EAP609 : Digitising Malay writing in Sri Lanka – Endangered Archives Program (British Library)
Dr Ronit Ricci, The Australian University
Archival partner: National Archives of Sri Lanka
This project aims to create a digital archive of Malay writing (including manuscripts, printed books, letters, other documents) held in private collections in Sri Lanka. Written for the most part in Arabic script (but also in the Roman, Tamil and Sinhala scripts) by descendants of exiles, convicts, and soldiers from the Indonesian archipelago and the Malay Peninsula between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, these rare and fragile documents attest to social and cultural aspects of the community’s life, allow for an expansion of our definitions of the ‘Malay World,’ and provide insight into local forms of Islam. There is urgent need to document and preserve such collections, endangered not only by tropical weather and the ravages of time, but also by their owners’ lack of knowledge in archival preservation and a contemporary ignorance regarding the manuscripts’ content and significance …
The project will result in the creation of a digital archive freely available to all. Copies will be accessible via the National Archives of Sri Lanka, the British Library and the library at the Australian National University.
The project encompasses a range of materials written in the Malay language, in Sri Lanka, from around the mid 19th century to the late 20th century. It includes manuscipts, printed books, prayer booklets, wedding invitations, personal letters, family records, poems and songs. These diverse materials testify to the variety of ways in which Malay was, and is, used in Sri Lanka. The majority of older materials are Islamic in nature, including theological manuals, poems in praise of the Prophet, and tales and histories written in the hikayat genre. These are written in gundul (Malay-Arabic script) and/or romanised Malay. The collection also includes modern examples of Malay written in the Tamil and Sinhala script, as well as older materials in Arabic and Arabu-Tamil owned by Malay families, testifying to the lingusitic and orthographic diversity of the community’s writing practices.
The Seal of Prophethood: Malay prayers for protection by Annabel Teh Gallop, 23/01/2017, Asian and African Studies Blog (British Library)
Malay manuscripts are generally written in conventional ‘book’ form, but a few scrolls are also encountered. Malay manuscript scrolls are primarily associated with sermons, to be read in the congregational mosque at the Friday prayers, but occasionally small scrolls are found containing prayers and amulets which appear to have been compiled by individuals for their own personal use and protection. The British Library holds one such Malay scroll (Or. 16875), which contains a variety of prayers and talismanic symbols in Arabic, with explanations in Malay about their efficacy and directions for use. The scroll, which measures nearly three metres long when unrolled, is very finely written in black and purple ink. The manuscript has been fully digitised and can be read by clicking on the hyperlinks below the images.
Malay literary manuscripts in the John Leyden collection by Annabel Teh Gallop, 09/01/2017, Asian and African Studies Blog (British Library)
The collection of Malay manuscripts formed by the Scottish poet and scholar of Oriental languages John Leyden (1775-1811), now held in the British Library, is an exceptionally important resource for Malay literature. Leyden spent four months in Penang from late 1805 to early 1806, staying in the house of Thomas Stamford Raffles, initiating a deep friendship which lasted until Leyden’s early death in Batavia in 1811. The 25 volumes of Malay manuscripts in the Leyden collection contain 33 literary works, comprising 28 hikayat in prose and five syair in narrative verse, with some titles existing in multiple copies. Nearly all the manuscripts come from the environs of Kedah, Perlis and Penang and were collected by Leyden or Raffles, while a few were copied in Melaka, where Raffles was stationed in 1811 and where Leyden spent some weeks en route to Batavia. 24 of the works are dated to between 1802 and 1808, and over ten names of scribes are found in the colophons. The collection thus affords a remarkable snapshot of literary activity along the northwest coast of the Malay peninsula in the first decade of the 19th century.