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

27 March 2015

Britain’s ‘Interest’ in Bahrain

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In 1783, the Al Khalifa family – originally from the Nejd region of what is now Saudi Arabia – captured the islands of Bahrain from Shaikh Nasr Al Madhkur, who had ruled them on behalf of the Qajar dynasty of Persia. In 1926, over one hundred and fifty years later, the status of Bahrain’s sovereignty remained a contentious issue. In December of that year, G. R. Warner, a British diplomat in London, wrote to a colleague in India stating that ‘on political grounds it is of great importance to avoid any action which would result in the re-awakening of the controversy as to the sovereignty of Bahrein’.

Although Bahrain was nominally independent at this time, it was a British-protected state and Britain had controlled its foreign relations since the nineteenth century. The cause of Warner’s concern was the fact that the Persian Government refused to recognise Bahrain’s independence and instead claimed it as a province of Persia. The manner in which British officials in the region responded to this tension provides a revealing insight into the character of Britain’s role in Bahrain at this time.

Mohammerah
'Mohammerah' [‎20-b] (1/1), present-day Khorramshahr, photographed in May 1917 by the Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox (British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 496/6/40) in Qatar Digital Library

Avoiding Re-Awakening the Controversy
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Bahraini nationals resident in the city of Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) in Persia were subjected to harassment and intimidation by the local authorities. Many of these Bahrainis – the majority of whom were Baharna (the indigenous Shia Arab community of Bahrain) – were being forced to adopt Persian nationality. If they did not comply, the Baharna faced arrest, expulsion from the country and, in some cases, serious violence and even death. In response, the community appealed for help to the ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and to the various British officials who served as Political Agent in Bahrain during this era. The British – wary of increasing tensions with Persia over Bahrain – were hesitant in their response to the Persian Government’s actions.

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First page of a letter to the India Office from G. R. Warner at the Foreign Office, 31 December 1926 (IOR/R/15/1/321, f. 97)
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‘Alleviating the lot of the Baharnah’
Despite their repeated petitions calling for assistance, the harassment of Bahraini nationals in Persia continued and Britain’s inability or unwillingness to offer more substantial help to citizens of a country ostensibly under its protection began to cause some consternation amongst the Baharna.

In 1923, the British had forced Bahrain’s ruler, Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, to abdicate and replaced him with his son, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Following this, the Political Agent in Bahrain, Clive Kirkpatrick Daly, enacted a series of wide-reaching reforms in the country. In this context, Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, made a frank observation in a letter to the British Legation in Tehran in August 1929:

[I]t strikes the residents of Bahrain as remarkable that while Britain’s protection of their island runs to dethroning their ruler, carrying out a series of reforms and arranging to establish flying boat and aeroplane bases for herself, it is not of the least value in alleviating the lot of the Baharnah in Persia.

Image 2 IOR_R_15_1_321_0538
Letter from Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, to the British Legation in Tehran, 21 August 1929 (IOR/R/15/1/216/321, f. 259)
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Legal Fiction
In September 1929, Charles Geoffrey Prior, Britain’s Political Agent in Bahrain elaborated on this contradiction. In an extraordinarily frank passage in a letter to Barrett, his superior based in Bushire, Prior described the notion that Bahrain was an independent state as a ‘legal fiction’ and stated that he did not believe that ‘any Arab is deceived for a minute by a policy which, while manipulating the resources of Bahrain in our interests, declines to protect its subjects, to allow them to protect themselves or to ally themselves with other states who might do so’.

Prior suggested that if the British had intervened in any Indian state over the previous decade to the extent they had done so in Bahrain, it would have caused a ‘storm of protest’, observing that:

[W]e have deposed the Ruler, deported his relations, fixed the customs tariff to suit our interests, forced the state against its will to grant a customs rebate to our ally Bin Saud […] deprived the Ruler of jurisdiction over all foreigners, and decided what Europeans he may or may not employ.

Prior went on to state that ‘we have refused the state a free hand with their mineral resources, and have been guided in the matter almost entirely by our own interests’ and pointed out that the ruler of Bahrain was forbidden to correspond with the oil company working on his concession except through the intermediary of the Political Agent.

Image 3 IOR_R_15_1_322_0105
Second page of a letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior, the Political Agent in Bahrain, to Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, 27 September 1929 (IOR/R/15/1/322, f. 47)
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Prior also made the astonishing admission that aside from a small contribution to charity, ‘which has political value’, the British Government had incurred no expenditure in Bahrain whatsoever.

Duty to Grant Protection
In this damning assessment of British policy in Bahrain, Prior asserted his belief that Britain should be fulfilling its obligations by doing more to assist the Baharna. Prior argued that ‘in no sense’ was Bahrain an independent state, and for the sake of Britain’s reputation for ‘fair dealing’ it should not default in its liabilities to its inhabitants. This argument was reiterated by Prior in a letter two years later in 1931.

In this letter, Prior outlined the extent of Britain’s involvement and explained how the British manipulated an oil company to suit their ‘Imperial interests’. He argued that since ‘we have interfered in the affairs of Bahrain to an extent unparalleled in British India [then] we should grant these people the same support and protection that we extend to inhabitants of British Indian States’.

Three years later however, the harassment of Bahrainis in Persia had not abated. In 1934, Charles Belgrave, Adviser to the Government of Bahrain, wrote that ‘the Persians destroy their [Bahraini] nationality papers, make them sign Persian papers yet the Baharna would rather die than become Persian subjects’.

Image 4 IOR_R_15_1_323_0250
Extract of letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior, the Political Agent in Bahrain, 10 December 1931 (IOR/R/15/1/323, f. 115)
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Imperial Context
Prior’s remarkable candour when assessing the British Government’s activities in Bahrain starkly demonstrates the nature of its role in the country, a role that, according to his own account, was motivated by the logic of empire and – in his own words – Britain’s self-interest. The welfare of the country’s citizens was a concern of secondary importance, at best.

Curzon (2)
'His Excellency The Right Honourable George Nathaniel Baron Curzon, P. C., G. M. S. I., G. M. I. E. Viceroy and Governor-General of India.' Photographer: Bourne and Shepherd [‎10r] (1/1) (British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 430/78/3) in Qatar Digital Library


In 1898, George Curzon, then the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, infamously wrote:

Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaspia, Persia – to many these names breathe only a sense of utter remoteness or a memory of strange vicissitudes and or moribund romance. To me, I confess, they are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominion of the world.

Regardless of Prior’s own personal misgivings, Bahrain was no exception to Curzon’s imperial worldview, it was merely another piece on the ‘chessboard’, a means to safeguard Britain’s position in India and further the interests of its global empire.

Primary sources:
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 IV (C 28) Shaikh's Relations with other Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/321
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 V (C 32) Bahrain Relations with other Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/322
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 VI (C 45) Bahrain Relations with Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/323
London, British Library, ‘File 12/2 Treatment of Bahraini subjects in Persia’ IOR/R/15/2/486

Secondary sources:
George Nathaniel Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (London, New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1892)

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork

 

24 March 2015

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia

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The British Academy-funded research project Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean, which ran from 2009 to 2012 adminstered by ASEASUK (Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK) and the BIAA (British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara), set out to investigate all aspects of links between the greatest Middle Eastern power – the Ottoman empire – and the Muslim lands of the Malay archipelago in Southeast Asia over the past five centuries. The project culminated in a conference held in Banda Aceh in 2012, as well as a travelling photographic exhibition produced by the British Library which toured the UK, with a Turkish version which travelled to Istanbul and Ankara, while Indonesian versions were displayed in various venues in Aceh and in Jakarta at the Bayt al-Qur'an & Museum Istiqlal. Now one of two books arising from the project has just been published – From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop – as the auspiciously-numbered 200th volume in the series 'Proceedings of the British Academy', published by Oxford University Press.

TJ-15076_From Anatolia to Aceh copy

The first direct political contact between Anatolia and the Malay world took place in the 16th century, when Ottoman records confirm that gunners and gunsmiths were sent to Aceh in Sumatra to help fight against Portuguese domination of the pepper trade across the Indian Ocean. In later years the main conduit for contact was the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and many Malay pilgrims from Southeast Asia spent long periods of study in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which were under Ottoman control from 1517 until the early 20th century. During the era of European colonial expansion in the 19th century, once again Malay states turned to Istanbul for help. It now appears that these demands for intervention from Southeast Asia may even have played an important role in the development of the Ottoman policy of Pan-Islamism, positioning the Ottoman emperor as Caliph and leader of Muslims worldwide and promoting Muslim solidarity.

The 14 papers in this volume represent the first attempt to bring together research on all aspects of the relationship between the Ottoman world and Southeast Asia, much of it based on documents newly discovered in archives in Istanbul. The book is presented in three sections, covering the political and economic relationship, interactions in the colonial era, and cultural and intellectual influences, with an introduction by the editors and a historiographical survey by Anthony Reid, whose seminal 1969 article, ‘Sixteenth century Turkish influence in western Indonesia’ (Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10 (3): 395-414), could be seen as the starting point for modern research on this topic. A full list of the contents of the volume can be found here: Download 00_Anatolia to Aceh_i-xvi.

2014-5-14 (17)
Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

The beautiful manuscript which adorns the front cover of the volume exemplifies well the myriad interactions documented in the volume: it was copied in Mecca by a Malay calligrapher from the 'Jawi' community of Southeast Asians resident in the Hijaz, and adorned with late Ottoman-style illumination. It is a copy of the Mawlid sharaf al-anam, ‘The birth of the noblest of mankind’, an anonymous compilation of devotional prayers on the Prophet, and the Arabic text is accompanied by a small interlinear translation in Malay. The scribe is named as Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wudd al-Jawi al-Sambawi, his nisba indicating his origins on the island of Sumbawa in eastern Indonesia.

2014-5-14 (19)
Final pages of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

Although the colophon gives the date (in thinly-inked numerals) of 1042 AH (1632/3 AD), this is most likely erroneous and numerous factors indicate that the manuscript was probably copied in the mid-19th century. By coincidence, among the documents in the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives ((Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, BOA) in Istanbul relating to Southeast Asia discovered in the course of the research project was an Arabic letter of 1849/50 to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, thanking him for facilitating the Hajj pilgrimage, signed by ten Malay and Yemeni scholars (‘ulama) resident in Mecca. Among the signatories to this letter is one ‘Ibrahim bin Wudd al-Jawi’, whose seal impression reads Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wuddin. Comparing the name ‘Ibrahim’ in the manuscript and the letter leaves little doubt that they were written by the same person.

İ_DH_211_12286 (7a)-ed
Letter in Arabic from Southeast Asian religious scholars in Mecca to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, 1849/50, with Ibrahim's signature and seal fourth from the left. BOA İ.DH 211/12286.

Ibrahim  P1030709-det
Detail of the signature of Ibrahim (left) in the letter of 1849/50, and (right) in the colophon of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, with the same concave-convex shape of ba-ra, and the letter alif bisecting the ha-ya ligature in both examples.

Further evidence locating this ‘Ibrahim’ as a master Malay calligrapher in the Hijaz in the mid 19th century is found in a letter in Malay and Arabic written in Mecca in 1866 by Abdul Rahman bin Muhammad Saman of Kelantan to Sultan Abdul Hamid of Pontianak on the west coast of Borneo (Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680). In the letter, Abdul Rahman states that he had come to Mecca to study the ‘Istanbul style’ of writing (menyurat Istanbul), and that he is currently being considered the successor to his ‘late teacher Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi’ in teaching ‘Istanbul writing’ (patik ini … sudah dilatih? orang besar2 di Mekah akan bahwa patik inilah jadi ganti … al-marhum guru patik tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur itu … pada pihak tolong mengajarkan segala muslimin menyurat Istanbulnya). Together, these sources suggest that Ibrahim al-Khulusi died in Mecca probably sometime in the early 1860s.

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Detail from a letter written by Abdul Rahman of Kelantan in Mecca in 1866 giving the name of 'my late teacher the great Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi' (al-marhum guru patik Tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur). Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680.

Ironically, the Ottoman-Malay mawlid manuscript of Ibrahim al-Khulusi only came to light in 2014, well after the completion of the research project, and so is not discussed in the book itself.  (The manuscript is currently held in the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, and we are most grateful to the IAMM and its Director, Mr Syed Mohamad Albukhary, for permission to reproduce the manuscript on the front cover of the book).  But it is just such a discovery as this which raises hopes that, from time to time, yet more new evidence will emerge of the connections between the Ottoman empire and Southeast Asia, across the Indian Ocean from Anatolia to Aceh.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia, British Library & Co-Director, 'Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean'

With thanks to Tim Stanley for comments on the illumination.

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia
Edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop
OUP/British Academy | Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 200
300 pages | 22 illustrations | 234x156mm
978-0-19-726581-9 | Hardback | 05 February 2015
Price:  £70.00
Available from Oxford University Press

20 March 2015

A new manuscript of 'Inayatallah's Bahar-i Danish

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Shaikh ‘Inayatallah Kanbu of Delhi finished his romantic tale the Bahar-i Danish (‘The Springtime of Knowledge’) in 1651, a collection of Indian tales held together by the frame story of the romance of Jahandar Sultan and Bahravar Banu.  No early illustrated copy seems to have survived.   A previously unknown manuscript of the text illustrated with 118 miniatures appeared recently at auction from the collection of the Duke of Northumberland (Sotheby’s, London, 8 October 2014, lot 275).  Although undated, this manuscript goes some way to fill the gap in Mughal manuscript illustration between the end of the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) and the revival of the imperial Mughal studio in the 18th century.  The present writer was able to study it closely and concluded that the text was copied around 1700, that there were three illustrative campaigns, the first two of which were contemporary with the writing, but that the third campaign was undertaken later, almost certainly in the 1720s in the imperial studio of Muhammad Shah (r. 1719-48).  The illustrations in this third campaign seem preparatory to the paintings by Govardhan II in the Karnama-i ‘Ishq, the finest known imperial manuscript from the 18th century (BL J. 38, see Losty and Roy 2012, figs. 138-45).

There are very few good quality Mughal manuscripts from the latter half of the 17th century with which this manuscript could be compared.  Shah Jahan was interested in manuscript illustration only for inclusion in his chronicles, while under the puritanical Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707) painting was discouraged along with all the other arts of the court.  Artists must have sought other employment in this period whether with princes and noblemen or else in a more commercial environment.   In searching for other illustrated manuscripts of this text, an unexpected find was a hitherto ignored but important Mughal illustrated manuscript with 126 miniatures in the India Office collections in the British Library (numbered IO Islamic 1408, Ethé 1903, no. 806), the subject of the present note.  Although inscribed as a Johnson manuscript and hence collected by Richard Johnson in India before his return to England in 1790, it is not certain that the inscription is correct.  However, a note in an old hand mentions Alexander Dow’s partial translation (published 1768) but not Jonathan Scott’s complete one of 1799, suggesting that the manuscript was already in a contemporary collection.  Even more interesting was the discovery that it is another version of the Northumberland manuscript.  Its miniatures are also divided into three distinct campaigns to be discussed below and have the same compositions and colouring, except that the third campaign in the ‘Johnson’ manuscript is a continuation of the style of the first campaign.

As two of the earliest if not the earliest illustrated versions of this text, these manuscripts, by far the finest known illustrated versions, assume a particular importance. Their style is derived from the 17th century Mughal style, as they are copying the Shahjahani style albeit in a simplified manner.  This comes through particularly in the costume details in the three illustrative campaigns, which all show the jama (gown) at mid-calf length in vogue in the mid-17th century.  Both of the manuscripts must be based on a no longer known exemplar from the 17th century, perhaps the first illustrated version done under the author’s supervision.  Indeed the Northumberland manuscript refers to a lacuna in its exemplar (f. 101) which in the Johnson manuscript is filled with a painting, so that there can be no question of one being copied from the other.  In the third campaign in the ‘Johnson’ manuscript there are several preliminary drawings and unfinished paintings, suggesting that the different paths taken in the third campaigns are because the original exemplar was unfinished.

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The Emperor of Hindustan supplicating the pure-minded for a son, which bore fruit eventually in Jahandar Sultan.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 10  noc

The ‘Johnson’ manuscript’s illustrations were begun around 1700 perhaps in the studio of an unnamed Mughal prince or nobleman but more likely, since we are dealing with two manuscripts fundamentally the same, in a commercial manuscript studio in Delhi.  Several artists were involved in each of the three campaigns.  All share certain traits common to later 17th century Mughal painting, including the treatment of the sky with coloured horizontal streaks (cf. Losty and Roy 2012, figs. 99, 100), while some of the paintings show the rolling coloured clouds more common at the beginning of the 18th century (ibid., fig. 123)  There is a certain naiveté and stiffness about the paintings of the initial campaign, which continues until f. 104v.  Figures are generally neat and on the small side; there is minimal amount of landscape and architecture, just enough to place the figures. As often happens with illustrated manuscripts, the opening miniatures done by the studio master (as here) are somewhat more elaborate and better finished than those later on in this same first campaign where more of the other artists’ work becomes apparent.

Another campaign carried on the illustrations in a different and more lightly coloured style that in some of the paintings favours a great deal of impressionistic brushwork.  The figures are larger and more detailed.  This section is in many ways the most interesting of the three campaigns.

IO ISL 1408, f.112v
The merchant’s daughter, previously marooned on a deserted island in a vast lake, sits on the tail of a water-dragon to be conveyed to shore.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 112v  noc

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The merchant’s daughter after further misadventures lands up on a desert shore, where the only inhabitants spend their lives in contemplation of God.  Through their kindness she is instantly transmitted back to her father’s house.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 120v, 121  noc

Assuming these are versions of original 17th century manuscript illustrations, that artist must have been exposed to the work of such artists as Payag and Govardhan with their on occasion experimental techniques.

IO ISL 1408, f.136
A servant girl has fallen asleep while massaging the feet of a sleeping king, whereupon a thief carries on the massage until the king turns over and the thief can steal the jewel-encrusted fish from beneath his pillow.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, f. 136  noc

The delicate handling of the paint and the rather beautiful modelling here show the artist to be influenced by his model in more than just the composition.

IO Isl 1408, f.257v, f.258
The wandering prince Farrukh Fal slashes at the cobra that is climbing the tree to attack the simurgh’s young, watched by his friend the vizier’s son, while after their encounter with the cobra, they are thanked by the simurgh for saving her young.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 257v, 258.  noc

The soft green landscapes studded with little trees and occasionally hillocks and rocky ridges derive from Shahjahani landscapes (cf. Losty and Roy 2012, fig.63, also the seated prince) but are akin to the sort of landscapes that are found in Mughal imperial painting in the reigns of Bahadur Shah (1705-12) and Farrukhsiyyar (1713-19).  This second campaign continues until f. 216.

The third campaign is in many ways a continuation of the first campaign, but there are several gaps in the sequence of paintings, where the scribe and marginator have allowed panels for paintings but these have been left blank, while in other instances there are just outline drawings or colours only partially applied.  Given that the Northumberland manuscript for this campaign has a sequence of later images from the 1720s, it would seem that here the original exemplar was left unfinished in part and the artists of our manuscript were left to their own devices.  Many of the paintings in this sequence are in consequence nicely finished but rather dull and repetitive.  But as in the case of the Northumberland manuscript, when the text has finished with the various tales and returned to the frame story of Jahandar Sultan and Bahravar Banu, there were some finished paintings in the exemplar to draw upon.

 IO ISL 1408 f. 333v
Prince Jahandar and Princess Bahravar Banu seated on a throne with a mirror as they are married, while dancers celebrate the happy occasion.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Islamic 1408, ff. 333v, 334  noc

When Jahandar Shah and his beloved queen die, they are carried on biers to their final resting place, but the text mentions only the one son. The final double-page painting shows an obvious debt to Shahjahani painting in having three sons riding in procession surrounded by their noblemen. 

IO ISL 1408, f. 371v
The sons of Jahandar Shah and Bahravar Banu follow their biers in a funeral procession.  Mughal, 1700-20.  BL IO Isl 1408, f. 371v, f. 372. noc

Here the original 17th century artist is paying homage to the paintings by Murar of Dara Shikoh and two of his brothers riding in Dara Shikoh’s wedding procession in the Padshahnama (Beach, Koch and Thackston 1997, pl. 27) and by Balchand of the three younger sons on horseback facing their father and elder brother in the Minto Album (Stronge 2002, pl. 117).

 So it is still possible to find unknown artistic treasures in even the most well-known and open collections.  Who knows what other finds may still be made?

 

Further Reading:

Beach, M. C., Koch, E., and Thackston, W., King of the World, the Padshahnama, Azimuth, London, 1997

Ethé, Hermann, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the India Office Library, Oxford, 1903

‘Inayatallah, Shaykh, Bahar-Danush; or Garden Of Knowledge: an Oriental Romance translated from the Persian of Einaiut Oollah. By Jonathan Scott, Shrewsbury, 1799

Losty, J.P., and Roy, M., Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, British Library, London, 2012

Stronge, S., Painting for the Mughal Emperor:  the Art of the Book 1560-1660, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2002

 

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