UH Manoa Professor Confirms Oldest Known Malay Manuscript

Discovery leads to international academic partnerships; scholars to gather in Jakarta in December to attempt translation

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Jenny Samaan, (808) 956-2222
Office of International Education
Kristen Bonilla, (808) 956-5039
Public Information Officer
Posted: Nov 8, 2004

SUMATRA, Indonesia — A 14th-century manuscript "re-discovered" by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa professor Uli Kozok in a village in Central Sumatra in 2002 is the subject of the first collaboration between UH Mānoa‘s College of Languages, Linguistics and Literatures and the University of Cambridge‘s St. Catherine‘s College. The two universities are working together to publish the manuscript, "The Tanjung Tanah Manuscript: Safeguarding the World‘s Oldest Known Malay Manuscript."

The new partnership and the impressive scholarship of Kozok was recognized in September at the Tunku Abdulrahman conference jointly sponsored by the University of Malaya and the University of Cambridge entitled, "Occidentalism and Orientalism: Reflections of the East and Perceptions of the West." In the presence of Malaysia‘s higher education officials and representatives from the partner institutions, Kozok officially presented his findings on the world‘s earliest Malay manuscript to the scholarly world.

"I am very impressed by Dr. Kozok‘s achievement. It says a great deal about the quality of our faculty," said Dr. Joseph O‘Mealy, Interim Dean of the College of Languages, Linguistics and Literatures at UH Mānoa. "This discovery will lead to collaboration by experts from around the world as they decipher deeper meanings. We look forward to the University of Hawaiʻi hosting workshops that will coordinate world leaders in their fields."

The U.S. Ambassador‘s Fund for Cultural Preservation in Jakarta, Indonesia, has also recognized the seminal work of Kozok by awarding $18,000 to the Yayasan Pernaskahan Nusantara (Foundation for Island Southeast Asian Philology), which will help preserve the long-lost text. The funds will ensure that the manuscript, which has been carbon-dated to the 14th century, will be conserved, translated, and published for dissemination. The original will be returned to its home in the Sumatran village where it was found, which will be equipped with the means for proper storage. A replica will be made to be placed in the Indonesian national library.

Originally seen by Dutch scholar P. Voorhoeve in 1941, Kozok found the manuscript in the exact same location 61 years later. It had been kept in a private collection in a remote part of Sumatra where villagers regard it to be a sacred heirloom with calamity befalling the village should it be removed.

"Voorhoeve either did not realize its significance or underplayed it as his writings made only vague comments about it," said Kozok, an assistant professor of Indonesian at UH Mānoa.

The manuscript is a legal code of 34 pages completely written in Malay except for the first and last few sentences, which are written in Sanskrit. The material the text is written on is bark paper produced from the bark of the paper mulberry tree, and the script is an Indian-derived script, which developed locally in Sumatra.

A trained archeologist as well as a philologist, Kozok posited that it dated back to the 14th century as it contained no Arabic loan words, and mentioned a little kingdom that only existed in the 13th and 14th centuries. Despite the skepticism of many of his colleagues, he had it carbon-dated by a laboratory in Wellington, New Zealand, which has one of the most advanced dating methods. The laboratory confirmed the manuscript was from the second half of the 14th century.

A translation workshop organized by UH Mānoa and Yayasan Pernaskahan Nusantara will be held in Jakarta in mid-December with scholars from all over the world gathering to discuss the various aspects of the manuscript and to attempt a translation of the 700-year-old Malay used in the manuscript.