I wrote a short post a while ago called “The Art in Southeast Asian Archives” where I made the point that when you do research you often come across things that look like art.

In looking at the certificates exempting people from taking the dictation test to enter Australia in the early twentieth century (that I mentioned in the post below) I found lots of art. First, these certificates contain pictures and the scribbled notes of immigration officials. Taken together, all of this can look quite artistic.


However, the true art in these documents comes on the second page of the certificates where the applicants were required to place their hand prints.

Albert Bowie hand

The print above is of the hand of Albert Bowie, who is listed as being a Malay from the Celebes Islands (i.e., Sulawesi).

Suleiman Chicoa hand

This here is the handprint of Sulieman Chicoa, a Malay from Ambon.

Sam Borneo hand

In these documents, “Malay” is used to refer to pretty much anyone who came from the area of what is today Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Sam Borneo, whose handprint is above, is listed as a Malay from Singapore. And what a great name he had!

Sam Runo hand 1

It looks like “Sam” was a popular name among Malays at the time. . . or maybe just when interacting with Australian immigration officials. . . In any case, this is the handprint of Sam Runo’s hand, a Malay whose birthplace was unknown.

Sam Runo hand 2

This is another print of Sam Runo’s hand, but without writing. I like both images.

Loong hand

Loong, a Malay from Borneo, did not have a last name. He was just Loong.

Drummand Hand

Drummand also had no last name listed. His nationality, however, was recorded as “British Malay,” and was from Borneo.

Lena Nau hand

This one is nice. It is the handprints of Lena Nau, an Australian-born Malay from Halifax, Queensland. Why are there two handprints for her?

Lena Nau

Probably because she was only 4 years old when she had to do this. It is easy to imagine a kid struggling to do this right.

Harry Runa hand 1

Then there was Harry Runa. There are a couple of certificates under this name. One has Harry Runa as a Chinese from Singapore, and the other as a Chinese Malay from Singapore.

Harry Runa

And in one he is listed as being 8 years old, and in the other I can’t make out the age, but from the picture he does not look like he is 8.

Harry Runa hand 2

What is more the two handprints look different, but the date on the two certificates is the same, 27 July 1917.

Sam Runa hand

On that day the two Harry Runas left for Hong Kong with a person whom I’m assuming was their brother, Sam Runa (another Sam!), who is listed as a Chinese born in Mackay, Queensland.

Sam Runa

Sam Runa looks like a little troublemaker.