(P38AB) Materialising and Dematerialising the Text in South East Asia
Part 1Session 11
Fri 13:30-15:00 K10 | 2.40
Part 2Session 12
Fri 15:30-17:00 K10 | 2.40
- Mulaika Hijjas SOAS, University of London
- Maria Kekki The British Library
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Invoking the royal name: inscribed brass grain measures from Brunei
Annabel Gallop British Library
A certain type of inscribed brassware is well known from Brunei: gantang grain measures for rice, made of brass, with an inscribed plaque generally naming the ruler of Brunei and a date. These brass measures are cylindrical, with straight sides and a flat base, and with a certain number of ridged bands at top and bottom, and a large substantial handle, while the inscription is placed in a broadly oval border. These measures must have been produced in considerable quantities and were distributed over a considerable area in Borneo, for examples are found in many museum collections, while examples regularly appear for sale in specialist auctions and in the catalogues of antique dealers.
To date, 47 examples of these brass gantang have been documented, yielding six distinct inscriptions, not all of which invoke the name of the ruler of Brunei. This paper will analyse the six inscriptions documented and discuss the relatively recent evolution of this genre of grain measures, at a time when the traditional authority of the sultan of Brunei over large areas of the island of Borneo was decidedly on the wane.
Of materiality and space: early 20th-Century text in a 16th-century Javanese mosque
Ardiyansyah Panggah SOAS
Inscriptions at the Sendang Duwur mosque on the north-eastern coast of Java provide a unique insight into symbolic usage and spatial arrangement for the use of text within a religious architectural context. The mosque was most presumably constructed in the 16th century, which was recorded by a Javanese inscription of 1585 CE on the central panel of its main tomb house. Much later on, three different characters were employed – Javanese, Arabic pegon, and Latin – for multiple texts on wooden plaques placed on the front doors and portico of the mosque. These newer inscriptions were installed to commemorate a major renovation in 1920 CE, which was financed by a local kyai and performed by the community living around the mosque. By considering the information written in these texts in relation to their spatial arrangement, I will argue that these particular texts were conceived within a particular religio-political matrix of heritage in the early 20th-century colonial Java. While the colonial authority was keen on reconstructing ruins of ancient Hindu-Buddhist architecture — perceived as the “true” heritage of Java, the care of old mosques was often left in the hands of the local people. In turn, the act of renovating an old, already dilapidated, mosque could be seen as reclaiming the ownership and guardianship for what constituted Javanese heritage, particularly by the way in which the textual elements at Sendang Duwur were materially produced and visually arranged.
Generated from the above insights, and in response to questions brought forward by the panel, this paper will also offer some considerations of the effect of the dematerialised of these texts into a digital format. Simply recording the written text will not suffice for documenting the architectural nuance of its materiality, and therefore more elaborate metadata need to be considered.
Storage of manuscripts in pre-Islamic Java: manuscript-boxes, bamboo tubes, and libraries
Jiri Jakl Heidelberg
9th to 15th-century epigraphic and literary sources from Java reveal a textual culture in which manuscripts were highly valued and well-established, though very few physical specimens have survived from this early period. Substantial attention has been paid to the form, production, and use of manuscripts in Java before 1500 CE. Yet, there is one facet of Javanese manuscript culture that has been poorly studied: the ways manuscripts as physical objects were protected in the past against elements, pests, and theft. In the first part of my contribution I discuss in detail manuscript-boxes and other specialized containers used for manuscript storage. I suggest to interpret an enigmatic Old Javanese term karas as a ´(wooden) manuscript-box´, and discuss the term in detail. I argue that Old Javanese karas shared only partially the function of modern kropak manuscript-boxes, some of which are among the oldest artefacts from wood documented from maritime Southeast Asia that have survived from non-archaeological context. In the second part of my contribution, I will discuss Old Javanese term bagañji? and other literary and epigraphical evidence on book collections and libraries in pre-Islamic Java.
Devotional commodities: print production marks in nineteenth-century lithographed mushaf from Singapore
Wei Jin Darryl Lim University of Reading
Nineteenth-century lithographic printing houses located around the urban centre of Kampung Gelam, Singapore were prolific for the numerous editions of lithographed syair and hikayat they printed for a Malay-reading public. Less prominent, but equally important were printed objects emanating from other Singapore-based presses that served religious functions and devotional needs. For instance, Qur’ans lithographed in Singapore gained widespread popularity across the Malay world – attested to by an extant, but scattered corpus across the globe, held in various contemporary private, religious, and institutional archives and collections.
This paper focuses specifically on Singapore-lithographed mushaf, which are the printed codices containing the text of the Qur’an. Most lithographed mushaf from Singapore were calligraphed in a Qur’anic page layout model known as ayet ber kenar, which originated in imperial Ottoman scriptoria. Features of an ayet ber kenar layout, and printed marks that appear (deliberately or accidentally) around the edges, and hidden in the gutters of these mushaf are points of interest, and will be discussed at-length.
How significant is the print materiality of a lithographed book or publication? And do such material aspects of printing relay information about an object’s genesis? To answer these questions, the paper will also discuss the bibliographical information that such marks reveal about lithographic printing and book assembly practices; and the technical repertoire of these lithographic printers based in Singapore between the 1860s to 1890s. More broadly, it will emphasise how the physical dimensions of a book can convey details about the context of its production, especially the circumstances in which it was made – from the printing environs, the provenance of various materials used, to the labour employed during the lithographic printing process.
Ethical consideration on digitising black magic manuscripts
Maria Kekki The British Library
Magic has been and still is an important part of life in Myanmar, and is practiced in tandem with Buddhism and Nat worship. The practice of magic, or casting spells and charms, is often grouped with astrology and divination, traditional medicine and tattooing, in that they all are seen to have the power to protect individuals through the hurdles of life. Such formula were written down on manuscripts and were the property of specialists who read and consulted them as their profession. Most spells and charms have to do with protection, producing love or good luck, or healing. Some magic, however, is created in order to harm particular individuals, and thus can be called black magic. The collections in the British Library include many magic manuscripts in Burmese and Shan, and parts of these belong to the black magic genre.
The British Library has been in the forefront of producing high quality digitisation of Southeast Asian manuscripts, and there is a significant push from the users to produce more. Digitisation opens the collection to users worldwide, who no longer need to travel to the library in order to study, research, photocopy and manipulate the manuscripts for their purposes. Digitisation also preserves the manuscripts as they no longer need to be called up and handled by users as much. Digitisation goes hand in hand with accessibility, decolonisation and crowdsourced research, however, very little has been written about its possible negative side effects.
This paper aims to raise the question of ethical considerations regarding the digitisation of magic manuscripts, particularly manuscripts that include formula that are designed to cause harm. Once online and accessible to all, it would be naive to think that they would be used for neutral scholarly study only. Given the complex situation present in Myanmar at the moment, as well as the various means of exploitation and general atmosphere of fear that it fosters, further considerations of how these manuscripts may be used in such an environment should be considered (control, persecution, hate speech and gender-based abuse are all relevant topics). Black magic is usually administered and safeguarded by specialists, who are required to take particular precautions around it. Open access to such documents presents the possibility of removing such mediation, and of creating new forms of practice.
Islamic Talismanic Shirts from South East Asia
Farouk Yahya SOAS
Talismanic shirts are talismanic objects made in the form of a garment for the upper body, typically inscribed with sacred texts and magical images. In the Islamic world, these may include verses from the Qur’an and designs such as magic squares. When worn on the human body, the shirts offer protection and well-being to the wearer.
This paper will offer a preliminary exploration of talismanic shirts from Muslim Southeast Asia, looking at the different types of garments that were produced, and identifying the texts and designs that are found on them. It will also discuss their relationship to those from other parts of Southeast Asia and the rest of the Islamic world. Finally, it will investigate possible connections between the shirts and the manuscript tradition of the region.
Recent scholarship in manuscript studies has turned from considering the text predominantly as the bearer of the written word and towards attending to the text as object. This may include studying the materials from which the text is constituted
(writing surface, ink, pigments, binding), paratextual aspects (illumination, annotation, mise en page), means of production (scriptoria, lithographic presses), and the social and physical location of texts (networks of distribution, reading practices, libraries). While pioneering work has been done on the materiality of South East Asian writing traditions, there remains much to discover. At the same time, large-scale digitisation projects that promise to reshape what is known about South East Asian writing traditions are in progress. While there are obvious benefits in terms of preservation and accessibility, other effects have not been considered. What becomes of a palmleaf or dluwang manuscript, once restricted to a particular set of readers in a monastery or a pesantren, when it is dematerialised into a series of digital image files, accessible to anyone from anywhere in the world?
Papers are invited on any aspect of hand-inscribed texts, including epigraphy, from South East Asia in terms of their materiality and/or their transformation to another material form (i.e. print) or dematerialisation as digital image. This remit is intentionally broad, to bring together scholars working on diverse aspects of the myriad writing traditions of South East Asia, with a view to fostering unexpected and productive discussions.