Acehnese manuscripts in danger of extinction: identifying and preserving the private collections located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies (EAP229)

Aims and objectives

This pilot project will identify, copy and conserve manuscripts kept in private collections in the Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies. Acehnese individuals have collected more than 400 manuscripts dating from the 16th to 20th centuries. It is planned to take an inventory of these, make preliminary lists of the survey and reproduce some samples of the manuscripts.

Aceh is an important area possessing and maintaining a large number of manuscripts as cultural property. Historically in this area there have been a number of prominent religious intellectuals, called ulamas. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, Aceh experienced an intellectual golden age. Four prominent figures were Hamzah Fansuri, Syamsuddin as-Sumatrani, Nuruddin ar-Raniry, and Abdurrauf al-Fansuri. However, during the 19th century Aceh was attacked by the Dutch and the activities of intellectual figures were reigned back.

Because of these intellectual efforts, many unpublished manuscripts can be found. Some of them have been preserved by public institutes but some are still in the hands of the Acehnese people. Based on a preliminary survey, manuscripts are kept by people scattered in several villages located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies.

In Aceh, many people tend to keep manuscripts regardless of the authors. For some of them, having manuscripts, especially religious manuscripts, is a matter of pride and they carefully keep them in boxes or cupboards or on tables. For example, one collector keeps his manuscripts in a wood case and on a table. He takes care of the manuscripts by inserting dried-tobacco in each page of the papers. According to him, dried-tobacco can deter insects from the manuscripts. In spite of this, the pages of manuscripts still look yellowish and stay humid.

Some manuscripts though are under threat of either being discarded or sold. One collector selects and then sells the best quality manuscripts for a high price.

This project hopes to identify and preserve the manuscripts kept in Aceh, before all of the manuscripts are destroyed. The two regencies that are the focus of this project, Pidie and Aceh Besar, have been chosen for three main reasons:

  • The physical condition of the manuscripts is extremely bad. Most of them already have insect damage and all of them have damage to the paper with some becoming brownish and some yellowish in colour. Some are in very humid conditions.
  • These two areas are susceptible to both natural and man made disasters. The tsunami occurred in Aceh two years ago, and some parts of these two places were swept away by this disaster. Fortunately, some manuscripts are left, kept by the local people. Apart from this, Aceh is an area where earthquake frequently occur.
  • The private collectors do not know the appropriate way to conserve the manuscripts and several collectors intend to sell their manuscripts.

The project will produce a written report of the survey including preliminary lists of the manuscripts and some digital copies.


This project achieved the following:

  • The identification of 404 manuscripts held by private collectors in two regions: Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies;
  • Lists of the manuscripts were produced and ten 'sample' manuscripts were digitised;
  • A workshop was held for the collectors to show them how to preserve their manuscripts and look after them.

A future major project is planned in order to digitise the manuscripts that have been identified and located during this pilot project.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: