Endangered Archives

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EAP373: Documenting, conserving and archiving the Tai Ahom manuscripts of Assam

The Ahom Manuscripts Project will digitize and document the written legacy of Northeastern India’s Ahom Kingdom by photographing and cataloguing approximately 500 Ahom manuscripts (20,000 pages), following best practices and standards for digital imaging, cataloguing, and metatagging, and archiving these materials at the British Library, the Institute for Tai Studies and Research (Moran, India), Gauhati University (Guwahati, India) and Dibrugarh University (Dibrugarh, India).

Founded in 1228, during the great exodus of Tai speakers from southern China that began hundreds of years earlier, the Ahom Kingdom represents the furthest reach of a diverse Tai culture bridging China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Burma. Usually written on Sasi (Aquillaria Agallocha) tree bark, most Ahom manuscripts date to the 17th and 18th centuries, but discuss and/or copy far older texts. They describe all aspects of traditional Ahom life, and have played an active role in maintaining community identity. Among the oldest Tai texts outside Thailand, Ahom texts have seminal cultural, historical, and linguistic value. Separated from Tai culture for centuries, the Ahom branch is essentially unique in never having embraced Buddhism. Ahom texts are free of Sanskrit- and Pali-mediated linguistic and cultural influences that infuse even the 700-year-old Sukhothai Thai inscriptions.

The manuscripts are found in a variety of settings; occasionally well cared for (but not necessarily accessible) in institutions, but more often in private collections held by individual, generally impoverished, families. The material is usually too fragile to be moved, but may be photographed in situ. Many manuscripts are gradually being damaged by Assam’s notoriously wet climate.

An equally important threat is the Ahom community’s diminishing ability to read and interpret texts. Ahom ceased to be a mother-tongue two centuries ago; traditional instruction in the texts is largely a lost tradition. While some Ahom priests can still interpret parts of some texts, most manuscript owners are ignorant of the language, and the manuscripts themselves are increasingly less prized and protected.

The digital images and metadata will be made universally available on-line through the Center for Research in Computational Linguistics, where they will be integrated with existing search tools developed under the Ahom Lexicography project.

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EAP373/15: Dhiren Boruah Collection

This collection of manuscripts belongs to Dhiren Boruah.

EAP373/15/3: Mantra

Extent:
Level: File
Scope and Content: "This manuscript contains Dam Phi mantras. These mantras are recited to make offerings to different Gods, the ancestors and the dead. This manuscript may be of the type known as Khek Lai. The first page, top left, contains the text chau nv ru chau kau vi, khun thau nyav lang ku ri mo phi khv me phi nyav … 'Oh Lord above our heads, oh my Lord. The great and elder prince Langkuri …' This is a manuscript of the prayer used until today in ceremonies like Me Dam Me Phi and No Khowa. The first section is a prayer to Langkuri, then Jan Sai Hung, then Lareng, then Lengdon then Ja Sing Pha. The prayer is in three sections, the first au tang, the second is kin tang and the last is poi tang. In the manuscript only the first two are present."
Language(s) Tai Ahom
Script(s) Tai Ahom
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