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Recent publications on Indonesian manuscripts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2020


The fascinating yet still underexplored world of manuscripts hailing from Southeast Asia, including the nation-state of Indonesia, has received some impetus in recent years, thanks to the new appreciation for this written heritage by state and non-state actors both within and without the country. Traditionally perceived as a dry (and hardly scientific or ‘intellectual’) subject that was the preserve of a small circle of specialist librarians, codicology (and Asian codicology in particular) has become a vibrant discipline, with several teams of scholars and projects worldwide focusing on manuscripts as objects, as well as on ‘manuscript cultures’. These projects and approaches duly recognise the role of manuscripts (and not only texts) as prime carriers of cultural and civilisational values across time and space, as well as their relevance for the culture and identity of contemporary societies. This essay reviews some recent publications on Indonesian manuscripts catering to researchers as well as the wider public.

Review Article
Copyright © The National University of Singapore, 2020

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1 Holle, Karel F., Tabel van oud-en nieuw-Indische alphabetten: bijdrage tot de palaeographie van Nederlandsch-Indië (Batavia: Bruining, 1882)Google Scholar.

2 de Casparis, Johannes G., Indonesian palaeography: A history of writing in Indonesia from the beginnings to c. A.D. 1500 (Leiden; Köln: Brill, 1975)Google Scholar. See also the tables and samples of Javanese scripts given in van der Molen, Willem, Javaanse tekstkritiek: Een overzicht en een nieuwe benadering geïllustreerd aan de Kunjarakarna (Dordrecht: Foris, 1983)Google Scholar and Acri, Andrea, Dharma Pātañjala: A Śaiva scripture from ancient Java studied in the light of related Old Javanese and Sanskrit texts, 2nd edn (New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 2017 [1st edn Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 2011])Google Scholar.

3 See Gunawan, Aditia, ‘Nipah or gebang? A philological and codicological study based on sources from West Java’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 171, 2–3 (2015): 269CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 De Casparis, Indonesian palaeography, p. 54.

5 Noorduyn, J., ‘The three palm-leaf mss from Java in the Bodleian Library and their donors’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1 (1985): 5864CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 This is something that has already been pointed out by a previous reviewer with respect to the entire book: see Chambert-Loir, Henri, review of ‘Indonesian manuscripts from the islands of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok’, Archipel 97 (2019): 303–04Google Scholar.

7 The Kabuyutan Ciburuy in West Java, merely mentioned en passant on p. 241, could have been discussed in a more detailed manner, being a unique case of a pre-Islamic site where palm-leaf manuscripts (several of which may date to the 16th or 17th century) are still embedded in a living ritual context in spite of the prevalence of Islam.

8 Setyawati, Kartika, Wiryamartana, I. Kuntara, and van der Molen, Willem, Katalog Naskah Merapi-Merbabu Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia (Yogyakarta: Universitas Sanata Dharma; Leiden: Opleiding Talen en Culturen van Zuidoost Azië en Oceanië Universiteit Leiden, 2002)Google Scholar.

9 There are other instances of such exceedingly free translations of titles of texts in the book: see for example Brahmokta Vidhi, translated as ‘Śiwaitic treatise on the words of the Deity’ (p. 238), which could be rather translated as ‘The divine ordinance promulgated by Brahmā’ (the full/most frequently encountered title of this text being Brahmokta Vidhi Śāstra); Śivāgama is translated as ‘Text on spirituality and ritual’ (p. 304), but could be more faithfully rendered as ‘Sacred treatise on/by Śiva’.

10 Zoetmulder, Petrus J., Kalangwan: A survey of Old Javanese literature (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974)Google Scholar.

11 See the partial edition and translation by Chandra, Lokesh, ‘Chanda-karaṇa: The art of writing poetry’, in Cultural horizons of India, ed. Chandra, Lokesh (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1997)Google Scholar.

12 This does not seem to have been the case in the following instance: having bashed Jacoba H. Hooykaas-van Leeuwen Boomkamp, the editor of the Balinese Kidung Bagus Diarsa, for having chastised a sloppy scribe, and for having emended nggoreng kacang (‘was frying beans’) into nggorèng pacang tadah sukla (‘was frying what was to be used as an offering’), Van der Meij states: ‘Although it does not become clear from the edition, I think, however that the scribe wrote nggoreng kacang tadahsukla otherwise he would have been four syllables short of the required eight in this verse line which would be a much graver mistake’ (p. 317). Van der Meij here seems to have got it the wrong way around: the scribe might have committed the grave mistake he mentions, which was corrected by the editor by comparing the line with other manuscript witnesses. But more probably, on the basis of the versions of the Kidung Bagus Diarsa that I was able to consult, which all read nggorèng pacang tadahsukla, it seems that Van der Meij misinterpreted the editor's statement, which only mentioned nggoreng kacang while implying tadahsukla: thus, no omission of the four syllables ever happened. Of course, Van der Meij may well be right in assuming that in this instance kacang may be a viable reading, but his metrical explanation is off the mark in either scenario.

13 See Tanselle, G. Thomas, A rationale of textual criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989): 34–5Google Scholar: ‘Holding that the meaning of literature emerges from a knowledge of its historical context, […] the risk is not recognizing that artefacts may be less reliable witnesses to the past than their own imaginative reconstructions. […] Anyone accepting a text uncritically — without making such decisions — is focusing not on a work but only on the text of a document.’

14 For instance, Pollock, Sheldon (‘Philology in three dimensions’, Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies 5, 4 [2014]: 406)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, while making a case for a philology that is more concerned with reception and variance than establishing ‘original’ texts, still advocates for ‘a scale of judgment in reading tradition’, according to which ‘not all interpretations are worthy of philological attention to the same degree’ and ‘not all errors […] are equal’.

15 I point out that in the quoted paragraph by Raechelle Rubinstein giving a short list of chronograms used by Pedanda Made Sidemen in Bali (p. 360) some imperfections in the translations are perpetuated, viz. pakṣa, denoting 2, which in this context does not mean force’ but ‘wings’ or ‘side/half’; and guṇa, denoting 3, which in this context does not mean ‘magic’ but ‘qualities’ (of prakṛti, i.e. sattva, rajas, and tamas). On p. 355, the author translates guna in the same context of chronograms as ‘benefit’; on p. 367, in a Javanese manuscript, as ‘use’.

16 Thoralf Hanstein (the volume's co-editor, and curator of the Berlin Southeast Asian mss. collection) informed me that he was researching this interesting figure and his mss collection, and that he hopes to be able to publish the results soon; pers. comm.

17 Pigeaud, Theodore G.Th., Javanese and Balinese manuscripts and some codices written in related idioms spoken in Java and Bali. Descriptive catalogue (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1975)Google Scholar. This important item, mentioned simply as ‘VOHD XXII’ in the list of sigla, is actually missing from the Bibliography at the end of the book (which is incomplete in many other respects).

18 For an edition, English translation, and study, see Acri, Dharma Pātañjala.

19 On the other hand, the word nipah used by Pigeaud has been corrected to gebang, on the basis of the recent article by Aditia Gunawan, ‘Nipah or gebang?’

20 All the more so since this codex was featured as a ‘special treasure’ of the collection at the exposition SchriftSprache: Aksara dan Bahasa at the Staatsbibliothek, 2 to 17 Oct. 2015.

21 Having had the opportunity to inspect the original, I have realised that even this quotation contains some blunders and silent edits, having been rendered as Pusaka Lontar Cerita dari dahulu kala nama Kumara Buwana of Ida Bagus Oka Singaraja Buleleng Bali, 27–6–1896.

22 In a series of emails, Hanstein informed me that ‘this ms. came to our library from the formerly Museum für Indische Kunst (Museum of Indian Art) and was uncatalogued’, and that ‘This manuscript was handed over by Adolf Bastian to the Museum of Indian Art in Berlin in 1896. He has acquired these manuscripts in Bali.’