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Virginia Shih
120 Doe Library
510-643-0850 ext. 1

Swift Family Collection of Palm Leaf Manuscripts          

          Summary. Lloyd Wesley Swift, a 1930 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, donated a collection of 16 sets of palm leaf manuscripts and one paper manuscript. Generally known as The Swift Family Collection, it includes several Buddhist palm leaf manuscripts from mainland Southeast Asia that figured prominently in "The Written Word Remains", an exhibition of manuscripts and rare printed books from South and Southeast Asia. Following the exhibition, the collection of 23 manuscripts eventually came to be stored in University of California-Berkeley's South and Southeast Asia Library. In 1997, some of these manuscripts were displayed again in an exhibition titled "A Hundred Harvests: The History of Asian Studies at Berkeley". In 2001, the whole collection was sent to the Library Preservation Department to be treated and boxed. Then, in October of 2002, the process of individually identifying, inventorying, and cataloging each manuscript began.

          History. The Swift Family Collection's known provenance begins with Reverend Samuel R. House (1817-1899). House, a native of Saratoga, New York and one of the founders of a Christian missionary to Siam and Laos, traveled to Siam in 1847 and worked there for thirty years. After coming into possession of the collection, it is believed that, in 1853 from Siam, he gave several of the manuscripts to his friend, Reverend Stephen Bush, to bring with him on a trip to New York to, in turn, give them to Professor James Hall (1811-1898), geologist, paleontologist, and director of both the New York Geological Survey and the New York State Museum at Albany. 

          Upon Hall's death, the manuscripts came to his daughter, Josephine Hall Bishop (1841?-1917), herself a world traveler and collector who maintained her own private museum on Washington Street in San Francisco. She brought many of Hall's papers and much of his personal property, including the collection of manuscripts, to San Francisco. Found on some of the manuscripts were small, red-bordered labels in her handwriting, suggesting that Josephine may have displayed the manuscripts. 

          With her husband, Thomas Benton Bishop (1840-1906), Josephine had a son, Edward Bishop. and the manuscript collection passed into the hands of his widow, Mrs. Edward Bishop (1887-1951), from Josephine's estate upon her death. Eventually, the collection came to Lloyd Wesley Smith through his wife, Clara Bishop Swift (1905-1964), upon her death. From Swift, parts of the manuscripts were wrapped in attractively colored handmade mats and they came with brown wrapping paper and notes. Inside some of the manuscripts' panels were descriptive notes on white paper. Swift was unable to identify the writer of these notes but credited a scholarly nun in San Francisco who saw the manuscripts and could read some of the writing in ink on some of the exterior wrapping paper.

Description of the Swift Family Collection

          Summary. Of the collection's twenty-three manuscripts, nineteen are written in palm leaves and four are written in folded paper. Some of these manuscripts have a wooden title marker, or bookmark, that may or may not contain the manuscript's name or date. Regarding the collection's script(s), fifteen of the manuscripts' writing belong to the family of Laos Tham or Northern Thai scripts, three are written in Devanagari script, two in Khmer, and one each in Burmese, Tamil, and Thai.

          Scripts. The manuscripts written in Laos Tham or Northern Thai scripts likely vary in regional affiliation as variations in numeric character exist among them. These script variants include Mon, Yuan, and Lu and are often difficult to identify as a result of significant differences between them and modern Laos Tham and Northern Thai scripts. Frequently, however, they share characteristics with the Mon script.

          Texts. Regarding specific texts, the collection includes a wide range of textual samples from both the Buddhist Tripitaka and the Hindu scriptures. Namely, representing the Buddhist canonical texts are the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the Vinaya (the Mahavagga and Cullavagga sections), and the Sutta Pitaka (Majjhima-nikaya, Anguttara-nikaya, and Jatakas). Representatives of the Hindu title scriptures include the Visnupurana.

          Provenance and Identification. While the manuscripts' provenance, as well as some of their titles, have not yet been identified, those that have been identified can also be dated (some even contain dates in their colophons). The earliest of these is dated 1732 CE (1144 Culla Sakka) and the latest is dated 1898 CE (1260 Culla Sakka).     


Below is a physical description of each manuscript. The number in front of the title of the manuscript is the sequence number of the manuscript. This number is written on top of the archival box, in which the manuscript is stored.

#1 - Abhidhamma. Cloth wrapper. Black wooden covers. 6 bundles. Gilt edges with black stripe in the middle. Tham script. Very tidy. Pali mixed with Northern Thai. [Contains Puggalapannati, Vibhanga, Kathavatthu, Mahapatthana, Dhatukatha].

#2 - Namasap Culavagga. Tham script, Northern Thai language. 18 bundles. Handwritten label on inside cover in English.

#3 - Milindapanha. Tham script, Northern Thai language. 2 roughly hewn plain wooden covers. 6 bundles. Decorative designs at some places such as around string holes of front and last pages. Handwritten card in English, laminated.

#4 - Kammavaca. Silk wrapper with bamboo ribbing. 2 fine wooden covers - gilt lacquer rondels with vegetal motifs on red background. Leaves have gilt edges. Lanna script - 5 lines per leaf. Good hand. Pagination ka-kah, kha-khah, ga-gau. Folio ki missing. Kammavaca formulas in Pali with some lanna Thai at end. Handwritten ink label on inner back cover: "Kammavacam The formulas used in the ordination of a Buddhist monk or Bikkku (sic). Palm leaf MS. In Laos Pali characters. Farther India.

#5 - Abhidhamma, Vohara, Vibhanga Sutta. Cloth wrapper. 4 bundles. Tham script, Northern Thai language. Handwritten label in English on inside of wooden cover: "Vohan Petaka tang sam commentary on Tripitaka." [Contains Vibhanga Sut, Vibhanga Sut Patimok, Vohar Anisong Pitok, Abhidham].

 #6 - Katha Sipphaguna. Northern Thai language mixed with Pali. Tham script mixed with Burmese for Pali. End leaf: Phra chao bhavana nai... Budda bodheyyam mutto mocaiyam ti tinno taleyyam. Label in English: "Verses of ten precepts. Written in Laos pali characters. Indochinese."

#7 - Anguttara Nikaya. 2 plain red gilt wooden covers. Palm leaf with gilt edges. 7 bundles (phuk) Lanna script; Pali and Lanna languages. 5 lines per page. Contains several bundles with title "Anguttara Nikaya" in left margin. Text is in lanna Thai. Two bundles are in Pali. These may be other texts. One bundle bears Cula Sakkaraja date. Gilt lacquer title marker with Lanna Thai inscription and same date. 1239 = 1877 (?)

#8 - Sip Jat = Ten Jatakas. Tham script, Northern Thai language. Cloth wrapper. Gilt edges of leaves. Handwritten label on inside cover in English. 2 bundles 1) na tap klao sip jat... 2) na tap pay phuk ton.

#9 - Kammavaca. This manuscript is written on palm leaves. Except for the first leaf, which measures 16 by 2.25 inches, the rest are 24.875 by 2.25 inches. Two lacquered wooden boards cover these leaves. Except for the first leaf, the leaves and the boards each have two holes. A brownish cord, which goes through those two holes, binds all of the leaves and the boards together.  There are 27 leaves in this manuscript. Only leaf number 5 up to leaf number 25 are inscribed. The written leaves are marked sequentially , starting with the letter 'ka' and ending with the letter 'khau'. Each leaf usually has five full lines of text. Exceptions are leaves number 5, 20, and 25, which have only 5 lines in the middle in front; 1 line in front; and 4 lines in front and 1 line in the back respectively. Leaves 5 up to 20 are written in Pali with Tham script. The rest are written with Northern Thai script.

#10 - Narada Jataka. Cloth wrapper with bamboo slit ribs. 2 fine gilt lacquer wooden covers - ornate motifs on red background. 3 bundles - leaves have gilt and red lacquer edge. Lanna script and language. 5 lines per page. Good hand. Bundle 1 opens "narada phuk ton lae sakkara dai 1190 tua." handwritten label on inside cover reads "The three volume MS Laos Indo-China Name: Nadara (sic) Jataka Birth Story of Buddha."

#11 - Vessantara Jataka. Fine and well-preserved cloth wrapper with bamboo ribbing. Geometric motif. Gilt lacquer wooden title marker with inscription in Lanna script and language on one side (reverse side blank red lacquer). Gives title "Mahavesantara; (sic) and Sakkaraja date. 2 plain red covers. Leaves have gilt and dark lacquer edges. Lanna language and script. 5 lines per page. Good hand. Phuk in disorder - seem to be 13? Chapter titles in left margins - Sakkapan, Vannapavet, Kumarapan, etc. Includes "anisong" (with grey string). Handwritten label on inside cover: "the sixteen volume MS Laos, Indo-China Name: - Vessantara Jataka. the birth story of Gotama Buddha describing his incarnation as King Vessantara."\

#12 - Namasap Mahavagga. Gilt lacquer wooden title marker with one inscribed side (reverse plain wood). 2 wooden covers with gilt floral motifs on red background. 24 bundles. Lanna script and language. 5 lines per page. Fine hand. Date in Culasakraj 1228 tua = 1866 (?). Label on inside cover - handwritten in ink "The Vinaya Pitaka Mahavagga Palm leaf M.S. in Laos Pali characters. Farther India."

#13 - Vohar Mahosatha Jataka, Candakumara Jataka. Wooden title marker - gilt lacquer with inscription in Lanna script and language on one side, plain black on reverse - carved "handle." Gives titles "Mahosatha" and "Candakumara." 2 plain red wooden covers. Leaves have gilt edges with central red stripe flanked by pair of red stripes. 11 bundles. Lanna script and language. 5 lines per page. Date. ??? tua 8 phuk - vohan Mahosatha 3 phuk - vohan Candakumara Label on inside cover, written in ink in longhand: "Sutta Pitaka. Mahosatha Jataka and Candakumara Jataka. Palm leaf M.S. in Laos Pali characters. Farther India."

#14 - Phra Dhammapada-atthakatha kambujjakaksara-avat (?), phuk 8. 1 bundle in Khom script. Thai writing on cover page: Origin Thailand. Khom script, Pali language, 5 lines per leaf. Good writing, tiny interlinear notes in Thai. Some loose leaves. Note: 1 stray leaf of illustrated MS of Ramayana from Orissa or South India. Very fine.

#15 - Kammavaca. Wooden title marker. Red lacquer inscribed in Lanna script and language on one side, verso plain red. 2 gilt wooden covers with floral motifs, inlaid with mirrors. Leaves have gilt edges. Lanna script in Pali language, 5 lines per page. Title leaf reads "Kammavaca." Final leaf has colophon of 2 lines in Lanna language with names of persons involved (?) and date, ending "nibbana paccayo hontu (sic) no.

#16 - Majjhima Nikaya. Wooden title marker. One side gilt lacquer inscribed in Lanna script. Verso plain black. 2 very fine wooden covers, gilt with floral motifs drawn in black. 4 or 5 bundles. Leaves have gilt edges. Lanna script and language. 5 lines per page. Label on inside cover, written in long hand in ink: "the Sutta Pitaka Majjhima Nikaya Palm leaf M.S. in Laos Pali characters. Farther India."

#17 - Tamil. 7 lines per leaf. 2 string holes. Very fine and tidy hand.

#18 - Abhidhammavatara patha (Pali language). Red lacquer cover and edges. Burmese script. 9 lines per leaf. Good writing but faint.

#19 - Phra Abhidhammatthasangaha Pariccheda. BE 2416 = CE 1873. Sponsored by Khun Mae On. 9 bundles - complete. Thai language, Khom script. 

#20 - Phra Mangaladipani-atthakatha mangala sutra. 2 new boards. Khom Pali script. 5 lines per leaf. Good writing. Thai note on title page: "tan laew." 2 bundles: phuk 39 and 40 from "ban plai."

#21 - Rajavidhanasarah. Wooden cover, inside, has 3 paintings of green Buddha in vitarka mudra flanked by 2 images of eyes, eyebrows, urna and 'om' symbol. Text - black letters on yellow paper with red pigment between dandas. Opens: Sriganesaya namah // 18 leaves. Complete.

#22 - Srimadvisnupurana. Printed paper folding book in Nagari type and Sanskrit language. Opens: "Atha satikam srimad-visnupuranam prarabhyate. Verso of title page has black and white picture of Visnu on the serpent Sesa. Title of Tika is "Vaisnavakutacandrikatika. Colophon gives printing details (Ainapura in Mumbai) and date Saka 1824. Paper fragile.

#23 - Visnudharmottara. Printed paper book in Nagari type, Sanskrit language. Title page; red and green ink: "Atha Visnudharmottara-mahapurana-prarambha" has table of contents (visayanukramanika). Printed in Mumbai by Khemaraja Srikrsnadasa at Sri Venkatesvara Steam Press. Samvat 1969. Saka 1834. Paper in better condition than No. 22. This is an edition from the famous Sri Venkatesvara Steam Press in Bombay.

This guide was originally created by Hudaya Kandahajaya. It was later evaluated and revised by Professor Peter Skilling in December 2005 and edited by South/Southeast Asia Web and Library Assistant Vaughn Egge in February 2016.


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