Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues


Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

01 September 2014

A new catalogue of Malay and Indonesian manuscripts in British collections

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British libraries and museums hold some of the oldest and most important manuscripts in Malay and other Indonesian languages in the world. Although small by comparison with manuscript holdings in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Netherlands, British collections are especially notable for their antiquity and, in some cases, contain unique copies of important texts.  

Sampul Final
New Edition of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain (Jakarta, 2014), the front cover design based on the wadana (illuminated frame) from the Javanese manuscript Serat Jayalengkara Wulang shown below.

Serat Jayalengkara Wulang, Javanese manuscript copied at the court of Yogyakarta in 1803. One of the many Indonesian manuscripts described in Ricklefs and Voorhoeve (1977: 61), and which has just been digitised. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff.111v-112r.  noc

The publication in 1977 of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections, by M.C. Ricklefs & P. Voorhoeve (Oxford University Press), was a landmark event. Merle Ricklefs, whose main interest was in Javanese, was at the time Lecturer in the History of Southeast Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Petrus Voorhoeve (1899-1995) was formerly Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts at Leiden University Library, and a great expert on the languages of Sumatra – ranging from Acehnese and the various Batak dialects in the north to Lampung and Rejang in the south – as well as on Malay and Arabic. The catalogue listed over 1,200 manuscripts in the indigenous languages of Indonesia (except Papua), Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and the Philippines, including those in Cham and Malagasy, found in British public collections. Catalogue entries included names of authors, scribes, owners and collectors, dates and places of writing, watermarks and paper. The 1977 volume was soon followed by an Addenda et corrigenda, published in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1982, listing a further 92 manuscripts.

When I joined the British Library in 1986, I very soon became aware of how difficult my task as Curator for Maritime Southeast Asia would have been without the helping hand of ‘Ricklefs & Voorhoeve’.  As the indispensible guide to the British Library’s own collection of nearly five hundred manuscripts in Malay, Javanese, Balinese, Batak, Bugis, Makasarese, Old Javanese, I found myself consulting the book on a daily basis in order to answer enquiries about the British Library collections, and to select and describe manuscripts for exhibition, and, more recently, for digitisation.

Front cover of Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977).

While ‘Ricklefs & Voorhoeve’ continued to be of enormous value to scholars of the languages, literatures, cultures and history of maritime Southeast Asia, it became increasingly difficult to find a copy in bookshops. And so in March 2013, Arlo Griffiths, director of the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient in Jakarta, agreed to republish the catalogue in the EFEO’s valuable series Naskah dan Dokumen Nusantara (Manuscripts and documents from maritime Southeast Asia). The New Edition, which was published in Jakarta last month by EFEO in collaboration with Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, and with the support of the National Library of the Republic of Indonesia and the British Library, presents facsimiles of the original 1977 catalogue and the Addenda et corrigenda of 1982, together with a new supplement of 2014 describing 155 manuscripts not included in the previous editions.

The 155 additional manuscripts cover the following languages: Balinese (15), Batak (11), Bugis (2), Cham (1), Javanese (31), Maguindanao (1), Malay (86), Minangkabau (2), Old Javanese (5) and Tausug (1).  Nearly three-quarters of the total (114) are held in the British Library, and include both long-held but newly-documented manuscripts in Austronesian languages - such as the treaties in Tausug and Malay signed with the sultanate of Sulu in the 1760s, and vocabulary lists in various Indonesian languages collected by servants of the East India Company - and recent acquisitions, such as two Malay manuscripts of Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah transferred to the British Library from the University of Lampeter in Wales in 2003. Notable finds in other institutions include four Batak manuscripts acquired by the University of Hull from the estate of Dr Harry Parkin - author of Batak fruit of Hindu thought (1978) - and now held in the Hull History Centre; six Malay and one Balinese manuscript formerly belonging to Sir Harold Bailey and now in the Ancient India and Iran Trust in Cambridge; and a Malay manuscript of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. Shown below are some of the newly-described manuscripts.

Or.16802, f.4r (RH)

Illustrated Balinese manuscript on palm leaf with scenes from Ādiparwa, with the (unusual) use of red pigment in addition to black ink. Acquired in Bali in late 1938 by George and Ethel Fasal and donated by their daughter Jenny Fasal in 2010. British Library, Or.16802, f.4r (detail).  noc

Or.15026, ff.188v-189r

Panji romance, Javanese manuscript with 39 coloured drawings, dated 7 May 1861. British Library, Or.15026, ff.188v-189r.  noc


Genealogical chart in the form of a tree of the rulers of Java, from Adam to Pakuwana IV (of Surakarta) and Mataram IV (Hamengkubuwana IV of Yogykarta), in a Javanese manuscript, Papakem Pawukon, said to have come from Kyai Suradimanggala, Bupati sepuh of Demak, 1814/5. Formerly from the India Office Library collection. British Library, Or.15932, f.72r.  noc

Or.14808, f.a 27

Pustaha, Batak manuscript of Simalungun provenance, written on folded treebark, containing Poda ni suman-suman ma inon, instructions on the art of controlling forces by invoking the supernatural. British Library, Or.14808, f.a 27.  noc

AIIT Malay 1 (4)

Malay manuscript of Sejarah Melayu, 'Malay Annals', with an ownership note of D.F.A. Hervey, 1 May 1876. Ancient India and Iran Trust, Malay 1.  noc


M.C.Ricklefs & P.Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

M.C.Ricklefs & P.Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: addenda et corrigenda.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1982, Vol.XLV, Part 2, pp.300-322.

M.C.Ricklefs, P.Voorhoeve† & Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.  (Naskah dan Dokumen Nusantara; XXXIII). ISBN France 978-2-85539-189-2.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


28 August 2014

'A very ingenious person': The Maratha artist Gangaram Cintaman Tambat

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When I became responsible in 1986 for what was then the Prints and Drawings section of the India Office Library, I spent many pleasurable hours going through the collections, many of which were not yet in printed catalogues.  An unexpected discovery was a group of five drawings from late 18th century western India in the hinterland of Bombay, an area from which not many paintings were known, whether traditional or done for British patrons.  These five drawings include a self-portrait and four animal studies by the Maratha artist Gangaram Cintaman Tambat from an album compiled around 1790-95 for Charles Warre Malet (1753-1815) of the Bombay Civil Service.  

Self-portrait of the artist with his guru, both seated facing the other in profile.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed (by Sir Charles Warre Malet): Gungaram by Himself, very like + a very ingenious Person at Poona in the service of CWM, by whom the subsequent native sketches were drawn chiefly from life + His Groo a celebrated holy Hermit near Poona.  Water-colour on paper; 250 by 362 mm.  Add.Or.4145  noc

Malet’s importance stems from his last posting as the East India Company’s Resident to the court of the Maratha Peshwa at Poona, 1785-97.  The Marathas under the Peshwas, hereditary chief ministers of the Maratha rajas, were the principal power in western India and through their wide-ranging generals and their armies they controlled almost all of northern and central India as well.  The Company was growing alarmed at what it saw as the increasing belligerence of Mysore under Tipu Sultan and his pro-French policy and Malet was able to negotiate a treaty of alliance between the Company, the young Peshwa Madhavrao II (or rather his minister Nana Phadnavis) and the Nizam of Hyderabad, which since these two states were often antagonistic to each other was something of a diplomatic triumph.  When in 1789 Tipu Sultan attacked Travancore, a Company ally, the Governor-General Lord Cornwallis invoked his alliance with the Peshwa and the Nizam to attack Mysore and for a while to neutralise it.  In 1791 Malet received a baronetcy for his part in negotiating the treaty.

Malet lived in great style at his house near the junction of the Mula and Mutha rivers at Poona, maintaining gardens, orchards and a menagerie, as well as employing artists such as James Wales (1747-95) and Robert Mabon (d. 1798) (see M. Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825, London, 1979, pp.333-55).  Malet returned to Britain in 1798 accompanied by Susanna Wales, the daughter of the recently deceased artist James Wales whom he had befriended, and married her the following year.

Ktop CXV 59-1-c Treaty of Poona
A Representation for the Delivery of the Ratified Treaty of 1790 by Sir Charles Warre Malet Bart to His Highness Soneae Madarou Peshwa.
  Aquatint by Charles Turner after Thomas Daniell, 1807.  63 x 89,6 cm.  K.Top.CXV 59-1-c.  noc

Susanna Wales brought back to England all her father’s unfinished work.  This included his sketches for a large composition commemorating the 1790 treaty.  Malet asked Thomas Daniell to work the sketches up into a large oil painting (now in Tate Britain), and subsequently had Charles Turner engrave it in 1807.  The setting is the Durbar Hall of the Peshwa’s Shanwarwada palace in Poona.  Wales’s estate also included views of Bombay, which Malet arranged to have published in London in 1800, as well as his drawings of the Ellora caves, which he had Thomas Daniell engrave and publish as aquatints in 1803.  Malet’s collection of Wales’s drawings and sketches, along with his diaries, are now in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (see the exhibition publication by Holly Shaffer, Adapting the Eye: an Archive of the British in India, 1770-1830, 2011).

As is the case with most traditional Indian artists, we know nothing of Gangaram other than through his work and what Malet and Wales tell us.  Malet persuaded the Peshwa to establish a school for drawing in the palace at Poona and Gangaram seems to have been trained there in European techniques.  In addition to his animal drawings, he was employed by Malet to sketch Hindu architecture to illustrate Malet’s writings.  Malet published a paper on the Ellora cave temples in vol. 6 of Asiatick Researches (1801), illustrated with nine engravings after drawings by Gangaram.  In a foreword to this paper dated 1794, Malet notes that Gangaram had already been to Ellora to make drawings of the caves, when he himself had been prevented by illness from making the journey.

SV98 vol 6 pl. E opp. p.403
Ravana shaking Kailasa (Siva’s abode), at Ellora.  Engraving after Gangaram.  From Asiatick Researches, vol. 6, 1801, SV98, pl. E  noc

SV98 vol 6 pl. I opp. p.422
The Visvakarma cave at Ellora.  Engraving after Gangaram.  From Asiatick Researches, vol. 6, 1801, SV98, pl. I  noc

Malet noted in 1794 that Gangaram would be accompanying James Wales to Ellora to assist with his drawing of the temples.  Thomas Daniell engraved Wales’s drawings of Ellora as Hindoo Excavations in the Mountains of Ellora (London, 1803) and it is possible that one of the plates shows Gangaram himself actually at work, although Wales also had another Indian artist from Goa named Josi with him as well.

Daniell's Hindoo Excavations X432 pt 6 pl 19 det
An Indian artist possibly Gangaram sketching details of Hindu sculpture.  Detail from 'The Ashes of Ravana, interior view.' Plate 19 from Hindoo excavations in the mountain of Ellora, London, 1803.  X432/6 pl. 19 detail  noc

To return to where I started with Gangaram’s animal drawings.  All these drawings are outlined in water-colour with a brush, the outlines brushed in with very transparent washes, the details worked up, and then the whole outlined again where necessary, normally on European paper watermarked with a lily.  The album and other items associated with Malet and Gangaram passed down through the Malet family and were sold at various times.  The portrait and the four animal drawings were acquired in 1982.

Add Or 4146
A light brown saluki.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Chuba a Dog belonging to CWM.  Gangaram delint.  Water-colour on paper; 126 by 206 mm.  Add.Or.4146  noc

Add Or 4147
A black and white hound.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Spring, and below: Gungaram.  Water-colour on paper; 134 by 182 mm.  Add.Or.4147  noc

Add Or 4149   A lynx.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above in pencil: Syah gush (Persian for lynx), and on the backing sheet: Lynx.  Water-colour on paper; 70 by 125 mm.  Add.Or.4149  noc

Add Or 4148
A lion.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed above: Lion.  Water-colour on paper; 161 by 243 mm.  Add.Or.4148  noc

Gangaram, living up to Malet’s description of him as a ‘very ingenious person’ also produced models of some of these animals, so when a group of these models appeared on the market including a camel, elephant and rhinoceros (Hobhouse Limited, Indian Painting during the British Period, London, 1986, no. 9), it proved irresistible to acquire one, although not until 1993, that was already represented by its drawing in the collection.

F872 side
A model of a lion.   By Gangaram, 1790.  Wax, possibly dhuna, the aromatic gum of the shal tree (Shorea robusta), painted; size of wooden base: 20.5 x 9.75 x 2cm; animal 12.5cm at highest point of mane.  F872  noc

F872 front
Gangaram’s lion.  F872, frontal view  noc

Gangaram has faithfully translated from paper to model the unhappy and mangy appearance of the poor lion including the halter round its neck.  Although Malet kept a menagerie, including the lion, some of the animals drawn by Gangaram belonged to the Peshwa, as Malet noted on a drawing of the Peshwa’s elephant named Ali Bakhsh (see Indian Drawings of Plants and Animals, Spring 1986, Hobhouse Ltd., no. 7).  Some of the models have labels written by Malet ascribing them to Gangaram. 

Finally the opportunity arose again in 1987 to acquire another drawing by Gangaram from the same album, this time of a camel.

A camel facing.  By Gangaram, 1790.  Inscribed in ink: The Figure of the Common Camel of Hindostan accurately taken from a Living One by Gungaram Chintamun Tombut of the follg. Dimensions [with detailed dimensions].  Poona 1790.  C.W. Malet.  And in nagari: gangaram cimtaman tabatAdd.Or.4364  noc

This drawing contains very precise measurements of the animal that must have been used when Gangaram made his scale model in wax - see Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox catalogue Indian Paintings for British Patrons 1770-1860, London, 1991, no. 5.


J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (Emeritus)    ccownwork

25 August 2014

A rare Vietnamese map of China

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One of the most interesting Vietnamese manuscripts in the British Library, Bắc Sứ Thủy Lục Địa Đô or, in Chinese, Beishi shuilu ditu, ‘The northwards embassy by land and water from Hanoi to Beijing’ (Or. 14907), has just been digitised. Written in the Vietnamese language in Chinese characters (chữ Hán) and dated 1880, the manuscript is a complete visual record of the route from Bắc Thành (the former name of Hanoi under the Nguyễn Dynasty) through China to Beijing, taken by envoys of the Vietnamese Emperor Tự Đức (r.1847-1883) on their tribute-bearing mission in 1880. This work was probably created as an archival record of the journey. Roads, mountains, waterways, bridges, buildings, cities and towns are all clearly depicted, as are the points of departure and arrival on the first and last pages. The title, written in Chinese characters (Beishi shuilu ditu), also includes the date (gengchen) of the journey, according to the Chinese 60-year cyclical system. The annotations on each page list place names and distances in Chinese miles (li or ly in Vietnamese) with occasional useful notes, such as ‘from here merchants used only Qianlong money’. Land routes are marked in red ink and water routes are recorded in blue ink.

The mission passed through Gong Xian County in Henan Province and crossed Luo River. British Library, Or.14907, ff.54v-55r.  noc

Towards the end of the 19th century Vietnam was faced with serious threats from French colonialism. After taking South Vietnam (Cochin China) in the 1860s, the French gradually fulfilled their territorial desire to occupy the rest of the kingdom.  In January 1874, after another defeat, the court of Emperor Tự Đức had to sign a treaty with the French which led to the occupation of North Vietnam. Under this treaty, Vietnam ‘s foreign policy was under the control of French colonial power. However, Vietnam still kept up its tradition of sending tribute missions to China.

The tribute system was employed in Chinese foreign policy for many centuries before its collapse at the end of the 19th century under the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). As the most powerful kingdom in East and Southeast Asia, China saw herself as ‘the Middle Kingdom’ and demanded that smaller and ‘inferior’ kingdoms in the region send her tribute on a regular basis. Small states in the region willingly sent tribute missions to Beijing, while not viewing this tradition as acknowledgement of vassalage to China; on the contrary, it was perceived as a reciprocal system, whereby Beijing was accepted as the patriarch of other, inferior, kingdoms. Once their missions had been received by the court in Beijing, recognition by China gave rulers of smaller kingdoms legitimacy to rule. The tribute system also provided security and political stability for smaller kingdoms against invasions from China so long as they did not implement any policy which would disturb the Middle Kingdom.


Arriving at Ansu Xian County in Hebei Province, north of the Yellow River, their route took them through temples and the White Pagoda. British Library, Or.14907, f.66r.  noc

As a neighbouring country, Vietnam had been one of the most active participants in the Chinese tribute system, which offered political gains allowing for peaceful co-existence with its powerful neighbour. As Brantly Womack points out, China was always Vietnam’s greatest political threat. Thus Chinese recognition of the Vietnamese court as the legitimate rulers of the country was invaluable and was tantamount to an acknowledgement of Vietnam’s right to exist.   In contrast to the colonialism of Western imperialism, China acted as the passive guarantor of a matrix of unequal but autonomous relationships, rather than as an active metropolitan power: to go to Beijing was more reassuring than to have Paris come to you (Womack 2006: 135).

From its very beginnings, not only did independent Vietnam publicly accept its status as a vassal, but it sent its most prominent scholars as emissaries on tribute missions.  William Duiker has characterised the historical relationship between China and Vietnam as follows: ‘To China, the Vietnamese must have resembled a wayward younger brother … Chinese attitudes toward Vietnam combined paternalism and benevolence with a healthy dose of arrogance and cultural condescension stemming from the conviction that it was China that had lifted the Vietnamese from their previous state of barbarism. As for the Vietnamese, their attitude toward China was a unique blend of respect and truculence, combining a pragmatic acceptance of Chinese power and influence with a dogged defence of Vietnamese independence and distinctiveness’ (Duiker 1986: 6).

Guangning Gate (30 ly before the main City gate). British Library, Or.14907, f.69r.  noc

The 1880 tribute mission took place against a backdrop of political difficulties in Vietnam. After the signing of the 1874 treaty, there was unrest in North Vietnam (Tonkin) among Vietnamese who saw the Nguyễn rulers as weak leaders who had readily capitulated to French power. The Black Flag rebellion, led by Lưư Vinh Phục, caused disruption to foreign commercial businesses and French religious missions, disturbing both Beijing and Paris. Hence two Chinese incursions took place in 1878 and 1879, while at the same time, the French kept putting pressure on the court in Huế with the threat of another invasion (Đinh Xuân Lâm 1999: 47). In order to appease the Chinese and to seek help from the Middle Kingdom, the Vietnamese court tried to send missions to Beijing.  Some missions were successful, but others were intercepted by the French. The 1880 tribute mission was therefore one of several attempts. It probably crossed the border in early October and arrived in Beijing in December 1880.

Zhengyang Gate, Beijing, leading to the Forbidden City. British Library, Or.14907, f.69v.  noc

The French perceived the Vietnamese court’s attempt to seek help from China as a violation of the 1874 treaty, which stipulated that Vietnam’s foreign affairs were under French authority. The colonial power thus used this as one of the pretexts to launch another attack against the Vietnamese. In April, 1882, French forces attacked Hanoi and consequently Huế. Emperor Tự Đức passed away on July 17, 1883 just before the court agreed to sign another treaty with the French (August 25, 1883), which brought all three parts of Vietnam under complete control of French colonial government.

The advent of French control over Vietnam seriously affected Chinese interests because trade between southern China and northern Vietnam was disrupted. Therefore, from 1882 China sent troops to northern Vietnam to protect its interests and fighting between French and Chinese forces erupted. However, the weakening Qing dynasty was not able to match the French might. The confrontation ended with Tientsin Agreement in May 1884 (Đinh Xuân Lâm: 1999, 58), in which China agreed to rescind its claims over Vietnam’s sovereignty. This also brought an end to the long-lasting tradition of the tribute system between China and Vietnam.

Further reading:

The manuscript Or. 14907 has been fully digitised and can be viewed here.

Đinh Xuân Lâm, chủ biên. Đai cương lịch sử Việt Nam, tập 2.  [Hà Nội] : Nhà xuất bản giaó dục, 1999.
Duiker, William J. China and Vietnam: Roots of Conflict. Berkley, California: University of California, 1986.
Trần Nghĩa. ‘Sa’ch Hán Nôm tại Thư viện vương quốc Anh’ in Tạp chí Hán Nôm (3[24], 1995). Hà Nội : Viện nghiên cứu Hán Nôm, pp.3-13.
Womack, Brantly. China and Vietnam:  The Politics of Asymmetry. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese

With thanks to Baohe Chen for help in reading the Chinese inscriptions.