The literacy movement in copying and renting malay manuscripts in the 19th century

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Literacy skills are of pivotal importance in enhancing the quality of life. In the present era, literacy cannot be narrowly understood as the ability to read and write, but rather as a social movement related to the creation and interpretation of meaning through text. Nonetheless, based on statistical data of UNESCO (2017), Indonesia is second to last in world literacy rates. This is an ironic phenomenon, considering that the literacy movement in the country started a few centuries ago, when all forms of reading were from handwritten manuscripts in various languages and scripts. Hence, a step back to rethink the nation’s literacy ability can be used as a way to improve its current literacy rate. Having recognized the issue, this chapter attempts to discuss the manuscript culture, which involved the act of copying manuscripts in Batavian society during the 19th century. We examine the collection of Malay manuscripts of A.B. Cohen Stuart stored in the National Library of Indonesia. A.B. Cohen Stuart is a one of Dutch scholars who has concern about classical texts from Malay and Java. His collection of Malay manuscripts comes from Batavia in the middle of 19th century. To discuss the literacy aspects of the manuscripts, including their colophons, we use philology and codicology as methodological approach. Colophons are inscriptions at the end of the manuscript containing information about the publication of the book, such as the place of publication, the publisher, the time of publication and other information. Cohen Stuart’s collection of Malay manuscript colophons is richness of information, which can be analyzed by the concept of literacy as a social practice (Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000). The results reveal that the literacy movement in Batavian society in the 19th century is characterized by the copying and renting of manuscripts. In that era, literature was adjudged by the Batavians as an opportunity to improve their livelihood by earning money from manuscript rental activities. Moreover, it was also interpreted as a mode of self-expression.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDissecting History and Problematizing the Past in Indonesia
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781536193992
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Codicology
  • Literacy movement
  • Malay manuscript
  • Manuscript colophon
  • Philology


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