Digitizing Balinese Lontars

With the help of the Internet Archive and Ron Jenkins, a theater professor at Wesleyan University, the Balinese are leading the world as the first culture to have their entire literature go online. The documents are centuries-old lontar palm leaves incised on both sides with a sharp knife and then blackened with soot. As of today 477 lontars have been scanned and uploaded to the Internet Archive.

The writings consist of ordinary texts to sacred documents on religion, holy formulas, rituals, family genealogies, law codes, treaties on medicine (usadha), arts and architecture, calendars, prose, poems and even magic. The estimated 50,000 lontars are kept by members of the Puri (palace) family and high priests to ordinary families. Some are carefully kept as family heritages while others are left in dirty and dusty corners of houses. Digitizing the lontars makes them available to scholars and students and salvages the documents from getting destroyed by insects or humidity, as many already have.

Very few Balinese have actually read any lontar due to language obstacles and the view that is it sacrilegious. Traditionally, the lontars are read and performed by priests. Forty-one of such performances have been uploaded to the Internet Archive.


Gatutkaca Pralaya Nyoman Catra

Visit the Balinese Digital Library at The Internet Archive:

Balinese Digital Library collection
Collection of Lontars
Collection of Videos

Read more about this project and Balinese lontars at The Jakarta Times:

Ancient ‘lontar’ manuscripts go digital | Rita A. Widiadana and Ni Komang Erviani, Bali
US scholar brings ancient Balinese scripts to digital age | Ni Komang Erviani, Denpasar

-Grace Neveu and Jake Johnson

Edited on May 9, 2011: “Very few Balinese have actually read any lontar due to language obstacles and the view that it is sacrilegious. Traditionally, the lontars are read and performed by priests. Forty-one of such performances have been uploaded to the Internet Archive.”
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5 Responses to Digitizing Balinese Lontars

  1. brewster says:

    Fantastic project and fantastic post. Wonderful to see comprehensive literatures of important cultures go online.

    -brewster

  2. Peter K Austin says:

    Balinese lontar are written in Balinese and/or Kawi, a form of early modern Javanese. It is not true that it is “sacrilegious” to perform lontar reading. A recent article by Helen Creese describes the increasingly popular performances broadcast on radio in Bali:

    Creese, Helen. 2009. Singing the Text: On-Air Textual Interpretation in Bali. In Mary Kilcline Cody and Jan van der Putten (eds), Lost Times and Untold Tales from the Malay World. Singapore University Press, pp. 210-226.

    The Sasak people of Lombok (to the immediate east of Bali) also have a tradition of lontar reading and performance — I have published about this recently:

    Austin, Peter K. 2010 Reading the lontars: endangered literary practices of Lombok, eastern Indonesia. In Mark Turin & Imogen Gunn (eds.) Language Documentation and Description, Volume 8. London: SOAS.

  3. internetarchive says:

    Fascinating, Peter. Thanks for commenting. Stay tuned to the blog for updates on the project!

    -Jake

  4. Raghu M. says:

    I wish India would do the same with their palm leaves. It is far better to have the original palm leaves than the translated versions for scholars to use….

    • Raghu M. says:

      I have a Lontar palm leaf manuscript in Balinese which I will scan and upload, but I would like someone to translate it into english for me if possible..Any takers??

      Raghu

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