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.
Patani is a culturally Malay-Muslim region located on the northeast coast of the Malay peninsula, in the southern part of Thailand. It has long been renowned as a cradle of Malay art and culture, and especially as a centre for Islamic learning, with close links with the Holy Cities of Arabia. Patani has produced many notable Islamic scholars, the most prominent being Daud bin Abdullah al-Patani (1769-1847), who lived and wrote in Mecca in the first half of the 19th century. scholars, and Wan Ahmad al-Patani (1856-1908), the first Superintendent of the Malay press in Mecca. Patani is one of the great centres of the Malay manuscript tradition, and many manuscripts from Patani are now held in the National Library of Malaysia and the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
Map of the province of Pattani (Bangkok: Royal Survey Department, 1907). British Library, Maps 60120. (2.)
From the 14th century onwards, throughout Southeast Asia the Malay language was written in an extended version of the Arabic script known as Jawi. However, during the course of the 20th century the use of Jawi declined rapidly, and today in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei the Malay/Indonesian language is normally written in roman script. Perhaps because of Patani’s location within Thailand, and a system of state education not rooted in roman script, competency in Jawi appears to have lasted longer in Patani than perhaps anywhere else in Southeast Asia. This means that uniquely in Patani, Malay manuscripts written in Jawi have been produced until recently, including, for example, some elaborately decorated hand-written copies of the text Sejarah Kerajaan Negeri Patani, ‘History of the Malay Kingdom of Patani’, by Ibrahim Syukri, which was first published in 1958 and contains references to post-war events.
Ingeniously decorated late 20th-century manuscript of Sejarah Kerajaan Negeri Patani, showing the start of the second chapter, Pembanganunan negeri Patani dan raja2, ‘The development of Patani and the descent of its rulers’. PNM MSS 3632, reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Malaysia…
Source: British ‘Islamic’ style seals from the Malay world – Asian and African studies blog
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..)
Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia http://blogs.bl.uk/asian-and-african/2017/03/british-islamic-style-seals-from-the-malay-world.html
“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.)
“Probably composed in the late 16th century, Hikayat Inderaputera was one of the most widespread and popular Malay tales, and is known from over thirty manuscripts dating from the late 17th century onwards. The story is found from Sumatra to Cambodia and the Philippines, not only in Malay but also in Acehnese, Bugis, Makasarese, Sasak, Cham, Maranao and Maguindanao versions (Braginsky 2009). At its core is probably a Persian mathnawi based, in turn, on the Hindi poem Madhumalati written around 1550 (Braginsky 2004: 388), but it also drew on Malay Islamic epics such as Hikayat Amir Hamzah and Javanese Panji stories.” Read more.
Opening pages of the Hikayat Inderaputera, with the double decorated frames digitally reunited (as the MS is currently misbound). British Library, MSS Malay B.14, ff. 1v-2r.
“The Hikayat Bayan Budiman, ‘Tale of the Wise Parrot’, is an old work of Malay literature, probably composed in the 15th century or earlier. It is based on a Persian original, the Tuti-nama, and is the earliest example in Malay of a framed narrative: a literary work comprising a compilation of individual stories. And like the…” (read more)
Source: The British Library’s Asian and African studies blog: The Malay Tale of the Wise Parrot
“The ‘Archive of Yogyakarta’ refers to a collection of some four hundred manuscript documents in Javanese dating from 1772 to 1813, originating from the court of Yogyakarta. A highly important source for the political, economic, social, administrative and legal history of central Java in the late eighteeth…” (Read more)
“Among the Malay manuscripts in the British Library which have just been digitised are a number of vocabulary lists and dictionaries in Malay, compiled by visitors to the region as aids to learning the language. The study of Malay in Europe dates back to the …” (read more)
Source: The British Library’s Asia and Africa Blog Early vocabularies of Malay
Use the website to view digitised copies of manuscripts and archives in the British Library’s collections, with descriptions of their contents.
To consult the British Library’s main catalogue of manuscript material visit Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts. Selected images of illuminated manuscripts can be found in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
Relief from the 9th century Hindu temple Prambanan.
Sumatran mousedeer. Drawing by a Chinese artist in Bengkulu, between 1784 and 1808, reproduced in William Marsden, A history of Sumatra, 3rd edition (London, 1811). British Library, NHD 1/8. Source: The wily Malay mousedeer – Asian and African studies blog
The countryside around Semarang, on the north coast of Java, by Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn. British Library, 1781.a.21, plate 1. Source: Semarang: Javanese city of Malay scribes – Asian and African studies blog