Tag Archives: literature

Lao collection at the British Library now fully catalogued

The British Library holds a small but significant collection of Lao material, consisting of manuscripts, rare printed books, periodicals and post cards, mainly acquired after 1973. However, the oldest items in Lao language date back to the 19th century. The earliest book about Laos is in Italian and was published in 1663.

The collection of printed material in Lao language contains over 300 monographs, most of them dating from 1950 onwards. The highlights of the collection, however, are three of the first books printed in the Lao language in Chiang Mai, Paris and Song Khone (Laos) around 1900. The heart of the Lao book collection is formed by publications of Maha Sila Viravong’s transliterations of literary, linguistic, Buddhist and historical texts from palm leaf manuscripts, for example rare first editions of Nangsư̄ thēt rư̄ang Vētsandon Sādok (Vessantara Jātaka, 1961) Phongsāwadān Lāo (Lao chronicles, 1957), and Nithān Nāng Tantai (Lao version of the Panchatantra, 1957-66).

The Library also holds approximately 2000 books about Laos and Lao culture in Western languages, as well as in Thai and Vietnamese languages. These include some rare first editions, like for example de Gerini’s original description of Laos and other parts of mainland Southeast Asia Delle missioni dei’ padri della Compagnia di Gesù nella Provincia del Giappone, e particolarmente di quella di Tumkino (printed in 1663 in Rome). All printed books and periodicals in Lao language have now been fully catalogued and are searchable in the Library’s online catalogue.

In addition to printed material, the Library holds 85 manuscripts which are either in Lao language or in Pali, but written in Tham script or in Lāo buhān script. The collection comprises literary, historical and Buddhist texts, most of them written on palm leaves. A small number, however, are in form of folding books made from khoi paper or from lacquered cotton. Included in the manuscripts collection are also some wooden manuscript boxes decorated with lacquer and gold, as well as a few hand-woven manuscript wrappers made from silk or cotton. Other minor languages covered in the Lao manuscripts collection include some Tai Lue and Tai Khoen manuscripts. All items in the Library’s Lao manuscripts collection have been catalogued in the online catalogue, Search our Catalogue of Archives and Manuscripts.

More detailed information about this Lao collection and contact details can be found online here.

Lao palm leaf manuscript at the British Library in London

Lao palm leaf manuscript at the British Library in London


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Irrawaddy Literary Festival 2014

14 – 16 February 2014, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
Under patronage of Aung San Suu Kyi

Burmese literature has a long tradition and goes back well over a thousand years. The oldest extant specimen is a stone inscription dated 1113 A.D., but it is believed that many older inscriptions have been lost or were destroyed during wars. Many of these inscriptions contain eloquent prayers and poems composed by royal ladies. Imaginative literature was written down on palm leaf manuscripts with a stylus, or in folded paper manuscripts in steatite pencil, often under the auspices of Buddhist monarchs. Historical ballads, verse romances, odes, metrical versions of Buddhist Jatakas, and poetic letters constitute this literature. These books flourished until printing became prevalent in the 19th century.

The introduction of printing into southern Burma in the early 19th century led to a change in Burmese literature. From 1875 onward, under British rule, the owners of printing presses began to publish popular works such as plays, complete with songs and stage directions. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first Burmese novels were published. The emergence of literary magazines in the 1910s stimulated the popularity of short stories and serialized novels. Nationalist and anticolonial themes were common in literature from the 1920s to the 1940s. Following Burmese independence in 1948, many writers tried to use literature to help create an egalitarian, democratic society. However, following the 1962 military coup, the Myanmar government pressured writers to adapt the themes and style of Socialist Realism, and freedom of expression continued to erode through the turn of the 21st century.

In 2013, the first Irrawaddy Literary Festival was being held in Burma. It has ignited international press and public interest and support. The Irrawaddy Literary Festival this year announces the participation of a wide range of highly esteemed Burmese and international authors, journalists and broadcasters, as well as literary agents and publishers.

The festival homepage provides more details of participating authors as well as a programme and media coverage.

Folio from a Burmese Kammavaca manuscript, 19th century

Folio from a Burmese Kammavaca manuscript, 19th century

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The Lontar Foundation for the promotion of Indonesian literature

The Lontar Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Lontar’s primary aim is to promote Indonesian literature and culture through the translation of Indonesian literary works.

Before Lontar was established, in 1987, there was virtually no place in the world where one could regularly obtain translations of Indonesian literature. Today, more than two decades later, Lontar remains the only organization in the world whose primary focus is the promotion of Indonesia through literary translations.

Over the years, Lontar has undertaken a number of significant research and documentation projects in connection with the preparation of various publications. Most of these projects are open-ended in nature, they can be resumed, whenever additional funding becomes available. All physical materials collected during the course of a project are stored in the Lontar Foundation library.

In addition, Lontar is buildung up a digital library for online access to electronic books, audio files, films, and digital images from over 250 manuscripts.

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