Three Indonesian heroes in the Memory of World Register of UNESCO

The Panji stories, the autobiography of Prince Diponegoro and the epos I La Galigo are narrative works from Indonesia that, in their very own way, bear relevance to the cultural history of the region. The Leiden University Libraries hold a substantial number of manuscripts related to those three heroes. With an exhibition the UB Leiden is currently celebrating the extraordinary fact that, over the years, the above-mentioned items have been included in the Memory of the World Register of the UNESCO.

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Cod.Or. 1965, Ken Tambuhan, one of the hundreds of Panji manuscripts held in Leiden. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

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Masks used for staging Panji plays (loan Clara Brakel). Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

Panji and I La Galigo stories always travelled between media, from dance performance to stage theatre to manuscript, from oral traditions and recitations to printed matters – the written text often being a mere ‘back up’ version. The exhibition focusses on the various forms of presentation of these stories.
Diponegoro, being an historic figure, takes a special stand in this group of Indonesian heroes.  However, the items on display confirm that historiography is just another form of narration (freely quoting Hayden White).

Adventures
Panji stories originate from Java but gained a growing popularity throughout Southeast Asia from the 14th and 15th centuries onwards, competing successfully with the dominating Indian epics. Within the Javanese narrative traditions the Panji stories may be considered the most popular genre, one that is meant to entertain. The UB Leiden holds hundreds of Panji manuscripts, c. 200 of which have been selected for the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. In essence and ignoring all the side tracks, these stories depict the adventures of the Javanese Prince Panji and his lost love, Princess Kirana (both keep changing their names continually). The narrative’s ingredients are universal: love, jealousy, even murder, grief and pain, and – at least in most of the Malay versions – a happy ending.

Rebellion
Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855), one of the first indigenous rulers to seek independence from the Dutch, wrote his chronicles in exile in North-Sulawesi. Tricked by the Dutch, he was captured in 1830 when he agreed to negotiations in Magelang. The original text has not even survived the 19th century, but an early Dutch translation could be preserved and is on display now. Diponegoro’s account is often championed as the first Indonesian autobiography, but more relevant is that it forms the core of a very powerful national narrative in the modern state of Indonesia.

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D Or 13 Buku Kedhung Kebo  (1866)
Javanese manuscript that presents (part of) the ancestral history commissioned by Raden Tumenggung Cokronegoro of Purworejo (formerly called Kedhung Kebo). Raden Cokronegoro was in office from 1830 until 1862 and as fierce an opponent of Diponegoro’s as he was a loyal ally to the Dutch. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

Genesis
Flourishing in South Sulawesi since the 14th century, this oral Buginese tradition was translated from the ancient Buginese and put in writing by Queen Siti Aisyah We Tenriolle of Tanete (and/or her daughter). This mythical epos, in fact a poem built upon a metre of five syllables, narrates the genesis from a Buginese perspective. The UB Leiden holds 12 volumes which form the largest and also the opening part of what is the most voluminous literary work in the world. The complete work is estimated to contain 6.000 folio-sized pages and, because of its enormous length, no single manuscript exists that contain the complete text.

 

 

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NBG Boeg 188 La Galigo. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

The Buginese, the largest ethnic group of South Sulawesi with an estimated population of 2.5 million people, have a distinct language and script. I La Galigo – apart from being considered sacred and by some an historical source – is certainly also an intriguing piece of literature.

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Cod.Or. 5475, a fragment of the La Galigo epos on palm leave (late 19th or early 20th century) . The strokes of palm leaves are sewed to form one long stroke. Image: Courtesy of Leiden University Libraries and KITLV collections

UNESCO Memory of the World

By enlisting them in the Memory of the World Register as cultural heritage to be protected, UNESCO has certified the cultural (and socio-historical) relevance of the above-depicted manuscripts. In cooperation with libraries in Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia, the Leiden University Libraries/KITLV already successfully gained this special status for the three heroes Panji, Diponegoro and La Galigo.
Maybe it’s now time for a woman?

The exhibition is still on until 1 September 2019.

(Doris Jedamski, University Library Leiden)

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