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September 20, 2017

Ancient Book Reveals Some Malay History

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – I bought a book. A big brown book with many pages. I purchased it from the Dukun, a Malay-Indonesian shaman, who has a table between the shop houses and the road down the street. Remember, he is the one who connects this world with the unseen world.


I know, I know. The book is very, very old. It is handwritten in Jawi, the scribbling of the Arab language. Only, this time, the Jawi translates into very old Malay.


The book is in good condition for its age. The pages are of linen with brown spots. The medallion, at the beginning on the book, is flawless. The paints of blue, gold and black are striking. Like all Islamic books, it is an abstract, of what I couldn't tell you.


I bought it in hopes, a faint hope, that it would tell something of the early history of the area. The history is almost lost because it is an oral one as these people could neither read nor write until about 50 years ago. Some, like my mother in law, still cannot. The Dukun said there was history of the area. I surely hope so.


My wife reads Jawi. She is one of the few who can. She can change those scribbles into Malay and then she and I can try to figure out what it says in English. The trouble is, it is in Old Malay. It's like trying to change Beowulf into modern English.


We are on page four. We finally got the title down. Ready? "A Story about the Five Distant Kampongs along the Kenduruan River." We found the five kampungs and the river in west Java. We have a place that was/is actually there. I had to put what I thought was the title on Facebook. A wonderful person from the British Library helped me out.


This is a very slow process. So far, the Hindi god of Lightening and Thunder (I didn't know there was such a god) comes down to earth and changes himself into a humble man. He roams the west Java area and somehow acquires a most beautiful daughter. Everybody wants to marry her. Kings and people of high nobility seek her hand.


There are many people in the first four pages. Suriani, my wife, writes them down and I google them to find out if they are famous. Another god appears, the god of the Sky. I didn't know about her either. Maybe that’s where they got the beautiful daughter. God of Lightening and thunder plus the god of the Sky.


Sometimes we have to break down long 17-20 Indian words into their components. Apparently, there is an al Rat family that Suriani is related to. Her aunt told her about it. I told her to get over to her house and write it down before she dies.


There are also many places. We can identify most of them as on Java or Sumatra. Sometimes, places take us to Selangor on Peninsula Malaysia, but we just can't connect the story yet. Nothing connects us to here though.


We will continue to plod along in this newly discovered manuscript on the history of a small area of west Java. It is interesting, this love story. But we have done only four pages.  I just hope it has some material on my area here in Borneo.


...Life is good. . . . .


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