Endangered archives blog

12 posts categorized "Writing"

16 March 2021

EAP Publication translated into Arabic - مُترجَمًا إلى العربية: برنامج الأرشيفات المهددة بالاندثار يطلق أحد أهم كتبه

In 2020, EAP received a generous grant from the Barakat Trust to translate Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations into Arabic as part of outreach within the Middle East and North Africa regions. Nouran Ibrahim Abdelraouf did all the hard work of translating the book and now that it is available online via the EAP website, we thought it would be the right time to ask her a few questions that we could share on our blog.

في عام 2020، تلقى برنامج الأرشيفات المهددة بالاندثار منحة كريمة من مؤسسة بركات لترجمة كتاب لقطات نائية: رقمنة التراث الوثائقي في المواقع ذات التحديات كجزء من جهود الانتشار في منطقتي الشرق الأوسط وشمال إفريقيا. أخذت نوران إبراهيم عبد الرؤوف على عاتقها مهمة ترجمة الكتاب الصعبة، وبما أنه قد أصبح متاحًا على الإنترنت من خلال موقع برنامج الأرشيفات المهددة بالاندثار، فإننا نعتقد أنه قد حان الوقت لطرح بعض الأسئلة على المترجمة بحيث ننشر إجاباتها على مدونتنا.
 
Nouran small
 
حدثينا عن نفسك بعض الشيء: كيف بدأتِ العمل في مجال الترجمة؟
لطالما كنت شغوفة باللغات، وتحديدًا اللغة الإنجليزية. تخصصت والدتي في الأدب الإنجليزي في الجامعة، ولطالما كانت "دودة قراءة"، وأظن أنني قد ورثت عنها هذا الأمر! لذا، فقد نشأت في بيت مليء بالكتب العربية والإنجليزية وشغف عام باللغة والقراءة، وفي المدرسة، كانت مادتا اللغة العربية واللغة الإنجليزية مادتيّ المفضلتين. ثم التحقت بقسم اللغة الإنجليزية في كلية الألسن بجامعة عين شمس، وعُينت معيدة به، ثم تخصصت في الترجمة التحريرية والشفهية بين العربية والإنجليزية، وناقشت رسالة الماجستير وعنوانها ترجمة عبارات التلطُف: تحليل اجتماعي إدراكي نقدي للخطاب السياسي الأمريكي في ‘الحرب على الإرهاب’ وترجمته في الإعلام العربي المكتوب في عام 2015. بدأت العمل في مجال الترجمة التحريرية على الإنترنت بينما كنت طالبة في السنة الثالثة من الكلية، وبدأت العمل كمترجمة شفهية أثناء دراستي في دبلومة الترجمة التحريرية والشفهية.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you get started in translation work?

Well, I've always been passionate about languages, especially English. My mother is an English literature major and has always been a bookworm, something which she's definitely passed on to me! So, growing up, I've always been surrounded by books in both Arabic and English and a general passion for language and reading, and in school, both English and Arabic languages were my favorite subjects. I then went on to join the English department in the Faculty of Al-Alsun (Languages), Ain Shams University, where I currently work as an assistant lecturer. Then I specialised in translation and interpreting between Arabic and English and defended my MA thesis titled "Euphemism in Translation: A Socio-cognitive Critical Analysis of the US War on Terror Discourse and its Translation in Arabic Media" in 2015. I started my career in translation work online while I was still a Junior and started interpreting work during studying for my translation and interpreting diploma.

لاحظت أنكِ أكثر تركيزًا على ترجمة المواد المتصلة بالثقافة والتراث، هل هذا صحيح؟ ما الذي دعاكِ للتركيز على ذلك؟
نعم، أظن أن ذلك صحيح إلى حد كبير. هناك حس بالتحقق والإنجاز يأتي من وساطتك بين الثقافات المختلفة. أنا مصرية، ولبلدي تراث هائل يتألف من طبقات عدة من الثقافات المختلفة. دائمًا ما أشعر بالفخر عند معرفة المزيد عن تراثي المصري، وتقديمي لجوانب منه لبقية العالم عن طريق الترجمة. ينطبق الأمر ذاته على كل المواد الثقافية المختلفة الأخرى التي يربطني بها العمل من خلال الترجمة سواء التحريرية أو الشفهية. ودائمًا ما تتسم هذه المواد بالتحديات، لأن الخصوصية الثقافية جزء لا يتجزأ منها، وفي الوقت ذاته يمثل إدخالها في سياق اللغة المترجم إليها تحديًا كبيرًا، ولذلك يحتاج هذا النوع من العمل إلى الكثير من البحث والشغف، وقدر كبير من الصبر والمثابرة في سبيل الوصول إلى ترجمة ملائمة. ولكن على الرغم من تلك الصعوبات والتحديات، فإن العملية كلها تمثل تجربة مجزية للغاية عند إنجاز الأمر بالتوصل إلى ترجمة مناسبة. أعمل في مجالات وموضوعات مختلفة أيضًا، ولكن تظل الثقافة والتراث من ضمن الموضوعات المفضلة بالنسبة لي قراءةً وعملًا.
 

Am I right in thinking you like to focus on translating material related to culture and heritage? What made you decide to focus on this?

I think this is somehow true. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from being the mediator between different cultures. Being an Egyptian myself, I come from a country that is just layer over layer over layer of different cultures and a huge heritage. I take pride in knowing more about my Egyptian heritage and helping with presenting parts of it to the rest of the world. This applies to all other different cultural materials that I've worked on through translating or interpreting. Such materials are almost always challenging, since culture specificity is inherent to their nature, meanwhile it is something that is usually very challenging to contextualise in the target language. This is why this kind of work needs lots of research and passion, not to mention a great deal of patience and persistence to reach a suitable rendition. Having said that, it is a particularly rewarding experience when you eventually get it right. I do work on different subjects as well, but topics of culture and heritage are definitely among my favorite subjects to both read and work on.

 

ما الذي خطر ببالك فور دعوتك لترجمة لقطات نائية؟
تحمست كثيرًا لدعوتي للتعاون مع أحد برامج المكتبة البريطانية، ولأول وهلة بدا الكتاب شيقًا ومليئًا بالتحديات. عندما تحدثت مع صديقة تعمل في مجال التراث، أخبرتني أن هناك الكثير من الجهات والأفراد الذين سيكونون مهتمين بمنح برنامج الأرشيفات المهددة بالاندثار في مصر، ومن ثم سيهمهم وجود ترجمة عربية لكتاب لقطات نائية، بما أنه يمثل دليلًا عمليًا على كيفية البدء في مشروعات رقمنة التراث والحصول على إحدى منح البرنامج. أعتقد أن الأمر ذاته ينطبق على سائر البلدان التي تتحدث بالعربية؛ فهذه المنطقة من العالم تمتلك طيفًا واسعًا من الثقافات والتراث، وفي غالب الأمر تحتاج إلى المزيد من الموارد لتوثيقه، لذا تحمست للغاية لأن أبدأ العمل في الترجمة العربية للقطات نائية، لأنه سيكون أحد الموارد التي ستيسر هذا الأمر.

What were your immediate thoughts when you were invited to collaborate on Remote Capture?

I was really intrigued to be collaborating with one of the British Library's programmes, and I thought the nature of the book itself was quite challenging. When I spoke to a friend working in the field, she told me that there were many entities and individuals in Egypt who would be particularly interested in the grants offered by EAP, and consequently in an Arabic translation of Remote Capture, since it serves as a practical manual on how to get started with a heritage digitisation project and how to get an EAP grant. I think the same applies to other Arabic-speaking countries; it's an area of the world that has various cultures and heritages and is probably in need for more resources to be able to document them, so I was very enthusiastic about starting to work on the Arabic translation of Remote Capture that would somehow facilitate this.

ما هو الجانب الذي استمتعتِ بالعمل عليه في الكتاب؟
أفضل الحديث عن اللحظات الممتعة والتي أشعرتني بالتحقق فيما يتصل بعملي على لقطات نائية. استمتعت بعدة لحظات من هذا النوع عند مواجهتي للتعبيرات التخصصية الصعبة؛ أحيانًا ما كنت أجد صعوبة حتى في فهم التعبير أو الكلمة باللغة الإنجليزية أصلًا، ومن ثم في الترجمة. لم يكن الأمر سهلًا دائمًا، ولكن بكل تأكيد كان مجزيًا عند خروج الترجمة إلى النور. كما سعدت بالحصول على منتج نهائي بعد العمل الشاق الذي استمر لفترة ليست بالقصيرة نظرًا لحجم المشروع، وبعد العمل مع المصمم والدخول في العديد من النقاشات بشأن المنتج النهائي وما يجب أن يبدو عليه. كما كانت لحظة إطلاق الكتاب مترجمًا على الإنترنت وإرسالي للرابط ذي الصلة إلى أسرتي وأصدقائي لحظة سعيدة بالنسبة لي، فقد جعلت كل الأرق والتوتر بشأن اللحاق بموعد التسليم كأن لم يكنا! كما أنه يجب أن أذكر أنني أستمتع الآن بالإجابة عن أسئلة هذه المقابلة!

What aspect of the book did you enjoy working on?

I would rather speak about enjoyable and fulfilling moments related to my work on Remote Capture. I had many of these whenever there was a particularly challenging, technical term that I struggled to first understand, and second translate. It wasn't always easy, but was definitely rewarding when it eventually materialised. I also enjoyed having a final product after such hard work that went on for quite some time given the volume of the project, and after working with the graphic designer and having so many discussions on how the final product should look like. Also, the moment when the translation finally went online and I could share its link with my family and friends was a big one for me; it just makes all the sleepless nights and anxiety over making the deadline worthwhile. I also have to mention that I am enjoying answering the questions of this interview!

هل واجهتك أية تحديات؟ إذا كانت الإجابة بنعم، فماذا كانت هذه التحديات؟
لقد واجهتني تحديات مهنية وشخصية. بالنسبة للتحديات المهنية، فقد تضمنت ترجمة مواد شديدة التخصص من الإنجليزية إلى العربية. كان الفصل المتعلق بطرز الكاميرات وإعداداتها تحديدًا شديد الصعوبة. كان علي أن أقرأ مطولًا بشأن الكاميرات وإعداداتها وكيفية عملها حتى أتأكد من أنني أعبر عن المعلومة بصورة صحيحة. كما تحتم علي اتخاذ عدة قرارات فيما يتعلق باختيار اللغة المستخدمة للتعبير عن الكلمات الأكثر تخصصًا، هل أحتفظ باللغة الإنجليزية كما هي لأنها الأكثر استخدامًا في هذا المجال؟ أم أستخدم اللغة العربية والتي قد لا يكون التعبير فيها مطروقًا بنفس القدر؟ استغرق هذا الأمر مني وقتًا وتفكيرًا من أجل الوصول إلى حل وسط لا أضحي فيه بالمعنى المقصود في النص الأصلي، ولا بمدى مقبوليته في النص المترجم. وعندما أشير إلى "الكلمات التخصصية"، فإنني أقصد الأجزاء المتعلقة بالمعدات الحديثة وأيضًا بمجال توثيق التراث. هناك ندرة في الموارد العربية، على الأقل على الإنترنت، التي تتناول كلا الموضوعين، ولذا كان علي أقضي وقتًا طويلًا في عملية البحث قبل التوصل إلى بضعة موارد ساعدتني على إنجاز الأمر. أما بالنسبة للتحديات الشخصية، فهي تتعلق بشكل رئيسي بإدارة الوقت. خلال الفصل الدراسي الماضي، كنت أدرس 6 مواد في برنامج التأهيل للدكتوراه، وكان لمعظم هذه المواد 3 اختبارات منذ بداية الفصل الدراسي وحتى نهايته، بالإضافة إلى الفروض الأسبوعية وتدريس 3 مواد مختلفة. لذا كان علي الموازنة بين العديد من الأشياء خلال فترة العمل على لقطات نائية، وأنا للأسف لا أتقن عملية إدارة الوقت على الإطلاق، ولكن العبرة بالخواتيم! شعرت بالإنجاز والتحقق عندما رأيت كل العمل الشاق في الكتاب متجسدًا في صورته النهائية على موقع البرنامج.

Were there any challenges, if so, what were they?

Well, there were both technical and personal challenges. As for the technical challenges, they involved the translation of highly technical and specialised terms from English into Arabic. The chapter on cameras and their settings was a particularly difficult one. I had to go on reading and reading and reading on cameras, their settings and how they work, to make sure I am conveying the correct information. I also had to make a lot of decisions in regards to whether to use the more technical terms in English (more in use) or Arabic (less in use). This took some time and thinking to reach a successful compromise that wouldn't sacrifice either the intended meaning in the original text or its acceptability in the translated text. When I say: "technical terms", I am referring to both the parts that have to do with modern equipment as well as with the field of documenting heritage. There is a scarcity in Arabic resources, online at least, that discuss both subjects, and so I had to spend a long time researching before reaching a few resources that were helpful. As for the personal challenges, they mainly had to do with time management. This past semester I was studying 6 PhD subjects with three exams in each throughout the term, not to mention the weekly assignments, in addition to teaching 3 different classes. So I had many things to juggle throughout the project's time, and I am definitely not the best at time management, but I guess all's well that ends well! It was very rewarding to see all the hard work manifested in the book in its final form online.

أنت أيضًا تدرسين مواد الترجمة التحريرية والشفهية بصفتك مدرسًا مساعدًا بجامعة عين شمس. لابد من أنكِ شديدة الانشغال. ما الذي تفعلينه للاسترخاء؟
الاسترخاء.. كم أفتقده! بشكل عام، أحب القراءة ومشاهدة الأفلام والمسلسلات والسفر (على الرغم من أنني لم أسافر منذ أكثر من عام في ظل الظروف الحالية)، وأكتب من وقت لآخر. عندما يتوفر لدي الوقت والمواد اللازمة، أحب أن أمارس بعض الأعمال الفنية مثل الموازييك والديكوباج. كما أحب أشغال الإبرة مثل الكروشيه وتعلمت التطريز مؤخرًا. بشكل عام، تساعدك الأعمال اليدوية على الاسترخاء، وهي الشكل المفضل للتأمل بالنسبة لي، وأتمنى لو كان لدي المزيد من الوقت لممارستها بشكل أكبر. أيضًا، في العام الماضي، انشقت الأرض فجأة عن قطة سوداء قررت أن تسكن في شرفتنا، وعلى الرغم من جميع محاولاتنا لطردها، أصرت على البقاء، فلم نجد خيارًا أمامنا سوى أن نحبها ونتبناها! سرعان ما اكتشفنا حملها، وفي أغسطس الماضي ولدت 6 قطط، بقي 3 منهم معنا، لذا فنحن الآن نعتني بالأم والأب وأبنائهم الثلاثة. الوقت الذي أقضيه معهم هو من أوقاتي المفضلة في اليوم كله!

You also lecture on translation and interpreting studies at Ain Shams University. You must be incredibly busy, what do you do to relax and unwind?

Ah, the good old unwinding! I haven't done much of it lately. But generally speaking, I like reading, watching movies and series, travelling (though I haven't travelled in over a year now with all what's going on) and I write occasionally. When I have the time and materials, I like to do mosaic work and decoupage. I also love crocheting and I've just learned how to embroider. Generally, handcrafts help you unwind and relax, and they are my favorite form of meditation, I wish I had more time on my hands to do more of them. Also, last year, a tortoiseshell cat appeared mysteriously on our porch, DEMANDING to be fed as well as loved, we adopted her and soon enough she got pregnant and in August gave birth to 6 kittens, 3 of which are still with us, so we now care for the mum and dad as well as their three baby boys. Being around them is definitely one of my favorite pastimes!

ما هو مشروعك المقبل؟
من المفترض أن أبدأ العمل على ترجمة العدد الجديد من راوي: مجلة التراث المصري قريبًا. لا يمكنني الكشف عن موضوع العدد بعد، ولكنني متأكدة أنه سيكون عددًا شيقًا وثريًا كسابقه. كما آمل أن أركز بشكل أكبر على رسالة الدكتوراه وأن أحرز بعض التقدم فيها.

What is your next project?

I am supposed to start working on the translation of the new issue of Rawi Magazine, Egypt's Heritage Review soon. I can't disclose its subject quite yet, but I am sure it will be as interesting and enriching as the previous issue. I am also hoping to focus more on my PhD and to get some work done on my dissertation.

هل هناك من تودين توجيه الشكر إليه فيما يتعلق بعملك على لقطات نائية؟
لابد وأن أشكر والدتي إيناس يحيى لطفي التي أدين لها بكل شيء، والتي لطالما ساندتني بالتشجيع والدعم، خاصة عندما اقترب موعد التسليم وازداد توتري (كالعادة!). كما أود أن أتوجه بالشكر لأصدقائي على دعمهم اللامتناهي ومناقشاتنا التي ساعدتني على تخطي بعض الجوانب الصعبة في الترجمة. وبالطبع لابد وأن أذكر المهندس رجائي عبد الله الذي اضطلع بمهمة تصميم النسخة العربية من لقطات نائية. أسعدني العمل معه ولابد أن أشكره على مرونته وعلى صبره قبل كل شيء، على الرغم من كل التعديلات والتغييرات التي طلبتها منه. أخيرًا، أود أن أشكر جودي باتروورذ، وهي إحدى المحررين الرئيسيين للقطات نائية وحلقة الوصل بيني وبين برنامج الأرشيفات المهددة بالاندثار على دعمها الدائم ومرونتها في التعامل. كان العمل معها هو أحد أكثر الجوانب إشراقًا من المشروع بالنسبة لي.

Is there someone you would like to acknowledge or thank in relation to your work on Remote Capture?

I would definitely like to acknowledge my mother, Enas Yehia Lotfy, to whom I owe everything, and who has always been there with encouragement and support, especially whenever I was freaking out about the deadline! I would also like to thank my friends for their incessant support as well our discussions that definitely helped me with several challenging aspects of the translation. I can't forget to mention Ragaee Abdallah, who did all the hard work of Remote Capture's Arabic version graphics. It's been very pleasant to work with him, and I have to thank him for his flexibility and most of all for his patience in spite of all the changes and edits I kept asking him to make. Finally, I would like to thank Jody Butterworth, who is one of Remote Capture's editors and my point of contact with EAP for her constant support and flexibility. Working with her is definitely one of the highlights of the project for me.

                                                                                                                       

EAP is extremely grateful to the Barakat Trust for supporting the idea of an Arabic version of Remote Capture and to Nouran Ibrahim Abdelraouf for doing such a wonderful job of translating it.

18 November 2020

What’s in a name? The Sovietisation of the Mongolian language and the Challenges of Reversal

One of the newest EAP projects to go online is EAP890, which contains two collections of Mongolian newspapers, covering the period 1936-1945.

Written in traditional Mongolian script, these newspapers offer a fascinating insight into the history of Mongolian politics and society. They also provide a Mongolian perspective on international affairs, including the dominant global event of the period: the Second World War.

What's in a name?

But beyond the content, even to the untrained eye, this collection shines a light on a key period in Mongolia’s history, as the influence of the Soviet Union intensified eastwards after the 1917 Russian revolution.

Even if you cannot read the traditional Mongolian script these newspapers are written in, a quick glance at different editions of the Ardyn Undesnii Erkh collection prompts a simple question: why did the name of this newspaper keep changing? The answer lies not in typographical errors and careless editing; it is much more profound.

The newspaper title when printed in traditional Mongolian script was always consistent (see yellow boxes below). But alongside this was a variant title written in an alternative script (see red boxes).

In the following examples from four different months in 1941, the variant titles were written differently in each edition. In February 1941, the variant title is very similar to the current Romanised transliteration. But month by month this gradually changed to something that closely resembles the modern Cyrillic spelling.

Part of newspaper title front cover
13 February 1941 (EAP890/1/1/54/3)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
12 March 1941 (EAP890/1/1/55/4)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
12 May 1941 (EAP890/1/1/57/2)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
23 June 1941 (EAP890/1/1/58/6)

What is going on?

These changing titles are indicative of a pivotal period in Mongolian history.  They reveal a process of linguistic revolution, which act as an important indicator of the broader social and political changes that Mongolia experienced during the mid-20th century.

The Sovietisation of Mongolia

Situated in the heart of central Asia, Mongolia is surrounded by two global superpowers: Russia to the north and China to the south. Between the late 17th  and early 20th centuries, Mongolia was controlled by the Chinese Qing dynasty. Throughout this period, local dialects predominantly used the vertical Mongolian script, which was adapted from the Old Uyghur alphabet after Genghis Khan captured an Uyghur scribe at the beginning of the 13th century, during the formative years of the Mongol Empire.

After the fall of the Chinese Manchu dynasty in 1911, Mongolia swayed between independence and continued control by the new Republic of China, until Russian troops entered Mongolia in 1920 and defeated the Chinese army a few months later.

In 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic was established and during subsequent decades Mongolia became increasingly aligned with the recently formed Soviet Union. 

During the 1930s, Mongolia was subject to a series of brutal purges. Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were killed. This process intensified as the world drifted towards war. Notable politicians, including Mongolian prime ministers Peljidiin Genden and Anandyn Amar were arrested and shot in the Soviet Union, accused of counterrevolutionary activity and spying for Japan.

These purges were ordered by the Soviets, but largely overseen by Khorloogiin Choibalsan - sometimes referred to as the 'Stalin of Mongolia'. Choibalsan was in Russia as a student when the 1917 Bolshevik revolution took place. He returned to Mongolia inspired by the Bolshevik cause and after Stalin came to power in Moscow, Choibalsan gradually emerged as the principal conduit for Soviet influence in Mongolia. By 1939, after the arrest of Amar, Choibalsan had become Mongolia's dominant political leader.

Extract from a newspaper including images of Joseph Stalin and Khorloogiin Choibalsan
12 March 1941 (EAP890/1/1/55/4). Pictured: Joseph Stalin (top); Khorloogiin Choibalsan (bottom right)
 
Khorloogiin Choibalsan with Soviet officials
Khorloogiin Choibalsan with Soviet military officers, 1940 (EAP264/1/2/1/10)

During the next few years, the Sovietisation of Mongolia continued unabated and part of this effort included Russifying the Mongolian language. 

Linguistic revolution

While violent purges provide stark evidence of political change, alterations to the national language were also a significant part of the Sovietisation process.

Initial attempts to unify languages within the communist sphere centred on the Latin script. A 1932 Soviet report explained that a unified script would create a system for use by the working masses, as opposed to multiple narrow systems designed for use by the ruling classes. During the late 1930s this objective continued, but Cyrillic became the preferred, unifying writing system.

The first two extracts above, from early 1941 editions of Ardyn Undesnii Erkh, represent a hangover from those initial aborted efforts to Latinise languages within the Soviet Union during the 1920s-30s and replica efforts in Mongolia. In the early 1930s, a Latin alphabet containing 24 dominant characters emerged in Mongolia. This shift was subsequently aborted and in 1937 the former Minster of Education  was prosecuted for crimes which included trying to destroy the Mongolian national script. But in early 1941, after the rise of Choibalsan, Latinisation re-emerged. And on 21 February 1941, a resolution was passed in Mongolia to approve a 42-letter Latin script. This decree was short-lived, though, as a month a later, on 25 March, Cyrillic was adopted as the preferred alternative to the traditional Mongolian script. Five years later, this change was enforced

The processes of both Latinising and Russifying the Mongolian language were neither straightforward nor definitive. The subtle and gradual alterations to both the Latin and the Cyrillic versions of the titles evident in these newspaper demonstrate this.  The task of using new alphabets to represent an existing language was subject to intense linguistic debate.

As the last national newspapers printed in traditional Mongolian script before the forceful switch to the Cyrillic script on 1 January 1946, these two newspaper collections offer an important insight into the nature of those debates and provide a potentially useful dataset to help better understand the mechanics and subtleties of this linguistic revolution.

By the time of this enforced change, Unen had already transitioned. When the final edition available in this collection was published on 31 December 1945, the only remnant of the traditional Mongolian script was the title; the rest of the newspaper was printed in Cyrillic.

Two front covers of Unen newspaper
Unen, 1 January 1942 (EAP890/1/2/1/1), left; Unen, 31 December 1945 (EAP890/1/2/45/11), right

When the Sovietisation process began, the titles were the first parts of these newspapers to change. When the process was complete, they were the last thing to remain.

Beyond communism and 21st century challenges

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of communism in Mongolia, efforts have been made to resurrect the traditional script, which is still used in the autonomous Inner Mongolian region of China. This was initially scheduled for 1994, but Cyrillic was re-confirmed as the national script by the Mongolian parliament in 1995.

Twenty years later, in February 2015, the Mongolian government passed a new law which asserted that the traditional Mongolian script, found in these two newspapers, should once again be the national script by 2025. But it may not be that simple.

As I discovered when cataloguing this project, implementing this policy requires technical change as well as political will. It had been our intention to catalogue the collection using the traditional Mongolian script that the newspapers were predominantly written in. However, while the traditional Mongolian script was added to the unicode standard in 1999, there are several design issues that remain unfixed and a lack of support for fonts required to display the script correctly. The 2025 target has provided renewed motivation to address these  issues. But it remains to be seen if and when the existing technical problems will be resolved.

For now, therefore, the titles for these collections appear in the EAP catalogue only in the modern Mongolian Cyrillic script and transliterated Latin script.

But once you get beyond the name, the digitised content is there to be explored in the traditional Mongolian script - providing a window into the past and possibly the very near future of Mongolia and the significance of its national script.

By Graham Jevon

With thanks to the EAP890 project team led by Bayasgalan Bayanbat for digitising this content, and to Eleanor Cooper with whom discussions about the language and scripts inspired this post.

Further reading

Charles Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia, (2002).

Henry S Badsher, 'The Sovietization of Mongolia', Foreign Affairs (April 1972), pp. 545-553.

Uradyn E Bulag, Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia (1998).

Stephane Grivelet, 'The Latinization Attempt in Mongolia', http://acta.bibl.u-szeged.hu/16597/1/altaica_039_115-120.pdf

Stephane Grivelet, 'Reintroducing the Uighur-Mongolian Script in  Mongolia Today', Mongolian Studies, Vol. 18 (1995), pp. 49-60.

03 July 2020

New Projects Online - June 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.

EAP703 - Notary Books of Bahia, Brazil, 1664-1910

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.

Project team digitising notary books
The EAP703 project team digitising the notary books in Bahia

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
  • Marriage
  • Dowry
  • Labour and business contracts
  • Children’s legitimisation papers
  • Slave manumission papers.
A notary book page
Livro de Notas do Tabelião [3 May 1680-19 Jun 1680] (EAP703/1/2/2)

 

EAP896 - Documentation of Endangered Temple Art of Tamil Nadu

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.

Project Team Digitising a Temple Wall
The EAP896 project team digitising a temple wall

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.

Art on temple wall
Bodinayakkanur Zamin Palace, West Hall, North wall, top row (EAP896/1/2)

This project has resulted in a plethora of visually striking images.

 

EAP1150 - Fragile Palm Leaves Digitisation Initiative

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.

Bound palm leaf manuscript
Mhan nanḥ mahārājavaṅ tau krīḥ I (EAP1150/1/9, image 1)

Mostly created in the 18th and 19th century, these manuscripts contain approximately 1,000 discrete Buddhist texts on a variety of topics. These include:

  • Law
  • Poetry
  • Stories of the Buddha
  • Grammar
  • Religious rituals
A palm leaf manuscript
Mhan nanḥ mahārājavaṅ tau krīḥ I (EAP1150/1/9, image 15)

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.

 

EAP1167 - Safeguarding Colonial Plantation Records of Malawi

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.

A plan showing plots on a tobacco estate
Nchenga and Falls Dairy (EAP1167/1/11/1, image 1)

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
  • Memoranda
  • Correspondence
  • 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!

14 November 2018

Mandinka Ajami and Arabic Manuscripts of Casamance, Senegal

This a wonderful blog written by Eleni Castro, OpenBU & ETD Program Librarian at Boston University as well as Project Technical Lead for EAP1042.

This October we presented a poster entitled, “Digital Preservation of Mandinka Ajami Materials of Senegal” at FORCE2018 (Montreal, Canada), which is an annual conference on making research and scholarship more broadly and openly available. This poster provided a project overview and update on the work we have been doing for EAP 1042 - an international research collaboration between Boston University, the West African Research Center, and local experts in Senegal, which involves visiting manuscript owners in the Casamance region of Senegal to work with them to digitally preserve and make more broadly available manuscripts written in Arabic and Mandinka Ajami (Mandinka using Arabic script) from their personal libraries.

In January 2018, we gave a three day digital preservation workshop at the West African Research Center (WARC) in Dakar, and shortly thereafter went to Ziguinchor to begin our digitisation field work. Overall, the team is spending 15 months 1) interviewing manuscript owners and digitising rare manuscripts from Ziguinchor, Kolda, and Sédhiou, 2) curating and post-processing over 14,000 digital images, and 3) depositing three independent copies at: WARC in Dakar, the British Library, and Boston University’s African Ajami Library on OpenBU. At the time of writing, we have digitised over 10,000 Arabic and Mandinka Ajami manuscript pages (some bilingual).

Group photograph in front of the West African Research Center in Dakar

Digitisation Workshop team at the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal (Jan. 2018)

Dr. Fallou Ngom, looking over manuscripts with manuscript owner, El-hadji Lamine Bayo

Project PI, Dr. Fallou Ngom, looking over manuscripts with manuscript owner, El-hadji Lamine Bayo

Photographing manuscripts from the Abdou Khadre Cisse collection

Ibrahima Ngom (photographer) and Ablaye Diakité (local project manager) photographing manuscripts from the Abdou Khadre Cisse collection (Jan. 2018)

Interviewing manuscript owner Abdou Khadre Cisse

Ibrahima Yaffa interviewing manuscript owner Abdou Khadre Cisse and his brother Cherif Cisse. Filmed by project photographer, Ibrahima Ngom

As we began our digitisation, we noticed that there was a large number of bilingual manuscripts written in both Arabic and Mandinka Ajami, which is very different from the mostly unilingual Wolof Ajami manuscripts digitised in EAP 334. The genres and subject matter found in these works varied widely, from religious to secular topics, such as: astrology, poetry, divination, Islamic education, jurisprudence, Sufism, code of ethics, translations & commentaries of the Quran and Islamic texts from Arabic into Mandinka, stories about Mandinka leaders and important historical figures (including women), records of important local events such as the founding of villages, ancestral traditions, and Mandinka social institutions.

Manuscript page.

Manuscript of a long form poem praising the Prophet Muhammad, written in Arabic with marginalia in Arabic and some Mandinka Ajami (Abdou Khadre Cisse Collection)

Manuscript page.

Mandinka healing document (Abdou Karim Thiam Collection)

Manuscript page held up to the sunlight to reveal the watermarks.

19th Century watermark found in Biniiboo manuscript (Abdou Khadre Cisse Collection)

Since we are working in remote areas, with non-studio conditions, we encountered some technical issues early on. Finding the right lighting has been an ongoing challenge, since our time in the homes of manuscript owners is precious and limited, and so we have had to work with available light and the help of a macro ring flash. Our camera overheats after +1h of continuous use, but we found that by replacing an extra hot battery with a cooler one, helps us resume digitisation much faster. Since we have a geographically dispersed team, we have setup a communication channel via WhatsApp, and upload files on Google Drive for backup and review as soon as a new collection is being worked on. Internet speeds can be quite slow when sending these large raw image files, but a mobile hotspot modem has helped with internet access while working in the field.

While we will be wrapping up digitisation and curation of these manuscripts by April 2019, there is still more work to be done to help researchers more effectively study and explore these materials. We will be looking into using a IIIF image viewer for scholars to better be able to compare various manuscripts and annotate them. Transcription is a longer term goal, since more unicode work is needed to extend Arabic script characters for African Ajami manuscripts to be full-text searchable in their actual languages.

10 May 2018

Endangered Urdu Periodicals

This blog post has been written by Mr Nasir Javaid, grant holder for EAP839. The material has just been submitted to the EAP Office and it will be online later in the year.

EAP839 produced digital images of rare Urdu periodicals from the 19th to the first half of the 20th century in order to preserve and make them available to researchers. During this period the project team has successfully produced 3,832 issues. Urdu journals played a significant role in the development of Urdu literature, especially fiction, religion, history, poetry and culture of the South Asian region as a whole, particularly in Pakistan and India. If someone wants to write on the development of fiction or religious literature, they should refer back to these rare periodicals. Literature on Urdu criticism also flourished through these periodicals. Numerous books that were published later also drew content from these periodicals. Some of the best novels available in Urdu were first published in parts in Urdu journals. These periodicals also remained the primary source of advertisements for all major trade brands of that time. A large number of prominent writers and society figures gained popularity through these periodicals.

Cover page for Humayun May 1935

Humayn, May 1935

Advertisement for Johnson's talcum powder.

Baby Powder advertisement, August 1951

Unfortunately, the highly acidic paper used has made this literature highly vulnerable. It is rare to find complete runs of even the most important Urdu periodicals. Some of the publications have vanished; others are on the verge of extinction. Through digitisation and online presentation it becomes possible to access the publications, overcoming obstacles of location.

Cover page for Taj, October-November 1924

Taj, October - November 1924

Urdu language, now spoken by more than 60 million people worldwide, was the lingua franca of 19th century northern India. It was a common medium of mainstream communication when mass printing culture began. It was also the primary South Asian language used by colonial rulers for administrative purposes during the early British Raj. Previously it was very difficult for researchers to find full runs of the first Urdu periodicals. Further, tensions between Pakistan and India have made it very difficult for scholars to complete their research in topics requiring materials published across the national borders.  Making the rare Urdu periodicals accessible online will help improve scholarship on both sides of the border. During this project we have received many requests for copies of these digitised journals from India. The Endangered Archives Programme is making a major contribution towards the preservation of cultural heritage in countries, such as Pakistan, where the governmental support of such initiatives is not a priority.

Cover page for Humayun, January 1945

Humayun, January 1945

This project has enabled staff in Pakistan to develop professionally and to attain levels of performance in the field of technology never before attained within a Pakistani library. Project staff have not only learned to preserve and digitise, but also have become expert in the listing and cataloguing of periodicals. It was our fortune that while scanning these journals we had a chance to see and learn a lot of interesting articles and advertisements on different aspects of social life. Through this project the Mushfiq Khwaja Trust for the Advancement of Knowledge and Culture has developed exceptionally strong and close working relationships with the contributing institution in Pakistan and shared knowledge and skills with those partners.

Cover page for Ismat, May 1928

Ismat, May 1928

The Urdu literary journals have a long publication history some of these have been published continuously for more than a hundred years. It was not an easy task to locate the issues, even family members of the founder, editor and publishers of these journals have only limited numbers. When we digitised these journals they were incredibly pleased that we have preserved the legacy of their ancestors. On occasion, when they need an article they would contact us and also referred other people to us.

Political cartoon showing a man putting bags of money onto an elephant.

Political cartoon, Avadh Punch 1886

The Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre was also the archival partner on EAP566 resulting in 8635 issues of rare Urdu journals with total number of 615000 images having been digitised. No other institution in South Asia has extensively worked to preserve Urdu journals to this extent.

24 February 2017

The Textual Heritage of the Ural Old Believers

In the second half of the seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon reformed Russian church ceremonies and a range of traditional texts. The purpose of the reform was to merge Russian, Greek, Belorussian, and Ukrainian cultures. However, it led to a rupture with old Russian traditions. Russian society was split into two camps: the supporters of the reforms, ‘Nikonians’, and their opponents, the Old Believers. Old Belief was the largest opposition movement to emerge in Russia before 1905. They were cruelly persecuted by the state and the official Orthodox Church: they also suffered from repression during the Stalin era. However, despite all of the persecution, the Old Believers not only maintained Russian culture, but also developed and adapted it to new conditions.

Group of men wearing religious robes.

The texts maintained by the Old Believers belonged to a tradition formed over many centuries: it was based on Byzantine books that appeared in Russia along with Christianity. Russian scribes added their unique composition style to the Byzantine textual tradition, creating thematic collections (sborniki) based on both canonical and apocryphal Christian books. During the dispute with the official Orthodox Church, Old Believers reinterpreted many of the essays of early Christian writers, producing a great mass of original literature.

A selection of manuscripts.

From the end of the seventeenth century, the Urals became a centre of Old Belief; many fled there from central Russia to evade persecution. A group of researchers from the Historical Department of the Ural State University (now the Ural Federal University) organised archaeographical expeditions to Old Believer settlements spread across a huge territory stretching from the Volga to Western Siberia. These expeditions took place between 1974 and 2002.

A group of young people standing by a truck.

After decades of field work, almost 6,000 exemplars of this textual tradition (dating from the fifteenth to the late twentieth centuries) were collected. A wide range of manuscripts and printed books featuring all the elements of the old Russian textual tradition can be found in this collection.

The collections gathered by these expeditions include Old Believer textbooks (uchitel’nye sborniki), prayer books, polemics, eschatological essays, late Russian annals, items of a demographic and scientific character, and music sheets containing the old Russian form of musical notation (so called hooks).

Selection of manuscripts.

There is also a collection of archival documents: these include materials from local Old Believer councils, correspondence by outstanding twentieth-century leaders of Old Belief, and photos from the last decades of the imperial regime. All of these documents are extremely important for studying medieval culture, the adaptation of that culture to modern conditions, and its influence on Russia’s social and political history. They give us the opportunity to study local cultures surrounded by hostile authorities and can also be used to train specialists in history, philology, theology, and the arts.

A woman in her home. Her head is covered by a shawl.

Presently, the collection is kept at the Laboratory of Studies in Archaeography of the Institute for the Humanities and the Arts (Ural Federal University). Here, a number of experts with experience of working on rare books and manuscripts are employed.

The condition of these collections requires comment. The age of these books ranges between 100 to 500 years: many arrived at the Laboratory in a very poor condition. They were damaged by fungus and were incredibly dirty: the paper was collapsing from oxidation. 90% of our collections need conservation and restoration. The staff of the Laboratory do their best in this regard.

As part of EAP556, we digitised 35 old books and manuscripts. We were able to take more than 20,000 digital photographs. You can find these copies both on the EAP site and the new site of our Laboratory.

Operating a high-tech scanner

This has resulted in several important books and manuscripts being made freely available. These include:

The liturgical books known as Triod’ postnaya and the Gospels (Moscow, 1550s): these were some of the first printed books in Russia.

Cover with embossed brass lozenges showing depictions from The Gospel. 

Example of a Gospel cover

Illustrated manuscript.Example of a Triod’

2) The first fully printed copy of the Holy Bible in Church-Slavonic (Ostrog, Rzecz Pospolita, 1581).

Illustrated page from The Bible.Ostrog Bible

3) An illuminated apocalypse with commentary by St Andrew of Caesaria. Tsar Peter the Great, his main assistant Alexander Men’shikov, and his wife Catherine I are pictured at the head of the Antichrist’s army.

Illustration of the Apocalypse

The Old Believer manuscript tradition was not extinguished by Soviet persecution. A brilliant example of this tradition is an eschatological essay written by a Ural Old Believer called Iradion Ural’skiy (late twentieth century).

Page of handwritten text.

Black and white photograph of an illustrated page.

During the work on this project, we were able to complete an additional extremely important task: all of the books were placed in non-acidic boxes, thus helping us to preserve them.

We also have a restoration workshop where highly qualified restorers perform their delicate and complex work:

Making manuscript boxes.

  Conservation in action, working on a manuscript.

We are continuing to study and preserve these valuable Old Believer books and manuscripts. Once again, we would like to thank the Endangered Archives Programme. It was real pleasure to work with EAP: there was very little red tape, the team was highly responsive, and much friendliness was offered. Participation in the programme has had a considerable impact on our future plans for digitisation. This year we plan to put another 20,000 pictures on our website Our researchers are disseminating knowledge about the textual heritage of Ural Old Belief by writing articles and monographs. One book about illustrated apocalypses, written by Irina Pochinskaya, the leader of our EAP project, and Natalia Anufrieva has recently been released. The book has a digital appendix containing several of the books copied during our project.

Illustration from the Apocalypse

Finally, we are attempting to popularise knowledge of Russian medieval and Old Believer culture. On our site, there is a special section devoted to essays that we think you will find extremely interesting. We also hope that you will enjoy the example of Old Believer singing: the music sheet was written hundreds of years ago while the singer is our PhD student Anna Mikheeva.

It has been a wonderful experience and we hope that this is only the beginning!

Group photograph of the EAP team.

Written by Irina Pochiskaya and Alexander Palkin

21 February 2017

What does one gift to the Dalai Lama?

Ever wondered what one would give to the new Dalai Lama if one had the opportunity to attend his enthronement ceremony?

  Cover page of an archival file

This file (1939-40), over 200 pages long, provides a chronological and detailed account of the planning and sourcing of gifts, articulated concerns and queries about culture, customs, and protocol, and vivid travel descriptions of the journey from Gangtok (Sikkim) to Lhasa (Tibet), for the infant Tenzing Gyatso’s official enthronement as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  

Recognised as the official reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1939, his enthronement ceremony as the next Dalai Lama was scheduled for 22 February, 1940 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. In Sikkim (which had close relations with Tibet, spiritually, culturally, economically, and familial), officials were deciding what gifts to send to Lhasa for the occasion, and who would represent the Sikkim State at this auspicious and once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.

Sikkim’s 11th Chogyal, Tashi Wangyal Namgyal (r.1914-1963), chose to send his eldest son, Crown Prince Kunzang Paljor Namgyal (1921-1941), and the British decided to send Basil Gould (Political Officer, Sikkim), who would have been more familiar with the cultures of the region.

  Type-written letter.

It seems Gould took it upon himself to write to the headmaster of Bishop’s Cotton School (Shimla) where Crown Prince Paljor was studying, informing the school of the Prince’s impending absence – and rather comically, it seems he felt that “…the condition of a boy’s teeth” was a “very important matter”!

  Hand-written receipt.

Meanwhile, the Chogyal’s office set to work brainstorming gifts to offer the new Dalai Lama, sourcing them from various vendors from Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and the Army and Navy Store, Calcutta. The gifts included, among other items: A pair of sporting rifles; a 12ft tiger skin; a clock; a writing attaché case, a silver tea set, a pair of binoculars, and a pair of English ponies — the latter evidently caused quite a bit of trouble in their procurement as the file goes on to illustrate!

Typewritten letter.

The Chogyal’s eldest brother, former Crown Prince Tsodag Namgyal (1877-1942) had been removed from the line of succesion by the British in the mid-1890s and had been living in Tibet ever since. His son, Jigme Sumtsen Wangpo Namgyal, was a big support in the Chogyal’s endeavours to pay respects to the Dalai Lama, and it has been interesting to see how little the political interference and geographical borders seem to have affected the strength of family ties.

On 22 January, 1940, the Chogyal writes to his nephew, Jigme Sumtsen, to inform him that due to Prince Paljor’s young age and the anticipated harsh winter weather, Sikkim will instead send the Pipon of Lachen1.

  EAP880_HHDL-5_DSC00925 resized

The Chogyal asks his nephew to guide Pipon Sonam Wangyal in the elaborate, and oftentimes confusing, protocol of Lhasa aristocracy, and informs him that he is sending a tea set to Jigme Sumtsen in advance, as a token of his appreciation. 

On the 24 January, the Pipon sets off for Lhasa with four orderlies and arrives 13 days later on the 6 February, 1940. 

Meanwhile, the Chogyal accompanied by Prince Paljor and Princess Pema Tsedeun had left for Delhi to attend the investiture ceremony of the Viceroy of India. On their way back they visited Varanasi and Bodhgaya on Buddhist pilgrimage, and the correspondence between Chogyal and his nephew continued despite the hurdles of distance and difficulty of communication deriving from constant travel in early 20th century India. 

  Handwriting in Tibetan with an envelop and a royal seal.

These beautifully articulated, and oftentimes endearing letters, exchanged between uncle and nephew provide windows of insight into both mundane and courtly life of the era. The latter wonderfully illustrated with Jigme Sumtsen reporting to the Chogyal about the ceremony’s success, the reception of the gifts from Sikkim, and reference to the official letters of acknowledgement that are being carried back across the Himalayas by Pipon Wangyal.

Close up of Tibetan writing with seal.

But where does one find a pair of English ponies on the Indian subcontinent in 1940? With the start of summer, the search began in earnest, and queries were sent out to Kalimpong, Calcutta, Bombay, and eventually to the Punjab, requesting information on ponies of a certain height and colour.

The Chogyal’s brother-in-law, a Bhutanese known as Raja Sonam Tobgay Dorji (1896-1953) was based in Kalimpong, and he along with Sergul Tsering (Sikkim’s Vetinary Inspector) travelled to Calcutta, where on the 9 September, after visiting various stables across the city, they found a promising young pony at Dum Dum stable. One down!

From there, on the 13 September, the Veterinary Inspector took a 200 rupee advance and continued on to a firm in Punjab which had a reputation of breeding good English horses, and there he was able to procure the second horse for 1,500 Indian rupees.

  Typewritten letter.

EAP880_HHDL-10_DSC00930 resized

By early October, the horses were sent up to Lhasa, again with the logistical help and facilitation of Jigme Sumtsen, and presented to the Dalai Lama’s office. Jigme Sumtsen’s letters back to the Chogyal indicate that the officials in Tibet were both impressed and very happy with the horses, and that above and beyond, they were the tallest horses in the stables of the Potala Palace!

Photograph album. Top photograph shows four men stand next to two horses, bottom photograph shows the stables.,

Among other highlights, this file illustrates the frugality of expenditures with meticulous financial accounts of the trip, including the Pipon’s monthly payment (70 rupees; plus 50 rupees for warm clothes); the cost of the travels; and his use of the 50 allocated letter papers, 50 envelopes, 1 pencil, 2 penholders and a pocket book. It includes beautifully written letters from Tibet on handmade parchment paper, and gives insight into the workings of the Sikkim Palace’s administration, as well as the nature of their relationship with both Tibet and the British Empire.

So, if you ever find yourself in a position where you need to present gifts at an enthronement ceremony, this archive might be just what you need...

1. Lachen is a wide valley village in North Sikkim known for its unique system of local community governance, known as the ‘Dzumsa.’ The rotating head of the Dzumsa is refered to by the title ‘Pipon’ (and interestingly, this form of local governance is still practiced today with semi-autonomy within the wider state adminstration).

Written by

Pema Abrahams, grant holder for EAP880

20 January 2017

A Royal Proposal of Marriage

Now well into our digitisation workflow process, team EAP880 all took some time out mesmerised by the contents of one particular file…

Files from the archive.

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.

Photograph of the young prince.
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.

 

Photograph of the Chogyal with two advisers.
Photo: 9th Sikkim Chogyal (King) Thutob Namgyal © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong

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.

 

Photograph of Lt. O’ConnorPhoto: Lt. O’Connor © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong

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.

Handwritten letter.
Photo: Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to John Claude White (5th November, 1906)

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!

second part of handwritten letter.Photo: Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to Curzon Wylie (13th June, 1908)

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.

Pages from a typewritten letter.Photo: Letter from W.H. Hodges to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (9th October, 1910)

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.

Two letters.
Photo: Letter from W.H. Hodges to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (30th June, 1913); and Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to Charles Bell (28th July, 1913).

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.

09_DSC00605Photo: Letter from Princess Ma Lat to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (22nd November, 1913)

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.

Files from the archive.
Photo: Sub-folder of astrological calculations for the marriage of Prince Sidkeong Tulku of Sikkim with Princess Ma Lat of Limbin (Burma)

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.

Handwritten letter.
Photo: Letter from Princess Ma Lat to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (26th November, 2014)

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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