The Ancient Lontar Scripts of Bali are Going Digital

Some of you reading this might not realise what a lontar is or is importance in the ancient Balinese culture. Basically, a lontar is written history and Bali has a unique way of preserving it. These manuscripts are writings from hundreds of years ago that are inscribed on the leaves of the lontar palm (punyan entel).

The writing surface is prepared by soaking the leaves in water for days to remove the chlorophyll. The leaf is then brushed to remove any small debris of insects and then boiled with a herbal potion to add flexibility and durability to the leaf.

To stop the leaves getting wrinkled the drying process is very slow. The leaves are then pressed for 10 days to get as flat a surface as possible. They are then cut into strips that are 35-40cm long and 3-4cm wide. The final phase of the leaf preparation involves pressing the cut leaves again and colouring the edges with a dye called kincu to keep insects away. After another 6 months the leaves are ready for engraving.

The engraving is a meticulous process that is achieved with a sharp iron tool. Carbon from a lamp is then rubbed into the engraving to give it colour. Ensuring the survival of the lontar manuscripts is a continual process as they only last for a maximum of about 100 years. The Bali Aga village of Tenganan specializes in lontar engravings.

There was an interesting article in the Jakarta Post (2011/01/29) regarding lontar manuscripts. According to the article: The repaired lontar manuscripts, totaling 3,000 pieces stored at the agency’s library, are to be scanned and uploaded into a digital library, making them accessible to any reader across the world when the project is complete.

If you are interested in the ancient culture of Bali written on lontar then Singaraja is the place to visit. The Gedong Kirtya is the only museum of lontar manuscripts in the world and houses 3,000 or more separate pieces written in Old Javanese, Balinese and Indonesia, covering subjects such as folk history, black magic and astrology.

Gedong Kirtya also houses a set of inscribed bronze plates from the 10th century. These are called prasasti and are considered to be the oldest written records in Bali.

Image Courtesy: