Friday, 11 November 2011

A Tale of Palm and Paper and Printing


This is an image of a lontar, a traditional book format in SE Asia made from palm leaves.
The script is Balinese.

In the modern world we tend to take the use of paper for granted but there was a time when paper was scarce and unusual and writing was done in parchment (treated and scraped leather hides) clay tablets, wax tablets or lead or papyrus and on silk or cloth.

Paper is a relatively new innovation and it's no consequnce that printing appeared soon after paper became more common. Printing probalby increased the demand for paper.

Imagine trying to print with wooden blocks or silk screens or movable type IN MASS PRODUCTION on silk or palm leaves or wood?

The pairing of paper and print is why China and Japan had a surprisingly high literacy rate when you consider the difficulties of learning to read and write at least a thousand characters for basic literacy.

Okay the Japanese and Koreans ended up developing kana and hangul but you see my point?

Movable type wouldnt have worked on papyrus or clay tablets not in multiple copies.

In Indonesia the Old KAWI script and related forms competes with Arabic and the Roman ABC.

It was the Dutch who introduced printing. That's probably why Bahasa books and magazines are usually printed in the Roman alphabet though there is a modified form of Arabic that has extra letters to cover sounds that do not exist in Arabic like ng and ny.

There  is yet another type of script used in the Celebes and Sulawesi but that's a topic for another post.