Bernama's correspondent Massita Ahmad shares her take from across the Causeway

SINGAPORE, I felt so elated when I found out that I could now easily read hundreds of Malay manuscripts at the British Library in United Kingdom from anywhere at a click of a mouse.

The historical manuscripts including Hikayat Hang Tuah, Hikayat Tanah Jawa, Undang-undang Melaka and Hikayat Nabi Yusuf have been digitised and now available online at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/.

By searching keywords 'Malay' or 'Jawi' one, one can access these manuscripts at the site.

The British Library holds a significant number of Malay manuscripts in its repository, mostly on literature, history and law written in Jawi script, dating from the 17th to the late 19th centuries.

Not much in our collection. Only about 100 Malay manuscripts. Everything has been digitised. Complete from the start to the end, the Lead Curator of Southeast Asian material at the British Library, Dr Annabel Teh Gallop, told Bernama.

Dr Annabel was here recently to present a talk on Art and Artists in Malay Manuscript Books on the sidelines of Tales of the Malay World: Manuscripts and Early Books, exhibition organised by the Singapore National Library to explore traditional Malay literature.

More than 140 items were on display, including handwritten manuscripts and early lithographed books.

The 6-month long exhibition which ended on Feb 25, 2018 explored the transition from handwritten manuscripts to the printing of early books in the 19th century.

The Singapore National Library has partnered with the British Library, United Kingdom's Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and Leiden University Library of the Netherlands, showcasing rare manuscripts from the Malay literary world.

Asked whether the same manuscripts will be brought to Malaysia, Dr Annabel replied in fluent Malay : Ini bukan pertama kali manuskrip British Library dibawa ke Asia Tenggara. (this is not the first time the British Library manuscripts were taken to Southeast Asia).

The letters of Malay rulers were exhibited at the National Library in Kuala Lumpur in 1994 and before that story books of the olden days were exhibited at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka also in the capital city, said Dr Annabel.

Earlier, in her talk where she shared about the illumination of the Qur'an and other Islamic manuscripts, Dr Annabel was keen to believe that Munsyi Abdullah, the father of modern Malay literature, was also a remarkable proponent of creative arts of a bygone era.

At that time, Munsyi Abdullah had worked with Benjamin Peach Keasberry to print large number of books.

"Yes, it is true that Keasberry was running the printing centre but I strongly believe Munsyi Abdullah himself created and drew the illuminations in his book.

In the Hikayat Abdullah manuscript, Munsyi Abdullah had narrated that he learnt to draw when he was young... Hence, I am confident that Munsyi Abdullah should be viewed as an important contributor to creative arts in Singapore in the past, she added pointing at the manuscript that Abdullah started writing in 1840.

According to Dr Annabel, the art seen in Malay books is primarily religious art, and the finest examples of manuscript illumination in Southeast Asia are found not in literary or historical works, but in copies of the Qur'an.

Sumptuously illuminated Qur'ans were produced in certain artistic centres such as Terengganu in Malaysia and Patani in Thailand, and across the Indonesian archipelago from Sumatera, Java to Sulawesi and the island of Sumbawa.

Almost without exception, most of these exquisite works of art were anonymous for Malay artists of antiquity never revealed their particulars on their artworks.

However, in one finely illuminated Malay literary manuscript from the British Library - the Hikayat Nabi Yusuf, written in Perlis in 1802 � the artist has inscribed his own name, and his comments and annotations shed valuable light on the mechanics of the book trade in the Malay Peninsula in the early 19th century, said Dr Annabel.

Source: NAM News Network