Heritage and the Politics of Culture
In 1851 Barus’ Muslim Malay elite saw the arrival of the twenty-six-year-old ambitious Dutch linguist and bible translator Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk (1824-1894) in their coastal town. It did not take long before they understood that the young Dutchman who wished to settle in Barus was trying to gain access to their written texts. Although part of Barus’ inhabitants doubted his intentions, the ruler of downstream Barus ,Tuanku Sutan Ibrahim, heeded to Van der Tuuk’s call for help. He loaned Van der Tuuk several his family’s manuscripts and introduced him to local Malay scribes who he could commission to copy texts. Forty-nine of the texts collected by Van der Tuuk in Barus and nearby Sorkam are kept at the Asian Library of Leiden University Library. This paper aims to map Barus’ Malay-European network in which manuscript trade, transactions and production took place. With the focus on local Malay agency it will show how the local component in these manuscript transactions partly determined the make-up of Van der Tuuk’s collection of Malay manuscript from Barus. Lastly, this paper investigates the nature and roots of the negative appraisal of these Malay texts by their European collector.