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 February 2019

The Underground Rainbow: A Look at LGBTI Sources from Turkey in the British Library Collections

February is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) History Month in the United Kingdom. In recognition of this event, we are offering a view onto some of our non-English LGBT collections.

Beni Birakma Painting YP_2018_a_2260_2000
A painting by a Trans prisoner, exhibited in Istanbul in 2017. Beni Bırakma, Hapiste LGBTİ Ağı. Istanbul, 2017 (BL YP.2018.a.2260)

In 1993, Lambda Istanbul was formed to create a safe space for LGBTI [1] people in Turkey, and to fight for their rights. Ten years later, in 2003, Istanbul hosted its first Gay Pride Parade (LGBT Onur Yürüyüşü). A small affair, it was organised by only 30 people. The parade caught on, however, and the next year saw a similar parade in Istanbul and one in Ankara, followed by other cities. By 2013, the Parade ballooned to include an incredible 100,000 people, as supporters and revellers attracted by the parade were joined by those brought out onto the streets by the Gezi Park Protests. This twenty-year span of progress and opening, however, masks a far deeper and more complex history of LGBTI people in Turkey. Although homosexuality has been legal since 1858, LGBTI identities are still deeply socially unacceptable in wide swathes of Turkish society. Istanbul Pride was banned in 2016, and a wider ban on public LGBTI-themed events in Istanbul, Ankara, Mardin, and a host of other cities was introduced the following year. The histories of queer identities in Turkey are rich, but legislative and social pressures have often kept them under the surface.

Over the past two years, the British Library has sought to build up its own small archive of the LGBTI presence in Turkey. Through purchases and donations from a variety of organisations across the country, the collection has grown steadily. In 2017, I wrote about our small holdings of queer-themed items from across the region. Since then, fiction and non-fiction items have poured in, enriching the resources we are now able to offer stakeholders visiting the Library. Many of these came to us from two national organisations: Pembe Hayat and Kaos GL. Both are based in Ankara, the country’s capital and seat of political power. Pembe Hayat is focused largely on the protection and advancement of rights and safe spaces for Turkey’s transgender and non-binary communities, while Kaos GL is an umbrella organisation advocating for people across the sexuality and gender spectra.

Ne Kadar Da Trans Bir Erkek YP_2018_a_590_2000Ne Kadar Da Trans Bir Erkek YP_2018_a_590_2000Ne Kadar Da Trans Bir Erkek YP_2018_a_590_2000
(Left) A collection of life stories and anecdotes from Turkish Trans men. Pembe Hayat and Kaos GL, Ne Kadar Da Trans* Bir Erkek. Ankara, 2017 (BL YP.2018.a.590)
(Centre and right) The cover and a selection from a catalogue of artworks by Trans prisoners, exhibited in Istanbul in 2017. Hapiste LGBTİ Ağı, Beni Bırakma. Istanbul, 2017 (BL YP.2018.a.2260)

Among the items donated by the two organisations are a number of studies on the lives, rights, and social statuses of LGBT people in the country today. Pembe Hayat has done a considerable amount of work in collecting the stories of trans people living in various Turkish cities. By doing so, they hope to provide a more three-dimensional and complex view of their lives against a backdrop of persistent discrimination and harassment, and to combat stereotypes within the popular imagination. Ne Kadar Da Trans* Bir Erkek (What a Trans* Man) collects the first-person accounts of trans men, allowing them to voice their hopes, dreams and experiences to readers in a compassionate and supportive environment. Similarly, a booklet of postcards featuring the artwork of trans prisoners creates a touching, emotional window onto the daily lives of incarcerated trans men and women. The artwork was originally exhibited at Boysan’ın Evi in Istanbul in the summer of 2017 in a show organised by Ceza İnfaz Sisteminde Sivil Toplum Derneği (CİSST; Civil Society in the Penal System Association), Pembe Hayat, KADAV (Women’s Solidarity Foundation) and Metin Akdemir. Published by Hapiste LGBTİ Ağı (LGBTI Network in Prison) and donated by Pembe Hayat, the collection is entitled Beni Bırakma ( Don’t Leave Me) – a haunting reminder of the social isolation and alienation suffered by many people expressing LGBTI identities. Thanks to Hapiste LGBTİ Ağı and CİSST, the stories of queer prisoners have an outlet in publications such as Beni Bırakma and the Network’s series of reports on prison conditions for LGBTI inmates.

LGBTI Internet Freedom YP_2018_a_2667_2000LGBTI Internet Freedom YP_2018_a_2667_2000LGBTI Internet Freedom YP_2018_a_2667_2000
(Left) A report on the status of LGBTI people in private-sector workplaces across Turkey. Kaos GL, Türkiye'de Özel Sektor Çalışanı Lezbiyen, Gay, Biseksüel, Trans ve İntersekslerin Durumu .. Ankara, 2016 (BL YP.2018.a.2670)
(Centre) The rights and challenges of queer expression on the internet in Turkey. Kaos GL, LGBTİ'lerin İnternet Yoluyla İfade Özgürlüğü ..Ankara, 2015 (BL YP.2018.a.2667)
(Right) Guidance for the families and teachers of LBGTI students as they navigate the Turkish public and private school systems. Kaos GL, LGBTİ Öğrencileri Aile ve Okul Kıskacına Karşı Nasıl Kormalı! Ankara, 2016 (BL YP.2018.a.2666)

On a more general note, donations from Kaos GL have helped to increase our collection of work devoted to uncovering those aspects of hate speech and homo- and transphobia often missed out in official statistics. These include a report on homophobic and transphobic crimes committed in Turkey in 2015; a booklet on LGBTI freedom of speech on the internet; one on the state LGBTI people in private workplaces, and, importantly, a guide to parents and teachers on how to address homophobia in schools. For those researchers seeking to understand the social status of sexual and gender minorities in the country, and the similarities and differences in legal structure and protections across states, these and other materials in our collections are essential sources of study and analysis.

Kuir Fest 1 YP_2018_a_2727_2000Kuir Fest 1 YP_2018_a_2727_2000Kuir Fest 1 YP_2018_a_2727_2000
Guides to KuirFest 1, 3 and 6 from within the British Library's Turkish Collections.
1. Pembe Hayat, Pembe Hayat Kuirfest . Ankara, 2011 (BL YP.2018.a.2727)
3. Pembe Hayat, Pembe Hayat Kuirfest . Ankara, 2014 (BL YP.2018.a.1411)
6. Pembe Hayat, Pembe Hayat Kuirfest . Ankara, 2017 (BL YP.2018.a.2228)

LGBTI existence, however, is not simply a chain of discrimination and struggle, a grey sky without rainbows. Luckily, the Turkish LGBTI collections at the British Library also document moments of celebration and community that reach beyond the confines of common stereotypes. Among the most prominent of these is the LGBTI film festival Kuirfest, organized by Pembe Hayat and hosted in Istanbul on an annual basis since November 2011. The festival features the best of LGBTI cinema from Turkey and around the world, helping to showcase Turkish talent, change public perceptions of queer people, and connect the local community to LGBTI communities and allies around the world. The Library is fortunate to hold a near-complete collection of the festival guides from 2011 until 2017, documenting the development and growth of the event over time. While our collections tilt heavily towards official reports and accounts, we hope to add more material of this nature over the coming years, as a means of providing a more balanced and deeper perspective on everyday life for queer people across the Turkish Republic.

LISTAG Reberek ji bo malbaten YP_2018_a_1397_2000
A Kurmanji-language guide to supporting those on the coming-out journey. LİSTAG, Rêberek ji bo malbatên takekesên hevzayendbaz û bîseksuel û hevalên wan. Istanbul, 2016 (BL YP.2018.a.1397)

Diversity in Turkey is not just an issue of sexuality and gender. It also reflects the country’s rich tapestry of ethnic and religious groups. Many LGBTI people also belong to linguistic or religious minorities, chief among them the Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Greeks and Jews. These people, who grapple with the intersectionality of their sexual or gender identities and those of their linguistic, ethnic or religious backgrounds, seek to have all aspects of their make-up recognized as integral parts of their personal experience. Publications by groups that support ethnic- or religious-minority queer people in Turkey are rare, but we have managed to acquire a few. These include translations of materials about LGBTI issues into Kurmanji, the Kurdish language most widely spoken in Turkey. Rêberek ji bo malbatên takekesên hevzayendbaz û biseksual û hevalên wan (A Guide for the Families of Homosexual and Bisexual Individuals and their Friends) is a small pamphlet aimed at assisting the families of LGBTI people during the often-painful experience of coming out. Translated and distributed by LİSTAG it demonstrates the small but growing awareness of the need to address the city’s – and the country’s – Kurdish and Zaza queer communities in their own languages. This work is being carried out by individual groups, such as Hêvî LGBTİ in Istanbul, as well as those working within Pembe Hayat and Kaos GL, which maintains a separate webpage in Kurdish.

Waiting to be Safe and Sound YP_2018_b_259_2000
The stories and experiences of Syrian and Iranian LGBTI refugees residing in Turkey. Kaos GL, Waiting to be "Safe and Sound". Ankara, 2016 (BL YP.2018.b.259)

Finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the growing, but often overlooked, community of queer people who have now found refuge inside Turkey. As one of the few countries in the region that does not criminalise homosexuality, Turkey has often hosted those seeking sanctuary from sexuality- and gender-based persecution in their homelands. This trend has been exacerbated by the 8-year civil war in neighbouring Syria, and today many cities host large groups of queer Syrian and Iranian refugees. Turkish LGBTI advocacy groups have sought to work with such people, helping them to navigate bureaucratic systems, deal with the trauma of persecution and flight, and protect themselves in environments not always conducive to sexual and gender diversity. Activists have also sought to collect their stories, to make known the ordeal through which these people have lived, and their hopes and dreams for the future. In 2016, Hayriye Kara and Damla Çalık pulled together such accounts and published them in a small volume entitled Waiting to be “Safe and Sound. We are fortunate to have it as part of our collections, another part of the rich quilt of queer culture in Turkey.

The representation of diversity is an essential, although not always easy, aspect of building collections at the British Library. This LGBT History Month, we celebrate the steps we have taken to ensure the inclusion of works by and about queer people in some of our non-English collections. Acquisition, however, is only half the battle. Visibility and accessibility are just as important: there’s no point in having something if it can’t be seen and explored by readers from all walks of life. For the Turkish collections, I’ve sought to provide as many access points to these items as possible within the catalogue. But I also recognize that, sometimes, cataloguing can be counterintuitive. That’s why I continue to seek engagement with the community about how to make our collections more discoverable and accessible, regardless of a visitor’s familiarity with the Library’s systems. If you’re interested in learning more about this, and about how to make use of these collections, consider coming out to the Methods in Question: Epistemologies of Gender and Sexuality seminar at Cambridge University on February 28. I’ll be presenting on these LGBTI collections and helping interested users understand how they can make best use of the British Library’s holdings on topics of sexuality and gender in Turkey and the broader Middle East.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections at the British Library
 CC-BY-SA



[1] The “I on the end of LGBT stands for Intersex people, who might account for between 0.7% and 1.7% of the general population.

14 February 2019

Jewish love potions: a user's guide

Would you like some help in your pursuit of your beloved? Our Hebrew manuscript collection can offer numerous love potion recipes and incantations, and now is the best time of year to share some of this wisdom with you.

Whether you are a diligent pupil of magic, or just a desperately love sick muggle, you can find a long list of love potions, incantations and amulets by browsing our digitised Jewish manuscripts. Finding the required ingredients and following all of the instructions might prove to be much more difficult. What’s more, the preparation of many of these potions involves starving animals to death, slaughtering, or mutilating them. Such cruelty would be unacceptable nowadays, even in the name of love. Luckily, we have been able to find some less gruesome prescriptions.

The collection at the British Library holds several manuscripts on folk medicine and kabbalistic-medical miscellanies, mostly from the 16th-18th century. Many contain prescriptions of kabbalistic amulets alongside with medical remedies, which demonstrates the lack of a strict differentiation between what we would now call medicine, magic, and astrology. Superstition and the belief in supernatural powers were an inherent part of folk medicine. So do not be surprised if you find a love potion after a protective incantation against dogs, or after a recipe on how to stop nose bleeding.

Or 12362_30v-31r
ʿEts ha-daʿat
by Elishaʿ ben Gad of Anconah, Italy, 1535/6: love potion and amulet (right), incantation to obtain favour in the eyes of kings and princes (left) (BL Or 12362 , ff. 30v-31r)
 noc

The majority of these magical/medical manuscripts are small in size, and don’t look anything special at first sight. One exception is a 16th-century Italian copy of ʿEts ha-daʿat (Tree of Knowledge) by Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, a treatise containing 125 kabbalistic formulae (kemeʿot). Our copy was written in a neat Italian hand and is decorated with initial-word panels and diagrams throughout. Do not trust the pretty looks though. The scribe made a fatal mistake when copying this love potion.

Image 2-Or 12362 f.30r_2000
ʿEts ha-daʿat by Elishaʿ ben Gad of Anconah, Italy, 1535/6: love potion recipe (BL Or 12362 , f. 30r)
 noc

לאהבה – להרבות אהבה בין חתן וכלה כשתבא הכלה מהחופה לאחר גמר עשיית הברכה כתוב שם שניהם עם דבש על ב' עלי סלוויאה ותן לאכול העלה שכתוב עליו האיש לאיש ושם האשה לאשה

For love – to increase love between bridegroom and bride – when the bride comes from the huppah [canopy under which the Jewish couple is standing during the wedding ceremony] after finishing saying the blessing, write their names in honey onto two sage leaves and give the leaf with the man’s name on it to the man and the one with the woman’s name on it to the woman.

A less impressive volume from the 18th-19th century includes the same recipe but this time correctly (Or 10268). Can you spot the difference?

Image 3-Or 10268 f.10r_2000
Collection of medical recipes, Italy?, 18th-19th century: love potion (BL Or 10268 , f. 10r)
 noc

להרבות אהבה בין חתן וכלה – כשיבאו מהחופה לאחר עשיית הברכה כתוב שם שניהם עם דבש על ב' עלי סלוויאה ותן לאכול העלה שכתוב עליו שם האיש לאשה ושם האשה לאיש

To increase love between bridegroom and bride – when they come from the huppah after saying the blessing, write their names in honey onto two sage leaves and give the leaf with the man’s name on it to the woman and [the one with] the woman’s name to the man.

This latter manuscript might have been someone’s personal notebook, who took better care when recording the recipe compared to the scribe of the neat looking Italian volume (Or 12362), perhaps because it was for his personal usage?

The recipe must have been considered a very effective one, since we also found it in an abridged form, in a 17th-century Ashkenazi collection of recipes and kabbalistic charms, probably written in today’s Belarus or Lithuania. This version written in Hebrew peppered with some Yiddish, recommends to apply the potion before the wedding night:

Image 4-Or 10568 f.10v_2000
Collection of kabbalistic charms and remedies, 17th century: love potion (in the middle) between instructions on how to avoid persecution and how to find favour in the eyes of rulers (BL Or 10568 , f. 10v)
 noc

לאהבה חתן וכלה בלילה ראשונה יקח ב' זעלבן בלעטיר וכתוב עליו בדבש ותן לו לאכל שמו ושמה

For love between groom and bridegroom at the first night: take 2 Selben(sic!) bletter (‘sage leaves’, in Yiddish) and write on them in honey and give him (ie. them) to eat his name and her name.

It seems that it would be quite easy to make this recipe, and it might be delicious. However, if you do not manage to charm your beloved with honey and sage leaves, you can also experiment with some of the more laborious, but also more gruesome prescriptions. A 17th-century Italian folk medicine collection includes a recipe for a creamy substance that, after having applied it on your face and body, allegedly makes you irresistible. We have not tried it, and are rather sceptical about its success… Moreover, on a practical note, the identification of some of the ingredients is challenging.

Image 5-Or 10161 f.34r_2000
Collection of folk remedies, Italy, 17th century: love potion (BL Or 10161 , f. 34r)
 noc

לאהבה קח עין צפרדע הנק' בוטן ועין עורב ותערבם עם שמן רוסטן ומשח פניך וגופך ויאהבוך כל האדם ותמצא חן בעיני כל רואיך באהר

For love: take an eye of a frog called 'boten' and an eye of crow and mix them with 'rusṭan' oil and rub it onto your face and body, and every man will love you and you will find favour in the eyes of all those who see you […]

The next recipe found in another 17th-century medical collection is much easier to prepare, though it may be tricky to administer it to the person of your desire.

Image 6-Or 10462 f.11v_2000
Collection of remedies, Orient, 17th century: love potion (Or 10462 , f. 11v)
 noc

ע"א - חתוך צפרניך בסכין אח"כ רחצן במים ותן לשתות למי שתרצה ואהבך או חתוך בו תפוח ונתנהו לאכול

One more [for love] – cut your nails with a knife and then rinse them in water and give it to drink to whoever you want to fall in love with you or slice up some apple with the nails [put the nail into the apple] and give it to eat.

If you prefer not to bend over a cauldron for hours stirring concoctions, uttering the right magical formulae may also help. You only need a good mirror and some proficiency in medieval magical Hebrew, because the instructions are a bit confusing…

Image 7-Or 10568 f.12r_2000
Collection of cabbalistic charms and remedies, 17th century: love magic (BL Or 10568 , f. 12r)
 noc

לאהבה קח מראה טיהרא ושפירא ותאמר למראה תתסכל בצורתי ואני אסתכל בצורתך ואתה תסתכל בצורת' ותאהבתה אותה עליו וכן תעשה ג' ימים זה אחר זה ותנח עליו ג' לילות ותאהבוך

For love – take a clear and good mirror and say to the mirror: ‘Look at my figure and I will look at your figure and you look at her figure and you will make her fall in love with him.’ Do this for three consecutive days and lie on it (the mirror) for three nights and she will love you.

Our collection can offer advice and help also for those who have already found the love of their life, but something or someone has cast a shadow over their marital bliss. This next recipe is especially recommended if you suspect that someone put a curse on your husband. Or if you just want to have a tasty breakfast together.

Image 8-Or 10462 f.11r_2000
Image 8-Or 10462 f.11v_2000
Collection of remedies, Orient, 17th century: love potion preceded by a recipe to stop menstrual bleeding (BL Or 10462, f. 11r-11v)
 noc

לאהבה בין איש לאשתו ואפי' מכושף קח מים מן נהרות ויין ומור ופלפל ושני בצי יונים ושני בצי תרנגולת ושחקם וערב הכל יחד והשקה האיש ואת האשה ויאהבו זה את זה

For love between husband and his wife or even he is under a spell [i.e. impotent]: take spring water, wine, and myrrh, and pepper, and two dove eggs and two hen eggs and break them, and mix them together, and give the mixture to drink to the man and the woman, and they will love each other.

Good luck in your amorous endeavours and if you try any of these recipes, please, send us feedback on how they worked.

Zsofi Buda, BL Hebrew Project
 CC-BY-SA

11 February 2019

Javanese poetics and canto indicators: Jaya Lengkara Wulang (MSS Jav 24)

Today’s guest blog, highlighting one of the most important Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta which has just been digitised, is by Dr Dick van der Meij from Hamburg University's DREAMSEA project which digitises endangered manuscripts in Southeast Asia.

Javanese texts are generally written in a non-rhyming poetic form called tembang macapat. Within each metre, verses consist of stanzas with a fixed number of lines, a fixed number of syllables per line, and a fixed vowel in the last syllable of each line. There are about 30 different metres, some of which are short and have only four lines per stanza, while others are substantially longer and have as many as ten lines per stanza. Each metre has its own name, with some used more often than others, while some are rarely encountered. [For further information on tembang macapat see Arps 1992 and Van der Meij 2017, Chapter 4 and Appendix 3.]

Most Javanese texts consist of more than one canto in any number of different metres. Canto changes are usually indicated by small intricate indicators called pepadan, which are often very beautifully illuminated in colours and gold, and thus stand out on the page, as in the illustration below from Jaya Lengkara Wulang (MSS Jav 24).

Mss_jav_24_f046v-47r
An illuminated canto indicator, pepadan, standing out on the left-hand page, in Jaya Lengkara Wulang, Yogyakarta, 1803. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 46v-47r   noc

Other manuscripts do not have clear canto change indications, and the places where new cantos start are virtually invisible on the written page, and only become apparent when the canto change has been reached while reading or singing the text. Experienced singers are able to identify immediately the metre of the next canto from the use of certain key words in the final lines of the current canto, or in the first lines of the next. For instance, the name of the metre dhangdhanggula contains the word dhandhang which is a bird, and gula which means sugar. Dhandhanggula is thus indicated by words that also mean 'bird' or 'sugar', or by extension ‘sweet’, or contain the syllable dhang. A small bird or wings may even be depicted pictorially in the pepadan. However, readers should be aware that this is not a golden rule, and some scribes play tricks to confuse the singer.

Mss_jav_24_f046v-det
Detail of a pepadan with wings, and with the word manis, ‘sweet’, in the preceding line, both indicating dhandhanggula as the new metre.  British Library, MSS Jav 24, f. 46v  noc

Mss_jav_27-f.50v
Jatikusuma, copied in Yogyakarta, 1766. A little bird is put in the pepadan to indicate that the metre that follows is dhandhanggula, while the words gula drawa before the pepadan mean ‘melted sugar’ and thus also point to the same metre. British Library, MSS Jav 27, f. 50v  noc

In Javanese poetic theory, each metre evokes a certain emotion, and are thus used for parts of text that suggest that particular state of mind. Below, we will have a look at how some of these canto changes have been indicated in MSS Jav 24 in the British Library. The text is a story called Jaya Lengkara Wulang, and the book was written in 1803 at the palace of Yogyakarta in central Java.  The text has 434 pages and consists of no fewer than 92 cantos. It has beautifully ornamented opening pages and also other illuminations that enhance the beauty of the manuscript. Interestingly, in this manuscript, with one exception, these ornaments all coincide with canto changes in the text.

Mss_jav_24_ff002v-003r
Opening pages of Jaya Lengkara Wulang; at the start of the text on the left-hand page the metre is clearly stated to be Dhandhanggula. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 2v-3r  noc

The manuscript has 25 illuminated pages, of which four have been left unfinished. On two other pages, space was left empty to allow for illuminations to be added, but these were evidently never made for one reason or another. Thus although the text seems to be complete, the manuscript itself is unfinished. All punctuation marks in the text have red signs above them up to folio 168r (except for f. 57v) after which the addition of these marks is discontinued, and the pepadan are coloured only in yellow or not at all. Also, no gold leaf was applied after this page.

The scribe of the manuscript and the illuminator were probably not the same person but worked closely together. Remarkably, elaborate illumination at the top of a page always coincides with the start of a new canto. This means that the scribe knew exactly how many cantos a page could contain, and worked to ensure that the final canto always ended precisely at the end of the last line of the page. Folios 30v and 31r have full-page illuminations reminiscent of those at the start of the manuscript, but in this case the new canto starts at the end of the text within the illuminated frames, rather than at the beginning.

Mss_jav_24_ff030v-031r
The second set of full page illuminations. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 30v-31r  noc

The relation between the illuminations that start cantos is not easy to establish. Often the illuminated elements actually illustrate the start of a new episode in the text, but for outsiders and people not truly versed in Javanese texts and illuminative iconography this is often very hard to understand. In some cases the symbolism is quite clear, for instance, the lion and the crocodile in the illuminated panel shown below may suggest the names of the kings of Pringgabaya and Singasari, as baya points to a crocodile and singa a lion.

Mss_jav_24_f129r  Mss_jav_24_f129v
 On f. 129r, shown on the left, the text in metre durma ends at the end of the page. On the next page, f. 129v, the new metre kinanthi is the first word in the illuminated panel. Note the red marks above the punctuation signs. British Library, MSS Jav 34, f. 129r and f. 129v  noc

Because of the characters of the various metres we can sometimes decide what the relationship between the illuminated pepadan and the text is, although I believe that these characters are not fixed. For instance, the metre durma is used, among others, for scenes of war but in my view pangkur can also be used for this. Thus the word ‘dur’ indicative of durma in manuscripts is sometimes used for pangkur too. In this manuscript of Jaya Lengkara Wulang, the fiery character of both durma and pangkur is indicated by the same elaborate illustrations of war equipment like cannon and flags, as in folio 139v below where a canto in durma starts.

Mss_jav_24_f139r
Battle standards and guns indicating the metre durma. British Library, MSS Jav 24, f. 139r  noc

However, in the next illustration the canto starts with the metre pangkur but the illustration is very similar to the one above.

Mss_jav_24_f057v
The text starts in the metre pangkur, suggested by the war-like assemblage. Note the absence of red marks above the punctuation signs. British Library, MSS Jav 24, f. 57v   noc

Some idea of the production process of the manuscript can perhaps be deduced from the fact that the text is finished but the illuminations are not. Occasionally the change in canto between one page and the next is not accompanied by any illumination, and the pepadan is divided in two, with one half on the first page and the other on the next. In the half of the pepadan at the bottom of folio 167v colour was added but the second part on the next folio not, and also not in pepadan after this page. Apparently, the scribe wrote the text and probably also made the black and white pepadan, while someone else applied the colours and the gold leaf to the pepadan and was responsible for the illuminated panels. One might even wonder if a third person was involved for the illuminations, but at present we have no way of knowing. Perhaps the artist who made the illuminations and the scribe worked closely together to decide what the illuminations should look like and where they should be put but this too is conjecture. We need to study many more illuminated and illustrated Javanese manuscripts in order to work out how they were actually produced.

Mss_jav_24_f167v-det    Mss_jav_24_f168r-det
The first half of the pepadan at the bottom of f. 167v marking the new canto is illuminated with gold and colours, while at the top of the next page, the only colour added to the second half of the pepadan is yellow (indicating elements to be gilded with gold leaf). British Library, MSS Jav 24, f. 167v and f. 168r  noc

References
Arps, Ben (1992). Tembang in two traditions: performance and interpretation of Javanese literature. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
Ricklefs, M.C., P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop (2014). Indonesian Manuscripts in Great Britain. A catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: École Française d’Extrême Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia.
Van der Meij, Dick (2017). Indonesian manuscripts from the islands of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok. Leiden: Brill.

Dick van der Meij, Hamburg  ccownwork

07 February 2019

Classical Central Asia in the Digital Age: Three Newly-Digitised Navoiy Manuscripts at the British Library

Thanks to a partnership between the British Library and the Tashkent State University of Uzbek Language and Literature named Alisher Navoiy, three manuscripts including the poetical works of Alisher Navoiy are now available online. These three items are the first Chagatai-language texts to be uploaded to the Library’s digitised manuscript holdings, a sample of the more than 110 Chagatai and Central Asian Turkic manuscripts held by the British Library as part of its Turkish and Turkic collections.

Or_3493_f004v
A leaf from the Muntakhab-i Dīvān-i Navā'ī with richly decorated paper appliqués and gold-leaf. Despite the water damage, the manuscript has retained its luxurious beauty. Herat, 15th-16th century (BL Or. 3493, f. 4v)
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All three works contain Divans, or poetical compendia, of the work of Alisher Navoiy, also known as ‘Ali Shīr Navā’ī. Navoiy was born in 1441 CE in Herat, Afghanistan, at a time when it was part of the Timurid Empire, and died in the same city in 1501 CE. He is the national poet of Uzbekistan and is regarded as one of the great poets of the mediaeval Turkic world. His broad oeuvre is a testament to the cultural, intellectual and social flowering of Khorasan in the 15th century CE, and to the importance of Herat in the broad mosaic of Turkic cultural production. The works are also an introduction to classical Chagatai, the literary language of Turkic Central Asia and Siberia. Little known or studied today outside of specialist circles, Chagatai was also the language of the Mughals, who established their reign over parts of the Indian Subcontinent in 1526.

Or_3493_f005v
A rare sketch from inside the Muntakhab-i i Dīvān-i Navā'ī showing a Central Asian man in traditional dress. Herat, 15th-16th century (BL Or. 3493, f. 5v)
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Or.3493, the most delicate of our digitised Chagatai manuscripts, is a marvel to behold. Only 9 folios in length, this collection of poems from Navoiy’s divan dazzles with its creator’s penchant for brightly-coloured paper appliqués, gold illumination, and sweeping, bold nastaliq calligraphy. The presence of blue, yellow, green and pink blocks in between the stanzas gives the entire text an architectonic feel; a 3D illusion that draws in the reader. This pattern is broken only by the use of gold separators on later pages, and the appearance of a portly, kneeling Central Asian man on one of the manuscript’s middle folios. Despite occasional water damage – and the fact that the content is itself defective – this small volume remains a testament to the capacity of Herat’s manuscripts producers to create items of luxury and beauty as well as those of functional purpose.

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The beginning of the Dīvān-i Fānī, including its sparsely decorated 'unvān. Central Asia, 916 AH (BL Or. 11249, f. 1v)
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Or.11249, produced in 916 AH (1509-10 CE) in Central Asia, is the least studied of the Chagatai items added to our digital collections. Known as both the Dīvān-i Fānī and the Dīvān-i Navā’ī, it is the most comprehensive of the group with respect to Navoiy’s poetical oeuvre. The use of black ink and red catchwords is far from unusual, and the neatly laid-out nastaliq of the scribe’s hand leads us to believe that this was likely created within a workshop well-versed in the production of divans and other such works. Occasional marginalia speak to the usage of this volume – as does the water damage that stains some of its folios. With further in-depth research on its contents, and a comparison with other contemporaneous Central Asian manuscripts, we might come to know the importance of this particular item within the broader scope of Central Asian intellectual traditions.

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The beginning of the text Tukhfat al-salāṭīn at koyuldu, demonstrating the use of different coloured inks to complement the elegant calligraphy. Mecmua. Herat, 914 AH (BL Add MS 7914, f. 25v)
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Add MS 7914, the last of the three manuscripts, is not dedicated to Navoiy exclusively. A mecmua or codex of various works compiled in Herat in 914 AH (1507-08 CE), it contains a variety of different texts created by nine different authors in a myriad of styles. Its breadth of poetic and prose creation and intellectual inspiration speak volumes about the interplay of Turkic and Persian literary traditions across Eurasia. Within these is found Navoiy’s Tuḥfat al-salāṭin, a collection of poems copied out by the scribe ‘Abd al-Jamīl Kātib. The remaining poems are varied in content. Some are works in verse about love and longing, such as Amīrī’s Dah nāmah, which tells a romantic story through ten letters. Others poeticise the Central Asian martial arts, debate the merits of wine and hashish, or adapt circulating Persian forms into Chagatai poetry, as Ḥaydar Talba Khorazmī’s didactic poem based on a Persian version by Niẓāmi so aptly demonstrates. This diversity of content is reflected in the construction of the volume, where naskh and nastaliq, black and coloured inks, chaos and clarity make appearances depending on the demands of the individual patrons, and the skill of the particular scribes.

The British Library’s holdings of Ottoman and Chagatai manuscripts contain another 30-odd texts first penned by Alisher Navoiy. It is our hope that, in the coming years, many more of these will find their way onto Digitised Manuscripts, facilitating more intensive and complete study and enjoyment of Turkic Central Asia’s literary and cultural heritage.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections
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01 February 2019

Happy Chinese New Year! Year of the Pig 2019

1. Pig Thai MS
Horoscope for the year of the pig, from a Thai manuscript dated 1885, containing drawings based on the Chinese Zodiac and its animals (BL Or.13650, f.6v )
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In East Asian and South East Asian countries, as well as among overseas communities of Asian origin, traditional celebrations for the start of a New Year are approaching. On the 5th of February, we will leave the year of the Dog , and welcome the year of the Pig. Dog and Pig are part of a series of twelve zodiac animals associated with the Chinese lunisolar calendar. The Pig is the last animal of the twelve-year cycle, and in the Japanese and Tibetan traditions is replaced by the Boar.

2. Boar Japanese MS
Illustration of a boar from Seihō gahakuhitsu junishi-jō by Takeuchi Seihō (c. 1900)  (BL ORB.40/71)
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The lunisolar calendar developed in China from the solar one, and was first introduced during the Zhou dynasty (c. 1046 to 256 BC). Years, months and days are calculated taking into account both the phases of the moon and the position of the sun which determines the seasons. Lunisolar calendars require a “leap month” or an “intercalary month” every one or two years. People born during the Year of the Pig, are thought to be clever, calm, mature and well-mannered, but sometimes naïve and insecure.

3. Japanese toy pig
Illustration from the Japanese album of toys Omochabako (BL ORB 40/950)
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Zhu Baijie (豬八戒, where the first character means “pig”) is probably the most famous pig in Chinese literature. He is one of the main characters of the novel Journey to the West (西遊記Xi you ji) by Wu Cheng’en, published in 1592. The novel narrates the pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang to India and Central Asia along the Silk Road to gather and take to China Buddhist texts. During his journey, he meets three creatures who become his disciples to atone for their past sins: Sun Wukong (the Monkey), Zhu Bajie (the Pig) and Sha Wujing (a water monster or “Monk Sha”).

4. Xiyou ji
Page 494 from the 18th century woodblock printed edition of the Xiyouji depicting four characters of the novel travelling: Tang Sanzang on horseback, Zhu Bajie and Sun Wukong with martial arts sticks, and Sha Wujing bringing up the rear (BL 15271.c.13, page 494)
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The Chinese New Year is welcomed with fireworks, whose sound, together with the sound of drums and music, is meant to scare away the demon Nian (written 年, like the character for year). Delicious food is put on the table and chun lian (written春聯: good wishes for the new year in form of poems, usually on red paper) are pasted on the entrance doors.

5. chunlian writer
Calligrapher preparing chun lian (BL Or. 11539, folio 34)
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Our Curator Han-lin Hsieh wrote a chun lian to wish all our readers a very Happy Chinese New Year!

6. Poem

 

 

Happy New Year from us to you,

May your triumphs be big,

In the year of the Pig,

And success come with all that you do.

 

 

 

 


Sara Chiesura, Han-lin Hsieh, Hamish Todd (East Asian Collections)
With thanks to Emma Harrison
 ccownwork

28 January 2019

Javanese manuscripts in the Mackenzie collection: the publication of Weatherbee’s 'Inventory'

The Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project is currently digitising 76 manuscripts now held in the British Library which originate from the palace library of Yogyakarta. The largest portion, comprising 46 manuscripts, derive from the collections of Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), a Scottish army officer in the British East India Company who later became the first Surveyor General of India.  From 1811 to 1813 Mackenzie served in the British administration of Java under Thomas Stamford Raffles, and was Chief Engineer of the British army during the attack on Yogyakarta in June 1812. After the assault on the kraton (palace) of Yogyakarta, the manuscripts taken from the royal library were shared out between Raffles, John Crawfurd and Mackenzie. Following Mackenzie’s death in Calcutta in 1821, his Javanese manuscripts, together with his vast collections relating to the history, languages and cultures of south India, were sent to the India Office Library in London, and now form part of the British Library collections.

MSS.Jav.24  ff. 92v-93r
Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang, copied in Yogyakarta, 1803. British Library, MSS Jav 24, ff. 92v-93r  noc

The name of Donald E. Weatherbee, from the University of South Carolina, will be familiar to scholars of Javanese from the many descriptions of Javanese manuscripts from the Mackenzie collection in the India Office Library which are credited to ‘Weatherbee, forthcoming’ in the catalogue of Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain published in 1977 by M.C. Ricklefs & P. Voorhoeve. In the bibliography, this important source by Weatherbee is identified as ‘An inventory of the Javanese paper manuscripts in the Mackenzie Collection, India Office Library, London, with a note on some additional Raffles MSS’ (Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1977: 201). But ‘Weatherbee, forthcoming’ never forthcame, although Donald Weatherbee did shortly thereafter publish an article in the Cornell journal Indonesia, on ‘Raffles’ sources for traditional Javanese historiography and the Mackenzie Collections’ (Weatherbee 1978).

A photocopy of Weatherbee’s original 1972 typescript of the ‘Inventory’ is however held in the British Library as MSS Photo Eur 107.  Although many portions of Weatherbee's descriptions of the Javanese manuscripts from the Mackenzie collection are reproduced verbatim in Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977), the ‘Inventory’ often contains further information, notably Mackenzie’s own descriptions of the title and contents, annotated on the volumes themselves, as well as comments on styles of handwriting and bindings.  Thus, despite the partial duplication with information already published in Ricklefs & Voorhoeve (1977), I felt it would still be of value to make available the original text of the ‘Inventory’, and in November 2018 I contacted Professor Weatherbee to request his permission to reproduce it in the SEALG Newletter. Permission was kindly granted, and so the ‘Inventory’ has just been published in  the special issue of the SEALG Newletter for 2018, marking the 50th anniversary of the Southeast Asia Library Group, which is freely accessible online via the link. The only editorial changes made to the ‘Inventory’ are the addition to each manuscript description of the current British Library shelfmark in bold square brackets.

In the introduction of the ‘Inventory’, Weatherbee explains the formation and ordering of the Mackenzie Collection. According to Mackenzie’s own account, in 1813 his collection consisted of 171 ‘sections rather than volumes’ of manuscripts in the Javanese language, and on his return to Calcutta, many of the smaller works were bound together in single volumes. Following Mackenzie’s death in 1821, an inventory was compiled of his collections from Java, listing two groups of manuscripts: (A) 33 ‘Malay’ books, namely Javanese manuscripts written in pégon (Arabic) script, and (B) 67 ‘Javanese’ books, in Javanese script. Together with 94 manuscript volumes in Dutch and English containing many translations of the Javanese texts, and 19 printed Dutch works, these were all shipped to the East India Company Library in London.  Weatherbee also documents how the IOL numbers – source of many of the present-day British Library ‘MSS Jav’ shelfmarks – derive from the randomly-assigned numbering system made by Keyzer in 1853.

MSS.Jav.83  ff.1v-2r
A volume of Shaṭṭārīya tracts, Yogyakarta, from the 'A' group of 'Malay' books (i.e. Javanese works in Arabic script) in Mackenzie's collection. British Library, MSS Jav 83, ff. 1v-2r  noc

In terms of the collection profile, Weatherbee notes that the Mackenzie collection seems to have a higher proportion of older manuscripts than the Raffles or Crawfurd collections, and includes some literary texts – including the Islamic romances Jati Kusuma, dated 1766 (MSS Jav 27), Asmara Supi, 1769 (MSS Jav 26) and Ahmad-Muhammad, possibly 1785 (MSS Jav 35), all from the Yogyakarta kraton library – not represented in the Raffles and Crawfurd collections. The Mackenzie collection is especially strong in the wayang genre, ‘pakěms and lakons from the wayang purwa and wayang gěḍog traditions forming the contents of at least 48 “sections” scattered through 20 bound volumes’, all most probably dating from the last quarter of the 18th century.

MSS Jav 27  f.6v
Opening lines of Jati Kusuma, dated 1766. British Library, MSS Jav 27, f. 6v   noc

Manuscripts from the palace library of Yogyakarta probably account for half of Mackenzie's collection; in his own words, ‘others were purchased and collected on the tour through that island: some were presented by Dutch colonists and by regents, and others are transcripts by Javanese writers employed by Colonel Mackenzie to copy them from the originals in the hands of the regents and with their permission’ (Weatherbee 2018: 82). On a tour of Central and East Java he received manuscripts from the regents of Grěsik (MSS Jav 12) and Lasěm (MSS Jav 29), and in Madura from Panembahan Nata Kusuma of Suměněp.  In Semarang in July 1812, MSS Jav 17, containing two texts, Panji (Angrèni) and Angling Darma, was copied from an original belonging to the Adipati of Kudus, and it was in Semarang that Mackenzie met Kyahi Adipati Sura Adimanggala, who also presented him with manuscripts.

MSS.Jav.17  ff.154v-155r
Angling Darma, copied in Semarang, 1812, from an original manuscript belonging to the Adipati of Kudus. British Library, MSS Jav 17, ff. 154v-155r   noc

Two of the most beautiful manuscripts in Mackenzie’s collection were received from Mackenzie’s colleague on the land commission, F. J. Rothenbühler, in 1812. Serat Sela Rasa (MSS Jav 28), dated 1804, and Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma (MSS Jav 68), dated 1805, were both said to have originally belonged to a Madam Schaber[?] of Surabaya. Both are filled with exceptonally fine illustrations in the wayang style.

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Serat Sela Rasa, 1804. British Library, MSS Jav 28, ff. 138v-139r   noc

Weatherbee notes three major types of binding in the collection. ‘The most common, that which can be called Mackenzie’s binding, is like that of B-10 [MSS Jav 36] in which a pencilled note on the flyleaf states: "Bound by Mr. Ferris January 1815"; thus in Calcutta.’ Paul Ferris (1768-1823) was a well-known printer who had been established in Calcutta from at least 1793. These ‘Ferris’ bindings have three-quarters brown leather bindings with blue-brown marbled paper boards; over the intervening years a certain number have been rebound (including MSS Jav 36) or refurbished, but many are still intact.

MSS Jav 36A f.2r
Binding note at the beginning of Babad Mataram. British Library, MSS Jav 36, vol. 1, f. 2r  noc

MSS Jav 41  front cover   MSS Jav 41 spine
Typical binding by Paul Ferris of Calcutta, ca. 1815, found on many Javanese manuscripts in the Mackenzie collection, including this collection of Primbon. British Library, MSS Jav 41, front cover  noc

The second type is a ‘tooled leather binding’, some examples of which ‘can be definitely established as coming from Jogjakarta’.  These are characteristically dark brown, with multiple stamped frames, stamped corner pieces and a central medallion.

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Javanese brown leather binding from Yogyakarta, with six concentric stamped decorated frames, four corner pieces, and a central mediallion, on the back cover of Arjuna Sasrabahu, 1800. British Library, MSS Jav 46, front cover  noc

The third type of binding identified by Weatherbee is ‘that on the texts from the hand of Sura Adimanggala and probably is a Samarang binding.’ Weatherbee inspected the Mackenzie collection in the India Office Library in 1971-1972; but when I rechecked the Semarang manuscripts last week, I found that all these volumes were rebound in 1988. While current ‘good practice’ involves preserving original bindings, even if it is necessary to store them separately, unfortunately no trace remains of the original Semarang bindings in the Mackenzie collection.

Mackenzie
Portrait of Colin Mackenzie, accompanied by three of his Indian assistants, painted by Thomas Hickey in 1816. British Library, Foster 13  noc

References:
Blake, David. M.  “Colin Mackenzie: collector extraordinary”. British Library Journal, 1991, pp.128-150.
M.C. Ricklefs and P. Voorhoeve. Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Donald E.Weatherbee. 'Raffles' sources for traditional Javanese historiography and the Mackenzie collections.'  Indonesia, 1987, no. 26, pp. 63-94.
Donald E.Weatherbee. 'An inventory of the Javanese paper manuscripts in the Mackenzie Collection, India Office Library, London, with a note on some additional Raffles MSS.' SEALG Newsletter, 2018, pp. 80-111.

Blog posts on Mackenzie:
Sushma Jansari and Malini Roy, 22 August 2017, Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinaire
Ursula Sims-Williams, 29 August 2017, A Hindu munshi’s ‘Chain of Yogis’: a Persian manuscript in the Mackenzie Collection

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

 

23 January 2019

Researching the Asian and African Collections at the British Library

The Asian and African department at the British Library began 2019 with one of the most important annual events in our calendar: a training day for students beginning their doctoral dissertations. Approximately fifty students from across the UK were introduced to the collections and the best ways to research them.

It was a ‘really fantastic’ experience, according to one participant, who explained that ‘the collections of the BL can be wonderful but overwhelming so it was incredibly helpful being introduced to what there is and how to use them’.

Show and tell 1
Items on display at the ‘Meet the Curators session’

So, what were the top tips from the day? Where should researchers begin when confronted with the enormous collections at the British Library? If you haven’t used our collections yet – or if you have, but aren’t too sure how it all works – then this blog will get you started.


Where to start

The first place to look is our subject hub pages. (You can also get there from the front page of our website by going to the ‘Catalogues and Collections’ menu, then selecting ‘Overview of the Collections’.)

These pages give you a quick overview of what’s in the BL’s collections, how you can access it, and what you can get elsewhere. It’s an essential place to start, so that you know the sort of things you can search for in our catalogues and what we’re likely to have (as well as what we don’t have).
Subject hub imageRelevant subject hubs for Asian and African Studies via https://www.bl.uk/subjects


Understanding our collections

The British Library’s collections are huge. They are:

  • from all over the world
  • in all major world languages, and many others
  • in all disciplines, and
  • historical and contemporary.

We hold material in a very wide range of formats. If, so far, you’ve only thought about using books and manuscripts or archives, it could be worth asking how other items (perhaps sound recordings, or maps) could bring new dimensions to your research.

Collection formats
Different collection formats in the British Library


Searching the collections

There are two main catalogues:

Explore the British Library, for (mainly) published material:

  • Books and serials
  • Newspapers
  • Maps
  • Audio-visual material
  • Doctoral theses
  • E-resources
  • Archived websites
  • Printed music

Explore Archives and Manuscripts, for (mainly) unpublished material:

  • Archives
  • Manuscripts
  • Visual collections

Both catalogues indicate hard-copy and digital material.

Additional catalogues are also available via our website, and these may give more detail on particular collections. For example, the Sound and Moving Image catalogue is recommended for audio-visual collections.

Show and tell 2
Hebrew and Christian Orient curator Ilana Tahan showing some BL collection items at the doctoral training day


Using the collections: in the Reading Rooms

For physical/hard-copy items, you’ll need to come into our Reading Rooms (having first obtained a Reader Pass). Our full collections are available for research at our main building in St Pancras, London. You can also see many items (but not everything) in our Reading Room at Boston Spa, Wetherby, Yorkshire.

For licensing reasons, some electronic material is only available on-site in our Reading Rooms. The most important thing to be aware of in this respect is our collection of subscription e-resources. These are electronic packages which the British Library buys and/or subscribes to. They include:

  • bibliographies and other reference tools
  • journals and e-books, and
  • collections of primary sources.

University libraries also offer these packages, but we have many things which individual libraries may not hold, so it’s always worth checking. The best way to find out what we have is to go to our electronic resources page.

Remote access to a few of these resources is available to Reader Pass holders, and may increase in future. Where this service is offered, it’s indicated on the electronic resources page.

E-resources Japan sample search
Sample search for electronic resources on Japan

The British Library is given one free copy of every book published or distributed in the UK. This is called legal deposit, and these days about half of this material come to us as e-books. These electronic publications are also only available in the Reading Rooms. These can be identified through Explore the British Library and read on the Reading Room computers.


Using the collections: online

We are digitising more and more of our collections, which means that some of the material you’ll find in our catalogues is available free online.

Manuscripts from our collections are available through the Digitised Manuscripts portal, which includes (but is not limited to) Ethiopic, Hebrew, Malay, Persian and Thai manuscripts. See the Asian and African Studies blog for more on these digitised manuscripts.

  • The Endangered Archives Programme offers large collections of archives and manuscripts from many African and Asian countries online. (The originals remain in the country of origin.)

Doctoral theses (dissertations) from most UK universities can be downloaded or requested via our EThOS service. In many cases, it’s free.

  • The Qatar Digital Library has digitised many India Office Records and Arabic manuscripts held by the British Library. These are of particular relevance to the history of the Middle East, but also relate to East Africa and the Horn, as well as other regions.

Many older books in our collections have been digitised and are available through Explore the British Library. When you find records for these items, you can click through to the full text, which is also available in Google Books.

E-book picture
Catalogue record and digitised full text of a work by the Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop on the Niger

For more information on what’s available online, see our Digital Collections page as well as the subject hub pages for your area.

And finally…talk to us!

We know that the BL is complicated and staff in Asian and African Collections are happy to point you in the right direction. You can reach us online, or by talking to the staff on the enquiry desk in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Enquiries are handled by a specialist reference team, and referred to curators if necessary.

And don’t forget our blog, a mine of information on our collections.

Show and tell 3
Discussions at the doctoral training day


Marion Wallace, Lead Curator, Africa
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi

17 January 2019

The Other March of the Penguins: A Flightless Mascot for Dissent in Turkey

In advance of Penguin Awareness Day on Sunday January 20, we tell this story of how a bumbling and beloved resident of the globe’s southern shores became a symbol of dissent and defiance for a generation of Turkish citizens.

Çapulcu Penguen_1500
Çapulcu Penguen, or Looter Penguin, is the cuddly mascot of Penguen magazine dressed as a masked demonstrator from the Gezi Park protests. At the start of the demonstrations, then-Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to the protestors as çapulcular - looters or marauders - as a way to discredit their movement. Cover of a Çapulcu Penguen notebook, Istanbul: Penguen, [2015?]

On 28 May 2013, a group of environmentalists occupied Gezi Park in Taksim Square, Istanbul. They were protesting the government’s decision to remove one of central Istanbul’s last green spaces in order to make way for a new shopping centre and mosque. When armed police were sent in to remove the protestors for a second time on May 31, the demonstrations ballooned, with 100 000 people marching down İstiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s most prominent shopping street. The momentum of anti-government activism gathered quickly, and soon strikes, occupations, and marches occurred across the country. All manner of calls were made, from the demands of anti-capitalist Muslims and religious minorities, to the concerns of Armenians, Kurds and LGBT people about the abrogation of their rights.

Cumhuriyet Aniti_1500
Cumhuriyet Anıtı (Republic Memorial) in Taksim Square covered with flags and protest banners during the protests in June 2013. © Michael James Erdman

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A crowd gathers to listen to speakers at the Gezi Park occupation, June 2013. © Michael James Erdman

On June 2, while foreign media were reporting on the extent of the unrest, Turkish media remained remarkably quiet . CNNTürk, taking its cue from government media outlets, broadcast a documentary about penguins rather than coverage of the protests crippling the country’s economic and political centres. Turks, who have a long, vaunted tradition of political satire , did not waste this opportunity, and soon real and virtual spaces were filled with mocking memes referencing penguins and the government’s refusal to engage with its citizens. Penguins are not native to Turkey; these images were either taken from photographs floating about the Internet or, in the vein of another longstanding Turkish tradition, appeared in cartoon form. Indeed, such 2D animated activists featured prominently in two publications springing from the same spirit of political engagement that fed the Gezi Park Protests which can be found in the British Library’s Turkish collections.

Penguen Imprint_1500 Penguen Title_1500
The logo of the publishing group Peng!, resposible for publishing Penguen magazine and the title of the Penguen magazine series, featuring the a determined cartoon penguin with his hang glider. Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı, Istanbul: Peng!, 2014 (BL YP.2018.b.538)

Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı, our first example, is a compendium of the caricatures in the satirical magazine Penguen published in the year 2014. The periodical first appeared in 2002, and soon became the most widely sold weekly magazine in Turkey. Its mascot, a chubby penguin notable for his predilection for hang gliders (and flying) was drawn by the cartoonist Selçuk Erdem. The magazine quickly made a name for itself as being fearless in its biting satire. It was promptly sued in 2005 by then Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdoğan because of a cartoon depicting him as a cat. The magazine was acquitted, but continued to face angry responses for its oppositional, pro-secularist stances; its offices were even firebombed in 2012. It was almost serendipitous, then, that penguins should be coopted as a symbol of media acquiescence to and complicity with government repression in June 2013, allowing Penguen to highlight that these cuddly lovers of fish and snowy frolics also have a subversive and revolutionary side.

Penguen Cover_1500
Cover of the Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı featuring a cartoon criticising official practices of charity and social assistance. Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı, Istanbul: Peng!, 2014 (BL YP.2018.b.538)

In 2017, Penguen’s owners announced that they would be closing up shop with only a month’s notice. They cited both a decline in magazine readership in Turkey and increased government repression. In their unsigned farewell letter, the editors of Penguen thanked their readers, caricaturists, authors, journalists, and even politicians, “who were guests on our covers and our Agenda pages.” They also speculated that “perhaps one day we will encounter once more a freer Press. If anything remains that can be called the Press…” Over the years, the magazine provided a space for amateur cartoonists to submit their own drawings and rise to prominence. In 2007, six of its cartoonists started up the satirical magazine Uykusuz [Insomniac], which continues Penguen’s mission, and can also be found in the British Library’s collections.

Pen Parkta Cover_1500
The cover of Raşel Meseri's Pen Parkta (Pen at the Park), showing Pen the Penguin erupting from his televisual prison. Meser, Raşel, Pen Parkta, Istanbul: Habitus Minör, 2015 (BL YP.2017.a.2606)

The second penguin-themed publication in our discussion is Raşel Meseri’s Pen Parkta [Pen at the Park, a graphic novel in Turkish, Armenian and Kurmanji Kurdish illustrated by Suzanne Karssenberg. The story follows Pen, a penguin like those featured in the documentary aired on CNNTürk, as he erupts from a TV screen in Istanbul and tours the city. He heads to Gezi Park, eager to liberate his fellow penguins from their televised prisons, and meets up with other furry and feathered protestors along the way, exploring the causes of the demonstrators’ anger, and their hopes for change. The choice of languages is far from random. They represent the communities that came together in Gezi Park to make their voices heard; three tongues that, despite official narratives, have each added their own notes to Istanbul’s harmony. Pen Park’ta uses a simple narrative with endearing and engaging imagery to tell the story of the object’s transformation into subject; of the unwitting liar who becomes a warrior of truth.

Pen Liberates the Penguins_1500
A happy ending for Pen's beleaguered fellow penguins, as the crowds at Gezi Park come to assist in their liberation. Meser, Raşel, Pen Parkta, Istanbul: Habitus Minör, 2015 (BL YP.2017.a.2606)

Your average penguin might not have a fist to raise in defiance, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t oppose the powers that be – at least not in Turkey. Indeed, in 2013, this flightless bird, so often characterised as docile, defenseless, and dedicated, became a symbol of resistance and empowerment. It was, perhaps, an apt metaphor for sections of Turkish society in the age of Erdoğan: those who shed their cloaks of passivity to engage in their own March of the Penguins.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi