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  • Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia: Content, Form, Context, Catalogue by Annabel Teh Gallop
  • Edwin P. Wieringa
Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia: Content, Form, Context, Catalogue. By Annabel Teh Gallop. Singapore: NUS Press in association with the British Library, 2019. xvii+ 852 pp.

This exemplary piece of scholarship will be the essential and definitive reference work on the sigillography of the Muslim Malay world for a very long time to come. Based upon Gallop's unpublished doctoral thesis "Malay Seal Inscriptions: A Study in Islamic Epigraphy from Southeast Asia" (2002), which was the first (and also last) booklength study ever to examine this neglected sub-area in the field of Southeast Asian studies, the present (significantly augmented and updated) publication constitutes a careful documentation of 2,168 Malay seals. The pièce de résistance of this volume is its catalogue (pp. 53–722), which provides detailed descriptions and photographs of these seals from many public and private collections worldwide, including the deciphering and translation of the inscriptions, mostly recording seal impressions stamped in lampblack, ink or wax as found on such manuscripts as letters, treaties, and legal and commercial documents. The seals originate from the present-day territories of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the southern parts of Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, covering the period from the second half of the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century. The value of this exhaustive sigillographic catalogue is further enhanced by a useful set of introductory chapters (pp. 1–52) with background information on content and form, context and the historical development of the Malay sealing tradition. Indexes (pp. 739–85) facilitate easy retrieval of information. [End Page 383]

Gallop has successfully delivered on her self-professed aim "to make accessible a large body of primary source material from the Islamic world of Southeast Asia in the form of Malay seals, defined as seals from Southeast Asia or used by Southeast Asians, with inscriptions at least partially in the Arabic script" (p. vii). However, as Gallop states herself, the region of Lampung in South Sumatra, which is represented here by fifty-two seals (pp. 289–302), only has five seals that contain inscriptions in Arabic script "and thus fit the definition of 'Malay seals' applied in this catalogue" (p. 287), whereas a much larger body of over forty seals is wholly engraved in the local Indic-derived Lampung script that belongs to the so-called 'ka-ga-nga' writing system. Although these seals are quite different from the 'Malay seals' as concerns script but also content (p. 287), it is of course a bonus that they have been included in this book. Another notable exception to Gallop's definition of Malay seals, also duly mentioned by Gallop (p. 697), is the Javanese cultural zone of Java, Madura and Bali, which generally has seals in local varieties of the Indic 'ha-na-ca-ra-ka' writing system, so that the chapter on seals in Arabic script from this area (with the notable exception of Banten in West Java) merely has thirty-five seals. A Javanese seal from Banten (no. 1940, p. 661) has nonetheless been included because of its early date and "great importance" (p. 661).

An intriguing curiosity in the chapter on 'miscellaneous' is an undated brass seal with the inscription "qawl al-ḥaqq // w-y-l-m p-r-d-y-n-n p-l-w-m-n" (no. 2137; p. 713); Gallop comments that it is "possibly the seal of a European in Southeast Asia", providing the Romanization "Wilem Ferdinan Pluman" and tentatively suggests that the name may stand for "William Ferdinand Pluman" or "Plowman[?]". It is kept at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam (inventory no. TM-H-2190) and according to the museum's website it originates from Aceh, Sumatra (which I suspect may just be guesswork), dated before 1923, whereas the inscribed name is given as "Willem Ferdinand Pluman" (Tropenmuseum Amsterdam 2020). [End Page 384] As anyone familiar with Jawi script knows, European names are notoriously difficult to reconstruct. The first names are clearly Willem (and not 'William' as the word ends with l-m) Ferdinand, but the...


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