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
A few days ago I was invited by Raja Noorma Raja Othman, head of the London branch of the Malaysian bank CIMB, to a special screening of a new Malaysian film on football. Ola Bola is a feel-good movie about the multiracial Malaysian national football team which qualified for the Moscow Olympics in 1980, only to miss out on the Games when Malaysia joined the international boycott in protest at the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
Watching the film reminded me of a what a long history there is of interest in football in the Malay world, as reflected in the collection of Malay printed books in the British Library. Just three decades after the founding of the Football Association in England in 1863, a Malay version of the Rules was printed in Singapore in 1895, entitled Risalat peraturan bola sepak yang dinamai Inggeris fut bul, ‘A guide to the rules of the ball game called in English football’. Translated by Mahmud bin Sayid Abdul Kadir al-Hindi, the booklet was published by the Committee of the Ethical Association (Lembaga Keadilan Persekutuan Dar al-Adab) and printed at the American Mission Press, and sold for 25 cents a copy. It included a fold-out plan of a football field showing the position of the players, as shown below.
‘A plan of the field where Football is played, and directions for the players’ positions’ (Peta padang bermain Futbul dan peraturan mengatur pemain), drawn by Syed Mahmoed. Risalat peraturan bola sepak yang dinamai Inggeris fut bul, Singapore, 1895. British Library, 14628.b.2
The Library’s Malay collection contains other gems of Malaysian football history, including a souvenir programme for the Gold Cup of 1947, Chendera Mata Piala Mas 1947, compiled by Md. Said bin A. Rahman and Rahmat bin Jais. The post-war formation of the first peninsular Malay football team (pasukan bola Melayu Semenanjong yang pertama diadakan) represented both a revival of and development on from the earlier Sultans’ Gold Cup, sponsored by the rulers of Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang, which had last been held in 1938. In the programme, the compilers also sought to shine the spotlight on earlier Malay football heroes, including Taib bin Haji Ishak, 'Backbone of Selangor' from 1935-1941; the dashing centre-forward Syed Alwi bin Syed Md. Alsagoff, who captained the Sultan Sulaiman Club from 1921-1924 and represented Selangor in the Malaya Cup; Md. Said bin Othman, head of the Negeri Sembilan squad; and Dool bin Budin, a former N.S. player and renowned referee. But the man who was named the 'King of Malay Football' in the pre-war years was Abdul Fattah bin Abdullah, known popularly as Dolfattah (d.1945). When the Singapore Malay team toured to Sumatra, they were met by banners: 'DOLFATTAH - MALAY FOOTBALL KING - WE'VE SEEN HIS PICTURE - WE'VE READ THE NEWS - NOW THE MAN HIMSELF IS HERE.' In one match, when Dolfattah was unable to play due to an injury, the crowd started to shout 'Give us our money back! No point in watching if Dolfattah's not playing!'. In the end Dolfattah was forced to appear on the pitch and show his face, before the audience was appeased. Dolfattah later moved to Medan as a coach, and was said to be able to play all over the field - even when he was in goal.
Gold Cup souvenir programme of 1947, with a list of the Malay Peninsula team members. Md. Said bin A. Rahman & Rahmat bin Jais, Chendera Mata Piala Mas 1947 (Kuala Lumpur: Nanyang Press, 1947). British Library, 14654.m.29
A gallery of early Malay football stars, featured in Chendera Mata Piala Mas 1947. British Library, 14654.m.29
Publications on football have grown in popularity ever since. A new Malay translation of the Football Association Rules, Undang2 dan panduan bola sepak, by a former player and referee, H.A.B. Mansor was published in Penang in 1961 and sold widely. Countless magazines and newspapers were published to feed the appetite for news of the sport.
H.A.B. Mansor, Undang2 dan panduan bola sepak (Penang: Sinaran, 1961). British Library, 14654.w.241
The inaugural issues of Suasana film dan sports (Singapore, 1963). British Library, Or.Mic.12061
Football is the most popular sport in Malaysia today, with the attention of fans often focussed on the birthplace of the game, and two British Championship teams have Malaysian owners: Cardiff City (Vincent Tan) and Queens Park Rangers (Tony Fernandes). But in today's hyper-professionalised game with its expensive and ever-changing kit, it is nice to read about one of the old Malay 'Greats'. In the 1920s the Selangor player Mohd. Yusoff bin Tahir was nicknamed Kaki Besi, ‘Iron Foot’, because he eschewed fancy 'modern' football garb and even refused to wear boots, but with his bare feet could still kick the ball as hard as a horse.
Mohd. Yusoff of Selangor, known as 'Iron Foot'. Chendera Mata Piala Mas 1947, p.20. British Library, 14654.m.29
The British Government’s Arabic-Language Output during WWII
Throughout the Second World War, Britain’s Ministry of Information (MOI) produced and disseminated a remarkable assortment of propaganda material in Arabic. The material that it produced was intended to counter pro-Axis sentiment in the Arab World and bolster support for Britain and its allies. This propaganda effort arose largely in response to the German and Italian Governments’ own large scale propaganda campaigns that, with some success (more so Germany than Italy), targeted the Middle East and North Africa from the 1930s onwards.
The German Government broadcast Arabic language radio programmes to the region seven days a week before and throughout the duration of the war. These broadcasts portrayed the Nazis as friends of Islam and staunch supporters of anti-imperialist movements, especially those that were opposed to the British Empire. Unsurprisingly, they found a receptive ear amongst some individuals then under the control of British colonial authorities; notably so after the fall of France in May 1940, when the prospect of Britain losing the war appeared a likely outcome to many. Pro-German sentiment in Iraq and other areas has been well-documented, but the broadcasts also had an impact on the periphery of the region. For example, in Sharjah on the British controlled Trucial Coast (present day UAE), pro-German graffiti was written on walls and large crowds gathered around the palace of its ruler, Shaikh Sultan bin Saqr al-Qasimi, to listen to the German radio broadcasts.
A wide selection of this MOI material is preserved in the archive of its successor organisation, the Central Office of Information (COI) that since 2000 has been held at the British Library. The contents of the MOI archive – hundreds of pamphlets and posters produced in Arabic, Persian, French, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Spanish and many other languages – demonstrate the large scale and broad scope of the MOI’s propaganda activities during the war. The Arabic language propaganda material produced by the MOI is interesting for the diversity of its form as well as its content. This material includes posters (copies of which have been preserved by chance in the British Library’s India Office Records), pamphlets, satirical cartoons and even lavishly illustrated short stories for children.
One of the most fascinating examples of this propaganda is a pamphlet entitled Alphabet of the War (Abjad al-ḥarb) that contains an illustrated entry for each of the letters of the Arabic alphabet. The entries are a curious assortment of geographical locations (England, USA, Iraq, Egypt and London), people (Churchill, Roosevelt and Hitler), armaments (Battle Ships, Tanks and Fighter Jets) and concepts (including Freedom, Bravery, Corruption and Honesty) that project an image of Britain as the last ‘bastion of freedom’ that is on the path to victory against the Nazi regime and its allies. Unlike many of the MOI’s other publications that were written for a general audience and then simply translated into different languages, this particular pamphlet was clearly written specifically for the Arab world.
Inkiltirā: England – a bastion of freedom and the focal point of the war against injustice and aggression. Ḥurrīyah: freedom – what Britain fights to defend and secure for all the peoples of the world. Khiyānah: treachery – Hitler’s favourite weapon with which he tries to enslave the world.
ʻIrāq – an independent Arab state with total independence that is allied to its friend, England and refused to ‘enjoy the privileges’ of the new Nazi regime because it holds fast to its freedom and independence’. Fasād: Corruption – the primary characteristic of the Nazi Government and what Hitler wants to spread around the world. Qūwah: force – the only thing that is understood and feared by the Nazis. Miṣr: Egypt – a completely sovereign and independent state that is Britain’s sincere ally in war and peace. Hitlar – he is the arch-enemy of God and humanity’s greatest enemy. Ya’s: despair – the feeling in Hitler’s heart whenever he sees Britain and her allies increasing their force and power, when it is clear to him that the decisive victory will be on the side of the Democracies.
In the entry for Hitler, the Nazi leader is described as the ‘arch-enemy’ of God, and the entry for treachery (khiyānah) states that he is trying to ‘enslave the world’. In another entry (corruption/fasād) the Nazi regime is portrayed as morally degenerate; its soldiers depicted drinking alcohol and dancing with scantily clad women, an image presumably intended as an affront to the religious beliefs and perceived social conservatism of the Arab world.
The pamphlet appears to have been produced after Britain’s mass aerial bombardment of German cities had commenced, as the entry for planes (ṭā’irāt) describes British bombers as ‘messengers of wrath raining down woe and destruction on the heart of Germany’. This is a sentiment remarkably reminiscent of the official aims of Britain’s bombing campaign on Germany that stated:
The ultimate aim of the attack on a town area is to break the morale of the population which occupies it. To ensure this we must achieve two things: first, we must make the town physically uninhabitable and, secondly, we must make the people conscious of constant personal danger. The immediate aim, is therefore, twofold, namely, to produce (i) destruction, and (ii) the fear of death.
This violent tone is also contained in the entry for force (qūwah), which is described as the only thing that the Nazis understand and fear. The final entry in the pamphlet, despair (ya’s), leaves the reader with little doubt that Hitler will eventually be defeated and that Britain and its allies will be victorious.
The MOI also produced cruder, humorous style propaganda, notably a series of satirical cartoons entitled Adolf and his Donkey Benito which depict Hitler as a bumbling fool riding his unfortunate donkey, Benito (an obvious anthropomorphic representation of Mussolini). As well as being distributed as pamphlets, these cartoons were also inserted into local newspapers in the Arab World, including the Bahraini newspaper, al-Baḥrayn which was controlled by the British authorities at this time. The MOI’s Director of Middle East Propaganda, Professor L. F. Rushbrook Williams, had previously demonstrated that he was not averse to propaganda of this kind when he had encouraged the British Embassy in Baghdad to disseminate material that depicted Hitler and Mussolini as a pig and a jackal respectively.
The Adolf and Benito cartoons were drawn by Kimon Evan Marengo (1907-1998), better known by his pen name, Kem, who was an Egyptian–born British cartoonist whose work appeared in the Daily Herald and the Daily Telegraph. Kem was heavily involved in the work of the MOI and produced hundreds of cartoons in Arabic as well as in Persian - for example the famous Shahnamah cartoons described in a previous blog. One of the cartoons in the series depicts Mussolini as afraid of confronting a tiny mouse (labelled the Greek mouse), a not too subtle reference to the Italian military’s unsuccessful invasion of Greece in the Greco-Italian War of 1940-41.
In a clear attempt to target children, the MOI also produced of a series of short stories named Ahmad and Johnny. These stories were illustrated by William Lindsay Cable, an illustrator most widely known for his work in the books of the famous children’s author, Enid Blyton.
In a manner reminiscent of Blyton’s work, Ahmad and Johnny follows the adventures of Ahmad, a Sudanese boy living in England with Johnny and his family. In one issue of the series, it is explained that Johnny’s father had worked in Sudan and brought Ahmad (presumably an orphan) back with him to Britain. In the same issue, Ahmad and Johnny go for a walk in the Kent countryside where they bump into a farmer whose son is said to be serving with the British military in Sudan. Britain is described as the ‘home of freedom’ and the ‘source of hope of the future’. Ahmad and the peasant compare life in England and Sudan and the ostensibly friendly relations between the two nations are stressed.
In 1938, as a response to the aforementioned Arabic-language radio broadcasts of the German and Italian Governments, Britain established the BBC Arabic radio station. Subsequently, the MOI produced a pamphlet entitled ‘This is London’ that promoted the new station and its radio broadcasts.
The pamphlet gives details of the station’s broadcasts including its lineup of announcers and its first ever news broadcast. It also contains details and photos of the official opening of Cardiff Mosque in 1943. An event that was attended by Hafiz Wahba (then Saudi Arabia’s representative in London) and was broadcast by BBC Arabic.
Ultimately, the diverse MOI materials now held at the British Library are testament to the multi-faceted propaganda effort that was carried out by the ministry, one which utilised the skills and expertise of British academics, cartoonists, authors and many other skilled professionals. It was a campaign which sought to belittle Britain’s enemies and project an image of the country as a righteous, commanding military power that was close to victory against the forces of evil. In the context of the Middle East, this entailed a wholly cynical attempt to portray Britain’s military occupation and colonial domination of the region as merely ‘brotherly’ friendships between allies.
Ironically, in 1948, a British official in the Persian Gulf bemoaned the manner in which the MOI had popularised self-expression as a counter to Nazism as a ‘weapon of war’. He argued that this effort had served to increase the Gulf’s inhabitants knowledge of the world’s problems, ‘particularly of the rights of small nations and the independence of Arab nations’ and was causing them to question Britain’s dominant position in the region.
Those interested to learn more about the MOI will be pleased to hear that in September 2016, the British Library is releasing a publication entitled Persuading the People, in which the renowned expert on Propaganda, Professor David Welch of the University of Kent, explores the role of the MOI and its propaganda output in closer detail.
Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist @Louis_Allday
 National Archives, FO 924/695, ‘Education problems in the Middle East and Persian Gulf’
One of our most important Mughal manuscripts is Or.12076, the Razmnāmah (ʻBook of Warʼ), copied in AH 1007 (1598/99) and containing the concluding part, sections 14-18, of the Persian translation of the Sanskrit epic the Mahābhārata. It is currently on display at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, in the exhibition Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts curated by Amy S. Landau of the Walters Art Museum Baltimore where it was originally exhibited. As a result of the Library's participation in the exhibition the whole volume has now been digitised and is available online for everyone to look at — whether they are lucky enough to be able to visit the exhibition or not!
While Arjuna and Tāmradhvaja fight against each other for seven days, the gods enjoy the spectacle (tamāshā), watching safely from the sky. Episode from the 14th book, the Aśvamedhikaparva (ʻhorse sacrificeʼ). Painting attributed to Paras (Or.12076, f.76r)
Commissioned in 1582 by the Emperor Akbar, the Persian Razmnāmah is a prose translation of all 18 books of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata in addition to the Harivaṃśa appendix. It is not a literal translation though the content is relatively unchanged. For those interested in the storyline, a detailed summary of the Persian version is given by T.H. Henley in his preface to Memorials of the Jeypore Exhibition, 1883. vol. 4: The Razm Námah (London, 1885).
The reasons for its composition, as outlined in Abū ʼl-Faz̤l's preface of 1587, were primarily to make the stories and ideologies of the Mahābhārata more accessible. At the same time it invited both Muslims and Hindus to question some of their traditional beliefs while, of course, simultaneously glorifying Akbar's role as the perfect ruler (Cosmopolitan encounters, pp. 227-238).
The blind king Dhṛtarāṣṭra, led by Kuntī, leaves the city of Hastinapur and retires to the forest. His wife Gāndhārī, blindfolded, supports him following behind. From the 15th book, the Aśramavāsikaparva (ʻRetirement to the Hermitageʼ). Painting attributed to Dhanū (Or.12076, f.110v)
The translation process
The logistics of how the Mahabhārata was translated are described in the contemporary author Badāʼūnī's Muntakhab al-tavārīkh who writes somewhat disparagingly (M. Athar Ali's translation, p. 40):
Collecting together the learned men of India, His Majesty directed that the book Mahabharat should be translated. For some nights His Majesty personally (had it) explained to Naqib Khan, who wrote out the resultant text in Persian. On the third night His Majesty summoned me and ordered me to translate it in collaboration with Naqib Khan. In three or four months out of the eighteen chapters (fan) of that stock of useless fables... I wrote out two chapters. ... Thereafter Mulla Shiri and Naqib Khan completed that section, and one section Sultan Haji Thanesari ʻMunfaridʼ brought to completion. Shaikh Faizi was then appointed to write it in verse and prose, but he too did not complete more than two Chapters (fan). Again, the said Haji wrote out two sections and rectified the errors which were committed in the first round, and fitting one part with another, compiled a hundred fasciculi. The direction was to establish exactitude in a minute manner so that nothing of the original should be lost. In the end upon some fault, His Majesty ordered him (Haji Thanesari) to be dismissed and sent away to Bhakkar, his native city, where he still is. Most of the interpreters and translators are in hell along with Korus and Pandavs, and as for the remaining ones, may God save them, and mercifully destine them to repent.... His Majesty named the work Razmnaama (Epic), and had it illustrated and transcribed in many copies, and the nobles too were ordered to have it transcribed by way of obtaining blessings. Shaikh Abul Fazl... wrote a preface of the length of two quires (juzv) for that work.
Equally important are details preserved at the end of the translation itself. As can be seen below, our manuscript, Or.12076, is partially damaged but fortunately the crucial passage is preserved in several other copies (Truschke’s translation, Cosmopolitan encounters, p.187 - the names have been Sanskritised):
Naqīb Khān, son of ʻAbd al-Laṭīf Ḥusaynī, translated [this work] from Sanskrit into Persian in one and a half years. Several of the learned Brahmans, such as Deva Miśra, Śatāvadhāna, Madhusūdana Miśra, Caturbhuja and Shaykh Bhāvan…read this book and explained it in hindī to me, a poor wretched man, who wrote it in Persian.
The conclusion to Naqīb Khān's translation of the Mahābhārata (Or.12076, f.138v)
Or.12076 consists of 138 leaves which are numbered continuously in an earlier foliation which begins at 715. There are several leaves missing, but the last numbered leaf is folio 131 which is numbered 846 suggesting that our volume represents the last of a possible six volumes altogether. It was purchased by the British Museum on 11 December 1954 from the dealer A. Garabed who had himself bought it at Sotheby's a few weeks earlier (Lot 230, Sotheby's sale 8 Nov. 1954). It is not known who owned it immediately before that but we do know that it had previously been sold anonymously at Sotheby’s in London in 1921. The Library's annotated copy of the 1921 Sotheby sale catalogue (S.C.Sotheby(1), 24-25 Oct. 1921, lot 203) has not to my knowledge been studied before, but shows that it was purchased for £76 by the British collector and art historian Gerald Reitlinger (1900-1978).
Lot 203 of Catalogue of Persian, Indo-Persian and Indian Miniatures, Manuscripts & Works of Art from various sources & private collections, Southeby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 24-25 October 1921 (S.C.Sotheby(1), 24-25 Oct. 1921)
The original manuscript had already been divided up when it was sold in 1921. In addition to our volume, lots 204 to 278 included 125 separate paintings from the same work. These are now in museums and libraries all over the world. In an appendix to his article on three illustrated copies of the Razmnāmah (Model and Copy, pp. 56-62), John Seyller lists the locations of 161 identified illustrations. The attached descriptions with the buyers' names in our annotated copy may provide further details on some of them. Sadly, we'll probably never know what happened to lot 279 “the remaining portions of the work, loose leave, incomplete,” sold to Gazdar (presumably the art dealer J. Gazdar) for £1. Several leaves were purchased by the Persian scholar C.A. Storey. These are now in the library of the Royal Asiatic Society, London. A further 8 individual leaves were acquired subsequently by the India Office Library from Maggs (British Library Add.Or. 2776-2783).
The artists of the 1598 Razmnāmah
Candrahāsa kneeling before the Raja of Kuntala on being presented to him by the minister Dhṛṣṭabuddhi after Candrahāsa’s victory over the king’s enemies. The elephants, horses and hawk are booty from the enemy. Episode from the 14th book, the Aśvamedhikaparva (ʻhorse sacrificeʼ). Painting attributed to Kanhar (Or.12076, f.83v)
Our manuscript contains 24 illustrations which are all attributed beneath the paintings to individually named artists. The fact that several of them also contributed to known imperial manuscripts suggests that it was completed at court, no doubt one of the many copies transcribed by order of Akbar which Badāʼūnī mentions in the passage quoted above.
Table based on Meredith-Owens and R. H. Pinder-Wilson (“A Persian translation ...”, p. 65) giving a list of artists of the Razmnāmah showing which ones also worked on the Mughal Bāburnāmah and Dārābnāmah (follow the hyperlinks to go directly to the digitised images)
One of Rama's servants overhears a washerman quarrelling with his wife. Episode from the 14th book, the Aśvamedhikaparva (ʻhorse sacrificeʼ). Painting attributed to Daʼūd, brother of Daulat (Or.12076, f.48r)
Kusa and Lava defeating Bharata, Lakshmana and the monkey army. European-type Gothic spires are visible on the skyline. Episode from the 14th book, the Aśvamedhikaparva (ʻhorse sacrificeʼ). Painting attributed to Ās, son of Mahesh (Or.12076, f.62v)
Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts is on view at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco until May 8th. A catalogue with the same title is available which includes details of all the exhibits in addition to several lengthy contributions by scholars in the field.