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UNESCO Recognizes Manuscripts First Voyage Around the Globe and Hikayat Aceh as World Heritage

UNESCO has recognized an international set of fifteen manuscripts about Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe and the three Hikayat Aceh manuscripts as World Heritage. The manuscripts are inscribed in the global UNESCO Memory of the World Register. This list contains documentary heritage of exceptional significance that should be preserved for future generations. The manuscripts were presented in collaboration with the governments of Spain and Portugal and with the National Library of Indonesia respectively. We are grateful to UNESCO for this honour.

VLF 41

First circumnavigation of the globe

The manuscripts about the first circumnavigation of the globe are held by the collections of Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo in Portugal, Archivo General de Indias in Spain, Yale University Library in the United States and Leiden University Libraries (UBL). From the Leiden collections, the manuscript VLF 41 was recognized: Ferdinandi Oliveri de Sancta Columba (1507-85) opera duo: Ars náutica, autographa. – Viagem de Fernao de Magalhaes, secundum narrationem cuiusdam socii et suppletus ex aliis fontibus, lusitanice. This 1550 Portuguese manuscript mainly contains a text on navigation by Fernão de Oliveira (1507-circa 1581). The last quires contain the account of Magellan's journey. Manuscript VLF 41 has been digitised and is freely available in Digital Collections. The fifteen manuscripts were nominated to UNESCO by the governments of Spain and Portugal.

Expedition to the Moluccas

In 1494, Spain and Portugal had divided the non-western world among themselves, assigning the western half to Spain and the eastern half to Portugal. Both countries preyed on the lucrative spice trade with the Moluccas, in present-day Indonesia. In 1519 Magellan left westward on behalf of Spain with five ships: the Armada de Moluccas. In 1520, Magellan found a strait between Tierra del Fuego and the mainland of South America, the Strait of Magellan. In 1522, Magellan was killed fighting with locals in the Philippines. Under the leadership of Sebastian Elcano, only one ship completed the circumnavigation of the world in 1522.

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Or. 1954

Sultan Iskander Muda

The Hikayat Aceh is an indigenous history of the former sultanate of Aceh on the island of Sumatra in present-day Indonesia. Written in Malay in Arabic script, it describes and praises the Acehnese sultan Iskandar Muda (1583-1636), a national hero in Indonesia. The Hikayat Aceh is believed to have been commissioned by Sultan Safiyyat al-Din Syah, the daughter of Sultan Iskandar Muda. The text contains many stories about life and customs in the Acehnese courts, relations with, among others, Portugal, China and Turkey, internal rivalries, wars, and (Islamic) religion. It is a unique work that uses traditional Malay literary styles with a rich Persian influence, full of information and historical detail.

Three manuscripts

Two Hikayat Aceh manuscripts (Or. 1954 and Or. 1983) are held by the UBL and one manuscript (ML 421) by the National Library of Indonesia. The Leiden manuscript Or. 1954 is the oldest (circa 1675-1700) and most complete manuscript. Or.1983 is a copy of this manuscript in Batavian Malay, written in 1847. ML 421 is also a copy of Or. 1954 and dates from the early 20th century. With only three surviving manuscripts, the Hikayat Aceh is an exceedingly rare text. The Hikayat Aceh is, therefore, an important source for anyone interested in Islam, international relations and the history of Aceh. Manuscripts Or. 1954 and Or.1983 have been digitised by the UBL and made freely available in Digital Collections. UBL and the National Library of Indonesia collaborate in a number of areas and have jointly nominated the three manuscripts to UNESCO.

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Five Leiden UNESCO documents

With the granting of World Heritage status to the Hikayat Aceh manuscripts and the account of Magellan's journey around the globe, the UBL now holds five documents with inscriptions in the global UNESCO Memory of the World Register. In addition to the two new recognitions, this concerns La Galigo (2011), Babad Diponegoro (2013) and Panji (2017). All these documents have been digitised and are freely available for education and research via Digital Collections.

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