From July to November 2020 the Library of Southeast Asian Studies at the University Library Johann Christian Senckenberg in Frankfurt was able to complete the cataloguing of its collection of Javanese, Sundanese and Madurese books in Javanese script.

Illustration 1: Lelara Influenza. 52 pp., Weltevreden: Balé Poestaka, 1920. Shelf mark: 84/LI Jv/J 57.

Several titles of this collection were previously included in the online catalogue during the retro-conversion of material in the outdated Dutch spelling system for Javanese which sometimes was given on the back covers. Most of the catalogue records were incomplete and did not mention page numbers, illustrations or series data which are normally part of the cataloguing. The transcription of titles and/or title metadata in Javanese Hanacaraka script was carried out by student assistant Prabono Hari Putranto, who is a native speaker of Javanese and able to read the script. Altogether more than 90 volumes are now completely catalogued in modern Romanized Javanese spelling.

Illustration 2: Purwaning Dumados: Genesis in Javanese. 173 pp., Singapore: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1913. Printed in Yokohama, Japan by Fukuin Printing Company. Shelf mark: 84/LI Jv/J 31.5

Most of the titles in this collection were acquired in 1963 by Prof. Otto Karow (1913–1992) with funding from the Volkswagen Foundation for the library. Karow visited several antiquarian booksellers in the Netherlands such as Gé Nabrink (Amsterdam), C.P.J. van der Peet (Amsterdam) and Brill (Leiden) and bought Javanese books in Hanacaraka script in addition to plenty of titles in Indonesian/Malay, Javanese in Latin characters, Sundanese, Batak or Madurese.1 Unfortunately, the inventory book of the 1960s does not mention the precise bookshops where Karow found these books, but only gives Dutch guilders as prices. However, during the period of the late 1950s and early 1960s many former Dutch or Indonesian colonial officials and scholars gave up their private libraries which were of no interest for Dutch public collections, as e.g. the KITLV Library, since most of these books were already held in their collection; thus, instead they were sold by antiquarian booksellers.2

Illustration 3: L.F. van Gent: Carita Peperangan ing Aceh. 142 pp., Weltevreden: Commissie voor de Volkslectuur – Balé Poestaka, 1921 [Balé Poestaka, No. 265]. Shelf mark: 84/LI Jv/J 22.6

The majority of the books in Javanese script in the Frankfurt collection date from c. 1875 to 1935. Only a handful of books in Javanese letters published in Indonesia after independence had been acquired since the 1980s by the Library of Southeast Asian Studies. This explains why most of the collection contains books and booklets which were published nearly exclusively by Dutch publishers, both governmental (e.g. Commissie voor de Volkslectuur or Landsdrukkerij) and non-governmental (e.g. Ogilvie & Co. or Albert Rusche). Only very few publications by Indonesian publishers were found in the collection.

Illustration 4: Karta Subrata: Punika Serat Piwulang: Wawaton Bab Agami Islam, Saking Wulangipun Ngulama Dhateng Anak Muridipun, Mijil Saking Suraosipun Kitab (Jauhar Tauhid) Tuwin Sanes Sanesipun. 66 pp., Semarang: G.C.T. van Dorp & Co., 1918. Shelf mark: 84/LI Jv/J 43.

The collection includes 25 titles published by the governmental printing house Landsdrukkerij in Batavia and 19 titles by Balé Poestaka (Ind. Balai Pustaka) resp. Commissie voor de Volkslectuur (Ill. 3). 17 of the Balé Poestaka titles were published before 1925 and belong to a group of publications which Waruno Mahdi (2006: 85) has referred to as only “cursory” mentioned, if studied at all.3 More than ten books were released in the Netherlands by well-known publishing companies like E. J. Brill in Leiden, Johannes Müller in Amsterdam or Martinus Nijhoff in The Hague. Independent Dutch publishers located in Java include, among others, Ogilvie & Co. (Batavia, 6 titles), Albert Rusche (Surakarta, 2 titles), G. Kolff & Co. (Batavia, 1 title), H. A. Benjamins (Batavia/Semarang, 2 titles) or van Dorp & Co. (Semarang, 4 titles)

Illustration 5: Prawira Hamijaya: Serat Wedha Agama: Anyariyosaken King Kawonteranipun Sarengating Para Kanjeng Nabi Sasaya Pipiridan Saking Kitab Bayan Udayan lan Kitab Kisasul Anbiya. 20 pp., Surakarta: Kantor Pangecapan NV. Budi Utomo, 1918. Shelf mark: 84/LI Jv/J 19.7

Only a few books by local Indonesian publishers or printing houses found their way in the collection: Boedi Oetomo (Surakarta, 2 titles) (ill. 5), Radja Poestaka (Surakarta, 1 title), Boekhandel Tan Khoen Swie (Kediri, 1 title) or Deng Tjun Gwan (Magelang, 1 title). Two publications of the Dutch East Indies Theosophical Society are also present in the collection. The existence of these two titles is significant, as their inventory number is close to the inventory number to the Javanese manuscript of the Jayalengkara story in Frankfurt. This manuscript has been described in detail by Wieringa (2008) and was copied in 1914–15 at the court of Yogyakarta for the Dutch orientalist and theosophist Dirk van Hinloopen Labberton (1874–1961). Taking into account the date of his death and the existence of a few other titles authored/edited by van Hinloopen Labberton with similar inventory numbers in the Frankfurt collection, it might be well possible that Karow was able to acquire not only this manuscript, but also several other books in the Javanese language from the Nachlass of van Hinloopen Labberton, including many of those in Hanacaraka script. Another hint towards van Hinloopen Labberton is the stamp of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences (Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen) in several books, to which he had close relations during his stay in the Dutch East Indies from 1914–1922.

Illustration 6: Adolf Friedrich von de Wall: Serat Lalampahanipun Robinson Kruso. [Kajawekaken Dhateng Mas Ngabei Reksatenaya] 192 pp., Batawi [Batavia]: Ogilvie & Co., 1891. Shelf mark: 84/LI Jv/J 21.8

Considering the colonial governmental background of more than half of the titles in Javanese script it is not surprising that the contents of many books and booklets reflect Dutch colonial interests. They include books on educational or moral matters, religion (ill. 4), Javanese historical chronicles as well as texts glorifying Dutch colonial wars (ill. 3), first efforts in modern Javanese literature (e.g. by authors like Yasawidagda, Puja Arja or Padmosusastro), translations of texts into Javanese considered to be suitable as schoolbooks such as A.F. von de Wall’s Hikayat Robinson Crusoe (ill. 6) or Abdullah Munsyi’s Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah (ill. 7) or booklets on hygiene and tropical and general medicine (ill. 1). In its contents the governmental Javanese books “showed a distinctly conservative or traditionalist profile with editions mostly in Javanese script” (Mahdi 2006: 89), in remarkable contrast to their publications in Malay or Sundanese.4 Only very few Bible translations or tracts of the various mission societies have made their way into the collection (ill. 2)

Illustration 7: Abdullah bin Abdulkadir Munsyi: Cariyosipun Ngabdullah bin Abdul Kadir Munsi saking Singapura Layar Dhateng Kelantan. 258 pp., Batavia: Ogilvie & Co., 1883. Shelf mark: 84/LI Jv/J 9.


[1]              Information on Karow and his acquisition trips to Paris, London and the Netherlands was kindly provided by Prof. Ulrich Kratz, who was a student assistant in the Southeast Asian Studies Library in the 1960s (Ulrich Kratz, personal communication, 29 December 2020).

[2]              For example, some books of the collection in Frankfurt show the ex libris of Raden Soedono Nimpoeno (1889–1977), a Javanese Christian from Surakarta who worked as language teacher at the Amsterdamse Middelbare Technische School until 1935 and was an author of Malay and Javanese textbooks between the late 1920s to c. 1950 (Poeze 2014: 231). Two others belonged to Godard Arend Johannes Hazeu (1876–1929), a high-ranking Dutch colonial official in the East Indies.

[3]              Besides the Javanese titles in Hanacaraka script Karow was able to buy books in Javanese in Latin letters, Malay/Indonesian, Madurese and Sundanese. The publications of Balai Pustaka before 1930 reflect its general publication policy as the majority is written in Javanese language (Mahdi 2006: 89): Of 33 Balai Pustaka books and booklets located in Frankfurt 21 are in Javanese (Hanacaraka and Latin script), 8 are in Sundanese and only 4 either in Indonesian/Malay or Madurese.

[4]           This “conservative” attitude may perhaps also explain the existence of two brochures of the Javanese organization Boedi Oetomo in the collection. Its members were predominantly form the Javanese aristocratic (priyayi) group, whose efforts in the organization were directed towards a “reinvention of (Old) Java” (Bertrand 2005: 511–543).

[5]              Proudfoot (1993: 146) gives as editor of this edition Paulus Penninga (1863–1944), who lived in Pasuruan in East Java for some time in the 1890s and was able to speak Javanese and Madurese fluently. After c. 1900 he spent some time in Singapore and was active as an agent for the British and Foreign Bible Society (Genealogieonline 2020).

[6]              Lambertus Franciscus van Gent (1876–1961?) was a major of infantry in the Dutch Colonial Army, but later also seems to have active in the Dutch Topographic Service in the Netherlands East Indies. He had contacts to scholars like C. Snouck Hurgronje and edited several books and treatises between c. 1907–1925 in Dutch, Malay and Javanese, listed in WorldCat. His Malay and Javanese books were mostly published at the governmental publishing house Balai Pustaka. This book on the brutal Aceh War contains several illustrations of Dutch generals, high-ranking officers, but also of Indonesian soldiers fighting for the Dutch colonial army, most of those shown in the illustrations being Javanese.

[7]              This small brochure of the Javanese organization Boedi Oetomo refers to Javanese Anbiya texts (books on the Prophets (Pigeaud 1967: 129–131).

[8]           Javanese translation of the well-known Malay adaptation Hikajat Robinson Crusoe by von de Wall, from a Dutch version of the story, perhaps originating from Joachim Heinrich Campe’s German book Robinson der Jüngere (Proudfoot 1997). According to the title page the Javanese translator Reksatenaya was a school teacher in Brebes, located at the western north coast of the present province of Central Java and finished his translation in 1876.

Bertrand, Romain (2005): État colonial, noblesse et nationalisme à Java: la tradition parfait. Paris: Éditions Karthala.
Genealogieonline [accessed 28 December 2020].
Mahdi, Waruno (2006): The Beginnings and Reorganization of the Commissie voor de Volkslectuur (1908–1920). In: Insular Southeast Asia: Linguistic and Cultural Studies in Honour of Bernd Nothofer (eds. Fritz Schulze & Holger Warnk), 85-110. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Pigeaud, Theodore G. Th. (1967): Literature of Java: Catalogue Raisonné of Javanese Manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and Other Public Collections in the Netherlands. Volume 1: Synopsis of Javanese Literature 900–1900 A.D. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Poeze, Harry A. (2014): Di Negeri Penjajah: Orang Indonesia di Negeri Belanda 1600–1950. Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia.
Proudfoot, Ian (1993): Early Malay Printed Books. Kuala Lumpur: Academy of Malay Studies. Proudfoot, Ian (1997): Robinson Crusoe in Indonesia. In: The Asia-Pacific Magazine No. 6–7, 44–48.
Wieringa, Edwin (2008): Eine Handschrift der javanischen Panji Jayalengkara-Angrèni-Erzählung in Frankfurt/Main. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 158, 371–378.

(by Holger Warnk, J.W.Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Library of Southeast Asian Studies)