Palm-leaf Pali Text Manuscript gifted to the Myanmar Institute of Theology

On April 17, 2024, Kathy Black, faculty emerita, on behalf of the Claremont School of Theology, presented an old palm-leaf manuscript to President Rev. Dr. Eh Tar Gay and Vice President Rev. Dr. Marip La Rip of the Myanmar Institute of Theology (previously the Burmese Divinity School established in 1927). Ahsah Kyuelna, 2022 Ph.D. graduate in Interreligious Education, facilitated the introduction to the president of her alma mater in Yangoon, Myanmar. 

As CST moved to Westwood, there were some items that needed new homes. Dr. Black is helping the school find places where valued artifacts could be housed into the future. Among these items was a Palm-leaf manuscript that was written in “old Burmese”. The text itself is a Pali text of Theravada Buddhism. 

Palm-leaf manuscripts were common in India and other southeast Asian countries. The leaves were the “paper” upon which scribes wrote. The palm leaves were dried and smoked and cut into rectangular pieces about 15”x4”. The words were carefully carved into the leaf on both sides. Natural dye would then be rubbed into it so the color seeped into the fibers of the leaf. Excess dye would be removed. Small holes, one at either end, were cut into each leaf so a twine could hold the manuscript together and it could be “opened” and read like a book. 

We don’t have an exact date for this manuscript but, because of natural decay, most Palm-leaf manuscripts that have survived today come from the 17th and 18th century.

The gift was presented at a reunion of alums and friends of the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Rancho Cucamonga. They were excited to receive the gift because even though it came from their home country, no one present had ever seen one. They could pronounce the old Burmese language but they didn’t understand what it said. President Gay said they have a Buddhist scholar on their faculty who might have more insight into the text and students in their M.A. in Interreligious Studies program may also benefit from this manuscript. 

In thanksgiving for this palm-leaf manuscript, the first hand-scribed text of any kind in their library, the Myanmar Institute of Theology presented CST with a Certificate of Appreciation.