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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EAP373/21: Hara Phukan Collection

This collection of manuscripts belongs to Hara Phukan.

EAP373/21/10: Lai Tu

Extent:
Level: File
Scope and Content: "It contains a story similar to Noah's Arc. It begins as- when there were no wise men on earth, the earth was divided into 3x10000 parts. There was no king and people gave birth to many children. At that time two demons Kun Phi and Puk Phi ruled over earth. When Lengdon heard of this he tried to punish the people in various ways like sending snakes, hot rain and the great flood which killed many people. Thereafter, a new civilisation started from a person named Khao Lip Ling who saved himself by making a stone raft. He was the only intelligent wise man."
Language(s) Tai Ahom
Script(s) Tai Ahom
Legal & Ethical Usage Policy For research purposes only