[Talk] Writing as a Marker of Identity in Early South and Southeast Asia

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Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk by Prof. Himanshu Prabha Ray at the National University of Singapore on 12 September.

‘DEFINING TRANSNATIONAL MARITIME CULTURAL HERITAGE: WRITING AS A MARKER OF IDENTITY IN EARLY SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST ASIA’
Speaker: Prof Himanshu Prabha Ray (Anneliese Maier Fellow, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich)
Date: Wednesday, 12 September 2018
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)

Within the narrative of terrestrial histories of nation states, accounts of maritime cultural heritage often become an extension of land-based concerns. A paradigm shift to understanding the history of the sea destabilizes linear mapping of time and chronologies of political dynasties, empires and trading activity that helped sustain the quest for luxuries. This shift entails re-establishing the centrality of the sea and viewing it not only as a space permitting movement, but as a site of cultural encounters and shared experiences, as expressed through the medium of writing in a common script, i.e. the Brahmi script. The languages expressed were diverse and included Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tamil and Sinhala, as evident from inscriptions on pots recovered in South and Southeast Asia. In this presentation I revisit sites along the east coast of India and investigate maritime networks across Bay of Bengal as indicated by the presence of inscribed pottery recorded in archaeological investigations. An important marker of the interconnectedness of sites extending from lower Bengal to coastal Sri Lanka is the Rouletted Ware, first identified at the well-known site of Arikamedu on the Tamil coast and described by Mortimer Wheeler in 1946 as an indicator of Roman trade. In recent years, not only has Rouletted Ware been found in coastal Malaysia, Thailand, Java, Bali and Vietnam, but rigorous analysis of Tissamaharama in Sri Lanka has helped define its date from 2nd and 3rd century BCE to 1st century BCE. It is also evident that many Rouletted Ware pots were inscribed and continued in circulation for a longer period. Here I will primarily focus on patterns of use/distribution of inscribed pottery in an attempt to emphasise both temporal and spatial variations of cultural contacts across South and Southeast Asia and the extent to which writing was used as a marker of identity in maritime Asia in the centuries around the Common Era. The larger issue being addressed is the circulation of knowledge across the seas and the agency responsible for these circuits. Can these complexities be accommodated as Outstanding Universal Values that can underwrite transnational cultural routes to be nominated for World Heritage status?

Source: ‘Defining Transnational Maritime Cultural Heritage: Writing as a Marker of Identity in early South and Southeast Asia’ (Wednesday, 12 September 2018) – Southeast Asian Studies @ NUS

Where China Meets Pyu: The “Tharaba Gate” Bilingual Inscriptions at Pagan

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Tharabha Gate, Bagan

via the Tea Circle, 30 July 2018: An article by independent scholar Liu Yun on an Chinese-Pyu inscription found at the Tharaba Gate.

Tharabha Gate, Bagan

Tharabha Gate, Bagan

Currently held in Pagan Archaeological Museum, the illegible Pyu inscription of an “unknown date” was found near the Tharaba gate which, located to the east of Pagan, is the only surviving gate of the old city. Sino-Burmese historians Taw Sein Ko (1916) and Chen Yi-sein (1960) argued, based on their pioneer studies of the much defaced Chinese epigraphy on the reverse side of the Pyu scripts, that the bilingual stone dates back to the late 13th century when the Mongol campaigns of the Pagan Kingdom were launched by ambitious Kublai Khan (r. 1271-1294) and a subsequent fragile tributary relationship was established. Strikingly different from the traditional way of writing vertically from top to bottom, the Chinese texts at Pagan run horizontally from left to right, in a Burmanized way.

Source: Where China Meets Pyu: The “Tharaba Gate” Bilingual Inscriptions at Pagan – Tea Circle

[Talk] Boxer Codex: A plan to invade Siam

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A lecture at the Siam Society, Bangkok on 12 July.

Boxer Codex: A plan to invade Siam
A Talk by John Silva

The sumptuously illustrated 16th century Boxer Codex, with close to 100 images on rice paper featuring the people of the Pacific, Asia and Southeast Asia is the first known illustrated manuscript of the region.
The Orientalist Charles Boxer had acquired the manuscript in 1947 at an auction in England, and despite Boxer’s naming it as “Manila Manuscript” (its printing attributed to the Chinese-Filipino printer Keng Yong or Juan de Vera) his colleagues would name the codex after him.

Ever since the acquisition, no complete and modern transcription, editing and annotation of the whole manuscript was done until this new book printed by the Vibal Foundation of the Philippines in 2016 to commemorate the coming 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish on Philippine shores.
Philippine historian Carlos Quirino in the 1950’s worked on the Philippine section of the Codex and for Filipinos, accompanying images of Filipino tribes, richly adorned in gold changed local perceptions of pre-Spanish past and instead, instilled pride and identification.

But it is the complete transcription, Massachusetts. He is an author and contributor to various Philippine and international translation and annotation of this publication written in the modern understandable style, covering the chosen kingdoms, groupings and tribes of Asia, plus two very important end letters attached and addressed to the then Spanish King Philip II which draws our attention and is the subject of this talk.

The finery drawn showed native wealth, the treasures that abound, the descriptions of fortifications and sailing routes, the local conflicts, all lead up to the end letters (from the Portuguese Bishop of Malacca and the Spanish Governor General of Manila) urging King Philip to invade Siam and, from there complete the conquest of neighboring kingdoms including China and Japan. In addition, Manila would become the Vice-Royalty for Spain in the east to administer the conquered areas.

Several events scuttled the conquest plans and the Boxer Codex is appreciated today as a late 16th century pristine manuscript capturing a visual and literary slice of life of the peoples of Asia.

Mr. John L. Silva is the Executive Director of the Ortigas Library in the Philippines. The private Library has extensive rare books, maps, prints, and vintage photographs of the Philippines and is open to the general public. Mr. Silva received his M.A. in Philippine-American Studies from Goddard Cambridge in publications.

Source: The Siam Society

Cockatoo in medieval text reveals extent of East-West trade in the 13th century

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Cockatoo drawings in a 13th century Vatican manuscript reveal the extent of the global trade network of the period: cockatoos are native to eastern Island Southeast Asia and Australia, and the manuscript refers to a gift of a yellow-crested cockatoo to Frederick II from the Sultan of Egypt al-Malik Muhammad al-Kamil.

Frederick II of Hohenstaufen’s Australasian cockatoo: Symbol of detente between East and West and evidence of the Ayyubids’ global reach

Frederick II of Sicily made contact with the Kurdish al-Malik Muhammad al-Kamil in 1217 – a year before al-Malik became sultan of Egypt. The two rulers communicated regularly over the following twenty years, exchanging letters, books and rare and exotic animals. The focus of this article is the Sulphur-crested or Yellow-crested Cockatoo the sultan sent Frederick. A written description and four sketches of this parrot survive in a mid thirteenth-century manuscript in the Vatican Library. This article reviews these images, revealing that Australasian cockatoos were present in the Middle East in the medieval period and exploring how and why one reached Europe in the mid thirteenth century.

Source: Frederick II of Hohenstaufen’s Australasian cockatoo: Symbol of detente between East and West and evidence of the Ayyubids’ global reach | Parergon

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Preserving literary heritage

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via Bangkok Post, 09 April 2018: Digitisation of Northern Thai Manuscripts Project

At Wat Sung Men in Phrae province, monks and a dozen local villagers are busy scanning the temple’s old manuscripts into a computer. The same activity, in fact, is happening at several temples in the North, including Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong in Chiang Mai as well as others in Lamphun and Nan. Initiated by a German professor, the novel efforts of digitising and conserving ancient manuscripts have caught on with enthusiasm among locals.

Source: Preserving literary heritage

Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project launched by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X

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via The British Library Asian and African studies blog, 21 March 2018:

The 75 Javanese manuscripts to be digitised include 70 known or believed to have been taken by British troops following an armed assault on the Palace (Kraton) of Yogyakarta in June 1812 by forces under the command of the Lieutenant-Governor of Java, Thomas Stamford Raffles, as well as five other related manuscripts. The manuscripts primarily comprise works on Javanese history, literature and ethics, Islamic stories and compilations of wayang (shadow theatre) tales, as well as court papers, written in Javanese in both Javanese characters (hanacaraka) and in modified Arabic script (pegon), on European and locally-made Javanese paper (dluwang). Some of these manuscripts are by now well known, such as the Babad bedah ing Ngayogyakarta, Add. 12330, a personal account by Pangéran Arya Panular (ca. 1771-1826) of the British attack on the Kraton and its aftermath, published by Peter Carey (1992), and the Babad ing Sangkala, ‘Chronogram chronicle’, MSS Jav 36(B), dated 1738 and identified by Merle Ricklefs (1978) as the oldest surviving original copy of a Javanese chronicle so far known. Peter Carey (1980 & 2000) has also published the Archive of Yogyakarta, two volumes of court documents, correspondence and legal papers. However, many of the other manuscripts have never been published.

Source: Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project launched by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X

Palm leaves to tablet as Lao manuscripts go online

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via ANN, 15 Feb 2018: The Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts is online and more accessible than ever.

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) – The nation’s heritage of palm leaf manuscripts is now available for everyone to read free of charge via their computer, tablet or mobile phone, Director of the National Library of Laos (NLL), Khanthamaly Yangnouvong said recently.

Source: Palm leaves to tablet as Lao manuscripts go online