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Pustaha: A Shaman's Tree Bark Book

Pustaha: A Shaman's Tree Bark Book by BATAK people (1780)

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Author: BATAK people
Title: Pustaha: A Shaman's Tree Bark Book
Year: 1780
Publisher: Unpublished
Place: North Sumatra
Dust Jacket: No
Signed: No
Price: £1500
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Added under Manuscripts  

[20] 11.5x18cm. Pustaha or tree bark book produced by the Batak people of north Sumatra in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and written on bark from the Alim tree. In Batak culture the use of writing was restricted to the esoteric knowledge of a 'datu', a shaman or medicine man, which required the use of an arcane language called hata poda for remedies, magic or divination. The seventeen coloured images of a cockerel strongly suggest that this manuscript is divinatory in purpose. The concertina fold book is made up of eighteen pages, the first and last being glued to the one centimeter thick wooden boards, one of which has lightly incised diagonal cross hatch decoration; 16 text pages - rectos as it were - and 4 versos. The first paste-down and the first free leaf have a section 3cm deep missing from the foot of the page, otherwise the folded pages are all present. These books were usually kept close to the fire with consequent scorching of pages which occurs progressively through this example making the characters on the final four pages hard to discern. A pair of subtly different woven ties fit around each end of the book to keep it from falling open. This Pustaha was examined by an expert at the British Museum in the early 1970s with a label attached to the cover by the previous owner:'From a visit to the British Museum 19.4.72. This is the note book of a medicine man dictated to his pupils. It comes from Sumatra and is approx. 200 years old. There are about 20 in the British Museum. Noone can translate it. Medicine books often have cocks.' The oldest known Pustaha book to have entered a European collection dates from 1764 - it too has 18 folds of tree bark. In all the British Library holds 28 Pustaha. Uli Kozok (author of 'Bark, bones and bamboo: Batak traditions of Sumatra') notes 'that between one and two thousand pustaha are known today, held primarily in Dutch and German collections, as well as in the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta'.
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