Item consists of 5 sheets of paper. measuring 21 × 13 cm, contained several envelopes, one after the other:
- A 13.5 × 7.5 cm envelope, made of white paper, bleached. Fold and cut design of the envelope resembles a hongbao, although paper is unmarked, apart from red trim on the envelope edges. There is some writing on black ink (tallow candle soot + unknown binder) on the front end of the envelope. Strokes indicate it to be using Chinese calligraphy. Two areas of writing; there is what seems to be an address on the central part of the envelope, while the top-left corner contains what appear to be several random Chinese characters: 藍 (blue) 七 (the number 7) 龍 (lóng — dragon?) 九 (the number 9) 水 (water) 六 (the number 6). An addressing scheme?
- A 15 × 8 cm envelope, made of thicker off-white / cream paper, also bleached. Fold and cut design is similar to the first envelope, although paper is completely unmarked. There is some writing in what appears to be an unknown dialect of Persian on the front-and-centre of the envelope (another addressing scheme?), and a series of numbers on the top-right corner, which translates to: 718.312.215.910.
- A 16 × 9 cm envelope, made of thin, almost crumbling light-blue paper. State of paper could be due to damage caused by saltwater. There are smudges on the front of the paper, although they are almost obliterated to the point of illegibility.
The letter appears to be hand-written in hanacaraka using what appears to be a fountain pen (same ink as on first envelope), and appears to be some variant of Old Javanese, although one of the linguists I managed to
threaten bribe persuade to assist me in this indicated that there were enough unknown words, abbreviations and variants of modern Javanese words for this to warrant as either a new language or a creole of some kind.
Excerpts of the letter are as follows. S&T can fill up the rest. This is the first page:
To my [esteemed, respected, venerable] parents in Demak, your [humble, respectful] daughter speaks to you from the seventh [pylon? tower?] of Damascus, to assure you that she is safe in health, and still gainfully employed with father’s friend, the [honorable, valiant] Captain Tha-Pi-Ra.
As father has indicated, although the tales exaggerate the Captain’s characteristics and to some degree her brilliance, and omits several [scurrilous, embarassing] details, father is right — she is indeed one of Malacca-Riau’s greatest warriors, and comes close to one of its most brilliant strategic thinkers… although this would not be immediately obvious during the first two weeks of my employment with her.
…not only is it necessary for me to learn all twelve [dialects, languages] within two weeks, it is necessary for me to understand at least 30 forwarding [protocols, laws, rules] that are necessary as part of a junior scribe attached to Captain’s flagship. I have not slept for more than four hours in three weeks… I cannot truly say that I feel like a complete [Arabic loanword: “insan”] any more…
…and to make matters worse, based on what I’ve managed to pick up from the Chettiars in Damascus, you have neglected to deposit my monthly stipend once again. Please, father, mother, I beg of you two: the money I earn from this position is insufficient to procure what I need…
The next section takes up 3 pages, and includes:
…not to mention the bottles of perfumes, the delicate notepapers, the many inks I require, the massage oil for my weary wrists, as well as the herbs I need for the stress I go through…
…and the English journals that I subscribe, and the French journals I must procure at great expense, and the [loanword? Very similar to “human” / “anatomical” ] etchings for my personal needs…
…my medicine, my companion’s medicines, our discretionary purchases when we are on shore leave…
This one is an excerpt of the final page:
In short, father and mother, I hope you are well, and to forgive your [wayward, disobedient] daughter for disregarding your advice and abandoning you in relative [comfort, safety] in Demak. I hope to hear from you soon, and pray to the gods that you will not leave your youngest daughter to [penury, poverty], merely because she has decided to serve her nation.