Alexander West

Winner Dissertation Prize 2022

Bujangga Manik, or Java in the Fifteenth Century

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Ben Arps
Co-supervisor: Dr. Aone van Engelenhoven
Nomination: Leiden University, Faculty of Humanities


Report by the selection committee

Alexander West describes his dissertation as an ‘edition and study’ of Bujangga Manik, a fifteenth-century narrative poem in Old Sundanese, a language of West Java. And it is – which in itself would have been enough to make Erasmus interested. But it is even more than that.

First, it is an absolutely exemplary edition and study. The text edition and translation are outstanding, and really every aspect that could be discussed, down to the box in which the manuscript is kept, is covered. West successfully combines traditional philology with modern approaches, also paying attention to the materiality of the text.

Second, the main title is not just Bujangga Manik, but it is Bujangga Manik, or Java in the Fifteenth Century. The poem itself gives us a unique, emic picture of West Java before the arrival of European colonists and before the Islamization. But West also adduces many other texts in a great variety of languages – including Portuguese, Classical Chinese, and Old Javanese – in order to give a comprehensive picture of late medieval Java. In addition, he brings in archaeological data, old photographs and images, as well as ethnographic studies. Thus Bujangga Manik becomes the starting point for a wide-ranging study, which offers new information on the larger area of Southeast Asia and beyond.

As West knows how to write and also structures his book extremely well, the result is a highly accessible, eminently readable, and even captivating book, that sets a new standard for the broad field of Southeast Asian philological studies and considerably advances our understanding of the Indonesian archipelago in the period before European contact.