The ‘Butterfly Book’: A Look into Burma’s Colonial Past

By The Irrawaddy 22 March 2016

RANGOON — A uniquely designed Burmese document, with text printed on “wings” of silk bound within an oyster shell, is among the highlights of a new display at the British Library in London.

Informally dubbed the “Butterfly Book” by the library’s staff, the unusual item is actually a formal petition from residents of Mergui Archipelago requesting development projects in the region from colonial authorities, including the construction of a new hospital and a ferry service to other nearby coastal settlements. The petition was presented in 1907 to the British Lt-Gen of Burma on his first visit to the area.

The item is part of a small exhibit called “More Than a Book” that sits at the entrance to the Library’s Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

The exhibit presents examples of writing from Southeast Asia in a variety of formats and materials, including texts incised on bamboo and gold, painted on paper with a brush, and written on gilded wood, according to information on the library’s website.

Two Burmese sazigyo, or woven cotton tapes used to bind sacred texts, are also on display, along with items from northern Thailand, Vietnam, Sumatra and Bali.

The British Library is located at 96 Euston Road, next to King’s Cross and St. Pancras International rail stations in London, England.