Cirebon was one of the important Islamic Sultanates in Java, together with Demak and Banten, and had been a centre for Islamic learning and the dissemination of Islamic teachings in West Java. Cirebon was also considered to be one of the cultural centres in the Indonesian archipelago, which can be seen in its manuscripts.
These Cirebon manuscripts will contribute towards the understanding of Islamic intellectual and cultural heritages, and will help to reconstruct how Islam spread in West Java in the period of the 15th century to the first half of the 20th century. According to the latest survey, Cirebon manuscripts are mostly damaged because of inappropriate treatment and natural causes. Others were neglected due to a lack of knowledge about the storage and handling of manuscripts.
Some of the Cirebon manuscripts can be found in various public collections in the Netherlands, Britain, and France. Even though they are spread over various countries, they are limited in number. Cirebon itself has the biggest number of them held in traditional Islamic schools, by Cirebon sultans, and the private collections of sultan descendants.
Up to now, these manuscripts have not been explored and studied by either local or foreign scholars and there is no published catalogue of them. They include Qur'an and religious manuscripts, the story of puppet shadow (wayang), genealogy of Cirebon sultans, traditional healings, literatures, Cirebon traditional chronicles, Javanese Islamic mysticism written as poetry (Suluk), divining manuals, and manuscripts of talismans. The majority of them are physically in quite a fragile condition. This project will cover the whole area of the former Cirebon Sultanate (including Kasepuhan, Kanoman, Kacirebonan, and Kaprabon), Pengguron and Sanggar, starting in those where the manuscript conditions are precarious. Approximately 13,000 pages of these endangered manuscripts will be digitised and a report will be written.
The purpose of this project is to preserve Cirebon manuscripts through digitisation and the digital reproductions will be deposited in three institutions: (1) Bayt Al-Qur'an and Museum Istiqlal, for the purpose of research among scholars of Islam in Indonesia at large; (2) the British Library, for wider access by researchers; and (3) the owners of the manuscripts.
The project succeeded in digitising 176 manuscripts, 17,361 pages. The manuscripts were held at the Sultanate Library and private collections.
The manuscripts consist of: Quran and religious credo traditional healings, literatures, Cirebon traditional cronicles, Javanese Islamic mysticism, the story of puppets shadows, and the geneology of Cirebon Sultans.
Digital copies have been deposited with the National Library of the Republic of Indonesia, the British Library, the Library of PPIM UIN (the State Islamic University), and Museum Istiqlal.