Documents of Wisdom from the Mekong River Basin


Documents of Wisdom from the Mekong River Basin
“Wherever accordion folded manuscripts and palm leaf manuscripts are found, the breath of letters and language of the people in the Mekong River basin continues at that place.”

 

Accordion folded mulberry and palm leaf manuscripts are both used to record the stories and knowledge of the people in the Mekong River basin. These manuscripts are written in the Tai alphabet, also called the Tai Tham script (Lanna script), Tai Lue script, Tai Khün script or the Tai Yai script. 
The accordion folded manuscripts, also called Por Kra Sa, are made of the bark of mulberry trees. They are usually used to record supernatural phenomenon including astrology, superstitions and magic. Many topics may have been included in one fold, as people often used a singular fold as a notebook or journal. One fold may have also been written by multiple authors, as an accordion folded manuscript was often passed on from generation to generation. 

A palm leaf manuscript was made by cutting, boiling and drying carefully selected leaves. This manuscript was usually engraved to record religious topics such as Buddhist sayings, legends and history. 

Only a few accordion folded mulberry and palm leaf manuscripts still exist, and are mainly found in temples. The Tai Tham script (Lanna script) is not in used anymore, except by those who have studied the script during their ordainment. Therefore, these manuscripts have become important objects for conservation. However, in Kengtung, Shan State, Republic of the Union of Myanmar and in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, People's Republic of China (PRC), mulberry bark and palm leaves are still at times used to record stories. Modern technology and materials such as notebooks have replaced these traditional materials. 

Because of their rarity, accordion folded mulberry and palm leaf manuscripts represent a continuous breath of traditional alphabets and language of the people who live in the Mekong River basin.