Endangered Archives

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

Dr Stephen Morey, La Trobe University
2010 award - Major project
£17,755 for 24 months

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Project Overview

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.

Project Outcome

Read online the open access article: Metadata and endangered archives: lessons from the Ahom Manuscripts Project, published in the EAP Anniversary publication From Dust to Digital. The article can also be downloaded as a PDF. 719KB

Blog: Digitised Ahom manuscripts arrive at the British Library - May 2013

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP373/1 Ajoy Mohan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/2 Ananta Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/3 Baparam Hati Baruah Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/4 Bhim Kanta Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/5 Bhoba Baruah Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/6 Bhola Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/7 Bhuban Boruah Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/8 Bidya Phukan Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/9 Bimal Baruah Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/10 Bogadhar Phukan Collection [19th-20th century]
  • EAP373/11 Budheshwar Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/12 Central Tai Academy Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/13 Chandra Mohan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/14 Dhamen Mohan Boruah Collection [18th-19th century]
  • EAP373/15 Dhiren Boruah Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/16 Dhormendra Boruah Collection [19th century]
  • EAP373/17 Dibya Chetia Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/18 Dulen Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/19 Durlov Mohan Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/20 Gileshwar Bailung Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/Hara Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/22 Haranath Mohan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/23 Harichandra Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/24 Institute of Tai Studies and Research Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/25 Jibeshwar Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/26 Junaram Sangbun Phukan Collection [18th-20th century]
  • EAP373/27 Kamol Boruah Collection [18th-20th century
  • EAP373/28 Kamol Rajkonwar Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/29 Kesab Boruah Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/30 Khanin Hati Baruah Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/31 Krishna Mohan Collection [1815-16]
  • EAP373/32 Manik Bailung Collection [1832]
  • EAP373/33 Manuranjan Phukan Collection [c 18th - 19th century]
  • EAP373/34 Medini Mohan Collection [18th - 19th century]
  • EAP373/35 Mohendra Baruh Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/36 Mohendrajit Boruah Collection [c 18th - 19th century]
  • EAP373/37 Munindra Phukan Collection [18th-19th century]
  • EAP373/38 Nipen Mohan Collection [c.18th century]
  • EAP373/39 Nogen Buragohain Collection [20th century]
  • EAP373/40 Padma Sang Bun Phukan Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/41 Paniram Gogoi Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/42 Parijat Mohan Baruah Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/43 Prodip Baruah Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/44 Puspa Mohan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/45 Rupeshwar Boruah Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/46 Sandicharan Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/47 Soilen Nath Konwar Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/48 Sosti Mohan Collection [c20th century]
  • EAP373/49 Susen Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/50 Tapudhar Phukan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/51 Tileshwar Mohan Collection [c18th century]
  • EAP373/52 Toilen Mohan Collection
  • EAP373/53 Tulen Phukan Collection [18th century]
  • EAP373/54 Tulsi Boruah Collection [18th-19th century]
  • EAP373/55 Tulsi Phukan Collection [c18th century]

The catalogue is available here