The Legacy of Malay Letters

The Legacy of Malay Letters

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With their spendid illumination, elegant calligraphy, intricate seals and courtly and refined language, the Malay letters embody all that is most beautiful in Malay culture, civilization and aesthetics. Indeed, such letters offer a glimpse of the complex social and political structure of Malay society, for every element - from the position of the heading and seal to the choice of yellow silk envelope - was determined by the relative rank of the correspondents and the diplomatic importance of the missive.

Displayed and translated in this exhibition catalogue are 100 Malay letters spanning nearly four centuries, from the oldest known Malay manuscript of 1521, through to the eve of the 20th century. The objects are not only beautiful art objects but also a resource for the political, diplomatic and economic history of the Malay archipelago. Also presented here are traditional Malay manuscript guides to letter-writing, and literary and historical texts which describe the elaborate ceremonies which accompanied the sending of royal Malay letters, and the status and quality of the envoys entrusted to carry and deliver them. The Malay letters form a legacy whose true value has come to be recognized only slowly, but which is all the more stunning for its discovery.

Published by the British Library for the National Archives of Malaysia. 240pp

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