THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

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

28 March 2017

'South Asia Series' talks from April to June 2017

The British Library is pleased to announce the next set of talks in the ‘South Asia Series’, from April till the end of June 2017. This is a series of talks based around the British Library's South Asia collection and the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ digitisation project. Speakers from the UK and the US will share the results of their research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

The first talk, on Monday 24th April, will be by Francis Robinson, Professor of the History of South Asia at Royal Holloway, University of London. The talk entitled ‘Hasrat Mohani’s Diary’ examines the life of the poet, newspaper editor and politician Hasrat Mohani (1878-1951) in the tumultuous period of January 1947 to December 1949. Professor Robinson will use Hasrat Mohani’s diary to look at how the world changes for Muslims in the United Provinces after Independence and Partition, the discrimination they experienced and the attacks on their culture and position by a Hindu-dominated Congress.

Image 1 Hasrat Mohani
Image of Hasrat Mohani published by the Anjuman Aʿānat Naz̤ar Bandān-i Islām. British Library, SAC. 1986.a. 1967 Noc

The second talk will be on Monday 8th May, and will be given by Christopher Bahl, a PhD student at SOAS, University of London. His talk entitled ‘Cultural Entrepôts and Histories of Circulation: The Arabic Manuscripts of the Royal Library of Bijapur’ examines the historical circulation of Arabic manuscripts, which linked South Asia with other regions of the Western Indian Ocean world, including Egypt, the Hijaz, Yemen and Iran, during the early modern period. In particular, he will look at the historical development of the Royal Library of Bijapur in the Deccan, today among the India Office Library collections in the British Library, and how its collection of Arabic manuscripts provides crucial insights into the courtly circulation, social use and cultural significance of these texts in a local Indo-Persian environment.

Image 2 Bijapur
Arabic manuscript from Bijapur Library, 1617. British Library, Mss Bijapur 7 Noc

On Monday 22nd May 2017, Kamran Asdar Ali, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, will talk about the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, in which the Pakistan Government brought charges of sedition and of plotting a military coup against certain leaders of its own military and against members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). The talk titled ‘Of Communists and Conspiracy: The Rawalpindi Case in Pakistan’ will discuss the conspiracy in detail to show the relationship between the Pakistani state and how it perceived the communist threat in the early years of Pakistan’s existence. In particular, Prof. Kamran Asdar Ali will demonstrate how external influences on the  leadership of the Communist Party of Pakistan may have left it in an ideological conundrum, and thus perhaps susceptible to engagement in a dialogue with the military on a potential coup-d’état.

Image 3 Rawalpindi
Front page of a pamphlet on the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, 1951. British Library, ORW.1986.a.3327 Noc

The fourth talk, which will be on Monday 5th June 2017, will be by Radha Kapuria, PhD student at King’s College London. Her talk ‘Musicians and Dancers in 19th Century Punjab: A Brief Social History’ excavates the material conditions of the lives of musicians and dancers, and analyses social perceptions around them, in the region of Punjab, during the long nineteenth century. She begins with the Lahore darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and then moves on to the discourses by colonial scholar-administrators like Richard Carnac Temple, Anne Wilson, and others, in the mid-19th century. Furthermore, Radha Kapuria will offer a unique perspective by discussing relatively obscure authors writing about musicians and courtesans in the qissa genre, especially popular during this century.

Image 4 Punjab
An illustrated miniature of a courtly mehfil of musicians, from the ‘Guru Nānak Parkāsh’, 1891. British Library, Or. 13079 Noc

On Monday 12th June 2017, Simon Leese, PhD student at SOAS, London will discuss the Arabic poems of Shah Waliullah (d. 1176/1762), the Delhi intellectual best known for his formative contribution to Muslim revivalist thought in the 18th and 19th centuries. Simon in his talk titled ‘Visions of the Arabic Hejaz: Memory and the Poetics of Devotion in 18th and 19th century North India’ will demonstrate how Arabic was not only the language of scripture, but a site of memory and nostalgia. Alongside major works of exegesis, theology, and Sufism, Waliullah had composed a small body of sometimes highly innovative Arabic poems in which he drew on the language of Arabic poetic love to articulate his own devotion to the Prophet. The talk will examine some of Waliullah’s poems, their fascinating afterlife in manuscript and print, and what they reveal about the culture of the Arabic spoken and written word in South Asia.

Image 5 Simon Leese
Shah Abdul 'Aziz, Takhmīs amplifications on the Bāʾīyah and Hamzīyah by Shah Waliullah. British Library, Delhi Arabic 895 Noc

Please do come along, listen and participate. No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free for all to attend. For further information, please contact:

Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’
layli.uddin@bl.uk

  Ccownwork

20 March 2017

First Impressions: The Beginnings of Ottoman Turkish Publishing

One of the hottest topics on every economist’s lips is the rising price of housing in the United Kingdom. At last count, the average home price in Great Britain was £220 000. For roughly the same price, however, you could also acquire a book on the history of the Americas. This would be no ordinary history, however: İbrahim Müteferrika’s edition of the Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī ul-müsemma bi-Hadis-i nev, or The History of the Western Indies, also known as the New Hadith is the first book by a Muslim about the Americas, and among the first Ottoman Turkish books printed in Istanbul. The Tarīkh is an exceedingly rare item. Of the 500 copies that were produced by İbrahim Müteferrika in 1730, only 17 are known to exist around the world. The British Library is lucky enough to be one of only a handful of institutions in Europe and North America to have two copies of the work. One, at shelfmark Or.80.b.11, contains twelve of the thirteen original black and white woodcut illustrations, as well as the two colour woodcut maps of the world. The other, at shelfmark Or.80.b.7, contains all thirteen black and white illustrations, but neither of the two maps. Both copies are lacking the celestial chart and the chart that are contained in the copy at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

Or80b7 indigenous people_1500 Or80b11 people tree_1500
On the left (BL Or.80.b.7), flora and fauna of Hispaniola, including the mermen and their splendid pearls, brought back to Europe by a man named Castellón, as well as the tree with fruit like women (BL Or.80.b.11)
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The Tarīkh is a unique publication for reasons that are far more profound than the paucity of surviving copies. It is not an original creation, but rather based upon the 16th century manuscript of the same name believed to have been authored by Emir Mehmet ibn Emir Hasan el-Suudi in 1591. Nevertheless, the fact that it was a printed work, rather than a handwritten one, established İbrahim Müteferrika as a pioneer in Ottoman Turkish cultural history. Between the issuance of an imperial ferman on commercial activities related to “certain of printed Arabic, Persian and Turkish books and writings” (Neumann, p. 229) and the 1720s, printing was conducted only by the Jewish and Christian communities, whose works were in non-Arabic scripts. The 17th century saw the importation of Ottoman Turkish works printed in Europe, but both the typography and the language of the content itself were the subjects of derision. The Arabic script requires that some – but not all – letters be attached to those that follow them (to their left), and this characteristic bedevilled European typesetters and those who sought to sell presses to Ottoman clients. At best, the technology created comical mistakes or miscomprehension. At worst, the resulting errors in holy texts led to charges of blasphemy and the befouling of God’s word (Sabev, pp. 107-9).

1-Or80b7 front page_2000 1-Or80b7 colophon_1500
The first page and the end of the chapter on the History of the Western Indies. The text begins in Persian, with an explanation of the real nature of these fantastical images and descriptions, and ends in Ottoman Turkish with information about the culinary delights of the islands (BL Or.80.b.7)  noc

The man who appears to have broken this deadlock was known as İbrahim Müteferrika. He is believed to have been a Transylvanian Christian who converted to Islam and migrated to the Imperial capital of Istanbul at the end of 17th century, possibly to escape religious persecution at the hands of the Hapsburgs (Erginbaş, pp.63-4). His personal history is an apt analogy for the printing press that he popularized: a Christian European invention that was imported and nativized to the Ottoman Empire, ultimately serving to further, rather than harm, the cultural development of the Well-Guarded Domains. İbrahim Müteferrika printed numerous different titles at his workshop in Istanbul, many of which are currently held in the British Library. Apart from the Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī, the Library also holds copies of his Tarih-i seyyah der beyan zuhur-i Agvanian (758.e.9), Tercüme-yi sɪhah-ɪ Cevheri (758.k.7), Takvim üt-tevarih li-Kâtip Çelebi (Or.80.a.8) and Usul ül-hikem fi nizam ül-ümem (758.e.1). Many of these are secular histories or manuals of geography. They demonstrate a concern for steering clear of religious and moral controversy regarding the content of his works and the effect of typography on the text. Some were even presented as serving in the interests of Islam, because of the importance of education holy warriors on the geography of neighbouring regions (Sabev, p. 109). In spite of this, the mere presence of depictions of flora and fauna was enough to raise the ire of some zealots, who sought to destroy his books.

Or80b7 flora_1500 Or80b7 fauna_1500
On the left, the famed Chagos tree, the juice of whose fruits is reputed to cure illnesses. On the right, images of native agriculture in South America, including the usage of oxen-like animals to plough fields (BL Or.80.b.7) 
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Why would someone want to destroy a history book of the Americas? One particular reason might be the sheer number of woodcut illustrations of the people, animals and plants of the Western Hemisphere. Some of these images feature semi-nude members of indigenous communities, while others provide readers with an idea of the wondrous plants and animals to be found in the Americas. Much like Dürer’s rhinoceros, these illustrations are as much representations of Europeans’ imaginations as they are accurate depictions of the flora and fauna they claim to be. Whether or not graven images are permissible under Islamic law, and, if not, how strictly this prohibition was enforced, are issues of great debate among scholarly communities. What is clear from the Tarīkh, however, is that they did appear in the first Ottoman Turkish-language printed publications; and that they likely made the works more controversial than they would have otherwise been.

Or80b11 map
A map of the world, including California as a green island in the top left quadrant of the map. The “Sea of Peru” is also listed as being along the coast of Central America, while the Gulf of Mexico is labelled the “Sea of Mashigho”. (BL Or.80.b.11)  noc

Even more spectacular than the illustrations, however, is the world map included in one of the copies held at the British Library (Or.80.b.11). One of its most striking features is the depiction of California as an island separated from the mainland of North America by a channel of water. Given that the southern tip of this “island” extends to the middle of Mexico’s Pacific coastline, it is fair to assume that İbrahim Müteferrika’s mapmaker did not know that the Gulf of California had only one outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The map is plagued by various inaccuracies: the St. Lawrence River is too deep and the Gulf of Mexico too shallow; the Great Lakes are merged into one, while North America seems to be in various pieces. Nevertheless, it is difficult to contain one’s awe at the manner in which the world as we now picture it – thanks to satellite imagery and enhanced modeling – came together in the minds of cartographers and dreamers from 1492 onwards.

Or80b7 graffiti Or80b11 ownership stamp
The varied history of the books as items of pleasure and prestige are recorded through the ownership stamps and marginalia of their readers. On the left (BL Or.80.b.7) is a poetic exhortation to readers about the content of the books, while the right-hand image (BL Or.80.b.11) is the ex libris of Shaykh Tirabi (1210 AH/1795 CE)
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It should also not be a surprise that these maps are of particular interest to collectors: a reason why so many copies of the Tarīkh are incomplete, including one of those held at the British Library (Or.80.b.7). The Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī ul-müsemma bi-Hadis-i nev is not a roof over your head, or a little corner to call your own, but, just like a home, it has served as a symbol of identity and personality for various owners. The presence of various signs in the works held at the Library – marginalia, ownership stamps and the like – bears witness to this fact. The names of individuals and libraries through whose hands these volumes passed tell as much of a story as the text itself. So too, do the poetic messages scrawled on the opening pages of the work; a testament to the way the written word, in whatever its form, has given rise to dreams and imagination for centuries on end.


Further reading
Neumann, Christoph K. “Book and Newspaper Printing in Turkish”, in ed. Eva Hanebutt-Benz, Dagmar Glass and Geoffrey Roper, Middle Eastern Languages and the Print Revolution: A Cross-Cultural Encounter (Mainz: Gutenburg Museum, 2002), pp. 227-248
Sabev, Orlin, “Waiting for Godot: The Formation of Ottoman Print Culture,” in ed. Geoffrey Roper, Historical Aspects of Printing and Publishing in the Languages of the Middle East (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 101-120.
Erginbaş, Vefa, “Enlightenment in the Ottoman Context: İbrahim Müteferrika and his Intellectual Landscape,” in Roper, Historical Aspects, pp. 53-100.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator
 CC-BY-SA


13 March 2017

British ‘Islamic’ style seals from the Malay world

The presence of an inscription in Arabic script is such a defining characteristic of seals used by Muslims that it tends to mask the fact that similar ‘Islamic’-style seals were also used by myriad other groups, including Christians in Ethiopia and Syria, Samaritans in Palestine, Hindu subjects of the Mughal emperor, European scholars of Arabic and Persian, and British officials of the East India Company. Examples from the British Library were featured in a recent blog post on Some British ‘Islamic’ style seals in Persian manuscripts from India by Ursula Sims-Williams, and in an earlier post on Performing Authority: the ‘Islamic’ seals of British colonial officers in the Persian Gulf by Daniel Lowe. In this post I have gathered together a small number of British ‘Islamic’-style seals from Southeast Asia, with inscriptions in Malay in Jawi (Arabic) script.

The earliest known of these British Malay seals is that of Francis Light (1740-1794), who on behalf of the East India Company negotiated with the Sultan of Kedah to establish a trading settlement at Penang in 1786. By that time Light had spent over twenty years as a private or ‘country’ trader in the Malay world, and was on close terms with the sultan. In 1771 he had been granted the title of Kapitan Dewa Raja by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa of Kedah (r. 1710-1778), with the attendant right to a seal, which is found stamped in red ink on his Malay correspondence today held in the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies.

#322
Malay seal of Francis Light, inscribed Laik Kapitan Dewa Raja di negeri dār al-amān 1185, ‘Light, Kapitan Dewa Raja, in the Abode of Security, 1185' (1771/2) (#322), on an undated letter to Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Syah of Kedah. School of Oriental and African Studies, MS 40320/6, f. 60.

Light became the first ‘Superintendant’ of Prince of Wales Island, as Penang was named by the British, and subsequent governors also used seals inscribed in Malay. Official Malay seals were usually engraved in the name of an individual office holder, but the seal shown below, engraved in 1789/90 for the British ‘ruler’ of Penang, appears to have been used by successive incumbents of the office until at least 1805. It was perhaps in that year that a new seal was engraved for Philip Dundas, Governor from 1805 to 1807. In terms of language, calligraphy, shape and medium, the seals used by British officials in Penang represent a continuation of the Kedah Malay tradition, with typically round or petalled lotus-shaped seals stamped in red ink.

#327
Malay seal of the British governor of Penang, inscribed Gurnadur Raja Pulau Pinang 1204, 'The Governor, ruler of Penang island, 1204' (AD 1789/90) (#327), stamped on a record of the sale of a Keling slave named Abdul Rahman by Fakir Sahib to Malim Sahib for 40 rial, 2 Rabiulakhir 1206 (29 November 1791). British Library, IOR: R/9/22/11, f.437  noc

R-9-20-37, f.175
Record of the sale of a female Batak slave named Dima by Nakhoda Licu of Pane to Mr. Peter Clark for $53, witnessed by Syaikh Muhammad and Mualim Kandu and written by Hakim Abdul Taif, 1 Jumadilakhir 1220 (27 August 1805), and signed and sealed the next day by the [acting] Governor W.E. Phillips, with the same seal as used in 1791. British Library, IOR: R/9/22/37, f. 175  noc

 #323
Seal engraved Guburnur Raja Pulau Pinang, ‘The Governor, ruler of Penang island’ (#323), stamped on a letter from Philip Dundas, Governor of Penang, to the sultan of Kedah, 5 Muharam [1221] (25 March 1806). British Library, MSS Eur.D.742/1, f. 9  noc

It was in Penang that Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826) began his Southeast Asian career, arriving on the island in September 1805 as Assistant Secretary to the government. In December 1810 Raffles moved to Melaka following his appointment by Lord Minto as ‘Agent of the Governor-General with the Malay States’, his secret mission being to prepare for the British invasion of Java, then held by Napoleonic forces. In his Malay correspondence with neighbouring states, Raffles wrote in the name of Lord Minto, and stamped his letters with the seal of the Governor-General of Bengal. Two such seals are known: the earlier seal, used in 1810 and the first half of 1811, is written in sloping nasta ‘liq script, and may have been brought from Calcutta. The second seal is more typically Malay in its 12-petalled lotus shape and naskh calligraphy, and was probably designed in Raffles’s secretariat in Melaka either by his head scribe, Ibrahim or by Ismail, uncle of the young Munsyi Abdullah, who also worked for Raffles as a junior writer.

Raffles seal
Maharaja Gurnur Jenral Benggala, Maharaja Governor-General of Bengal (#263), seal impressed on a letter addressed to the rulers of Java from T.S. Raffles in Melaka, 22 Zulkaidah 1225 (19 December 1810). British Library, MSS Eur.D.742/1, f. 133v  noc

#99 (2)
Inilah cap Paduka Seri Maharaja Gilbetelet Lard Minto Gurnur Jenral Benggala raja pada sekalian tanah Hindustan atas angin bawah angin adanya, ‘This is the seal of Paduka Seri Maharaja Gilbert Elliot Lord Minto, Governor General of Bengal, ruler of the whole of Hindustan, above the winds [and] below the winds’ (#99), stamped on a proclamation of the British capture of Batavia, issued by Lord Minto and signed by T.S.Raffles, 11 August 1811. British Library, Or. 9484  noc

In later years, with the expansion of British colonial rule across the Malay peninsula, seals with Jawi inscriptions sometimes accompanied by elements in English continued to be used by senior British officials, including Residents of Malay states and the Governor-General of the Straits Settlements.

#2000
al-a‘azz al-‘azīz Gunur dan Komandar in Cif serta Wis Admiral yang memerintah Singapura Pulau Pinang dan Melaka // GOVERNOR / STRAITS SETTLEMENTS, ‘The most powerful of the powerful, Governor and Commander-in-Chief and Vice-Admiral who rules Singapore, Penang and Melaka // Governor / Straits Settlements’ (#2000), stamped on a letter of 1883. Image courtesy of John Klein Nagelvoort.

In contrast to British practice of using Malay seals, Dutch officials in Southeast Asia – whether during the period of VOC rule of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries, or in the service of the Netherlands East Indies in the 19th century and later – never used ‘Islamic’-style seals.  Only one example has been recorded, found in an album of seals from Palembang,  but without evidence that it was ever actually used on official correspondence.

#677
Resident Gupernament Nederland fî balad Palembang sanat 1238 // RESIDENT VAN PALEMBANG JAAR 1823, 'Resident of the Dutch Government in the state of Palembang, the year 1238 // Resident of Palembang, the year 1823' (#677). Seal album from Palembang ('Stempels uit de Residentie Palembang'). Leiden University Library, Cod.Or.6663.b

The earlier post on the seals of British orientalists in India also throws light on an unusual seal in a fine Javanese Pawukon divination manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (MS Jav. d. 2). Each of the thirty wuku or weeks of the Javanese calendar is associated with a particular god, tree, bird, foot, house and pennant, which can be used to predict the character and fortune of those born in that week. In the corner of one illustrated page of the Bodleian Pawukon is a small oval seal written in muthanna symmetrical mirror script, previously assumed to be the seal of a Javanese artist or owner of the book. Thanks to Ursula's research, this seal can now be identified as that of William Yule (1764-1839), an East India Company official who had served in Lucknow and Delhi. Yule built up an important collection of Arabic, Persian and Urdu manuscripts which were given to the British Museum by his sons in 1847 and 1850, and some of the manuscripts contain impressions of exactly the same seal, and his related bookplate, in English and Persian, also composed in muthanna script. Although William Yule was never in Southeast Asia, his brother Udny Yule (ca. 1765-1830) served with the British administration in Java and in 1815 was the commanding officer in Banten, and may have acquired the Pawukon for his bibliophile brother. Before entering the Bodleian the book was owned by James Thomson Gibson Craig (1799-1886), renowned for his library in various languages. 

Bodleian Jav.d.2  (5)
Javanese Pawukon manuscript, with the seal of William Yule in the bottom right corner. Bodleian Library, MS Jav. d. 2, f. 56r

#1222 
Seal of William Yule, inscribed with his name (w.l.y.m y.w.l) in symmetrical mirror-image muthanna script and dated 1213 (AD 1798/9).

Further reading:
Abdur-Rahman Mohamed Amin, Koleksi surat-surat Francis Light.
A.T. Gallop, The legacy of the Malay letter.  Warisan warkah Melayu.  With an essay by E. Ulrich Kratz.  London: published by the British Library for the National Archives of Malaysia, 1994.
Ann Kumar, Java and modern Europe: ambiguous encounters. Richmond: Curzon, 1997. [On the Pawukon calendar, see pp. 144-158.]
Marcus Langdon, Penang: the fourth Presidency 1805-1830. Penang: Areca Books, 2013.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork