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Chevening Fellowship “Manuscript Textiles in the Southeast Asian Collections” at the British Library

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Open for applications until 2 November 2021

During the curation process of a major exhibition on Buddhism at the British Library in London (October 2019 – February 2020), an unexpected number of manuscript textiles in the Southeast Asian Collections came to light. These are textiles that are used to wrap around manuscripts to protect them from damage and dust, but also textiles that contain information about manuscripts, bags for the storage and transport of palm leaf manuscripts and textiles attached to scrolled paper books. In most cases, there was no or only minimal documentation and cataloguing data available for these textiles. To improve the catalogue records and to research these rare manuscript textiles, a one-year Chevening Fellowship project will be starting in September 2022.

This Chevening Fellowship is open to candidates from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand who have a degree or work experience in a subject relevant to Southeast Asian textiles and/or Southeast Asian manuscript cultures. The project provides an opportunity to survey, assess and research these under-researched and often fragile Southeast Asian manuscript textiles, in order to provide comprehensive catalogue records and to help plan and inform future conservation work, as well as public engagement in form of a publication or curating a small public display.

More detailed information and direct access to the online application process can be found on the Chevening website.

Palm leaf manuscript, containing the Malalankara (Life of the Buddha), with a hand-woven inscribed binding tape and a wrapper made from imported printed cotton. Burma, 1883. © British Library, Or 16673

Library of Southeast Asian Studies, Frankfurt: Cataloguing of books in Javanese script completed

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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.

Endnotes:

[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.

References:
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)

The Lao Recitation YouTube channel of the National Library of Laos

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The Lao Recitation YouTube channel of the National Library of Laos recently went online, containing over 100 hours of traditional recitation and interviews with reciters. All recordings will also be available in the Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts, where some are readings of manuscripts and can be listened to while viewing images of the texts. This will greatly assist in the study of the texts and in learning to read the more complex scripts which are restricted to manuscript use and typically unreadable without training. The channel is also an excellent learning resource for Lao monks and novices who are training in the recitation of texts. More recordings will be added over the coming months. The project was kindly supported by the German Embassy, Vientiane. The project team comprised David Wharton, Bounchan Phanthavong, Bouasy Sypaseuth, and Nouphath Keosaphang.

Image of a Lao palm-leaf manuscript on the cover page of the Lao Recitation YouTube channel. With permission of David Wharton, National Library of Laos.

Among the high-quality recitations is the complete ‘Lam Phavet‘ by Achan Maha Bounteum Sibounheuang from Ban Pak Thang, Vientiane Capital. This Lao version of the Vessantara Jataka is the most popular of the Buddha’s Birth Tales (Jataka) not only in Laos, but across mainland Southeast Asia. The recitation in a variety of styles is in seventeen parts, and lasts over 11 hours. Separate sections of this same recitation are found under ‘Thet Mahasat‘ given by various monks in Luang Prabang: Sathu Nyai One Keo Kitthiphatho from Vat Pa Pha O, Sathu Chanthalinh Chinnathammo from Vat Phou Khouai, Sathu Bouavanh Pounyasalo from Vat Senesoukaham, Sathu Bouaphanh Phanthasalo from Vat Ban Sing, and Pha Sombath Sampanno from Vat Siphutthabat Thipphalam.

Another popular Buddhist text that can be found on the channel is ‘Nemilat‘, the Lao version of the Nemi Jataka, which is one of the Last Ten Birth Tales of the Buddha. It is well-known for its graphic descriptions of the Buddhist heavens and hells. Achan Maha Bounteum Sibounheuang from Ban Pak Thang, Vientiane, recites this text in Vientiane style, and the duration of the ten parts of this text is about three hours.

Achan Maha Bounteum Sibounheuang also presents a recitation in Vientiane style of the famous story ‘Sang Sinsai‘, a versified epic of the Lao of national significance which is also a much loved theme for theatre and dance performances. The recitation of fifteen parts has a duration of over six hours.

Kampha Kai Kaeo‘ is the title of another popular story in which the role of the hero, an orphaned boy, is similar to a Bodhisattva, or Buddha-to-be. This text in fifteen parts is recited by Achan Nouphath Keosaphang from Ban Sidamduan, Vientiane. This recitation from a manuscript in the Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts in hoi kaeo hoi kong style lasts over 3 hours.

Apart from Buddhist texts and folk stories there are also recitations of traditional ritual texts known as ‘Kham Su Khuan‘ (“calling the life essence”). The idea of khuan – the life essences of persons, animals, plants or objects – is a central element in Lao pre-Buddhist belief, and Su Khuan rituals are carried out on numerous occasions like weddings, well-wishing to new mothers (one month after giving birth) and of children, to support treatment of illness, blessing of a new house, well-wishing to new novice monks, blessing of rice, cows, buffalos etc. Following an introductory talk by Achan Maha Bounteum Sibounheuang, there are several recitations of ‘Kham Su Khuan’ in thamnong hai thammada style, lasting about two hours.

More recordings will be added shortly, including a complete reading of the epic poem Champa Si Ton by Achan Phouvong Soukchalern (Chan Kop) from a palm-leaf manuscript at the National Library of Laos, lasting over 25 hours. Several Lao-language video interviews with reciters will also provide additional context to the collection.

(Report by David Wharton and Jana Igunma)

Recitation at Boun Phavet festival, Vat That Luang, Luang Prabang, October 2020. With permission of David Wharton, National Library of Laos.

DREAMSEA: A programme to digitise Southeast Asian manuscripts and to safeguard cultural diversity

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DREAMSEA stands for Digital Repository of Endangered and Affected Manuscripts in Southeast Asia, which is a Programme that strives to preserve the content of manuscripts in the entire region of Southeast Asia by way of digitisation, and to make this content fully and openly accessible online. The Programme is carried out by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta, Indonesia, in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Manuscripts Culture (CSMC), University of Hamburg, Germany. The digital repository is presented in collaboration with the Hill Museum and Manuscripts Library. The Programme is supported by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, based in the UK.

Southeast Asia is a region with a high rate of cultural diversity. Since the aim of this Programme is to safeguard this diversity, it accommodates manuscripts written in any script and field of study as long as the manuscripts originate from Southeast Asia. The basic principle in the DREAMSEA Programme is to preserve Southeast Asian manuscripts that are under threat to be damaged or lost (endangered manuscripts), and whose condition already may have been affected by natural/environmental conditions or socio-political circumstances in Southeast Asia (affected manuscripts).

Although the Programme was only initiated in 2017, thousands of manuscript pages have already been digitised and made freely available online. In the first stage, high resolution images of 593 manuscripts containing 20,129 pages have been made available along with the metadata. They originate from three different collections: the legacy of the Kingdom of Buton in Baubau (Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia), the collections of a Muslim community in Kuningan (West Java, Indonesia), and the collection of manuscripts of Buddhist monks in Luang Prabang (Laos). In 2018-2019, DREAMSEA executed fifteen digitisation missions  and managed to safe the contents of 57 collections in eighteen cities in Indonesia, Laos and Thailand. Up to now, around 119,000 manuscript pages have been digitised and subsequently these will be made available to the public in the Programme’s  Repository, which offers search options by country, city/province, collection, project number, title, subject matter, author, language, writing support, and script. Both the quality and quantity of metadata provided for the digitised manuscripts deserve much praise, especially the often very detailed content descriptions and translations of colophons which are extremely useful for carrying out further research.

In addition, the Programme has opened its own Youtube channel of DREAMSEA Manuscripts on which short films document the work that has been carried out to digitise and preserve manuscripts in Indonesia and Laos.

Dreamsea

(Information provided by DREAMSEA)

Tribal Music Asia – An online source for traditional music, ceremonies, and culture of the ethnic groups of Southeast Asia

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Created by American researcher, documentarian, and musician Victoria Vorreiter for over a decade, Tribal Music Asia is the home of the Resonance Project, a dynamic multi-media archive that aspires to record and preserve the traditional musical heritage of the indigenous peoples living in the mountains of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and China, who have depended for millennia on “the mother tongue method” to transmit their ancestral knowledge, history, and beliefs. Numbering over 130 groups and subgroups, most of these communities continue to live close to the earth, to practice animism, and to maintain a vital oral tradition. Culturally and sonically, this is one of the most extraordinary places on the planet.

Xob Lwm Vaj and Friends
Performing the Qeej at the New Year Festival
at Ban Tan, Phongsali Province, Laos
December 2005.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter

By interweaving a variety of visual, aural, and tactile components, the Resonance Project spotlights these highlanders’ astonishingly rich soundscape—springing from a vast repository of songs, chants, invocations, and instrumental music—to demonstrate music’s vital role in charting human emotions, celebrating cycles of seasons, marking the arc of life, and animating ritual enactments. It is hoped that in giving voice to cultures that may seem remote, this project contributes to an awareness of our world that transcends borders.

The Resonance Project first produced the Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle multi-layered project (April 2009), consisting of the Songs of Memory Book, Compact Disc, and Multi-media Exhibition of photographs, films, musical instruments, artifacts, and textiles for a family (father, mother, son, and daughter) of the six major ethnic groups in the region: Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Mien, Hmong, and Karen.

“Songs of Memory”, front cover of the book.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter

The Songs of Memory collections have been hosted in such prestigious venues as the East-West Center, Hawaii; the Jim Thompson Center, Bangkok; the University of Mandalay, Myanmar; the Golden Triangle Gallery, Chicago; the Chiang Mai Arts and Cultural Center; and numerous international conferences at Chiang Mai University, Thailand.

In recent years, the Resonance Project has specifically delved into Hmong traditions, producing the Hmong Songs of Memory: Traditional Secular and Sacred Hmong Music archive, based on the Hmong Songs of Memory Book and Film (December 2016), which offers readers, viewers, and listeners an in-depth experience of Hmong music and its primal role in propelling their rites.

Cover of the “Hmong Songs of Memory” film.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter.

To bring the book and film alive, the Hmong Songs of Memory, Hmong Threads of Life Exhibition was launched, providing visitors with a variety of integrative components—photographs, film, a comprehensive collection of Hmong musical instruments, artifacts, detailed text panels, and full textiles of the four major Hmong subgroups in Laos and Thailand.

“Hmong Songs of Memory”, front cover of the book.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter

The Tribal Music Asia website provides access to recordings of Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Mien, Hmong, and Karen music, various publications and reviews, photo galleries, and layouts of recent and previous exhibitions. It is possible to directly order books, CDs, note cards, and documentary films.

Lahu Shi Man and Grandson
Celebrating the Harvest Festival at
Wan Kong Pyak Tae, Keng Tung, Myanmar, 2005.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter

Khmer women in divine context

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Angkor Wat Apsara and Devata : Khmer women in divine context is a rich and well researched online resource dedicated to the women of the Khmer Empire (9th-15th century). Being great builders, the Khmer filled the landscape with monumental temples, huge reservoirs and canals, and laid an extensive network of roads with bridges. Angkor Wat is the best known and most stunning temple. It is, in fact, a microcosm of the Hindu universe. Covering 200 hectares it is the world’s largest religious complex. Its construction was started by the Khmer king Suryavarman II around 1122 CE and took some 30 years to complete. The walls of Angkor Wat house a royal portrait gallery with 1,795 women realistically rendered in stone. Although the temple complex has been researched extensively in terms of architecture, art and archaeology, not much is known about these women.

Devata.org aims to provide answers to questions like:

∙ Who were the women of Angkor Wat?

∙ Why are images of women immortalized with the most prominent placement in the largest temples the Khmer civilization ever built?

∙ What did these women mean to the Khmer rulers, priests and people?

∙ How does the Cambodian dance tradition relate to the women of Angkor Wat?

∙ Do the women of Angkor Wat embody information important to us in modern times?

This online resource gives access to articles about books and authors relating to Khmer history, Cambodian dance, children of Angkor, women’s history and heritage preservation. The focus, however, is on the women of Angkor Wat and other Khmer temples. Features like an Angkor Wat Devata Inventory, the Devata Database Project, Facial Pattern Recognition of the Angkor Wat portraits, photo galleries and a range of research articles provide insight into the rich culture of the Khmer people.

Digital Humanities for Asian and African Texts – report from a workshop

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On 6 June, 2016, a one-day workshop dedicated to the theme “Digital Humanities for Asian and African Texts” took place at SOAS, London, which was attended by approximately 40 participants from a variety of UK and European institutions.

The first session focused on digitisation projects and the scholarly use of such projects for research and teaching. The first presenter, Erich Kesse (SOAS Library, with Christine Wise) spoke on “Current digital projects at SOAS and future plans for Asian and African texts” and gave an overview of a variety of digitisation projects carried out by SOAS Library, which by now have made approximately 18,000 items available online. He highlighted certain aspects of technical requirements, cataloguing and standards, metadata and coding, funding, commercial partnerships and co-operation with SOAS exhibitions.

Lars Lamaan (SOAS) and Fresco Sam-Sin (Leiden University) presented a paper on “Manchu online study and research environment: from scrum to crowd sourcing” and explained the importance of Manchu sources for historical research and the significance of transliteration, translation and annotation tools in digital manuscript/text collections. Fresco Sam-Sin also demonstrated his digital research and learning platform Manc.hu that is used as a collaborative online classroom for university students.

Almut Hintze (SOAS) followed with a talk on “The multimedia Yasna”, a project that deals with a Zoroastrian ritual of the Parsi community in India in which the oral tradition of memorising texts plays a more important role than the written tradition. The aim of the project is to learn more about the oral texts used in this ritual by recording the performance, editing the recording, transcription and transliteration of texts, creation of metadata and finally provision of online and print editions.

Dmitry Bondarev (SOAS/University of Hamburg) gave an introduction to “Old Kanembu Islamic manuscripts: digital collection, archive, database?”, a project that aims to enable more and better linguistic research into Kanembu Islamic manuscripts found in West Africa, particularly the comparison of different versions of texts.

Jody Butterworth (British Library) presented an overview of the British Library’s “The Endangered Archives Programme: digitising vulnerable material around the world”. The priority of this project is to preserve material that is under threat due to natural disasters or political conflicts – not only manuscripts, but also newspapers, photographs, audio-visual material, family archives etc. – and to make it available online for research. The project has worked with over 290 partners in 80 countries.

The second session emphasized concepts and methods of Digital Humanities for Asian and African Studies. The first speaker in this session, David Beavan (UCL) presented “A Beginners guide to Digital Humanities”, giving an overview of the general steps digitisation, transcription and analysis involved in digitisation projects for scholarly research. He gave advice on project planning, transcription softwares, as well as quantitative methods for analysis.

Nora McGregor (British Library) spoke about “Doing digital research at the British Library with Asian and African Collections” and her involvement in various initiatives of the library’s Digital Research Team which include Big Data creation, Crowdsourcing, PhD placements, Digital Scholarship, training programmes for library staff etc.

Finally, Chris Dillon (UCL) presented a paper on “Community sourcing and non-Latin scripts” in connection with his project Bridge to China, a free online grammar of Mandarin, that was created by community sourcing.

The workshop was a great opportunity to meet people working in various areas of Asian and African Studies who, at the same time, are also engaging with Digital Humanities. The presenters demonstrated how long-standing research traditions can be linked with newly emerging methods and technologies, new perspectives and research practices.

Lanna manuscripts – Online Collection of Northern Thai Chronicles and Other Texts

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The project Lanna Manuscripts – คัมภีร์ล้านนา was launched in 2005 in the premises of the Siam Society in Bangkok. The initial aim was to test the procedures that had been devised for the digitisation of manuscripts. The rich manuscript library of the Society placed under the responsibility of Achan Term Mitem, a well-known specialist from the National Archives of Thailand, provided an ideal venue for such a ‘pilot’ project. Seventeen manuscripts — all tamnan — from the library were digitised, and they were the first documents of this digital collection.

Between 2006 and 2011 numerous field-trips took place, scouting Northern Thailand province by province. The Princess Mahachakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre in Bangkok, an institute under the supervision of the Thai Ministry of Culture, provided the official backing that enabled project workers to gain access to the collections stored in local repositories.

After visiting hundreds of monasteries, forty-one of them were selected either for their rich collections or for their rare manuscripts. In each monastery, the manuscripts deemed worth being integrated into the corpus were studied and photographed in situ. No copies were ever displaced or borrowed. These manuscripts constitute now the main bulk of this online database.

Descriptive records containing textual and paratextual information on the manuscripts were first entered in text files, and later integrated into a prototype database. Then, in Paris, the EFEO provided support for transforming the original database into a MySQL Internet database, which took shape in 2013. Then the photographs of all the leaves of each manuscript were edited and inserted into the viewer component of the database. Thumbnail images of the titles were inserted in every record and series of supplementary photographs relating to monasteries, libraries and conservation of the manuscripts, were added in the form of albums.

This online collection is aimed at students and researchers interested in philology, literature and history of Thailand, especially texts representative of Northern Thai Buddhism. Over 18,000 pages of manuscripts have been digitised with the focus on a principal genre, the chronicles and traditional stories called tamnan (ตำนาน) which are Buddhist narratives of foundation composed almost entirely in the Northern Thai language and tham (Dhamma) script. For reasons of regional linguistic and cultural unity that kind of text developed throughout the Tai area of Southeast Asia (among the Thai, Lao, Shan and Tai peoples) but especially in the ancient kingdom of Lanna, which covered at least the nine northern provinces of Thailand. The project website does not only give access to the digitised manuscripts, but also provides rich information on Northern Thai literary traditions, Lanna manuscripts collections elsewhere, bibliographic resources, and photo galleries illustrating various aspects of manuscripts production, storage, preservation etc.

 

Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts

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The University of Pennsylvania and National Library of Laos have launched the Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts as a resource for the study of traditional literature from this region. At present, the digital library contains images of over 4,200 manuscripts which can be searched and viewed online or freely downloaded, and to which more manuscripts will be added subsequently.

The database contains four collections: digitised microfilms from the Preservation of Northern Thai Manuscripts Project (with permission of Chiang Mai University Library), digitised microfilms and also handwritten copies of manuscripts made in the early 1970s during research conducted by Harald Hundius, and directly-digitised manuscripts made during the current digital library project.

A gallery with images from temples which were involved in the project, as well as a collection of written and online resources for further study complement the database.

All digitisation was funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, and the digital library project was funded by The Henry Luce Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. The project was implemented by the National Library of Laos, based on the existing Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts.

We hope that the digital library will be a useful resource for the study of traditional literature from this region.  Feedback on the site is welcome.

Reported by Justin McDaniel (DLNTM Project Leader, University of Pennsylvania), Harald Hundius (DLNTM Local Project Leader, National Library of Laos), David Wharton (DLNTM Technical Director, National Library of Laos)

Manuscript Chest, Wat Phan On © 2015 David Wharton, Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts (CC BY-NC 4.0).

Manuscript Chest, Wat Phan On
© 2015 David Wharton, Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts (CC BY-NC 4.0).

Women and folktales project in Laos

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Women are important storytellers and bearers of cultural heritage in Laos. However, their voices are rarely heard outside their communities, due to their traditional homebound responsibilities and their lack of confidence in participating in public forums. At the same time, traditional folktales and legends are in danger of dying out, as an older generation passes on and young people prefer entertainment from television and the internet.

With this in mind, the Luang Prabang Film Festival and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre launched the Women and Folktales Project to empower ethnic minority women in Laos and document and disseminate traditional stories using film.

Funded by the US Embassy Vientiane, the project filmed seven women, from Hmong, Kmhmu, and Tai Lue villages around Luang Prabang Province, recounting 19 traditional folktales in their native languages. These films were translated into Lao and English, subtitled, and are now archived within the digital libraries of LPFF and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre.

Three of these folktales, one from each ethnic group, were turned into animated shorts with the creative input of the storytellers. “The Dog and Her Three Daughters” (Hmong), “The Spider Man” (Kmhmu), and “What the Buffalo Told the Humans” (Tai Lue) are traditional, yet vibrant, cartoons that will be used by TAEC’s Education and Outreach Team in local primary schools and distributed to libraries and children’s organizations, exposing a whole new audience to the diverse cultural heritage of Laos.

All 21 films are now on TAEC’s YouTube page, and are grouped into films with English subtitles and films with Lao subtitles . Please enjoy and share within your networks!

(reported by Gabriel Kuperman, Founder & Director, Luang Prabang Film Festival www.lpfilmfest.org / www.facebook.com/lpfilmfest )

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