Papers of Professor Mervyn Aubrey Jaspan (1926-1975)

Scope and Content

This collection of the research notes and materials of Professor Mervyn Jaspan forms part of a much larger collection of South East Asian research material begun in the 1960s, some of which is catalogued as part of the main holdings of the library. In the 1970s the main holdings were also boosted by the deposit of around 1000 of Professor Jaspan's books and pamphlets about the sociology and anthropology of South-East Asia as well as many original texts, especially from Sumatra.

U DJA and U DJA2 are very complex deposits but can be summarised as follows. The material dates from 1955 when Professor Jaspan travelled to take up a post in Indonesia. Papers 1955-1961 relate to his sociological studies, particularly carried out in Java. There are research papers and students' papers in amongst these research materials. In 1961 Professor Jaspan moved from Yogyakarta to a research fellowship at the Australian National University in Canberra and he spent three years working towards a doctorate on the Rejang people of Bengkulu province of South-West Sumatra. A large proportion of the archival material in the collection is Rejang-related and it represents the largest corpus of any such material in any library. It includes language notes and dictionary file cards, Rejang proverbs and oral texts transcribed by Jaspan, mythical tales of origin and genealogies, folk tales and animal fables as well as riddles and pantuns.

The rest of the material in the collection relates to Professor Jaspan's post-doctoral research from 1964 to 1975 when he held posts at Perth in Western Australia, Leiden and Hull. During this time he began collecting and translating indigenous scripts with Dr Petrus Voorhoeve, who was Keeper of Oriental Books and Manuscripts in the library of the University of Leiden and who went on to edit a Rejang dictionary for Jaspan posthumously. There are South Sumatran Malay manuscripts and materials in the rencong script including epic tales in verse, genealogies, legal and ethical texts, love poetry, letters and manuals of the dukun or medicine men, reflecting the interest he developed in indigenous medicine. Texts in other scripts include a substantial law text in the modern Indonesian script of the Bengkulu province, some notes on the batak language of North Sumatra and the languages of Borneo.

During the late 1960s Professor Jaspan made extensive field trips to Cambodia and there are research materials on the Indonesian language of the Cham communities of the middle Mekong and these include poetry, morality tales, divination manuscripts and some modern patriotic songs of the Khmer. Professor Jaspan's last field trip took him from Hull to northern Luzon in the Philippines where he worked on the Igorot of the Mountain Province. Most of the material he collected was in the sagada dialect of Bontoc Igorot and it related to his interest in indigenous medicine. In the Philippines he also collected some very rare examples of other scripts as part of his collaborative linguistic work with Dr Voorhoeve. These include a manuscript in hanunoo of the Mindoro district. The even more rare examples of syllabic script collected from Palawan Island in the tagbanua language are in the artificial collection catalogued as U DSE (see separate entry).

Professor Jaspan's papers are catalogued as follows: U DJA/1 comprising miscellaneous articles, lectures and notes relating to Indonesia and the Philippines and including papers written from his PhD thesis, articles for the Sumatra Research Bulletin (edited by Jaspan), notes on folk literature and the entire Orphan Boy cycle, drawings, maps, letters, notebooks, student essays, transliteration of the hanunoo script, an attitude survey of students at a Javanese university, a file on New Guinea and some of his medical anthropology notes; U DJA/2 comprises Jaspan and Voorhoeve's copies of Rejang texts in the rencong script on bark folding books (eight of these were published with romanised transliterations in Folk literature of South Sumatra: Redjang Ka-Ga-Nga texts [1964]) and some Lampung texts and Arabic texts many of them copies of original manuscripts held in libraries in Holland and Germany, London, Dublin, Copenhagen, Paris and Jakarta; U DJA/3 comprises work on the Rejang dictionary (some of which is also in U DJA2/4/1-2, 5/1-2), as well as proverbs and Rejang texts from South Sumatra and a displaced field notebook with genealogical diagrams; DJA/4 comprises Rejang texts and anthropological notes including those on indigenous medicine including diet, belief in personality types, poisoning, spirits, myths and numerology; U DJA/5 comprises Rejang field notes and card indexes including a census of Tapus, the hill village where Jaspan stayed 1961-2; U DJA/6 comprises Rejang research notes and manuscripts including some travel correspondence of April 1963; U DJA/7 comprises miscellaneous files and notebooks related to Rejang researches including some photographs of Sumatra; U DJA/8 comprises Rejang research notes on index cards and includes the tale of Surguni and work on oral transmission of folk culture including styles of narration and expression.

U DJA2 breaks down as follows: U DJA2/1 comprises files of Cham texts and related material such as letters and maps, papers on Cham society and political structures, a few diary pages of a field trip and notes on art, music and literature; U DJA2/2 comprises card indexes, field notebooks, photographs and tape recordings all relating to the Cham people of Cambodia; U DJA2/3 comprises material largely relating to the Khmer including card indexes, notes, pictures and printed items as well as lecture notes on Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and the indigenous populations of these countries; U DJA2/4 comprises material for the Rejang dictionary; U DJA2/5 is more of the same in the form of dictionary filing cards; U DJA2/6 is miscellaneous material of Sumatran studies including notes on manuscripts and a paper on the Orphan Boy; U DJA2/7 comprises card files on Indonesian anthropology including material on the Pasemah and Borneo languages; U DJA2/8 comprises research material on the medicine of the Igorot of the Mountain Province of Luzon in the Philippines and includes correspondence, the draft of a book, card indexes and photographs; U DJA2/9 is a very miscellaneous section of material for Sumatra, Cambodia and Borneo and includes more material on Rejang vocabulary, a comparative dictionary of Cham and other languages, photographs and letters; U DJA2/10 is another miscellaneous section comprising material relating to Indonesia and Malaysia including papers given and newspaper cuttings, photographs of Ka-Ga-Nga texts, Lampung vocabulary, a list of Indonesian manuscripts in the India Office Library, the 1830 edition of William Marsden's translation of Memoirs of a Malayan family; U DJA2/10 comprises a few syllabuses from Gadjah Mada University and a letter of thanks from Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung.

Items in this collection are in a number of languages including English, Dutch, Arabic, Rejang, South Sumatran Malay, Lampung, Javanese, Cham.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mervyn Aubrey Jaspan was born in Johannesburg in 1926 and graduated with a degree in sociology and anthropology from Natal in 1948. Fieldwork undertaken in the following year on a Zulu-speaking tribe of South-Western Natal became his BSc thesis at Oxford in 1951. After a temporary post at Manchester and a research fellowship at Exeter he was appointed in 1955 to the chair of sociology at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. His papers in Hull University Archives date from this time.

In 1961 he was appointed research fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra after which he spent three years working on the Rejang of southern Sumatra based at Tapus in the highlands and Padang Bendar in the lowlands of Bengkulu. His thesis, 'From patriliny to matriliny: structural change among the Redjang of Southwest Sumatra' was presented in 1964. In the same year he published four Rejang texts as Folk literature of South Sumatra: Redjang Ka-Ga-Nga texts and was appointed senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia in Perth. He became first director of the Centre for Asian Studies there. In 1966 he made a trip to Cambodia to study the Cham people of the middle Mekong and from 1967 began to collaborate with Dr Petrus Voorhoeve on the collection, transcription and translation of South Malay texts, especially those in rencong script.

In 1968 Mervyn Jaspan was appointed to the chair of South-East Asian Sociology at Hull University. He became director of the Centre for South-East Asian Studies founded six years before. There was rapid expansion in the 1960s with the considerable help of the then librarian, Philip Larkin, and the South-East Asia librarian, Brenda Moon. The library spent several years acquiring material through purchase and active pursuit of donations, many of which came from Professor Jaspan himself. Archival papers acquired have come from Dr David Bassett, F W Dalley, Dr Harry Parkin and Dr Roy Bruton (see separate Guide entries) whose research materials cover the English presence in Java in the seventeenth century, trade unions in Malaya and Singapore, the Toba Batak religion of North Sumatra and the education of the Chinese in Sarawak respectively. The library also purchased in 1971 the valuable collection of Professor C Hooykaas including books and periodicals and Indonesian novels. Concentration on Indonesian material has led to it comprising about 30% of the total South-East Asian holdings of the library and includes a microfilm copy of the Sumatra factory records for 1685-1825. At Professor Jaspan's urging these materials were given separate cataloguing and physical space in the main library and archives.

In 1969 Mervyn Jaspan made research trips to Malaysia, Sumatra and Cambodia and in 1970 he travelled to Burma. He worked largely on folk literature and indigenous medicine. He launched the Sumatra Research Bulletin in 1971. After his death in 1975 around 1000 of Professor Jaspan's books and pamphlets about the sociology and anthropology of South-East Asia were donated to the library, as well as many original texts, especially from Sumatra. His books and research papers were catalogued by Dr Geoffrey Marrison, former Keeper in the Department of Oriental Books and Manuscripts at the British Library. Jaspan's research collections were at the centre of the best consolidated collection of South-East Asian books and manuscripts outside London, until the closure of the Centre for South East Asian Studies in 2003.

Access Information

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Other Finding Aids

Entry in South East Asian Studies subject guide

Custodial History

Donated by Helen Jaspan in 1980 [U DJA] and via the Centre for South East Asian Studies, University of Hull, in 1988 [U DJA2].

Related Material

South East Asian manuscripts [U DSE]


  • Marrison, Geoffrey, A catalogue of the South-East Asian collections of Professor M. A. Jaspan in the Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull (1989)
  • Marrison, Geoffrey, 'South-East Asia collections', Paragon Review, 3 (1994)