Frankfurt working papers on East Asia
Searching for seeds to rest in libraries : European collecting habits towards Malay books and manuscripts in the nineteenth century
- European scholars, colonial administrators, missionaries, bibliophiles and others were the main collectors of Malay books in the nineteenth century, both in manuscript or printed form. Among these persons were many well-known names in the field of Malay literature and culture like Raffles, Marsden, Crawfurd, Klinkert, van der Tuuk, von Dewall, Roorda, Favre, Maxwell, Overbeck, Wilkinson and Skeat, to name only a few. Their collections were often handed over to public libraries where they form an important part of the relevant Oriental or Southeast Asian manuscript collections.
Therefore the knowledge of the intellectual culture of the Malay Peninsula and the Malay World in general depended very much on these manuscripts and printed books collected often by chance or in a rather unsystematic way. The collections reflect in a strong sense the interests of its administrative or philologist collectors: court histories, genealogies of aristocratic lineages, law collections (adat-istiadat as well as undangundang) or prose belles-lettres build a vast bulk of these collections, while Islamic religious texts and poetry forms popular in the 19th century (especially syair) are fairly underrepresented. Malay manuscripts and books located in religious institutions like mosques or pondok/pesantren schools have not been searched for; until today there are more or less no systematic studies of these collections. As in some statistics religious texts build about 20% of all existing Malay manuscripts, their neglect by Europeans scholars leads to a distorted view of the literary culture in the Malay language.