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Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia: Content, Form, Context, Catalogue

ANNABEL TEH GALLOP is head of the Southeast Asia section and curator for the Indonesian and Malay collections at the British Library. Her PhD was on Malay Seal Inscriptions: A Study in Islamic Epigraphy from Southeast Asia (SOAS, University of London, 2002), and she has written widely on Malay manuscripts, letters, documents and seals, and on the art of the Qur’an in Southeast Asia.

NUS Press & The British Library (First Published, 2019)
785 pages including Indexes and Concordance


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Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia: Content, Form, Context, Catalogue describes and analyses the Malay sealing tradition, carefully cataloguing more than 2000 seals sourced from collections worldwide, primarily seal impressions stamped in lampblack, ink or wax on manuscript letters, treaties and other documents, but including some seal matrices made of silver, brass or stone. These Malay seals originate from the present-day territories of Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia and the southern parts of Thailand and Cambodia, and the Philippines, and date from the second half of the 16th century to the early twentieth century.

Complete transcriptions and translations of the Jawi inscriptions are provided, bringing the seals to light as objects of literary and art historical analysis, and key resources for an understanding of the Malay Islamic world of Southeast Asia in the early modern period.

Seals make up an important element in the manuscript and literary culture of maritime Southeast Asia, a world long connected by political, economic, and cultural networks, the lingua franca of the Malay language, and the faith of Islam. They constitute a treasure trove of data that can throw light on myriad aspects of the history of the Malay world, ranging from the nature of kingship, the administrative structure of states, the biographies of major personalities and the form of Islamic thought embraced, as well as on developments in the art and material culture of the region.

The earliest Malay seals recorded in this catalogue are two seals from Ternate, of Sultan Khairul Jamal and his son Babullah, impressed on a letter in Portuguese to the King of Portugal in 1560 (1836, 1837). Both seals are round with fine upright calligraphy, recalling Timurid seals of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and are most likely to have been imported from the Persianate world. The most recent seals included here date from the mid-twentieth century, for with the birth of nation-states the court-centred Malay sealing tradition petered out slowly but inexorably across the archipelago.

Spread across the intervening four centuries are the other two thousand seals included in this catalogue, albeit distributed very unevenly both spatially and temporally: over a hundred seals have been recorded from the kingdoms of Kedah, Johor-Riau, and Palembang, but from the ancient State of Kutai only three seals are known.

List of maps, plates, and topic panels
List of abbreviations xi
Transliteration of Arabic/Jawi script
Terminology and conventions


Setting the scene: sources and studies
Content: inscriptions
Form: materiality and iconography
Context: users, uses, and usage
The evolution and development of the Malay sealing tradition


Editorial principles
1. Aceh
2. West Sumatra
3. East Sumatra
4. Siak, Kampar, and Inderagiri
5. Jambi
6. Palembang
7. Lampung
8. Johor, Riau, Lingga, and Singapore
9. Kedah, Perlis, and Pulau Pinang
10. Kelantan
11. Melaka
12. NegeriSembilan
13. Pahang
14. Perak
15. Selangor
16. Terengganu
17. Thailand and Cambodia
18. Brunei
19. West Kalimantan
20. South and East Kalimantan
21. Sulawesi
22. Nusa Tenggara
23. Maluku
24. The Philippines
25. Banten
26. Java, Madura, and Bali
27. Miscellaneous


i. Seal matrices
ii. Seal impressions
iii. Names and titles
iv. Place names
v. Dates
vi. Qur’an quotations
vii. Concordance of database numbers and catalogue number

Weight2.666 kg
Dimensions31.6 × 23.2 × 3.7 cm






Year Published


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