31 March 2021
This month we have a special Southeast Asia edition of our regular round-up blogs to let you know what’s newly available on the EAP website.
- Philippines: Preserving the archival records of the early history of the Iglesia Filipina Independente [EAP855]
- Vietnam: Digitisation of the Endangered Cham Manuscripts in Vietnam [EAP1005]
- Indonesia: Sundanese Manuscripts of Paseban Tri Panca Tunggal Collections [EAP1029]
This project digitised records related to the early history of the Iglesia Filipina Independente (IFI), a Filipino Catholic movement for religious independence from Rome. They are a significant resource of documents of anti-colonial self-assertion and religious emancipation in Asia at the turn of the century.
The IFI was founded in August 1902 through the activities of the Filipino intellectual, Isabelo de los Reyes (1864–1938) and the former Catholic priest, Gregorio Aglipay (1860–1940). The split with Rome occurred partly due to the mistreatment of Filipinos by Spanish priests, and the execution of three native priests during the Cavite mutiny in 1872, and was further exacerbated during the Philippines Revolution.
The materials document the process of negotiation between the needs of a local elite and the administration of two subsequent colonial powers. They also document an important part of the early history of transregional and transcontinental interaction between different non-missionary Christian movements in different parts of Asia, and are an early sign of a developing pan-Asianism at the turn of the century.
This project is a continuation of two earlier projects (EAP531 and EAP698) to help identify, preserve, and digitise manuscripts held by Cham communities in Vietnam. The project team visited the households of 33 different families from villages in the provinces of Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan and helped preserve their manuscripts whilst digitising many of them. 464 manuscripts were digitised in total, adding to the 507 already digitised in the preceding projects.
The project team also created this short film which demonstrates the sort of work that this project and many others carry out in the field.
The manuscripts collection of Paseban Tri Panca Tunggal contains handwritten documents by Prince Madrais Sadewa Alibassa Kusuma Wijaya Ningrat (1832-1939). He wrote the manuscripts from the late 1800s until the mid-1900s during Dutch colonial rule. He was a leading figure in the anti-colonial movement and was involved in various insurgencies against the colonial government. He also guided his followers in spiritual matters such as the ‘ultimate goal of life’, sampuraning hirup, sajaning pati (to achieve perfection in life, then to attain the genuine death).
05 February 2021
We have a bumper blog this month, covering new projects that went online at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. While access to physical archives is currently restricted in many parts of the world, digital archives are increasingly important. Here are five recently digitised collections that are now freely available to access online:
- Nineteenth-century records in the Sierra Leone Public Archives [EAP782]
- Sanskrit Manuscripts and Books in the State of Jammu and Kashmir [EAP886]
- Manuscripts and Archival Documents of Russian Old Believers Escapists (Skrytniks) [EAP1017]
- Tibetan Bonpo Manuscripts [EAP1077]
- Thai-Mon palm-leaf manuscripts [EAP1123]
The EAP782 project team led by Professor Suzanne Schwarz digitised police, court, and colonial records housed at the Sierra Leone Public Archives.
The documents span a period from the formation of the British Crown colony of Sierra Leone to the formation of the Sierra Leone Protectorate. These records offer significant insights into the lives of inhabitants of the region.
These provide rare insight into the life experiences of formerly enslaved people and their descendants. By the mid-nineteenth century, the population was comprised mainly of liberated Africans (and their descendants) drawn from across West Africa. The digitised records reveal the practices used by successive colonial governors to re-settle tens of thousands of liberated Africans in Freetown and surrounding colonial villages, including Regent and Wilberforce.
The police and court records include the depositions of witnesses, as well as those brought before the court for different offences. Testimony from formerly enslaved people is particularly rare, and provides a basis for reconstructing biographical information on individuals uprooted and displaced by the Atlantic slave trade.
Led by Mr Chetan Pandey, the EAP886 project team digitised 46 books and manuscripts located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in India. In particular, they focussed on material relating to:
- Kashmir Shaivism (a Tantric school of Mysticism indigenous to Kashmir)
The EAP1017 project team, led by Dr Irina Belayeva, digitised manuscripts and documents of the Skrytniks (Old Believers Escapists) - a social group that was in opposition to the Russian state, first to the Russian Empire and then to the Soviet Union.
The digitised material shows the structure of Skrytniks, their traditions, faith and intercommunication with other social groups.
EAP1077 - Tibetan Bonpo Manuscripts
Dr Valentina Punzi and the EAP1077 team digitised 6 collection of Tibetan manuscripts belonging to private households in the Qinghai Province of China. These include rare and unique ritual texts from the late 19th and early 20 centuries.
EAP1123 - Thai-Mon palm-leaf manuscripts
The Mons of Thailand and Burma were regional, cultural, and religious intermediaries and supported a palm leaf manuscript tradition into the 1920s. The EAP1123 project team, led by Dr Patrick McCormick, conducted a survey of 28 temples in and around Bangkok.
They also digitised a sample of manuscripts from six collections. Many of these texts are unknown in Burma, but they are key to understanding recent history in the region and the Mon role in intellectual history.
Combined, the survey and digitisation sample provide important insights into the history of the Mons in Thailand and Burma.
We will be continuing to publish more digital collections in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for those!
30 July 2020
Last week we announced that since lockdown began in March and we started working from home, EAP had put more than one million images online. In total, the EAP digital archive now contains more than 8.5 million images. This unexpected milestone is thanks to all of the EAP project teams that digitise endangered archival material all over the world.
You can find summaries of recently uploaded projects in March, April, May, June, and now here is July's summary of four of the most recent projects to go online - and you can expect another summary of new projects online in the very near future, as we have more to announce and still more to upload.
This month's summary continues to represent the variety of different projects that EAP funds, from the Caribbean to South East Asia, from 18th century manuscripts to 19th century newspapers:
- Sufi Islamic Manuscripts from Western Sumatra and Jambi, Indonesia [EAP352]
- Rare Manuscripts from Balochistan, Pakistan [EAP766]
- Pre-modern Hindu Ritual Manuscripts from Kathmandu Valley, Nepal [EAP945]
- The Barbadian Newspaper (1822-1861) [EAP1251]
This project digitised 11 Sufi Islamic manuscript collections located in two regions of Indonesia: Western Sumatra and Jambi. The manuscripts date from the 1700s to the 20th century.
The collections includes manuscripts that describe suluk mystical rituals, interesting examples of al-Qur’an and works on traditional medicine in Jambi. They also contain unique examples of calligraphy, illumination, and binding which are important to preserve.
The collection also includes some correspondence, including a letter from Siti Afīyah to ʻAbd al-Karīm Amr Allāh, dated 22 September 1928.
Balochistan is located at a geographical and cultural intersection between South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. This project digitised twelve private collections of manuscripts owned by local inhabitants of this fascinating historical region.
These manuscripts shine a spotlight on the pre-colonial history and cultural formations of Balochistan and its neighbouring regions. They provide important historical insights and voices that are often missing from the English language colonial documents that much historical research on the region is often dependent upon.
This project digitised 154 rare manuscripts owned by 81 year old Mr Upendra Bhakta Subedi. Mr Subedi, also known as Govinda Baje, is a descendant of an illustrious family of Rajopadhyaya Brahmins from the heart of the Kathmandu Valley and the manuscripts are located at his ancestral home, which was severely damaged by the 2015 earthquake.
These manuscripts date from the 17th-19th centuries and are mostly manuals on Hindu rites and rituals.
- Prachalit Nepal
EAP1251 - The Barbadian Newspaper (1822-1861)
Following on from a recent project to digitise the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette (1783-1848), this project by the same team at the Barbados Archives Department digitised another 19th century Barbados newspaper: The Barbadian.
Like the Barbados Mercury, The Barbadian spans an important period in the history of the Caribbean and offers important insights into the period before, during, and after the emancipation of slavery. You can read more about this in our recent blog, which explored some of what these newspapers reveal about this period and how that relates to 21st century racial tensions.
These newspapers are a rich resource for genealogists as well as those interested in social and political history. While newspapers such as these predominantly provided a voice for the white settler community via editorials, letters to the editor, and advertisements, the identities of the enslaved also emerge, often through acts of resistance.
Look out in the coming weeks, for another summary of recent projects put online.
03 July 2020
In recent weeks we have continued to put new collections online. Here is a summary of four of the most recent projects to be made available.
- Notary Books of Bahia, Brazil, 1664-1910 [EAP703]
- Documentation of Endangered Temple Art of Tamil Nadu [EAP896]
- Fragile Palm Leaves Digitisation Initiative [EAP1150]
- Safeguarding Colonial Plantation Records of Malawi [EAP1167]
Until 1763, Bahia was the seat of the Portuguese colonial government in the Americas and a major sugar plantation economy based on African enslaved labour. Bahia received 33% of the Brazilian trade and 14.5% of the total. Being an administrative and economic centre, and until the late eighteenth century the most important port of trade in the South Atlantic, the production of documents in Bahia was intense. In Brazil, the Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia (Bahia State Archives) is considered to be second in importance only to the National Archives in Rio de Janeiro.
This project digitised 1,329 volumes of Notary Books deposited at the Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia. In total 306,416 pages were digitised as part of the project.
The dates for the volumes ranges from 1664 to 1910. They therefore include the first two decades of the republican and post-emancipation period.
These documents represent perhaps the most dependable source for the study of the social and economic history of colonial and post-colonial Bahia up until the end of the 19th century. The notary books include records such as:
- Bills of sale (for plantations, land, houses, ships, slaves, etc)
- Wills and testaments
- Inheritance partition
- Power of attorney letters
- Labour and business contracts
- Children’s legitimisation papers
- Slave manumission papers.
EAP does not only fund the digitisation of manuscripts and documents that can be held in the hand. EAP supports digitisation of almost any at-risk historical material. The digitisation of temple art in Tamil Nadu is a prime example.
The rich cultural heritage of temple art in India is rapidly deteriorating because of vandalism, weather conditions, and practices such as burning camphor for ritual purposes. By digitising the artwork that adorns eight temples in Tamil Nadu, India, the EAP896 project team have helped preserve this art for research, enjoyment, and education.
The drawing lines found on the temple walls represent abstract forms painted several centuries ago. In the evolution of human cognitive expressions, painting is a significant milestone. The paintings are essentially made up of lines and colours and the figures that are represented are mostly mythical.
This project has resulted in a plethora of visually striking images.
In partnership with the Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation and the Buddhist Digital Resource Centre, this project digitised 300 Pali and vernacular manuscripts in Burmese script.
Mostly created in the 18th and 19th century, these manuscripts contain approximately 1,000 discrete Buddhist texts on a variety of topics. These include:
- Stories of the Buddha
- Religious rituals
These manuscripts provide an invaluable primary resource for the study of Burmese and Theravada Buddhism, Pali philology, history, literature, regional codicology, pre-modern textual and scribal practices, and manuscript culture.
This pilot project surveyed tea and tobacco plantation records from the colonial era in Nyasaland [Malawi]. The team located relevant records and created an inventory, which is available as an Excel spreadsheet.
The team also digitised a sample of records from 13 estates (1922-1966), which are freely available to view. These include:
- Title deeds
- Legal agreements
- Articles of association.
These four projects include a diverse range of content types and span three continents across several centuries. Combined, they aptly showcase the rich diversity of EAP projects.
Look out for even more diverse projects going online in the weeks in months ahead!
11 May 2020
We have another four new projects we can share with you this month that have recently been made available online. If you didn't read last month's blog you can see it here. It features projects from Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and the small Caribbean island of Nevis. On to this month's projects:
- Pa'O religious and literary manuscripts from Shan State, Myanmar [EAP104]
- records relating to the Tamil Protestant community of the Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka [EAP835]
- colonial records from the French colony of Middle Congo (Republic of the Congo) [EAP844]
- Sanskrit and Malayalam manuscripts from monasteries in Thrissur, Kerala, India [EAP1039]
The manuscripts digitised during this project constitute the largest and most comprehensive Pa'O literary and religious studies resource outside of Pa'O regions in Myanmar and Thailand. The original manuscripts, a mixture of parabaik (accordion folded paper manuscripts), bound scrolls, and palm-leaf manuscripts, are owned by the Pa'O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library in Taunggyi, Shan State, Myanmar. The texts consist mainly of Pa’O interpretations of the Theravada Buddhist canon, though other particularly interesting manuscripts include those that document Pa'O dynasties and claims on important historical sites in contemporary Myanmar. There are 71 manuscripts in total, the majority of them in the Pa’O language.
The aim of this ‘pilot’ project was to survey the print and manuscript materials of the Tamil Protestant community of Jaffna in Sri Lanka. There is a wealth of material documenting this community and the role of missionaries from the UK and United States. The American Ceylon Mission press for example printed more than 500,000 evangelical tracts in a 17-year period leading up to 1840. Much of this is Tamil-language translations of American texts, but there are also significant amounts of material relating to Tamil epic poetry and literature, ethical treatises, pedagogical works, devotional literature, and many polemical essays on Saivism and Christian‐Saivite exchanges.
The project surveyed 10 institutional and 3 private archives. They digitised a sample of records including church record books, correspondence between Missions, lists of parishes, issues of St. John’s College Magazine, and more from 5 of these institutions. You can read the survey reports and lists on the project page, as well as see a sample of 27 records that were digitised.
This pilot project set out to locate and document colonial archives from the former French colony of Middle Congo, in present-day Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo. While archives in Brazzaville have been more widely studied, the archives in Pointe-Noire have largely been unknown and inaccessible to researchers.
Research was carried out in three main archives:
- Archives Municipales de Pointe-Noire (integrated into the city's town hall)
- Archives de la Préfecture de Pointe-Noire (APPN-CON)
- Archives du Chemin de Fer Congo-Océan (ACFCO-CON)
A survey and inventory of some of the holdings are available on the project page. The survey explains the history and provenance of the archives and their collections, and should be used as the starting point for exploring them. The project team also digitised a small sample of 3 dossiers from the APPN-CON containing mostly colonial era administration documents. These feature a wide-range of topics including: the impact of WW2 in the area; smuggling networks; development of trade unions; the ‘messianic’ movements of Lassyism (Bougism); xenophobic outbreaks against Dahomean and Togolese immigrants; social life in the Loango region.
Just from this small sample alone, it’s clear that these archives may have wide research interest, especially considering the amount of material that is uncatalogued. The team also estimated an additional 2500 ‘boxes’ of archival material at APPN-CON that they were unable to survey due to the time restraints of this small project. There obviously may be much more to discover. Whilst the focus was on colonial era records the team also sampled the vast trove of postcolonial records found in the archives. APPN-CON’s archive of postcolonial documents was singled out for its “spectacular possibilities” for research.
This pilot project produced a survey of 238 of the 800 palm leaf manuscripts held in four monasteries that constitute the Hindu monastic complex of Thrissur in Kerala, India. This collection contains rare unpublished Sanskrit and Malayalam works, especially in the field of non-dualist philosophy (Advaita-Vedānta), Kerala history and hagiography. It therefore constitutes an invaluable resource for the study of the religious and social history of Kerala in the pre-modern times. 54 of these manuscripts were digitised and are now available to view online.
24 September 2018
Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting preliminary applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 12 noon 19 November 2018 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website.
The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. The Programme awards grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise it, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The Programme has funded over 350 projects in 90 countries world-wide and has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals.
There three main types of grant:
- Pilot projects investigate the potential for and/or feasibility of a major grant. A pilot can also be a small digitisation project. They should last for no more than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.
- Major projects gather and copy material. This type of grant may also relocate the material to a more secure location/institution within the country. These projects usually last 12 months, or up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £60,000.
- Area grants will be awarded for larger scale projects. They are similar to a major grant, but larger in scale and ambition. Applicants must demonstrate an outstanding track record of archival preservation work and be associated with an institution that has the capacity to facilitate a large-scale project. The EAP will only award a maximum of two area grants in each funding round. They can last for up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £150,000.
A further type of grant will be introduced in 2019:
- Rapid-response grants can be used to safeguard an archive which is in immediate and severe danger. These grants are intended for the most urgent situations where a delay in the decision process could result in extensive damage to the material. These grants are not subject to the time restrictions of the yearly EAP funding cycle and can be applied for at any time. They must last for less than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.
If you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at email@example.com
09 February 2017
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]
Photography arrived in India in the 1840s with the first photographic society in South India being created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, the constraints and costs of acquiring photographic equipment meant that photography was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s medium size towns, and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. In South India, prior to the arrival of commercial photography, there existed no local forms of popular portraiture aside from the representations of divinities. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families, combining the uses of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage and montage.
There is a real urgency in preserving these photographs. Many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of deterioration due to some of the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic production. The climatic conditions of South India are extremely detrimental for photographic prints and negatives, even for those printed from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. With the advent of mechanised processing and printing followed by the digital revolution in photography, many of the old photo studios have closed down and their archives of glass-plate negatives and film negatives have been destroyed, either through lack of interest or space to conserve them.
The project team were able to conduct fieldwork in the eight target towns (Chennai, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Karaikudi, Kumbakonam, Madurai, Pondicherry, Tirunelveli), and were also able to carry out surveys in an additional six towns (Chidambaram, Jayamkundan, Meencuruti, Pollachi, Tindivanam, Villupuram). In each locality, the oldest photo studios where sought out and in total 100 photo studios were approached over the course of the pilot project. In many instances, but not all, the owners of the photo collections have given their consent for future digitisation of their archives. Also, family members of studios which have closed down over the last 30 years were also sought out as some of them still hold the archives of the old family business.
This survey has confirmed that these unique photographic productions are severely endangered by chemical, climatic and human factors and their digitisation is urgent. The team members have noted that in most of the cases, either the owners had destroyed whole collections for lack of interest or lack of space, or the remaining photographic material is in a state of severe degradation due to poor conservation conditions.
The project team were able to digitise a sample of around 1000 photographs from some of the studios surveyed, from private family collections, and from those purchased by the team in local second-hand shops.
EAP737/4/3/8 - Events Negatives Box 30 
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]
The project was able to describe and digitise the personal collections of manuscripts used by several great Buddhist abbots of Luang Prabang in Laos. The manuscripts present valuable insight into the diverse intellectual interests of leading Theravada thinkers of the 20th century in one of the least known Buddhist cultures in the world. Notwithstanding its rich culture, deeply influenced by Theravada Buddhism, Laos is still one of the least researched countries of Southeast Asia. During the second half of the 20th century, significant parts of the country’s cultural heritage have been destroyed, or seriously damaged, due to foreign interventions, civil war, and revolution. As a great surprise to international researchers, Buddhist monks of Luang Prabang, the ancient Royal capital, managed to preserve important parts of Lao heritage.
The project was able to describe and digitise the personal collections of manuscripts used by Pha Khamchan Virachitto (Vat Saen Sukharam), Pha Khamfan Silasangvara (Vat Suvannakhili), and Pha Bunchankeo Phothichitto (Vat Xiang Muan). Colophons and other paratexts (such as prefaces and titles) were transcribed into modern Lao. Roughly half of the manuscripts have such colophons which in most cases mention not only the date when the writing of the manuscript was finished, but also the names of sponsors and donors of the manuscripts and, more rarely, the name of the scribes. Preservation work has also been carried out on the original manuscripts which are now stored under safer and more accessible conditions
EAP691/3/2/18 - Thanakhan Ban Pai ( fascicle no.5) (ທານະຂັນບັ້ນປາຍຜູກ 5) (1674)
This project aimed to set out to investigate the remaining negative archives and collections of local Burmese photographers. The project was able to identify two studios in Yangon that agreed to have some of the negatives in their archives digitised. The majority of the negatives come from the Bellay Photo Studio, with a smaller collection digitised from Asia Studio.
The owner of the Bellay Photo Studio, Tun Tun Lay, agreed to the digitisation of some of the negatives taken by his father, Har Si Yoi, starting in 1963, only one year after General Ne Win’s coup d’état. The images taken in the studio capture life during the so-called ‘lost decades’ and present a unique insight into this time period, as there are no archives in Myanmar or abroad that hold a comprehensive collection of images from those decades. Bellay Photo Studio is run by an ethnically Chinese family and many of the clients were Chinese-Burmese as well. A community that suffered greatly during Ne Win’s Burmese Way of Socialism; they were persecuted, their properties were nationalised, and finally a ban on Chinese-language education was issued, which forced a major exodus of Burmese-Chinese to other countries. The negatives at the studio used to be stored in two large wooden cabinets which were destroyed by termites and humidity along with more than 50% of the negatives. The loose negatives, which had been kept in envelopes, have been stored in plastic bags since 2012.
Another small but important archive of 134 negatives, including glass plates, was archived on the outskirts of Yangon. The grandson of the famed Asia Studio proprietor, U Kyawt, allowed the project to digitise a small section of his collection. The negatives and plates are stored in a wooden box without any kind of protection. The images include press photography capturing Aung San who is considered to be the Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar and a hero for his struggle for independence. He is also the father of politician and current Minister of Foreign affairs, Aung San Suu Kyi. The images were taken in the 1940s; Aung San was assassinated in 1947. The Asia Studio archive holds many more valuable images that are at risk due to the storage environment.
The digitised negatives form a very important record from after Myanmar’s independence and will allow not only researchers in the West but also Burmese to access the unique photographic culture of their past that documented everyday life and how Burmese citizens wanted to be portrayed. This is especially true for the images from Bellay Photo Studio, as they represent various communities of Yangon in the late 1960s and 70s.
EAP898/1/1 - Asia Studio [1940s-1950s]
EAP898/1/1 - Asia Studio [1940s-1950s]
EAP898/2/1 - Bellay Studio [1969-1982]
20 January 2017
Now well into our digitisation workflow process, team EAP880 all took some time out mesmerised by the contents of one particular file…
Caught at the crossworlds of British India, Tibetan Buddhism, and Burmese political transitions, this file captures the furtive and subsequent official engagement between a Himalayan prince, HRH Sidkeong Tulku of Sikkim (1879-1914) and a Burmese princess-in-exile, HRH Teik-Tin Ma Lat (b.1894).
Through first-hand accounts, it provides a rare lens into the emerging internationalism of the era touching upon Britain, Ladakh, India, Sikkim, Tibet, Burma, and Japan. It takes us through the couple’s first meeting, their love letters, their differences, and their wedding plans, and culminates with the Prince’s untimely and mysterious death—three months before his wedding—at age 35.
Photo: Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong
Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal was never destined for the throne: As the second son of Sikkim’s 9th Chogyal (King) Thutob Namgyal and a recognised reincarnate lama he had taken monastic vows of celibacy and was beginning his Buddhist studies in the monastery.
However, his father’s reign had been characterised by waves of aggression from both modern day Nepal and Bhutan, and—in a regional theatre dominated by the Great Game—increasing British interventionism as the latter strove to counter a perceived Russian influence in Lhasa. It was through the Sikkim Himalayas that they saw their greatest chances of success.
Increasingly wary of the scope of Tibetan belligerence, the British sought to exert influence over Sikkim’s politics: On refusing to recall Crown Prince Tsodag from their summer estates in Chumbi (Tibet), the British held the Chogyal and his family, for two years near Darjeeling – ironically, a tract of land leased to them by the 8th Chogyal of Sikkim.
While in captivity, the Chogyal—out of mistrust of British intention and fear for his son’s life—maintained his refusal to order the Crown Prince’s return. He was finally released when the Viceroy of India, authorised the removal of the Crown Prince from the line of the succession, and investing Prince Sidkeong Tulku as heir apparent. And so, began the generous grooming of Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal.
After a brief stint with Sarat Chandra Das and at St. Paul’s School (Darjeeling), the prince went to Pembroke College, Oxford University (1906-08), during which time he was under the care of Lt. Col. O’Connor with whom he became quite close, and John Claude White (Political Officer, Sikkim).
Fluent in Chinese, Hindi, English, Lepcha, Nepali, and Tibetan, the Prince visited New York, European capitals, and Burma keeping a handwritten, large-format diary—in English—of his travels, replete with photos, mementos, invitations, and playbills. He returned to Sikkim progressive and full of energy, advocating for judicial, land, and monastic reforms.
By 1906, Sikkim’s new Crown Prince decided he should soon marry and began a search for a well-educated woman with a compatible fluency in English, and a shared Buddhist heritage.
Though the Government of India had no objection, the Chogyal of Sikkim, still raw from the treatment he had been subjected to and perhaps moved deeply by his devotion to the Buddha dharma, held the opinion that the Prince—an incarnation of a lama—should refrain from both marriage and activity in worldly affairs, in favour of spiritual practice. The British, in contrast, were only too eager to help the Crown Prince!
Prince Sidkeong Tulku—in admiration of Japanese culture—wished to marry a Japanese. During a visit to Japan, the British Ambassador bore the responsibility of inviting Sidkeong to various dances and dinners, but with no obvious match made, the Government of India decided that a Burmese would be preferable, as unlike Japan, Tibet, or Siam, Burma was under British rule.
It then fell on the Government of Burma to provide a list of suitable ladies, and the respective governments of Bombay and the United Provinces, to provide lists of Burma’s royal lineage ladies whose families were living in exile in India. These were presented to the Prince in late 1910.
The Prince of Limbin (Limbin Mintha), a grandson of King Tharrawaddy, and his daughters were living in Allahabad, which, in December 1910 was (rather conveniently) preparing to host the the three-month Allahabad Exhibition. This provided the perfect opportunity for Prince Sidkeong to meet Limbin Mintha’s family, while arousing minimal suspician at home.
Accompanied by Kazi Gyaltsen to Allahabad, Prince Sidkeong hosted a dinner party for Limbin Mintha and gifted Princess Ma Lat an image of the Buddha and a basket of Sikkim oranges. After a few meetings, Charles Bell (Political Officer, Sikkim) noted that the prince had not made a decision and that he had instead requested enquiries to be made for potential brides in Siam, Kashmir, Ladakh, and again in Japan.
However, finding a woman in Siam educated in English proved too difficult, and though one Shimchung Gialmon Lhadun of Mathu (Ladakh) was suggested, the Prince disapproved of her illiteracy (despite remarking on her physical beauty).
Again, in 1911, he wrote to Colin J. Davidson (Assistant Secretary, British Embassy in Japan) requesting his help in finding a suitable bride, however, the Anglo-Japan relation was deteriorating and Davidson advised against this, citing in addition that, “The knowledge they (Japanese ladies) acquire is very meagre and as a rule almost useless for practical purposes…”
So it was in 1912 that Prince Sidkeong chose to marry Princess Ma Lat, whose family by this time had returned to Rangoon, despite the fact that on principle, his father—the Chogyal—still opposed any marriage just as he had in 1908.
Instead, the Government of India assumed the role of a negotiater securing the consent of Limbin Mintha for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Prince Sidkeong advised that the Chogyal should not yet be informed due to the seriousness of his father’s illness. Yet in the meantime, the Prince made a visit to Rangoon, to fulfill the dual purpose of both pilgrimage and proposal.
The initial 1913 Rangoon wedding date was repeatedly postponed by the Prince whose concern for his father’s deteriorating health became his priority. However, over the course of a regular correspondence between the engaged, the Prince and Princess exchanged letters discussing designs of the wedding dress and rings, as well as expenses.
In June 1914—as per Sikkimese custom—an astrologer was consulted on whose advice the Prince set the wedding for 24th January 1915 in Rangoon. Meanwhile, the Princess Ma Lat had requested Sidkeong to send her a Sikkimese ayah in order to help familiarise herself with Sikkimese culture. (The Prince advises Ma Lat to read more books instead!)
On 10th February, 1914, Chogyal Thutob Namgyal passed away. The prince wrote to his fiancée explaining the Sikkimese custom of one year’s mourning, which was especially important given there was some disapproval of the match in Sikkim. Moreover, he notes that Britain was now at war with Germany and under such situations, officials were busy with war efforts.
This was likely the last letter the Prince received from his fiancée for after only nine months on the throne, in December 1914, Prince Sidkeong Tulku died in what the British call “mysterious circumstances” while ill in bed, just one month before his marriage.
Written by Pema Abrahams, grant holder for EAP880
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