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

24 July 2017

Animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts

The Southeast Asia exhibition case outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at St Pancras is currently showing a selection of images of animals in manuscripts from Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The delightful depictions of animals can be appreciated as exquisite works of art, but certain animals were also important as religious, political and cultural symbols in Southeast Asian societies, none more so than elephants.

IMG_9945
Animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts, on display in 2017.

In pride of place on the top shelf is a 19th-century Burmese folding book or parabaik (MSS Burmese 204) containing 22 coloured illustrations of elephants, showing the elephant king Chaddanta, who was the Bodhisatta or previous incarnation of Gautama Buddha, and his queen Mahathubadda. In Burma white elephants are regarded as sacred and a source of blessings, as they play a major role in Buddhist tales. In the story of the ‘Life of the Buddha’, Queen Maya dreamed that a celestial white elephant holding a white lotus flower in its trunk entered her side, to be reborn as Gautama Buddha, while in the last Birth Story of the Buddha, Vessantara Jataka, the white elephant appears as a rain maker. Every Burmese king longed to possess a white elephant, a symbol of power and sovereignty.

Next to the Burmese book is a Javanese manuscript of Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma dated 1805 (MSS Jav 68), which is shown open at a scene (identified by Lydia Kieven) where Sekartaji and her servant (emban) approach the forest filled with animals including an elephant, tiger, banteng, wild boar and two deer. This tale is one of many versions of the adventures of Prince Panji in his search for his beloved Princess Candrakirana. Stories of Prince Panji date back to the 13th century, and mark the beginnings of a truly Javanese literature no longer overshadowed by the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Panji tales are found not only in Java but were also translated into Malay, Balinese, Thai, Lao, Khmer and Burmese.

Scan0016
Drawings of forest animals in a Javanese manuscript of Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma, 1805. British Library, MSS Jav 68, f. 42r.

On the lower shelf is a Vietnamese royal edict issued by Emperor Khải Định on 25 July 1924, adorned on the back with a gilded turtle (Or 14632). The turtle (rùa) has a special place in Vietnamese culture and history. It symbolises longevity, strength and intelligence and is also closely related to the independence of Vietnam. Legend has it that Lê Lời, who led the Vietnamese fight against Chinese invaders in the 15th century, borrowed a sword from the dragon king. After the defeat of the Chinese, the sacred sword was returned to the king by a turtle which lived in a jade water lake. At the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) in Hà Nội, 82 stone turtles carry on their backs steles inscribed with the names of scholars, signifying the importance of education in society.

IMG_9948
Turtle, on the back of a Vietnamese royal edict issued by Emperor Khải Định on 25 July 1924. British Library, Or. 14632.

The final item in the case is a 19th-century Thai Phrommachat or horoscope manual in folding book format (Or. 13650). The twelve-year Chinese zodiac cycle was widely used in Thailand, and the manual contains coloured drawings depicting the zodiac in two series, together with detailed explanations for fortune telling and divination. 2017 is the year of the Rooster, and on display are drawings related to this year, with each rooster shown representing one particular quarter of the year. There is also a number diagram for people born in the year of the rooster, and the male avatar and plant for this year. These are accompanied by drawings used for predicting the future and to explain dreams and omens.

Display Animals Thai OR_13650_f005v
Thai horoscope manual, open at the page for the year of the Rooster (the present year, 2017). British Library, Or. 13650, f.5v

Or. 13650 has been fully digitised, and shown below are some other pages from this beautiful manuscript, which can be accessed through the hyperlinks beneath the images.

Display Animals Thai OR_13650_f011v
Thai horoscope manual. British Library, Or. 13650, f. 11v

Display Animals Thai OR_13650_f013r
Thai horoscope manual. British Library, Or. 13650, f. 13r

Annabel Teh Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma & Sud Chonchirdsin, Southeast Asia section

Other blog posts about animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts:

Elephants, kingship and warfare in Southeast Asia, by Sud Chonchirdsin

Elephants in all shapes and sizes

The year of the Rooster, from a Thai perspective, by Jana Igunma

O graceful fawn, o gentle doe: deer in Thai manuscript art, by Jana Igunma

What's my Thai horoscope? by Jana Igunma

21 July 2017

Chinese shuttlecock: a game for all

Ching Yuet Tang is a cataloguer on secondment from the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. She is currently assisting with the retro-conversion of catalogue records relating to Chinese collections at the British Library.

When I started work on the cataloguing project on early printed Chinese materials in September 2016, little did I know that it would include an early twentieth century guide to a game that I used to play at school in my small village in Hong Kong.

‘Shuttlecock’, or, jianzi 毽子, is a favourite pastime in China, enjoyed for centuries by adults and children, both rich and poor. It can be played just about anywhere, at any time, and whether you are on your own, in a pair or part of a group. The aim of the game is to try to keep the shuttlecock in the air using only the feet, and to get as many kicks in as possible without dropping it. The item I encountered – Le Volant Chinois, written by Chu Minyi and Louis Laloy in 1910 – is a helpful illustrated manual providing detailed instructions for a total of 38 techniques, ranging from simple tricks to spectacular acrobatic displays!

1_Jianzi_SimpleKick
The book starts with simple techniques, such as kicking using the left or right foot. British Library, 15235.b.1

2_Jianzi_SidewaysKick
It continues with the sideways kick. British Library, 15235.b.1

3_Jianzi_CrabKick
And then moves on to more advanced techniques, such as the crab-style kick. British Library, 15235.b.1

4_Jianzi_DoubleJump
And even demonstrates jumping with both feet! British Library, 15235.b.1

Although jianzi can be bought from shops, they are incredibly easy to assemble at home too. It requires no more than a few feathers, some rubber bands, an old exercise book (preferably with a hardback cover for strength) and a pair of scissors. A jianzi is light-weight and pocket-sized, making it a perfect form of instant mobile entertainment in pre-digital times. It is easy to make, simple to play and, most of all, it is fun!

5_Jianzi_MyShuttlecocks
Cheap and cheerful: examples of shop-bought jianzi

Jianzi has a long history of over two thousand years. According to the International Shuttlecock Association (ISF) website, jianzi (or a version of it), can be traced to at least the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) if not earlier. It is believed to have evolved from an activity called cuju 蹴鞠 undertaken by military troops for relaxation and exercise. Over the years, its popularity grew and extended to people from all walks of life. This can be seen clearly in a nineteenth-century Chinese export album, in which two men can be seen having a go at kicking a jianzi made of chicken feathers. According to the description, they managed to score over 1000 points in a row.

6_Jianzi_ExportAlbum
A common street scene. The caption describes the basic components for making a jianzi, namely a small coin about the size of a halfpenny, some feathers and a piece of string. British Library, Or 11539

Another historical reference to jianzi is given at the beginning of Le Volant Chinois, which reads:

楊柳兒青放空鐘 « Quand le saule verdit, on lâche le diabolo :
楊柳兒死踢毽子 Quand le saule se flétrit, on lance le Volant. »

This is a quote from another early printed book also held in the British Library, Di jing jing wu lüe 帝京景物略 by Liu Tong and Yu Yizheng, an account of Beijing in the early seventeenth century. It discusses seasonal leisure activities pursued by ordinary people, and mentions jianzi as a typical winter pastime enjoyed by many.

In recent years, jianzi has been transformed from a folk leisure activity to a formal competitive sport on a national and international scale. It not only has well-established official rules but also strict specifications about the components of a standard jianzi, from its weight and dimensions down to the number of feathers and the texture of its plastic base. It is now played over a net and deploys some of the goal-shooting techniques of football. The shuttlecock is kicked towards the other side and points are scored when the opposing team is unable to return it, as in the case of volleyball or badminton. The game has singles and doubles tournaments for men, women and mixed teams.

According to the ISF, jianzi entered the international spotlight when a Chinese athlete from Jiangxu demonstrated it at the Summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936. The sport has since gained great recognition and has spread to many countries around the world. Since the foundation of the ISF in 1999, the list of official members has expanded to include England, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Laos, Vietnam, Greece, France, India, Pakistan and Indonesia. Members take turns to organise their own championships and I am thrilled to hear that the 9th World Shuttlecock Championships 2017 will be coming home to Hong Kong.

Do not despair if you are not yet at competitive or championship level, as you can still enjoy a simple game of jianzi as a much-needed break from a busy modern lifestyle, while also keeping fit and active. So if you are looking for a new hobby, why not get inspired by the manual of Chu Minyi and Louis Laloy? You might just find yourself tapping into a hidden talent, and may soon be showing off your dexterity and endurance.

Further reading:
Chu Minyi and Louis Laloy, “Le Volant Chinois”, Bulletin de L’Association Amicale Franco-Chinoise. Vol. 2, no. 4 (October 1910): 319-35.
International Shuttlecock Association (ISF), “History of shuttlecock sport”.
Liu Tong and Yu Yizheng, Di jing jing wu lüe. (Published in China by an unknown publisher, between 1766 and 1795.)

Ching Yuet Tang, Cataloguer, Chinese Collections

17 July 2017

Some bindings from Tipu Sultan's court

In recent weeks I have been examining bindings of the British Library’s manuscripts which formerly belonged to Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799). The British Library collection probably constitutes about 25% of the original Library as it was in 1799 after the fall of Seringapatam. The manuscripts originate ultimately from a number of different, largely unspecified, locations, but fortunately there is a distinct corpus (23 out of 242 so far examined) which can easily be identified as belonging to Tipu Sultan's court. These are works bound in his own individualistic style of binding or else were copied or composed at Seringapatam.

I_o_islamic_3562_fblef_b copy
Front board of Tipu Sultan’s personal Qur’an with flap showing inscriptions 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 below. This binding is unusual of Tipu bindings for its use of gilt decoration. Note also the diced patterned background which is a feature of several other manuscripts. (IO Islamic 3562
 noc

One of the most lavish is Tipu Sultan’s personal Qur’an (IO Islamic 3562), illustrated above (more on this in a future blog). Decorated heavily in gilt on a diced patterned background, the binding also includes a number of inscriptions. These were described in general terms by Charles Stewart in A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, (Cambridge, 1809), p.v.

All the volumes that had been rebound at Seringapatam have the names of God, Mohammed, his daughter Fatimah, and her sons, Hassen and Hussein, stamped in a medallion on the middle of the cover; and the names of the Four first Khalifs, Abu Beker, Omar, Osman, and Aly, on the four corners. At the top is “Sirkari Khodādad,” (the government given by God); and at the bottom, “Allah Kāfy,” (God is sufficient).”

I thought it would be helpful to expand on these inscriptions which are stamped on the outside of the bindings. Typically, but not always, they consist of:

  1. Front top: Sarkār-i Khudādādī ‘God-given government’
  2. Front central medallion: Allāh, Muḥammad, ʻAlī, Fāṭimah, Ḥasan, Ḥusayn
  3. Back central medallion: Qur’an Surah 2:32: Subḥānaka lā ‘ilma lanā illā mā ‘allamtanā innaka anta al-‘alīm al-ḥakīm ‘Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.’
  4. Four corners: Ḥaz̤rat Abū Bakr Ṣiddīq; Ḥaz̤rat ʻUmar al-Fārūq; Ḥaz̤rat ʻUsmān ibn ʻAffān; Ḥaz̤rat ʻAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib
  5. Pendants hanging from central medallion: Allāh kāfī ‘God is sufficient’
  6. Cartouches: Lā ilāha illā Allāh Muḥammad Rasūl Allāh ‘There is no God but God and Muhammad is his messenger’
  7. Spine: Qur'an Surah 56:79: Lā yamassuhu illā al-muṭahharūn ‘None may touch it except the purified’

I_o_islamic_3562_fbrig copy  I_o_islamic_3562_fbrigr copy
Left: back board with inscriptions 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6; right: doublure; below: flap with inscription 7 which currently, perhaps as a result of restoration, lies on the outside of the front board. (IO Islamic 3562)
 noc
I_o_islamic_3562_fbspi_a copy

A similar binding occurs on IO Islamic 3351, a less ambitiously decorated Qur’an, possibly dating from the 17th century but rebound at Seringapatam. Its small size (16.5 x 10cm) accounts for it only being inscribed in the central medallion, on the spine and with the usual sarkar-i khudādādī. Unlike many of Tipu's bindings, which have been altered during subsequent restoration, this one has been preserved in its original state with the flap designed to go inside the outer cover.

IO ISlamic 3351_binding2 copy
Back board and flap showing inscriptions 3 and 7. (IO Islamic 3351)
 noc

Less ambitious Tipu bindings show considerable variation and demonstrate that the inscriptions could be stamped quite carelessly as illustrated in the examples below.

IO Islamic 695_binding copy   IO Islamic 491
Left: IO Islamic 695, a late 18th century copy of works by Gīsū Darāz and ʻAṭṭār, with inscriptions 1, 2, 4 and 5 stamped somewhat inexactly on the binding; right: IO Islamic 491, Javāhir al-qur'ān, an index to bowing places (rukūʻ) copied for Tipu in 1225 of the Mauludi era (1797/98) with only inscription 1 at the head.
 noc

Not all of Tipu Sultan's bindings included his characteristic inscriptions. Two examples of comparitively simple bindings are illustrated below.

IO Islamic 464 binding1 IO Islamic 464doublure
This manuscript is a translation into Persian from Dakhni by Ḥasan ʻAlī ʻIzzat of the love story of Lal and Gohar which was commissioned by Tipu Sultan in 1778. The binding is contemporary and still carries the Prize Agentsʼ label dating from when they were first examining the collection in 1799. (IO Islamic 464)
 noc

IO Islamic 713 IO Islamic 713doublure
Another work commissioned by Tipu, his army regulations Fatḥ al-mujāhidīn by Zayn al-Dīn Shūshtarī. The scalloped flap is the only example I have found in the collection and unlike IO Islamic 3351 above, it was designed to lie on the outside. Note also the hole, presumably for ties. (IO Islamic 713)
 noc

Altogether I estimate that the British Library has about 600 volumes from Tipu Sultan's collection. These consist of 197 volumes of Arabic and Persian manuscripts deposited in the Library on 16 July 1806, further volumes deposited in 1807 (204 vols) and April 1808 (68 vols) and a proportion of the 308 manuscripts sent to London in 1837 after the closure of Fort William College in Calcutta and the dispersal of its collections. For more on this see my earlier post Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah. I'm hoping that by examining the whole collection I may be able to discover more about the provenance of each volume and establish certain regional binding styles, but this is very much work in progress, so watch this space!


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator, Persian
 CC-BY-SA

05 July 2017

Shubbak 2017: contemporary Arab culture at the British Library

The biennial Shubbak Festival returns to London this year between 1st and 16th July with a range of exciting and engaging events on contemporary Arab culture, with an array of literary events taking place once again at the British Library.

1

Shubbak first visited the British Library in 2015 attracting hundreds of attendees with an outstanding line-up of Arab authors and artists. This year sees a more diverse schedule of events that includes: a display of items from the British Library’s collections, outdoor dance performances, literary discussions and readings, and children’s poetry workshops, as well as a number of creative collaborations with writers, translators and literary magazines.

‘Comics and Cartoon Art from the Arab World’ (13 June-29 October)
Events have already kicked off with the opening a display entitled ‘Comics and Cartoon Art from the Arab World’ in the British Library’s Sir John Ritlbat Treasures Gallery. This four-case display explores the art, history and significance of Arab comics, cartoons, caricatures and graphic novels through original examples taken from the British Library’s collections.

2a  2b
Left: Abou Naddara supplement (Paris, 1894). BL 14599.e.20
Right: Cover of a 1959 edition of Sindbad (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1952- ) illustrated by Mohieddin El Labbad. BL ORB.30/8320

ʻSacré Printemps!ʼ (6 July, performances at 13:00, 16:00 and 18:30)
The British Library’s piazza is the venue for three UK premier performances of ‘Sacré Printemps!’ - a dance performance by Cie Chatha and choreographed by Aïcha M’Barek and Hafiz Dhaou. Featuring life-sized silhouettes by seminal street artist Bilal Berreni (Zoo-project), which appeared on Tunis’ main avenue after the revolution. ‘Sacré Printemps!’ celebrates the diverse individuals who fought for their civil rights. Five dancers jostle, fight and compete among over 30 cut-out sculptures but also joyfully unite in their strife to join different voices and individualities into one hope.

Literature Festival (15-16 July)
The Shubbak Literature Festival brings a weekend of talks, readings and performances runs to the British Library’s Knowledge Centre. The festivals kicks off with ‘Writing Against the Grain’ with Mona Kareem, Ghazi Gheblawi and Ali Badr discussing what it means write against the grain in 2017 as an engaged Arab writer. This is followed by ‘A New Confidence: Recent Queer Writing’. Although LGBTQ characters and narratives have always been present in Arabic literature, recent years have seen a new wave of LGBTQ-identified Arab writers taking the foreground in writing their own narratives. Writers Saleem Haddad, Alexandra Shreiteh, Amahl Khouri will be joined by Alberto Fernández Carbajal to discuss their art.

3  4
Left: Ali Badr, Bābā Sārtir: riwāyah (Beirut: Riyāḍ al-Rayyis, 2001). BL YP.2012.a.2086
Right: Alexandra Chreiteh, Ali and his Russian mother (Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Books, 2015). Arabic edition at BL YP.2017.a.2689

As ever, poetry is prominent in the festival. On both Saturday and Sunday British-Egyptian poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz hosts a lively, fun and interactive free poetry workshop in which children will be able to weave their everyday experiences into the fabric of Arab folk tales. On the Saturday evening, ‘Keepers of the Flame’ sees Malika Booker return to Shubbak to host bilingual performances of four poets: Iraqi-American poet Dunya Mikhail, New York-based poet-writer-translator Mona Kareem, Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi and Syrian Kurdish poet and translator Golan Haji.

5  6
Left: Dunya Mikhail, Uḥibbuka min hunā ilá Baghdād: qaṣāʾid mukhtārah [I love you from here to Baghdad: selected poems] (Cairo: Wizārat al-Thaqāfah, al-Hayʾah al-ʿĀmmah li-Quṣūr al-Thaqāfah, 2015). BL YP.2016.a.5604
Right: He tells tales of Meroe: poems for the Petrie Museum (London: Poetry Translation Centre, 2015.). BL YP.2015.a.7162

Sunday’s opening event is ‘The Walking Nightmare’ which puts a spotlight on the use of horror, realism and black humour in depicting post-revolutionary Egyptian dystopias. Literary translator Elisabeth Jacquette joins writer and psychiatrist Basma Abdel Aziz, IPAF-nominated author Mohammad Rabie and graphic artist Ganzeer via Skype.

7  8
Left: Ganzeer, Solar Grid
Right: Mohammed Rabie, ʿUṭārid : riwāyah [Otared] (Cairo: Dar al-Tanwīr, 2015). BL YP.2016.a.3599

Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq play a dominant role in the Arabic literary scene while writers from outside these countries are not widely known or translated. ‘Under the Radar’ brings Libyan-born IPAF-short listed writer Najwa Benshatwan and Yemeni Nadia Alkokabany in discussion with Bidisha exploring the multiple marginalisation of being a female writer outside the Arab literary mainstream.

The Shubbak Festival closes with Palestinian-American novelist Susan Abulhawa in conversation with South Africa born British novelist, playwright and memoirist Gillian Slovo. Abulhawa’s 2010 debut novel, Mornings in Jenin, is a multigenerational family epic that looks unflinchingly at the Palestinian question. It became a bestseller translated into thirty-two languages. Her second novel, The Blue Between Sky and Water, was released in 2015 and also met with global acclaim. Although she writes in English, her work is deeply rooted in the land and language of her ancestors, taking inspiration from the Palestinian literary canon, such as Ghassan Kanafani’s Return to Haifa.

9 10
Left: Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin (London: Bloomsbury, 20103). BL H.2010/.7013. Also available digitally in the British Library reading rooms ELD.DS.100960.
Right: Najwa Benshatwan, Zarāyib al-ʿabīd: riwāyah [The slave Pens] (Cairo: Dār al-Sāqī, 2016). BL YP.2017.a.2695

Literary Collaborations
Since mid-June Syrian journalist and author Rasha Abbas has undertaken a month long creative residency commissioned by Shubbak and the British Library, where she focuses on the period of the Arab Union, as part of the research for a planned historical novel. The culmination of her research will be presented in an event at the Shubbak Literature Festival in a narrative framed by specific tarot cards. The highly delineated lens of each card – Free Will, Forced Fate, Justice, and so on – will provide an idiosyncratic approach to the historical material in question.

The digital magazine Words Without Borders has published newly translated works including political nonfiction from Basma Abdel Aziz; an extract of Nadia Alkokabany’s new novel about the Yemeni revolution; an extract of Mohamed Abdelnabi’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted gay Egyptian novel; and a short play by seminal Libyan playwright Mansour Bushnaf. This special feature went live on 1 July 2017 on both shubbak.co.uk and wordswithoutborders.org.

11  12
Left: Basma Abdel Aziz, al-Ṭābūr: riwāyah [The queue] (Beirut: al-Tanwīr, 2013). BL YP.2017.a.2687
Right: Mohamed Abdelnabi, Fī ghurfat al-ʿankabūt: riwāyah [In the spider’s room] (Cairo: Dār al-ʿAyn, 2016). BL YP.2017.a.1440

Modern Poetry in Translation’s summer issue will also include a Shubbak focus on Arabic-language poetry, with new work from the poets appearing at the festival, including the festival’s new commission by Golan Haji, in translation by Stephen Watts. A range of podcasts and recordings will accompany the magazine.

For the full programme and booking information, visit bl.uk/events/shubbak. You can also follow Shubbak on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Daniel Lowe, Curator of Arabic Collections
 CC-BY-SA

@dan_a_lowe
@shubbakfestival
#Shubbak2017

03 July 2017

Photographic Portraits of Tribal Leaders of the Trucial Coast c. 1939

In 1939, the Trucial Coast States – the present day United Arab Emirates – were part of Britain’s Informal Empire in the Persian Gulf. Britain had effectively controlled this region since the early 19th century after it destroyed the fleet of its primary naval power, the Qawasim tribal confederation, and then concluded a series of treaties with its rulers. Although these agreements were in some ways beneficial to the ruling Shaikhs that signed them, they were often enforced by a mixture of coercion and intimidation. If a ruler was perceived to not be sufficiently cooperative or subservient, the British authorities had few qualms with ordering a bombardment of his fort or engineering the appointment of a replacement deemed more appropriate. As Britain's most senior official in the region remarked in 1929, the Royal Navy was "an efficacious and prompt weapon to deal with any recalcitrance."

1 2
Left: Shaikh Ahmad as-Salf of Hafit [Jabal Hafeet], Na’im
Right: Shaikh Obaid bin Juma’, Beni Ka’ab
 noc

However, on the eve of the Second World War, this long-standing arrangement was beginning to become unsettled. Colonial officials started to worry whether the combination of Britain’s treaties with the region’s rulers and the threat of the Royal Navy was enough to ensure that its status as the hegemonic power in the region would last. As such, they began to debate between themselves how Britain’s policy in the area – including the Trucial Coast specifically – should proceed and how its dominance could be maintained. Many files that discuss this issue in detail are held in the India Office Records (IOR) at the British Library.

3 4
Left: Shaikh Sultan bin Saqr of Buraimi, Na’im
Right: Shaikh Mohamed bin Rahmah bin Salman of Sumaini, Al Bu Shams (Left) and Mudhaffar, Wali of Sohar (Right)
 noc

One such file from 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/3747) contains a series of photographic portraits of a number of tribal leaders from this period. Unfortunately, no context or details of the photographs are given in the file; regardless they offer a fascinating glimpse into the appearance and dress of the region’s inhabitants at this time and reveal the extent to which these have both changed to the present day. Each photograph gives the subject’s name and in some cases their position and/or tribal affiliation. It is interesting to note that most of the subjects are not from the most prominent ruling families of the region (who remain in power today), but rather from slightly less well-known branches and locations, including places that now form part of Oman. The final photograph in the series includes an image of slaves that were part of a Shaikh’s retinue, lamentably a widespread phenomenon in the region at the time.

5 6
Left: Shaikh Ahmad al-Haiya’i of Dhank, Al Bu Shams (left) and his son (right)
Right: Shaikh Ibrahim bin Uthman, Abu Dhabi Wali (Centre)
 noc

7 8
Left: Shaikh Mohammed bin Sultan of Dhank, Na’im
Right: Sultan ad-Damaki of Gatarah [?] (Left)
 noc

This file is in the process of being digitized by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership and these photos, as well as the rest of the file’s contents regarding British policy in the region, will appear online in high resolution on the Qatar Digital Library later this year.

9
Rashid bin Hamad of Hamasah, Al Bu Shams (Centre); Shaikh Mohamed bin Hamad, younger brother of above (Left Centre); Son of Shaikh Rashid (Right Centre); Shaikh Ibrahim bin Uthman, Abu Dhabi Wali (Right)
 noc


Primary Sources:
British Library, IOR/L/PS/12/3747, ‘Persian Gulf, Trucial Coast: Police of H.M.G., List of Trucial Sheikhs’

Secondary Sources:
Charles E. Davies, An Investigation into Qasimi Piracy, 1797-1820 (University of Exeter Press, 1997)
Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Origins of the United Arab Emirates: a Political and Social History of the Trucial States (Macmillan, 1978)

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist, British Library
 ccownwork

 

30 June 2017

'South Asia Series' talks from August to December 2017

The ‘South Asia Series’ of talks recommences in August, with a diverse line-up of speakers, based on the British Library's ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ Project and the South Asia Collection. The talks, on topics ranging from the 16th-century founder of the Mughal Empire, to Indian theatre and Shakespeare in South India, will be followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations, which will take place at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm, will include the following:

On 21st August 2017, Professor of Art History at the University of Texas at Austin, Michael Charlesworth will talk about the works of Reginald Farrer (1880-1920), who was an alpine plant collector, gardener, and the garden writer who single-handedly changed the way the anglophone world writes about garden plants. The talk entitled “From Sri Lanka to the Western Front: Reginald Farrer's Buddhism” will trace the energy of Buddhist thought in varied works by Farrer, particularly in his account of temples and ruined cities.

Charlesworth_576
Front cover of ‘In Old Ceylon’ (1908). British Library, 010058.f.9

Dr. Thea Buckley examines the curious case of how Pericles, Shakespeare’s tale of a seafaring prince and a princess abducted by pirates, circulated to South India’s Malabar Coast. In her talk in September, ‘In the spicèd Indian air’: the East India Company, Malabar black gold, and Shakespeare, she will connect the East India Company’s import of Shakespeare with the export of spice from today’s Kerala state, and discuss the resulting literary fusion.

Buckley_576

Front cover of William Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ in Malayalam (1942). British Library, Mal B 737

In her talk in October, ‘Stages of Partition: Prithvi Theatre during the 1940s’, Dr. Salma Siddique, a postdoctoral research fellow at Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universität Berlin, will discuss how partition was ‘performed’ on stage before it had even happened. Using surviving transcripts, memoirs and press coverage, she reads in the repertoire both partition’s proleptic history and its creative force.

Siddique_576
Image of Prithvi Theatre stamp from ‘Dīvār’ (1952). British Library, Hin B 13795

In November, Daniel Majchrowicz, an Assistant Professor of South Asian Literature and Culture at Northwestern University, will talk about Tukoji Holkar, Maharaja of Indore, his clandestine tour of Delhi, Agra and Haridwar and subsequent Urdu travelogue. This presentation will examine how and why princely travel writing appeared in mid-19th century South Asia and argue that the Maharaja's decision to write travel account – and to do so in Urdu – served to stabilize Indore's legitimacy and legacy at a time when colonial predations had rendered these increasingly precarious.

Majchrowicz
Image of the Palace of Indore from ‘Bagh I Nau Bahar’ (1852). British Library, 306.23.e.17

We will end the year with talks on alcohol and botanical publishing. On 11th December 2017, Dr Sam Goodman will argue in his talk ‘No beer to be had unless prescribed medically: Alcohol and Health in Colonial British India’ how alcohol was a paradoxical substance in the context of colonial British India, regarded as an evident source of personal and broader public risk, yet at the same time still used regularly in medical practice and perceived as vital to the preservation of health in both lay and professional contexts. He will draw upon courts martial proceedings, medical reports and other sources drawn from the India Office Archives from his talk. Goodman 576
Image from the ‘The Military Adventures of Johnny Newcome’ (1904). British Library, 012203.F.32/8

A full list of talks is given below, while the abstracts can be downloaded here:

Download BL South Asia Seminar Abstracts Long August-December with pics:

Monday 7th August 2017: Writing Empire: The Memoirs of Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, Founder of Mughal India. Lubaaba Al-Azami (University of Liverpool).

Monday 21st August 2017: From Sri Lanka to the Western Front: Reginald Farrer's Buddhism. Prof. Michael Charlesworth (University of Texas-Austin).

Monday 4th September 2017: ‘In the spicèd Indian air’: the East India Company, Malabar black gold, and Shakespeare. Dr. Thea Buckley (University of Birmingham)

Monday 18th September 2017: Persian Grammar Books as a Get Rich Quick Scheme in Colonial Calcutta (Dr. Arthur Dudney (University of Cambridge),

Monday 2nd October 2017: In a Place of Dreaming and Secrecy: College Magazines and Young Womanhood in South India. (Dr. Sneha Krishnan (University of Oxford)

Monday 16th October 2017: Stages of Partition: Prithvi Theatre during the 1940s. Dr. Salma Siddique (Freie Universität Berlin)

Monday 30th October 2017: Applied Cosmology and Islamic Reform in North India: Shāh Walī Allāh of Delhi and the Urdu Common Reader. Daniel Morgan (PhD Candidate, University of Chicago)

Monday 6th November 2017: Princes, Politics and the Urdu Travel Account in mid-Nineteenth Century India. Daniel Majchrowicz (Northwestern University)

Wednesday 22nd November 2017: Reintroducing the Celebrated Niʿmatnāmah Half a Century Later. Dr. Preeti Khosla (Independent Scholar)

Monday 4th December 2017: Publishing colonial science: the struggle to communicate the results of the botanical investigation of India. Dr. Adrian Harris (King’s College London)

Monday 11th December 2017: ‘No beer to be had unless prescribed medically’: Alcohol and Health in Colonial British India. Dr. Sam Goodman (Bournemouth University)

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

Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’

layli.uddin@bl.uk

26 June 2017

A Rainbow in Stormy Skies: LGBT Writing in the northern Middle East

On May 28, 2013, a small group of environmentalists gathered at Istanbul’s Gezi Park to protest the removal of trees. The police’s brutal response sparked the indignation of the city’s residents, and soon Gezi Park was flooded with ordinary citizens and activists. They voiced a number of grievances, chief among them the government’s refusal to engage with citizens about urban planning. The protests lasted for weeks, and the makeshift camp erected in the Park featured a dizzying array of groups: ecologists, Armenians, Kurds, Zazas, Alevis, Communists, syndicalists, anti-capitalist Muslims and LGBT rights organizations. The diversity of identities on display brought into the open the complex and sometimes confusing imbrications composing individuals’ self-identification in contemporary Turkey. Since the 1980s, sexual identities have played an increasing role in this construction, and over the last decade the stories and struggles of Turkish sexual minorities have been featured in a number of different media.

Neoliberalizm ve Mahremiyet Women with Mustaches
Neoliberalizm ve Mahremiyet ©Metis, 2011 and Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards ©University of California Press, 2005.

To be certain, homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism and cross-dressing are far from new concepts to Turkish culture. Same-sex intercourse has been legal in Turkey (and the Ottoman Empire, its predecessor state) since 1858; 110 years before the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain. The topic of gay and lesbian relations in Ottoman society and its imagining among Orientalist writers  is particularly popular among Western scholars.

While Turkish authors do treat similar subjects within their works, contemporary issues of social, political and economic equality, as well as the battle against discrimination, are more likely to be explored within Turkish academic publishing. Scholars Cüneyt Çakırlar and Serkan Delice, have been particularly active in their writings, whether in collections of contemporary Turkish studies on gender, queer identity and politics or in their participation in the Queer Düş’ün series by *SEL Yayıncılık, which seeks to bring English-language Queer writing into Turkish. Other writers, too, address difficult issues, whether theoretical or practical. Evidence of such comes to us from works such as Neoliberalizm ve Mahremiyet: Türkiye’de Beden, Sağlık ve Cinsellik (Neoliberalism and Intimacy: Body, Health and Gender in Turkey), where we find Cenk Özbay’s study of neoliberal sociology and the case of rent boys, as well as Yener Bayramoğlu’s look at heterosexism and homosexuality within contemporary advertising.

Despite the early legalization of same-sex relationships in Turkey, social stigmas remain. Istanbul’s pride parade has been routinely attacked and/or banned in the past five years. Images of police brutality as a response to attempts at organizing celebrations appear frequently on social and mainstream media. Social and political pressures notwithstanding, those who refuse to conform to gender and sexual norms are still very much visible in Turkish culture and society. The image of the transvestite, in particular, is an exceptionally poignant one in referencing Turkish LGBT communities. The novels of Elif Şafak, one of Turkey’s foremost female novelists, routinely feature LGBT and transvestite characters. Şafak herself has spoken out about LGBT issues in Turkey in the English and Turkish media is filled with the sort of fluid concepts of gender and sexuality that provide three-dimensional, realistic portrayals of LGBT people in Turkey today. Transgendered people find their way into other media, too, including graphic novels, such as Büşra, a wry, satirical look at piety, political power and hypocrisy in the first decade of the 21st century. Even more striking are the novels in Mehmet Murat Somer’s series Hop-Çiki-Yaya, which feature a cross-dressing amateur detective who often interviews her clients in drag. Somer’s works are bold and flamboyant in both their characters and their treatment of a number of topics that would be considered taboo in most countries: transgender sex work; married heterosexual men having sex with men; and the interactions of religion, tradition and sexual identity.

In many ways, Turkey offers the most liberal of régimes with respect to sexual minorities. Among its immediate neighbours, consensual sexual relations between men are permitted in Greece, Bulgaria, Armenia and Azerbaijan, while they continue to be illegal in Iraq, Syria and Iran. Among the former group, only Greece and Bulgaria offer legal protection from discrimination. Despite this, authors, activists and artists producing in Armenian, Persian and Kurdish all continue to address LGBT issues and the struggles for recognition and acceptance across the region.

Mehmet Murat Somer The Prophet Murders Me as Her Again
The Prophet Murders
, the story of two murders at a transvestite club ©Serpent’s Tail, 2008; Me As Her Again, Nancy Agabian’s autobiographical work ©Aunt Lute Books, 2008

While homosexuality, lesbianism and transgenderism continue to be highly stigmatized inside Armenia proper, gay and lesbian issues are nonetheless present in Armenian literary and cultural circles. An example of one pioneer in this realm is the writer Armen of Armenia, whose trilogy Mayrenik’ Drash (Mommyland) tells the tragic story of three LGBT men in Armenia. The novels are unique in their presentation of the complexity of queer existence inside the Republic of Armenia, and the demands placed upon gay and bisexual men by the institutions of the military, the church and patriotism.

An estimated 7 to 10 million Armenians live in the diaspora, and among them are a number of writers who address the complex relationship between sexual and ethnic identity. Nancy Agabian, an American-Armenian author, has been particularly active in this respect. Agabian’s Me as Her Again, published in English in the United States, provides a moving vignette of the life and struggles of lesbians in the Armenian diaspora. In it, Agabian explores issues relating to sexual, gender and ethnic identity, interweaving the trials of a woman expressing her sexuality with those of an Armenian recovering her family’s buried past in Anatolia.

South-east of Armenia, the regional juggernaut Iran presents an even more complex case. Homosexuality remains illegal and punishable by death in the Islamic Republic. Nonetheless, gender reassignment is permitted according to a legal decision by the régime’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. Social stigmas around transgenderism are still rampant, and considerable confusion between gender and sexuality causes no end of distress to a great number of people. Nonetheless, homosexuality, lesbianism and transgenderism appear in many English- and Persian-language publications by authors in Iran and in exile. Academic works about LGBT relationships and the fluidity of gender in Iran are numerous, including the wryly-titled Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards  by Afsaneh Najmabadi. Although this work is a historical analysis of these concepts in Iranian society, Najmabadi has also turned a critical eye on the contemporary period with her study Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-sex Desire in Contemporary Iran. Najmabadi is currently based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and her long history of activism in Iran, the United Kingdom and the United States demonstrates the saliency of issues of gender and sexuality for Persian-speakers throughout the diaspora.

Such topics come up in a myriad of different narrative products. Early 20th century poetry, such as that of Iraj Mirza, featured homoerotic themes similar to those in earlier Persian poetry. To paraphrase Najmabadi, sin was the realm of deeds rather than thoughts, and a man extolling the beauty of another man or boy was not necessarily deemed to be off bounds for Sufi and other poets of the Qajar period. By contrast, the historian Ja’far Shahri claims that it was modernization and the social change of the early 20th century that brought about a conscious “corruption” of the city of Tehran and a gradual hardening of attitudes about sexual and gender norms.

Professing Selves  The Moonlike
Professing Selves, on the complex and often problematic construction of gender identity in Iran today ©Duke University Press, 2013; The Moonlike, Behjat Riza’ee’s fictionalisation of a gruesome murder in Rasht that follows upon a forbidden love affair between two young women ©Bra Books, 1992

Among exile groups and communities, LGBT issues are alive in both magazines and monographs. As early as 1991, Bra Books in London published The Moonlike by Bahjat Riza’i, a barely fictionalized account of a lesbian affair gone wrong, ending in an honour killing near the city of Rasht in northern Iran. The Paris-based publisher Naakojaa most recently released a translation of the French graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Colour, which became a hit movie in 2013. This follows on its translations of Gore Vidal, the legendary bisexual American author. France has also provided us with filmic expressions of LGBT love in Iran with the 2011 movie Circumstance, by Iranian-American director Maryam Keshavarz. The film explores an illicit relationship between two young women in contemporary Tehran, and the various legal, political and socio-economic barriers that come make their love impossible.

Finally, the issue of gender and sexual identity within Kurdish sources is among the most difficult to piece together. Kurdish publishing is largely in its infancy, as the use of the language for mass publications in the regions in which Kurds live became a possibility only in the 1990s. Since then, identity construction, democratization, gender and income equality and the instability of an existence amongst seemly hostile nation-states has loomed large for many Kurdish writers. Despite this, there are instances of LGBT issues coming to the fore among Kurds at home and in the diaspora. In Turkey, Kaos GL has devoted a portion of its activities to bringing Kurdish-speaking members of sexual minorities out of the shadows. Whether endowing their Kurmanji-speaking readers with a new vocabulary to describe themselves and their communities in a positive and stigma-free way, or publicizing the efforts of a film director to bring to the screen the story of a Kurdish trans-woman living in rural Anatolia, Kaos GL has been forceful in bringing issues of sexual identity to the fore within the broader landscape of Kurdish social change.

In Iraq, Kurds have benefitted from more than 25 years of virtual and legal autonomy from Baghdad to build their own cultural institutions. The result has been a new confidence in self-expression, but one that is not always accepting of sexual minorities. Indeed, a number of campaigns regarding LGBT rights in the region – whether initiated by foreign bodies or domestic ones, such as the NGO Rasan – have been met with vociferous opposition. It may indeed still be too early for the publication of Kurdish LGBT fiction and non-fiction on the scale seen in other cultures across the region, but the seeds have undoubtedly been sown.

Among these various movements and trends, the British Library’s Asian and African collections remain committed to reflecting the diversity and richness of expression from across the Middle East. In doing so, we hope to provide students, scholars and the curious with a window onto the struggles and triumphs of a myriad of communities.

I would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance in connecting me to LGBT authors and publishers across the region: Armen of Armenia, Cüneyt Çakırlar, Kyle Khandikian, Hakan Sandal and Ayaz Shalal.

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

Meanwhile don't forget to visit the exhibition Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty which is currently open at the British Library until 19 September 2017.

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty

22 June 2017

The Flotilla Tour of 1933: a Demonstration of British Naval Power in the Gulf

On 29 August 1933 the acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, received a letter from the Political Agent at Kuwait, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Dickson, informing him that there were strong rumours circulating in Kuwait that a Persian naval officer had hauled down the British flag at Basidu, the naval station for the British Persian Gulf Naval Squadron.

IOR_X_3630_0053
‘The Coast from Bushire to Basadore, in the Persian Gulf, Surveyed by Lieuts. G.B. Brucks & S.B. Haines, H.C. Marine 1828. Engraved by R. Bateman 43 Hart St. Bloomsbury’ (IOR/X/3630/27)
 noc

On 7 September 1933 Loch sent a circular telegram – addressed to the Senior Naval Officer in the Persian Gulf and the British Political Agents at Bahrain, Kuwait and Muscat – confirming that the British flag had been hauled down by a Persian officer, but that only a few days later, as soon as it was made aware of the incident, HMS Bideford had landed an armed party at Basidu and the flag had been rehoisted. Loch’s telegram further stated that His Majesty’s Chargé d'Affaires to Persia had been informed by the Persian Government that the officer had acted without authority, and that it had issued stringent instructions to its Navy to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

In a second circular telegram, issued on the same day, Loch requested that his previous message be translated into Arabic and distributed to the Arabian coast rulers, ‘who should be requested to give copies to all their notables, and by all other possible means to make it public.’ Loch concluded this telegram by stating – for the Political Agents’ personal information only – that the Royal Navy’s First Destroyer Flotilla was expected to arrive at Henjam on 15 September, for the purpose of displaying the British flag along the Arabian coast of the Gulf. An amended version of the message intended for circulation was issued the following day. In further correspondence with Dickson, Loch stressed that care should be taken to avoid linking the arrival of the flotilla with the incident at Basidu, and to avoid any suggestion of it being a threat to Persia.

IOR_R_15_5_173_f 52_2000
Message issued by acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, for public distribution, 7 September 1933 (IOR/R/15/5/173, f 52)
 noc

The fact that the swiftly announced flotilla tour was a direct response by the British to the Basidu incident was tacitly acknowledged in a telegram from Dickson to Loch, dated 19 September 1933, which reported that the circular, followed by news of the flotilla, had had the ‘best possible effect’ on public opinion in Kuwait. The flotilla, consisting of one flotilla leader, HMS Duncan, and eight destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet, spent nearly a month in the Gulf, visiting Basidu, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar along the way.

It was at Dubai, on 23 September 1933, where the rulers of the Trucial states were invited to a durbar (a public audience held by a British colonial ruler, deriving from the Persian and Urdu word for court), that the purpose of the flotilla’s tour was made very clear. In his address, Loch – alluding to a statement made at another durbar by George Curzon almost exactly thirty years earlier, during a tour of the Gulf as Viceroy of India – told the rulers that the British Navy’s intervention in the Gulf had ‘compelled peace and created order on the [s]eas’ and had saved them from extinction at the hands of their enemies. He reminded his audience that the various treaties between the British Government and the Trucial rulers (beginning with the General Maritime Treaty of 1820) had made the former the overlord and protector of the latter.

IOR_R_15_5_173_f 70_2000
Extract from speech delivered by acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, 23 September 1933 (IOR/R/15/5/173, f 70)
 noc

Curzon’s tour of the Gulf in November 1903 (as discussed in an earlier blog post) was comprised of visits to Muscat, Sharjah, Bandar Abbas, Bahrain, Kuwait and Bushire, and was intended as a demonstration of British naval supremacy, in anticipation of perceived threats in the region from France, Russia and Germany. A photograph of the durbar that took place on board RIMS Argonaut, off the coast of Sharjah, on 21 November 1903, shows the Viceroy elevated on a stage while the Arab dignitaries sit or kneel to his right.

Photo 49_1_7_2000
Lord Curzon’s Durbar aboard RIMS Argonaut, Sharjah (British Library, Photo 49/1(7))
 noc

Thirty years later, the British took a relatively minor act of dissent at Basidu as an opportunity to make a very public display of their continuing naval dominance in the Gulf, in order to make it clear to the Persian Navy and to the Arab rulers that the British Government would not ignore even the slightest affront to its reputation. Loch’s remarks at Dubai were intended to remind the Trucial rulers of their relationship with the British Government and of their treaty obligations, as he warned them that ‘[t]hese engagements are binding on every one of you’.

The flotilla tour and the durbar appeared to have the desired effect. In his intelligence summary for September 1933, dated 28 September 1933, Dickson informed Loch that in Kuwait ‘[t]he general attitude of His Majesty’s Government has been most favourably commented on.’ Dickson went on to report that ‘[t]he hope is now generally expressed that the flotilla will not be withdrawn too soon, and that once for all the Persian Navy will be given to understand that it must behave itself.’ In an express letter to the Government of India’s Foreign Department, dated 19 October 1933, Loch concluded that confidence in the British had returned following the sight of the flotilla and the use of an armed party at Basidu ‘and will remain so just so long as we show ourselves determined.’

Primary sources:
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, 'File 3/3 Persian Navy', IOR/R/15/5/173
British Library: India Office Select Materials, Dane Collection: ‘Photographs of Lord Curzon’s tour in the Persian Gulf, November, 1903’, India Office Records and Private Papers Photo 49/1

Secondary sources:
John F. Riddick, The History of British India: A Chronology (London: Westport, 2006)
Kristopher Radford, ‘Curzon’s Cruise: The Pomp and Circumstances of Indian Indirect Rule of the Persian Gulf’, The International History Review, 35 (2013), 884-904

David Fitzpatrick, Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork