Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saving Indonesia’s Cultural Heritage

Dr. Oman Fathurahman, a senior researcher at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta, spends his days tracking down and deciphering Indonesia’s many ancient texts and manuscripts. He thinks it is a job that is not only critical to understanding the country’s cultural and historical past, but also where it is headed in the future.

Unfortunately, the lack of a proper centralized storage facility for these documents makes his job a difficult one, and leaves many of these priceless texts in danger of being lost or destroyed forever.

It’s critical that these texts should be stored in a secure place, like a museum or national library, said Oman, an expert on the study of ancient manuscripts, a science known as philology.

He is one of the few people in Indonesia fighting to acknowledge the significance the manuscripts have for society.

Oman believes that history repeats itself, explaining that many events that occurred in the past happen again hundreds of years later.

“Interpreting these manuscripts will give us that awareness so that, in the future, we can make better decisions for society,” Oman said.

But unlike other, less fortunate countries, when it comes to ancient texts and manuscripts, Indonesia has a lot to lose.

“This country has a wealth of ancient manuscripts with different languages and letters — possibly millions,” said the 43-year-old researcher.

“In Sumatra alone, we have thousands of Malay and Islamic scripts that tell stories from as far back as four centuries ago.”

When it comes to protecting these manuscripts, it’s not all bad news. In 2005, Unesco suggested that every country in the world start preserving their written cultural heritage.

Last year in Paris, the institution launched the World Digital Library, a Web site that features unique cultural material from libraries and archives located around the world.

Visitors to www.wdl.org have free access to manuscripts, maps, books, journals, prints, photos and sound recordings from all over the globe.

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