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A New Guide to Trace Malay Local Wisdom

Again, the scholarly Malay world will own an invaluable guide to trace its cultural heritages, in this case old Malay manuscripts, through the most recently publication of Catalogue of Malay and Minangkabau Manuscripts in the Library of Leiden University and Other Collections in the Netherlands (July 2007, 512 pp.) by Edwin P. Wieringa.

The Indonesian version of this review has been published in “Media Indonesia” on August 18, 2007.
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This is a volume two catalogue by the author, following his volume one published also by the Leiden University Library in 1998. It’s my lucky to receive this catalogue from the author himself, and read it earlier than the others, I guess!

As Wieringa states in his introduction, the present catalogue covers “…the collections of Malay, Minangkabau, and South Sumatran manuscripts, which once belonged to Dr. Herman Neobronner van der Tuuk (1824-1894)” (p. 7), and bequeathed to the Leiden University Library in 1896-1897, two years after Van der Tuuk’s passing away in a hospital in Surabaya. I suppose there are more than one thousand manuscripts described here.

In the past, the collections was, in a literal sense, a ‘working library’ where Van der Tuuk’s unequaled scholarship took shape. It is here that he became an eccentric genius philologist, who was fluent in many Austronesian languages. Wieringa mentions that “his reputation as an eccentric genius was apparently so well-established that sending a letter to him could do without mentioning his proper name: simply addressed to kandjang toean doctor segala bahasa di Boeleleng (‘Honorable Mr Doctor of all languages in Buleleng’) was enough” (p. 8).
Banyuwangi, East Java. He posted this letter to his apparently opium-addicted son, Mah Ing Ki in Buleleng Bali, asking him to return home, but never reached its recipient. Wieringa writes, then, in his introduction: The following month, on 10 August 1878, Ma Bing Swi sent another letter, this time urging his son, using a much more harsher tone now, to come back to Banyuwangi. In this second letter, the father not only adopted a different mode of expression, but his script, too, had changed…. It is unknown what became of Mah Ingki, but a later letter (in Latin script), also illustrated in the introduction, of a certain Haji Muhammad Amin to the Hoofd Djaksa Landraad of Buleleng from April 1879 suggests that ‘Baba Ingkie’ had run into serious trouble (p. 12).

During his life, Van der Tuuk has had unique habits to add marginalia at the thousands of pages of the manuscripts he read, that usually consists of strictly factual information, such as variae lectiones, corrections, glosses, catchwords, and brief summaries. Although some scholars probably do not agree with such habits, and sometimes call it as ‘the crime against the book’, in fact, the Van der Tuuk’s marginalia are a potential goldmine for scholars at present (p. 10).

Thanks to Wieringa’s hard and very long efforts, those Van der Tuuk’s ‘properties’ could be traced easier now. So far, this catalogue could be regarded as the most comprehensive one describing the Van der Tuuk’s manuscript collection, including hundreds of his documents and letters. Regarding the later, the author emphasizes that the previous cataloguers, such as H.H. Juynboll, failed to pay attention to include Van der Tuuk’s collection of hundreds of letters in their catalogues (p. 12). Thus, the author’s current attention to the documents and letters could be considered as one of the major points of difference of this catalogue with the previous ones.

One example of Van der Tuuk’s collections that has attracted the author is a Malay-in Javanese script letter dated on 24 June 1878 by a Chinese called Ma Bing Swi in

Moreover, it seems to me that this catalogue represents a “new approach” of the author, who believes that, due to shifts in scholarly attention, an only-handlist catalogue of manuscripts cannot provide anymore the needs of present-day researchers. The author expresses his disagree to the opinion of the late P. Voorhoeve (1899-1996), the well-known cataloguer of Sumatran and other Indonesian manuscripts, who insisted that handlists such as his own catalogues of Arabic manuscripts (1980) or Acehnese manuscripts (1994) were sufficient tools for scholars (p. 12).

Based on his “new approach”, Wieringa, in this catalogue, describes not only the codicological aspects of the manuscripts in details, but also supplies his readers a summary of each text, something will help the readers to identify a text that he or she may concerns to do research in further. The author frequently provides also quotations from the texts; especially those of prefaces and colophons that contain information about the authorship, dates, places, owners, copyists, titles, and readerships.

What will be a very useful guide for researchers as well, as the volume one provided, is the selective references to other catalogues, editions, translations, and secondary literatures. In this case, the author takes advantages from the two previous publications, viz. Khazanah Naskah: Panduan Koleksi Naskah Indonesian se-Dunia (World Guide to Indonesian Manuscript Collections) by Henri Chambert-Loir and Oman Fathurahman (1999), and Direktori Edisi Naskah Nusantara (A Directory of Editions of Indonesian Manuscripts) by the late Edi Ekadjati (1999).

Moreover, Wieringa sometimes proposes his hypotheses or analyses as a result of his reading from a manuscript. His proficiency to identify a Javanese script, or even old Javanese script, gives him an advantage to make the range of this catalogue more widely. In the case of Ma Bing Swi’s letters, for instance, he, after comparing two script styles of the letters, interprets that the father must have been very upset. However, the author seems aware that he possibly wrong to understand the texts, so that he encloses some pictures of the described texts as illustrations in order to give an opportunity to readers to verify his readings. In turn, these illustrations make this catalogue looks more elegant.

In a private conversation with me, Wieringa points out that most of manuscripts included in this catalogue are not be studied yet by researchers. Hence, this opens great opportunities for researchers on classical Indonesian literatures, in particular, to look into local wisdom (kearifan lokal) comprised in those manuscripts.

Unfortunately, I believe that the price of this catalogue must be too expensive for Indonesian readers. I do not know yet, actually. But the first volume of this catalogue, that consists of fairly same number of pages, was approximately 90,- euro, or more than one million rupiahs.

Probably, an Indonesian institution or publisher should take an initiative to make a collaboration with the Leiden University Library to publish an “Indonesian edition” of this catalogue, in order to prevent any illegal copying that I know much “cheaper but splendid” (murah meriah).

note:
Most expressions I used have been taken from the author’s words in the book.

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