Indonesian Illuminated Manuscripts

Straddling the equator and bridging the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Indonesian archipelago has been a crossroads for millennia, a place where not only West met East, but where indigenous societies traded as freely in knowledge as they did in pepper and cloves.

The richness of the archipelago's land and seas is mirrored in its linguistic wealth. Hundreds of distinct languages are to be found in Indonesia, and many ethnic groups have their own scripts and writing traditions, as well as distinctive writing materials and media. Yet Indonesian manuscripts are virtually unknown outside of Indonesia. Even scholars have only limited access to the tens of thousands of manuscripts in public and private collections in Indonesia and abroad. This is one reason why the SEADL project is so important.

In 1995, the Lontar Foundation of Jakarta published Illuminations: The Writing Traditions of Indonesia, the first comprehensive treatment in any language on the subject. All of the images in SEADL trace their origin to this publication which focuses on the development of the art of writing in Indonesia, beginning with the diffusion of Indic scripts and the creation of indigenous scripts as seen in early stone and copperplate inscriptions; classical Javanese writings and the Javanese manuscript tradition; the spread and influence of Arabic script and calligraphy and the illuminated book-form manuscripts of the Islamic tradition; the elaborate letters and seals of the Malay writing tradition; manuscripts from Aceh; the lontar, or palm-leaf manuscripts of Bali, Lombok and Sunda; Chinese manuscript literature in Indonesia; the diaries and cassette-like manuscripts of South Sulawesi; and the Batak traditions of Sumatra, including writings on bark, bone, and bamboo.

Although as elsewhere in the world, the print revolution brought about a decline in the manuscript tradition. In Indonesia it remained alive long after it had died in the West. In fact illuminated manuscripts were being produced in Indonesia well into the twentieth century and in Bali, even today, the production of lontar palm-leaf manuscripts continues.

John McGlynn

To read more about Indonesian manuscripts, read our essay, Writing Traditions of Indonesia, by Ann Kumar, Professor and Historian.

Pawukon (Keris)
Naskah majemuk ini memuat 21 teks pawukon dan primbon, antara lain tentang penanggalan, wataking, dina, sasi, tahun, candraning manungsa, bab pamoring dhuwung, dsb. Bagian teks tentang keris dilengkapi dengan ilustrasi bentuk dan pamor.
Pawukon (“Calendar style” pawukon)
Memuat pawukon lengkap dengan gambarnya, perhitungan tentang mendirikan rumah, dsb., siffat-sifat bayi lahir, pasatowan salaki rabi, dsb.
Perjanjian Batas Wilayah Surakarta dan Kesultanan Yogyakarta
Border agreement for the district of Surakarta and the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. 1830.
Perjanjian Bongaya
The Bungaya treaty. The Makasarese script was used exclusively for texts in Makasar language.
Wayang vigures drawn in the fate squares of a divination board. Possibly copied near Cirebon in the mid eighteenth century.
Primbon 1
A defiction of the nagadina (seven day snake) and explanations of the directions in which it lurks. Central java early twentieth century.
Primbon 3
A primbon used in the calculation of time or more particularly to determine auspicious days for activities.
Primbon Jimat
Magical figures, or rajab to be used as part of certain spells.
Primbon Nalatrunan
Kris blade types and nickeling patterns in a record belonging to a family from Surakarta Central Java c. 1800.