The Newsletter 65 Autumn 2013

Living Balinese heritage: Palm-leaf manuscripts and their caretakers

Andrea Acri

Bali, though a small island, harbours rich and diverse cultural traditions. Despite a rapidly modernising and developing Indonesia, the image of Bali as a ‘culture-trove’ harbouring timeless ancestral traditions remains popular among foreign and Indonesian tourists today. However, few visitors, even among the culture-savvy, venture into off-the-radar (and often run-down) institutions such as public libraries and cultural foundations, not to speak of Brahmanical houses (griya), where delicate treasures are stored. These centuries-old treasures, equally iconic as Bali’s barong masks or legong dancers, are palm-leaf manuscripts (lontar). For over a millennium, lontar were the medium for the transmission of knowledge both of a sacred or mundane nature; they are traditionally regarded as powerful, almost supernatural objects.

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