printing out paper copies from the digital files, all 75 manuscripts will be recopied again by hand in the Kraton, in a continuation of the centuries-old tradition of inscribing knowledge in the courts of Java.

References

Carey, P. B. R. (ed.), The archive of Yogyakarta.  Volume I.  Documents relating to politics and internal court affairs.  Oxford: published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 1980.
Jennifer Lindsay, R. M. Soetanto and Alan Feinstein. Katalog induk naskah-naskah Nusantara.  Jilid 2.  Kraton Yogyakarta.  Jakarta: Yayasan Obor, 1994.
Fajar Wijanarko, Yogyakarta dalam sastra sejarah: catatan kuratorial. In: Pameran naskah Kraton Jogja: merangkai jejak peradaban nagari Ngayogykarta Hadiningrat, 7 Maret-7 April 2019 (Yogyakarta: Karaton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, 2019); pp. 8-14.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

 

18 March 2019

Vietnamese collection milestone: retroconversion of card catalogue completed

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In 2015 Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, launched Living Knowledge,  a vision for the future of the British Library, aiming to make our intellectual heritage accessible to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment. Living Knowledge also sets out to make the British Library the most open, creative and innovative institution of its kind in the world. In order to achieve these targets, the Library announced a series of new values to guide its staff in this direction, one of the most important being ‘putting users at the heart of everything we do’.

Curators for different collection areas, along with all other members of staff, have taken this new mission seriously. We are aware that the extensive and rich source materials in our collections are of no use unless our users can access them, or at least become aware of their existence. In the Asian and African Collections, curators have been encouraged to clear backlogs and to make source material in their collections searchable online.

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Drawer of Vietnamese catalogue cards, filed by name of author, in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room in the British Library at St Pancras in London

The Online Computer Library Centre (OCLC), the first online library catalogue, was launched at Ohio University in August 1971. Although this seminal event occurred almost half a century ago, it was a long time before online cataloguing was adopted by institutions worldwide. Even into the 1980s and 1990s, some collections were still being catalogued manually, often due to issues relating to the transliteration of non-Roman scripts and the use of diacritics. The cataloguing of the Vietnamese collection at the British Library fits into this category perfectly, due to problems with inputting the double diacritics needed for Vietnamese. When I took up my post as curator for Vietnamese at the British Library in 2005, most of the printed materials in our collection were still catalogued using old-fashioned catalogue cards, and hardly anything was searchable online. One of my major tasks has been to retroconvert the Vietnamese card catalogue onto the British Library’s online catalogue, and that task is now virtually complete.

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Vietnamese book, previously only catalogued on cards (top right), which has now been recatalogued online (bottom right).

This mammoth project was conducted in two phases. Phase one started in around 2007, two years after I took up my post. I called up almost every single Vietnamese printed book to physically check that it was the correct one before I created an online record. This process was slow but was more likely to lead to fewer mistakes, such as mismatches between shelfmarks and items, or duplications of records. It took me a long while, until in October 2014, I was able report with some satisfaction that the retroconversion of the Vietnamese printed collection had been completed. However, the satisfaction of this achievement turned out to be rather short-lived as, not long afterwards, in June 2016, during office relocation moves one of my colleagues found four cardboard boxes brim-full of Vietnamese catalogue card in her area. When I randomly checked some cards to see whether they had been retro-converted in the first phase, none of them came up on an search on the British Library’s online catalogue Explore, meaning that all these cards also had to be recatalogued online.

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One of the boxes of Vietnamese catalogue cards discovered in 2016

Hence my second phase of retroconversion began in August 2016. Judging from the amount of cards in those four boxes, which seemed to number well over 10,000, I couldn’t afford to use the same very thorough method for cataloguing as I had done in the previous phase. I therefore decided to rely on the bibliographic record appearing on each card as the major source for recataloguing, and only if there were serious doubts or queries would I call up the physical item in question to check. This method helped to speed up the cataloguing process. Fortunately, a large proportion of cards turned out to be duplicates and could be discarded; in the end, only just over 2,400 catalogue cards had to be retroconverted.  During this second phase of retroconversion, I found that issues certainly arose from not having physically seen all the items before creating new online records. There were sometimes mismatches between shelfmarks and items, or different items shared the same shelfmarks. These problems had to be resolved, for otherwise they would have caused confusion and frustration for users when calling up items for consultation.

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An example of a cataloguing problem: the online catalogue gives a different title with the same shelfmark

Finally, I can now at last report that all our old Vietnamese catalogue cards, except for just a few problematic ones, have been retroconverted and are searchable online through Explore. Together with new acquisitions, there are now more than 10,900 titles in the Vietnamese collection ready for our readers.  I very much hope that the completion of this project will enable our readers to access more readily source material in Vietnamese in the British Library, either for research or enjoyment, as set in our Living Knowledge mission statement.

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Dr Sud Chonchirdsin at work cataloguing Vietnamese printed books

Further reading:

Vietnam - British Library collection guide

Sud Chonchirdsin
Curator for Vietnamese

06 March 2019

The largest Javanese manuscript in the world? Menak Amir Hamza

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The final manuscript to go online from the Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta digitisation project is probably the largest Javanese manuscript in the world, in terms of the number of folios in a single volume. This manuscript, Add. 12309, is a copy of the Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese tale about the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. Written in Arabic (pegon) script in black ink on Javanese paper (dluwang), the book contains 1,520 folios within its original brown leather binding. The front and end binding boards are stamped with frame bands and ornamental corner pieces and a central medallion, and the binding would originally have had an Islamic-style envelope flap. The 3-D image below gives an impression of the physical size of this book.

Menak Amir Hamza is an epic cycle of tales centred on Amir Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, and recounts his numerous warlike and amourous adventures. Based on an Arabic-Persian original, the Javanese version has been developed and localised, with further invented and appended tales concerning Amir Hamza’s sons and grandsons. This manuscript originated from the court of Yogyakarta, and was written for Ratu Ageng (ca. 1730-1803), a wife of the first sultan of Yogaykarta, Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, and mother of Sultan Hamengku Buwono II.  In the introduction she is called prabu wanodeya / kang jumeneng Ratu Agung / kang ngedhaton Tegalreja, 'the female monarch / who reigns as Ratu Agung / and has her palace in Tegalreja'. Ratu Ageng was a daughter of an Islamic scholar and was known as a devout Muslim.  The manuscript was copied some time after 1792 (and before 1812, when it was taken by British forces from the palace of Yogyakarta), but it is not known how long was needed for this enormous task.

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Menak Amir Hamza,  British Library, Add. 12309, ff. 335v-336r   noc

Javanese paper, dluwang, is made from the beaten bark of the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera).  This gives a highly polished surface, with paper of variable thickness, with the fibres of the wood still very evident on many pages. As shown above on the right-hand page, the scribe has made some corrections by applying a chalky white paint to cover up mistakes, which can then be written over if necessary. Javanese literary works are written in verse, and were composed in a sequence of cantos or sections, each to be sung according to a prescribed metre (pupuh). The coloured ornament on the left hand page is a pepadan, indicating the start of a new canto.

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Another canto marker from Menak Amir Hamza. British Library, Add. 12309, f. 1494r  noc

Versions of Menak Amir Hamza can reach great lengths, especially when the long dialogue associated with night-long shadow-puppet performances is elaborated in full. A manuscript in Leiden University Library (Cod. Or. 1797) of the version composed by the Surakarta court scribe Raden Ngabehi Yasadipura (1729-1803) fills 12 volumes and nearly 5,200 pages. However, Add. 12309 remains probably the most voluminous single-volume Javanese manuscript known. There are two other copies of Menak Amir Hamza in the British Library, MSS Jav 45 and MSS Jav 72, both of which have also been digitised.

Photographing this enormous book proved a real challenge for British Library photographer Carl Norman, who had to plan and build a suitable support for the binding. Each page had to be made to lie as flat as possible, whilst ensuring that the spine of the open book was fully supported, through the use of firm back straps and foam supports.  It was only while Carl was photographing every page that he discovered that the 19th-century curator in the British Museum charged with numbering the folios made a mistake – the numbering jumps from 449 to 500 – hardly surprising in view of this enormous task. Moreover, although the final numbered folio is 1564, the numerals are written so faintly that this number was misread in the catalogue by Ricklefs and Voorhoeve (1977: 48) as 1504. Only after digitising the whole volume can we now confirm that there are 1520 folios of paper, hence 3040 pages, in this book.

Menak - Carl 11.5
British Library photographer Carl Norman photographing Add. 12309, Menak Amir Hamza.

Headband
Headband of binding of Menak Amir Hamza, sewn with red and white threads. British Library, Add. 12309, head.  noc

In the recent British Library exhibition on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (19 Oct. 2018-19 Feb. 2019), amongst the very many superlative items on display, for many visitors the star of the show was the giant Codex Amiatinus. The oldest complete Latin Bible in the world, written at Jarrow in Northumbria in the early 8th century and taken to Italy in 716, this exceptional manuscript travelled back to Britain for the first time in over 1,300 years for the exhibition. While the Menak Amir Hamza cannot compete with Codex Amiatinus for physical size, great age, and beautiful illumination, it does contain many more folios!

Codex-amiatinus-biblioteca-medicea-laurenziana-64506a4 IMG_0093
(Left) Codex Amiatinus, 1030 folios of parchment, measuring 505 x 340 mm
(Right) Menak Amir Hamza, 1520 folios of Javanese paper, measuring 287 x 217 mm

Further reading:

Blog post: Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese version of the Hamzanama

A.T. Gallop and B.Arps, Golden letters: writing traditions of Indonesia.  Surat emas: budaya tulis di Indonesia.  London: British Library, 1991; p. 101.
Theodore G. Th.Pigeaud, Literature of Java.  Catalogue raisonné of Javanese manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. 4 vols. Volume 1, pp. 212-215.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
A. Sudewa, ‘Menak’. Sastra Jawa: suatu tinjauan umum, ed. Edi Sedyawati … [et al]. Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 2001; pp. 317-323.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

28 February 2019

Primbon, Javanese compendia of religious knowledge

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Primbon are Javanese manuscript notebooks which usually contain a personalised selection of texts relating to Islamic belief and practice, including prayers, selections from the Qur’an, instructions relating to ritual purity and performance of obligatory worship, texts on mysticism, formulae (rajah) or esoteric diagrams (da‘irah) focussed on Arabic letters or words, and notes on divination, as well as amulets for protection and other purposes. Popular texts included Kitab Sittin, the Javanese name for al-Sittūn mas’alah fī al-fiqh, ‘Sixty questions on jurisprudence’ by the Egyptian scholar Abū al-‘Abbās Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Zahīd (d. 1416), and the catechism of al-Samarqandi, which has been translated into Malay as well as Javanese. Although some primbon may contain texts in Javanese script, most of the contents are in Arabic or in Javanese in Pegon (Arabic) script.

MSS Jav 42  fcc
Mystical diagram in a Javanese primbon. British Library, MSS Jav 42, ff. 87v-88r  noc

Among the 75 Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta now in the British Library, which were taken by British forces in 1812, are six volumes of primbon. Two (with Add. shelfmarks) were acquired by the British Museum from John Crawfurd, who served as Resident of Yogyakarta from 1811 to 1814. Those with MSS Jav shelfmarks came to the India Office Library from the estate of Col. Colin Mackenzie, who had been Chief  Engineer of the British army in Java, and comprise a large number of small separate manuscripts which were bound into larger volumes in Calcutta in around 1815. All these primbon volumes have now been digitised and are listed below; hyperlinks from the shelfmarks lead to the full record for each manuscript with further details on the contents from the catalogue by Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977), while hyperlinks from below the images link directly with the digitised manuscripts. It should be noted that due to the presence of different scripts and with some items bound in upside-down, many of the volumes have been foliated (page-numbered) erratically.

Add. 12311 is a manuscript entitled Primbon Palintangan Palindon Pakedutan containing texts on physiognomy and astrology, as well as other subjects. Shown below is a drawing of the rotating naga, commonly used for divinatory purposes throughout Southeast Asia, for example to determine the best time to travel, or the compatability of a couple (see Farouk 2016: 180).
Add 12311 f 101v naga
Drawing of the rotating naga in a primbon from Yogyakarta. British Library, Add 12311, f. 101v  noc

Add. 12315 is a primbon containing assorted texts on religious subjects, including legends of Muslim religious heroes and notes on physiognomy.
Add 12315  f. 208r
Javanese text in a primbon manuscript, with a mystical diagram above. British Library, Add. 12315, f. 208r  noc

MSS Jav 41 is a collection of six primbon bound together in a single volume.  Two of these bear Mackenzie's annotation, 'Manner of performing ablutions,' and contain a Javanese tract with Arabic texts of prayers and formulae to be recited in ṣalāt. Two others contain a copy of Ṣifat al-nabī, ‘The attributes of the Prophet’, in Arabic; one of them bears an ownership note on f. 46r of ‘Raden Temenggung’, but without naming the individual (punika kagungan primbon Raden Tumĕnggung). Another primbon in this collection contains a Javanese translation of Kitab Sittīn in Asmaradana metre.
MSS Jav 41  f. 150v-151r
Ṣifat al-nabī, in Javanese. British Library, MSS Jav 41, ff. 150v-151r  noc

MSS Jav 42 is a collection of eight primbon within one volume. A copyist’s name can be read: Kyahi Ngabehi Rĕsasĕntika of Yogyakarta. Contents include secret names of animals (aran ing macan, aran ing kidang) and the magic names of iron and steel The volume also includes a Malay fragment on prayer (sĕmbahyang) and fasting (puasa), and lists the types of actions which negate ritual purity. Shown below is the first part of a Shaṭṭārīyah silsilah - from Muhammad s.a.w. to Ali to Jainalabideen to Imam Jafar Sidiq (as read by Ronit Ricci) - in perpendicular Javanese script found at the end of one primbon.
MSS Jav 42  f. 69v
First part of a Shaṭṭārīyah silsilah in a primbon. British Library, MSS Jav 42, f. 69v noc

MSS Jav 43 contains six primbon in a single volume, containing various texts including Kitab Sittin in Arabic with a Javanese translation, and an incomplete copy of Samarqandi in Arabic with an interlinear Javanese translation. There are also certain sections of the Qur'an.
MSS Jav 43  f. 127bv-127cr
Mystical Javanese text on the shahadah. British Library, MSS Jav 43, ff. 127bv-127cr  noc

MSS Jav 84 is a primbon collection of various short religious texts concerning prescribed prayer and other matters.
MSS Jav 84  f. 55r
Number system linked to the Arabic alphabet, in a Javanese primbon from Yogyakarta. British Library, MSS Jav 84, f. 55r  noc

In addition to these six volumes of primbon, there are a number of other Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta which have been digitised with similar contents, all in Pegon script. MSS Jav 83 contains a number of tracts associated with the Shaṭṭārīyah Sufi brotherhood, including two silsilah, and other texts on prayer and dhikir. MSS Jav 85, which is called in a note at the beginning Layang sembayang lan tetamba, contains texts on prayer and healing. MSS Jav 87 has an ownership note of Kangjeng Pangeran Pakuningrat of Yogyakarta, and contains texts on religious subjects such as ngelmuIO Islamic 2617 contains an Arabic text on the qualities and use of stones and jewels, with an interlinear version in Javanese, as well as Javanese texts on ritual prayer, medicines and amulets, and two genealogies, one of which begins with Majapahit and ends with Kanjĕng [sic] Gusti Pangeran Dipati Yuja, probably the Crown Prince of Yogyakarta, later Sultan Hamĕngkubuwana II.

MSS Jav 87  f. 36v
Beginning of a text in dandanggula metre, in a manuscript from Yogyakarta. British Library, MSS Jav 87, f. 36v  noc

References:
Farouk Yahya, Magic and divination in Malay illustrated manuscripts.  Leiden: Brill, 2016.
Ricklefs, M. C. and Voorhoeve, P., Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

 

11 February 2019

Javanese poetics and canto indicators: Jaya Lengkara Wulang (MSS Jav 24)

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Today’s guest blog, highlighting one of the most important Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta which has just been digitised, is by Dr Dick van der Meij from Hamburg University's DREAMSEA project which digitises endangered manuscripts in Southeast Asia.

Javanese texts are generally written in a non-rhyming poetic form called tembang macapat. Within each metre, verses consist of stanzas with a fixed number of lines, a fixed number of syllables per line, and a fixed vowel in the last syllable of each line. There are about 30 different metres, some of which are short and have only four lines per stanza, while others are substantially longer and have as many as ten lines per stanza. Each metre has its own name, with some used more often than others, while some are rarely encountered. [For further information on tembang macapat see Arps 1992 and Van der Meij 2017, Chapter 4 and Appendix 3.]

Most Javanese texts consist of more than one canto in any number of different metres. Canto changes are usually indicated by small intricate indicators called pepadan, which are often very beautifully illuminated in colours and gold, and thus stand out on the page, as in the illustration below from Jaya Lengkara Wulang (MSS Jav 24).

Mss_jav_24_f046v-47r
An illuminated canto indicator, pepadan, standing out on the left-hand page, in Jaya Lengkara Wulang, Yogyakarta, 1803. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 46v-47r   noc

Other manuscripts do not have clear canto change indications, and the places where new cantos start are virtually invisible on the written page, and only become apparent when the canto change has been reached while reading or singing the text. Experienced singers are able to identify immediately the metre of the next canto from the use of certain key words in the final lines of the current canto, or in the first lines of the next. For instance, the name of the metre dhangdhanggula contains the word dhandhang which is a bird, and gula which means sugar. Dhandhanggula is thus indicated by words that also mean 'bird' or 'sugar', or by extension ‘sweet’, or contain the syllable dhang. A small bird or wings may even be depicted pictorially in the pepadan. However, readers should be aware that this is not a golden rule, and some scribes play tricks to confuse the singer.

Mss_jav_24_f046v-det
Detail of a pepadan with wings, and with the word manis, ‘sweet’, in the preceding line, both indicating dhandhanggula as the new metre.  British Library, MSS Jav 24, f. 46v  noc

Mss_jav_27-f.50v
Jatikusuma, copied in Yogyakarta, 1766. A little bird is put in the pepadan to indicate that the metre that follows is dhandhanggula, while the words gula drawa before the pepadan mean ‘melted sugar’ and thus also point to the same metre. British Library, MSS Jav 27, f. 50v  noc

In Javanese poetic theory, each metre evokes a certain emotion, and are thus used for parts of text that suggest that particular state of mind. Below, we will have a look at how some of these canto changes have been indicated in MSS Jav 24 in the British Library. The text is a story called Jaya Lengkara Wulang, and the book was written in 1803 at the palace of Yogyakarta in central Java.  The text has 434 pages and consists of no fewer than 92 cantos. It has beautifully ornamented opening pages and also other illuminations that enhance the beauty of the manuscript. Interestingly, in this manuscript, with one exception, these ornaments all coincide with canto changes in the text.

Mss_jav_24_ff002v-003r
Opening pages of Jaya Lengkara Wulang; at the start of the text on the left-hand page the metre is clearly stated to be Dhandhanggula. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 2v-3r  noc

The manuscript has 25 illuminated pages, of which four have been left unfinished. On two other pages, space was left empty to allow for illuminations to be added, but these were evidently never made for one reason or another. Thus although the text seems to be complete, the manuscript itself is unfinished. All punctuation marks in the text have red signs above them up to folio 168r (except for f. 57v) after which the addition of these marks is discontinued, and the pepadan are coloured only in yellow or not at all. Also, no gold leaf was applied after this page.

The scribe of the manuscript and the illuminator were probably not the same person but worked closely together. Remarkably, elaborate illumination at the top of a page always coincides with the start of a new canto. This means that the scribe knew exactly how many cantos a page could contain, and worked to ensure that the final canto always ended precisely at the end of the last line of the page. Folios 30v and 31r have full-page illuminations reminiscent of those at the start of the manuscript, but in this case the new canto starts at the end of the text within the illuminated frames, rather than at the beginning.

Mss_jav_24_ff030v-031r
The second set of full page illuminations. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 30v-31r  noc

The relation between the illuminations that start cantos is not easy to establish. Often the illuminated elements actually illustrate the start of a new episode in the text, but for outsiders and people not truly versed in Javanese texts and illuminative iconography this is often very hard to understand. In some cases the symbolism is quite clear, for instance, the lion and the crocodile in the illuminated panel shown below may suggest the names of the kings of Pringgabaya and Singasari, as baya points to a crocodile and singa a lion.

Mss_jav_24_f129r  Mss_jav_24_f129v
 On f. 129r, shown on the left, the text in metre durma ends at the end of the page. On the next page, f. 129v, the new metre kinanthi is the first word in the illuminated panel. Note the red marks above the punctuation signs. British Library, MSS Jav 34, f. 129r and f. 129v  noc

Because of the characters of the various metres we can sometimes decide what the relationship between the illuminated pepadan and the text is, although I believe that these characters are not fixed. For instance, the metre durma is used, among others, for scenes of war but in my view pangkur can also be used for this. Thus the word ‘dur’ indicative of durma in manuscripts is sometimes used for pangkur too. In this manuscript of Jaya Lengkara Wulang, the fiery character of both durma and pangkur is indicated by the same elaborate illustrations of war equipment like cannon and flags, as in folio 139v below where a canto in durma starts.

Mss_jav_24_f139r
Battle standards and guns indicating the metre durma. British Library, MSS Jav 24, f. 139r  noc

However, in the next illustration the canto starts with the metre pangkur but the illustration is very similar to the one above.

Mss_jav_24_f057v
The text starts in the metre pangkur, suggested by the war-like assemblage. Note the absence of red marks above the punctuation signs. British Library, MSS Jav 24, f. 57v   noc

Some idea of the production process of the manuscript can perhaps be deduced from the fact that the text is finished but the illuminations are not. Occasionally the change in canto between one page and the next is not accompanied by any illumination, and the pepadan is divided in two, with one half on the first page and the other on the next. In the half of the pepadan at the bottom of folio 167v colour was added but the second part on the next folio not, and also not in pepadan after this page. Apparently, the scribe wrote the text and probably also made the black and white pepadan, while someone else applied the colours and the gold leaf to the pepadan and was responsible for the illuminated panels. One might even wonder if a third person was involved for the illuminations, but at present we have no way of knowing. Perhaps the artist who made the illuminations and the scribe worked closely together to decide what the illuminations should look like and where they should be put but this too is conjecture. We need to study many more illuminated and illustrated Javanese manuscripts in order to work out how they were actually produced.

Mss_jav_24_f167v-det    Mss_jav_24_f168r-det
The first half of the pepadan at the bottom of f. 167v marking the new canto is illuminated with gold and colours, while at the top of the next page, the only colour added to the second half of the pepadan is yellow (indicating elements to be gilded with gold leaf). British Library, MSS Jav 24, f. 167v and f. 168r  noc

References
Arps, Ben (1992). Tembang in two traditions: performance and interpretation of Javanese literature. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
Ricklefs, M.C., P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop (2014). Indonesian Manuscripts in Great Britain. A catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: École Française d’Extrême Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia.
Van der Meij, Dick (2017). Indonesian manuscripts from the islands of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok. Leiden: Brill.

Dick van der Meij, Hamburg  ccownwork

01 February 2019

Happy Chinese New Year! Year of the Pig 2019

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1. Pig Thai MS
Horoscope for the year of the pig, from a Thai manuscript dated 1885, containing drawings based on the Chinese Zodiac and its animals (BL Or.13650, f.6v )
 noc

In East Asian and South East Asian countries, as well as among overseas communities of Asian origin, traditional celebrations for the start of a New Year are approaching. On the 5th of February, we will leave the year of the Dog , and welcome the year of the Pig. Dog and Pig are part of a series of twelve zodiac animals associated with the Chinese lunisolar calendar. The Pig is the last animal of the twelve-year cycle, and in the Japanese and Tibetan traditions is replaced by the Boar.

2. Boar Japanese MS
Illustration of a boar from Seihō gahakuhitsu junishi-jō by Takeuchi Seihō (c. 1900)  (BL ORB.40/71)
 noc

The lunisolar calendar developed in China from the solar one, and was first introduced during the Zhou dynasty (c. 1046 to 256 BC). Years, months and days are calculated taking into account both the phases of the moon and the position of the sun which determines the seasons. Lunisolar calendars require a “leap month” or an “intercalary month” every one or two years. People born during the Year of the Pig, are thought to be clever, calm, mature and well-mannered, but sometimes naïve and insecure.

3. Japanese toy pig
Illustration from the Japanese album of toys Omochabako (BL ORB 40/950)
 noc

Zhu Baijie (豬八戒, where the first character means “pig”) is probably the most famous pig in Chinese literature. He is one of the main characters of the novel Journey to the West (西遊記Xi you ji) by Wu Cheng’en, published in 1592. The novel narrates the pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang to India and Central Asia along the Silk Road to gather and take to China Buddhist texts. During his journey, he meets three creatures who become his disciples to atone for their past sins: Sun Wukong (the Monkey), Zhu Bajie (the Pig) and Sha Wujing (a water monster or “Monk Sha”).

4. Xiyou ji
Page 494 from the 18th century woodblock printed edition of the Xiyouji depicting four characters of the novel travelling: Tang Sanzang on horseback, Zhu Bajie and Sun Wukong with martial arts sticks, and Sha Wujing bringing up the rear (BL 15271.c.13, page 494)
 noc

The Chinese New Year is welcomed with fireworks, whose sound, together with the sound of drums and music, is meant to scare away the demon Nian (written 年, like the character for year). Delicious food is put on the table and chun lian (written春聯: good wishes for the new year in form of poems, usually on red paper) are pasted on the entrance doors.

5. chunlian writer
Calligrapher preparing chun lian (BL Or. 11539, folio 34)
 noc

Our Curator Han-lin Hsieh wrote a chun lian to wish all our readers a very Happy Chinese New Year!

6. Poem

 

 

Happy New Year from us to you,

May your triumphs be big,

In the year of the Pig,

And success come with all that you do.

 

 

 

 


Sara Chiesura, Han-lin Hsieh, Hamish Todd (East Asian Collections)
With thanks to Emma Harrison
 ccownwork