This year Indonesia was a featured country at the London Book Fair, which followed a similar showcasing of its literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015. Is this a reflection of an expanding and globalising literary scene in Indonesia? Are more diverse voices being heard inside and outside the country, and what are the challenges for making sure that the stories are not lost in translation? Listen at the Talking Indonesia podcast from the University of Melbourne.
New from the Asian and African studies blog at the British Library
Most of my blog posts are about manuscripts from maritime Southeast Asia, but the majority of items in the British Library are printed, including perhaps the most important collection in the world of early Malay printing. The Library also holds printed books in languages such as Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, Batak and Bugis, dating from the earliest printed examples through to contemporary publications, as well as rare imprints in all languages from Southeast Asia. (Read more: Some new old books on and from the Malay world – Asian and African studies blog)
For the past century, studies of the languages, literatures, history, culture and writing traditions of the Malay world of maritime Southeast Asia – comprising present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and the southern parts of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines – have been fundamentally shaped by the collections of manuscripts held in European institutions, primarily those in the UK and the Netherlands, and those formed under colonial auspices, such as the National Library of Indonesia. These collections themselves reflect the interests of their collectors, who were mainly European scholars and government officials from the early 19th century onwards, whose interests were focused on literary, historical and legal compositions in vernacular languages such as Malay and Javanese. Relatively little attention was paid to works on Islam written in Arabic, or in Malay and Arabic, and hence such manuscripts are very poorly represented in institutions such as the British Library.
The presence of an inscription in Arabic script is such a defining characteristic of seals used by Muslims that it tends to mask the fact that similar ‘Islamic’-style seals were also used by myriad other groups, including Christians in Ethiopia and Syria, Samaritans in Palestine, Hindu subjects of the Mughal emperor, European scholars of Arabic and Persian, and British officials of the East India Company. Examples from the British Library were featured in a recent blog post on Some British ‘Islamic’ style seals in Persian manuscripts from India by Ursula Sims-Williams, and in an earlier post on Performing Authority: the ‘Islamic’ seals of British colonial officers in the Persian Gulf by Daniel Lowe. In this post I have gathered together a small number of British ‘Islamic’-style seals from Southeast Asia, with inscriptions in Malay in Jawi (Arabic) script. (Read more..)
“The Batak peoples of north Sumatra are associated with a distinctive writing culture, with manuscripts written on a range of organic materials, primarily tree bark, bamboo and bone. Most characteristic are the bark books known as pustaha, written on strips of bark of the alim (Aquilaria malaccensis) tree, which is folded concertina-fashion, and sometime furnished with wooden covers, which can be beautifully decorated.” (Read more.)