Digitising Malay writing in Sri Lanka

The Malay of Sri Lanka have preserved a spoken dialect and a rich writing tradition for over three centuries. Today, the manuscripts of this community are kept in private collections, and younger generations can no longer read its Arabic script. It is crucial to preserve these manuscripts, to enrich our understanding of the Malay World.

The term “Malay” has been used to refer to people from the Indonesian Archipelago who were exiled to Sri Lanka by the Dutch as political exiles and convicts, or recruited as soldiers by colonial armies. Despite the distance from the Indonesian-Malay world, the Sri Lankan community maintained a flourishing literary culture, with works that closely resemble those produced in the Malay “heartland”. From the 18th to early 20th century, the Malay produced a diverse range of manuscripts, as well as newspapers, books and media.

Most surviving manuscripts are held in private collections in poor conditions. Many in younger generations remember their ancestors owning the manuscripts, but do not know where they are located now.

This project stems from a survey pilot project in 2011, which documented 50 Malay manuscripts, books, letters and notes. This major project digitised over 100 items. The original material remains in private hands, but the digitised copies are available at the Sri Lanka National Archives in Colombo. The creation of a digital archive of this material ensures that future generations will be able to make use of the knowledge of their ancestors, and the Malay community in Sri Lanka can be further explored.

Project Details

Location: Sri Lanka, Southern Asia, Asia Organiser(s): Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) Project partner(s): Australian National University Funder(s): Arcadia Funding received: £17,680 Commencement Date: 05/2013 Project Status: Completed
Project owner? Update this project

Related Projects

EAP1402 Pub003

19th-century documents from the Peruvian asylum el Manicomio del Cercado

The Victor Larco Herrera Hospital in the centre of Lima, Peru, was closed in 1917. Its archives, dating back to 1859, consist of medical documentation as well as administrativ…

Explore project
EAP1306 Silk Museum

The Caucasian Silk Circle: Digitising Photo Collection of the State Silk Museum in Georgia

The State Silk Museum of Georgia holds the only documentary evidence of the practice of sericulture in the 19th century. Taken during expeditions of the Caucasian Sericulture …

Explore project
EAP1294 team

Safeguarding for Posterity Two Private Collections of Palm-Leaf Manuscripts from the Tamil Country

The Kalliṭaikuṟicci and Villiyampākkam collections are palm-leaf collections held privately in India. The collections are essential to study the prevalent reading practices in…

Explore project