Category Archives: Hesseling

The Mysterious Leyden Böhner Manuscripts

In 2007/2008 the Leyden National Museum for Ethnology donated 19 notebooks to the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV). One of the notebooks contains a typoscript of a Gospel Harmony, the other ones are manuscripts of several large liturgical texts, and all are written in Negerhollands.  The librarian/archivist contacted Hans den Besten to find out the importance of these texts. Den Besten immediately recognized the texts and their value for future research.


The texts appeared to be copies of Negerhollands manuscripts that had been kept in the Unitäts Archiv in Herrnhut, Germany. The notebooks have, as far as I know, been manufactured in the Netherlands, but it remains unclear who transcribed these texts. In the catalogue of KITLV these texts are dated around 1940, but I could not find a date in any of the notebooks.

In the beginning of the twentieth century D. C. Hesseling contacted Archivist A. Glitsch of the Unitäts Archiv and ordered a copy of the Negerhollands Grammar, which is kept in Herrnhut. He got the copy, paid for it and after his death, his widow donated this manuscript to the University Library of Leyden. All letters with regard to this copy are still available in the University Library of Leyden. However, unfortunately we cannot find a single clue who copied these other texts in any of Hesseling’s letters or other manuscripts. The handwriting resembles that of Hesseling, but I think it is too early to draw a conclusion about that.

A first glance in the notebooks reveals complete paragraphs of the Old Testaments that were illegible in the original eighteenth century texts we used for our Clarin-NL NEHOL corpus.


It is a nice coincidence that the typoscript is a copy of Gospel Harmony 3.2.2., the one with the metalinguistic comments in the preface.


The texts still leave us with a lot of questions, which will hopefully be answered in a next quest.

Photos by KITLV

Unknown Negerhollands Manuscripts Library KITLV

Only a few months ago I found out that in 2008 about 18 notebooks with texts of the German missionary translator Johann Böhner were presented to the library of the KITLV (see last weeks post).

On Friday January 10th I investigated these texts. It was amazing, among other reasons, because the late Hans den Besten already examined some pages of these texts in 2007, discussed them with Sirtjo Koolhof in an e-mail correspondence and considered them of high interest.

The note books contain in total about 1280 pages of twentieth century transcriptions of eighteenth century liturgical texts. Of one of the eighteenth century Gospel Harmonies, 3.2.2. according to the code Peter Stein introduced in 1986, and which we use in our Clarin database, a typoscript is preserved.

All manuscripts were unfortunately anonymous, no writer, transcriptor or owner were mentioned, nor in the notebooks, nor on the covers. The originals of these manuscripts are stored in the Unitäts Archiv in Herrnhut, Germany, and as far as we know, no letters or bills considering these texts exist to search for a provenance. Like Hans den Besten wrote in one of his related e-mails, I ask myself: Did D.C. Hesseling, who did not use these texts for his 1905 publication, got renewed interest and ordered these transcriptions? Did he plan a new publication? It seems unlikely he transcribed these extensive texts himself. The notebooks  seem to be made by a Dutch and not a German manufacturer however…..

I hope to publish a few photographs and a list of contents of these notebooks soon.

Example of an opened page in manuscript 3.2.2. by Johann Böhner.

Negerhollands 322

New Negerhollands manuscripts!

In 2008 the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) obtained 18 notebooks with texts of Johann Böhner, the most important eighteenth century translator of Negerhollands liturgical texts.  These manuscripts  are probably copies made shortly before 1940. I hope to study these texts in a few weeks.