Panji tales awarded the status of world heritage by UNESCO
31 October 2017
The unique collection of more than 250 ancient tales revolving around the mythical Javanese Prince Panji, which is curated by Leiden University Libraries (UBL), has been acknowledged as world heritage by UNESCO. The UBL is grateful to UNESCO for this exceptionally prestigious award.
The Leiden collection of Panji tales is included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, together with similar collections held by the national libraries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia. The Register contains documentary heritage of outstanding value to the world. UBL already holds two documents included in the UNESCO Register: La Galigo (2011) and Babad Diponegoro (2013). By digitising the Panji tales, they can be made available worldwide via free via open access for research and education. UBL has started a crowdfunding campaign to help digitise the Panji tales.
Prince Panji is the title character in the popular Panji tales from Java. These stories arem always about a prince and a princess, about love and adventure. They can be rather complex, featuring name changes, masquerades, incarnations and transformations, and may take the form of text or theatre. There are dozens of known Panji tales, written in different languages, such as Javanese-Balinese, Javanese, Malaysian, Balinese, Sasak, Sundanese, Acehnese and Buginese. They originate from Eastern Java and have spread across a large area from Indonesia to Malaysia and from Cambodia to Thailand. They owe their popularity to the flexibility of the story which can be easily adjusted to fit local traditions.
From reading room to online at home
The unique manuscripts come in many different shapes and sizes and are handwritten in several different languages. At the moment, they can only be consulted in the library’s Special Collections reading room. By digitising the Panji tales, we will be able to provide worldwide open access for research and educational purposes. The study of these texts has led to many new insights about Southeast Asian history, literature and culture.
Digitising ancient manuscripts is expensive and time-consuming. With financial support from the public, these Panji tales can now be made accessible. A special Panji-website has been set up for the crowdfunding campaign. The website provides background information, including a film by Panji expert Dr Roger Tol, and offers the possibility to make donations to help digitise these manuscripts.