Arts and Culture
Manuscripts in Laos and Thailand are usually inscribed on palm-leaf. Although since the late nineteenth century mulberry paper and modern industrial paper has partially replaced palm-leaf as the dominant writing support in some areas, the traditional palm-leaf based manuscript culture has not disappeared. However, it has gone through processes of transformation which will be discussed regarding manuscripts kept at monastic repositeries in Luang Prabang, the old Lao royal capital and centre of Lao Buddhism. These transformations pertain both to the materiality of palm-leaf manuscripts and the visual organisation of the texts inscribed on the manuscripts. In some places palm leaves were no longer inscribed with a stylus but written with ink using fern pens or ball-pens. Since the 1940s some monk-scribes in Luang Prabang even used typewriters to copy texts of considerable length on palm-leaf. More recently, modern printing technology furthered the industrial production of texts printed on specially prepared palm leaves or concertina-like folded books resembling the format of palm-leaf manuscripts. This presentation seeks to investigate the transformation in the Lao palm-leaf manuscript culture with regard to the materiality, such as changes of writing support and writing substance but also of script, book format and layout. Special emphasis is given to the question how printing technology inspired changes of the layout – such as the appearance of new cover designs and column alignments – and gave rise to the emergence of so far unknown forms of paratexts (f.e., tables of contents, prefaces and afterwords), pictorial elements and separation markers.