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.

Malay-Latin Dictionary
Dictionaries supported the print revolution in Indonesia. The first malay latin / latin - malay dictionary, Dictionarium Malaico latinum, latino-malaicum was published in rome in 1631.
Maleische Woordboek-Collectanea Malaica
As international trade increased, so too did the need for printed book. Maleische woordboek/collectanea Malaica is a malay vocabulary book in dutch and latin written by Andries Lambert Loderus and printed in batavia in 1707.
Manuk I
One the manuk I copperplates illustrating the cursive later Kawi script of the Majapahit dynasty, issued by Rajasanagara identified in the inscription by his well known pen name Hayam Wuruk.
Masalah Tiyang Tanen
A rajamuka wheel used for reducing complex words and formulas to their basic numeric identity for purposes of divination.
Maulid Syaraf l-Anam
Spiritual counsels attributed to sufi sages.
Yogyakarta manuscript.
Menak Jobin
Frontispiece from a manuscripts of the menak jobin copied for ki Amat Sari in Batavia in 1862.
Minhaju th-Thalibin
Text religion, compilations of hadith, works on jurisprudence, collections of prayers, detail Minhaju th-thalibin.
A mixed text manuscript that includes Islamic laws and their interpretation in Malay, the first step in the vernacularization process.
Muqaddimatu Fi Ilmi l-Manthiq
A note filled page such as this one shows how seriously the madrasa students must have been studying their grammar.
Kakawin Nagarakertagama manuscript.
An Islamic student. Detail from nasehat. A book of advice.
Naskah Lampung 1
Lampung manuscript. This poetry is mostly written on bamboo tiles or strips gelumpai tied together with a string through a hole at one end and numbered alphabetically.
Naskah Lampung 2
Lampung manuscript. This poetry is mostly written on bamboo tiles or strips gelumpai tied together with a string through a hole at one end and numbered alphabetically.