Tag Archives: KITLV

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

De Josselin de Jong, February 13th 1923


In his  diary, De Josselin de Jong often mentions his linguistic fieldwork. An example from February 13th 1923:

djdj 13 feb

“’s Middags verscheen Emil Francis, een bejaarde neger van Smiths bay, East End, die door reverend Romyn op ontboden was omdat hij eveneens nog goed Negerhollandsch kent. Hij bleek ook inderdaad de taal nog behoorlijk te kunnen spreken en er veel belang in te stellen, maar hij wist niets te vertellen. Waarschijnlijk zou ik hem na 2 of 3 interviews wel aan den gang te kunnen krijgen, maar daar hij aan East End woont kan daar niet van komen. Het is intusschen wel nuttig van verschillende persoonen informatie te krijgen. Van individueele verschillen in uitspraak is heel weinig merkbaar.”

In the afternoon Emil Francis appeared, an elderly black from Smiths Bay, East End, who had been summoned by reverend Romyn because he too still had a good command of Negerhollands. It turned out that he was still able to speak the language properly and he was interested in it, , but he had nothing to tell. After two or three interviews I would probably be able to get him going, but since he lives in East End, it will not happen. Meanwhile it is quite useful to get information from different persons. Only very little is noticeable of individual differences in pronunciation, (cvr, rvs)

Emil Francis was born in 1854, and, despite his knowledge of Negerhollands, mentioned above, he only contributed just one, short text (no. XVII) to De Josselin de Jong’s Het Huidige Negerhollandsch (1926) which I present below  in normalized orthography:

“De domnee wa a doop mi si naam a Mr. Wit, domni fa Hernhut. Mi a lo lo a skool a di jaa 1871. Di skoolhus a kaa fal. So ons a ha fo hou skool a di kérek. And da di ótkweek a fin ons an ons a ha fu kuri abit it fa di kérek. An mi maa a lo draa melek a Kwati an mi di ótkweek am a kri di stibn.

Asta die gale di selef jaa di a ha kálara. Mushi fulek wa mi weet a doot. Ons na kan lo we it fa Kwati. De dómnee na listáá ons lo eenteen pat abiti it fa di plantai.”

The reverend who baptised me, his name is Mr. Wit, reverend of Herrnhut. I went to school in the year 1871. The schoolhouse had fallen down. So we had to hold school in the church. And there the earthquake found us and we had to run outside of the church. And my mother was bringing milk to Kwati (the school grounds?, Dutch: Kwartier) and during the earthquake she got the convulsions (she became very frightened). 

After the storm the same year, there was cholera. Many people that I knew died. We could not leave Kwati. The reverend did not let us go anywhere outside of the plantation. (cvr, rvs)

De Josselin de Jong did not add an English translation of this text in his work. He just remarks that “Prince (which must be Emil Francis, cvr) remembers an earthquake and a cholera epidemic about 1871.”

On St. Thomas, the earthquake raged after an attack of a hurricane, on August 21st 1871.  All houses were damaged, but more than a hundred were destroyed. About 150 people were injured or died of their injuries.  (See Delpher for more information.)

Both photo’s: KITLV, Leyden, The Netherlands

Thanks for your help, Robbert!

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