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Women and folktales project in Laos

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Women are important storytellers and bearers of cultural heritage in Laos. However, their voices are rarely heard outside their communities, due to their traditional homebound responsibilities and their lack of confidence in participating in public forums. At the same time, traditional folktales and legends are in danger of dying out, as an older generation passes on and young people prefer entertainment from television and the internet.

With this in mind, the Luang Prabang Film Festival and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre launched the Women and Folktales Project to empower ethnic minority women in Laos and document and disseminate traditional stories using film.

Funded by the US Embassy Vientiane, the project filmed seven women, from Hmong, Kmhmu, and Tai Lue villages around Luang Prabang Province, recounting 19 traditional folktales in their native languages. These films were translated into Lao and English, subtitled, and are now archived within the digital libraries of LPFF and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre.

Three of these folktales, one from each ethnic group, were turned into animated shorts with the creative input of the storytellers. “The Dog and Her Three Daughters” (Hmong), “The Spider Man” (Kmhmu), and “What the Buffalo Told the Humans” (Tai Lue) are traditional, yet vibrant, cartoons that will be used by TAEC’s Education and Outreach Team in local primary schools and distributed to libraries and children’s organizations, exposing a whole new audience to the diverse cultural heritage of Laos.

All 21 films are now on TAEC’s YouTube page, and are grouped into films with English subtitles and films with Lao subtitles . Please enjoy and share within your networks!

(reported by Gabriel Kuperman, Founder & Director, Luang Prabang Film Festival www.lpfilmfest.org / www.facebook.com/lpfilmfest )

Changi digitisation project at Cambridge University Library

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Cambridge University Library has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Award to conserve, digitise and make freely available online the archives of two WWII civilian internment camps on Singapore – Changi and Sime Road. These form part of the Royal Commonwealth Society’s British Association of Malaysia and Singapore archives. The two-year grant commences in September 2015 and it is planned to launch the records in Cambridge Digital Library in August 2017.

The archives will be of immense interest to the families of internees, academic researchers, students and the general public, since few survivors ever spoke of their traumatic ordeal. The first stage of the project involves the meticulous conservation of the archives.

The archives contain invaluable primary sources for the reconstruction of the lives of Singapore’s civilian internees. They include official records compiled by the camps’ internal administration, which document personal data like an internee’s name, date entered camp, marital status, occupation, age, nationality, and camp address. Other sources shed light upon accommodation, camp discipline, relations with the Japanese authorities, work parties, diet, health and hygiene, recreation and leisure, the delivery of mail, and the repatriation of internees at the end of the war. Newspapers circulated within the male camp, such as the ‘Changi Guardian’, reported upon events, disseminated news of sporting, musical and theatrical societies, and published fiction, poetry and humour. These official records are complemented by the correspondence, diaries and memoirs of individual internees.

More information on the historical background and provenance of the archives can be found on the Cambridge University Library Special Collections webpage.

An article by Peng Han Lim on “Identifying and collecting primary sources of information to reconstruct the daily lives of the civilian internees at Changi Prison and Sime Road Camp 1942-45” is included in the SEALG Newsletter 2013.

End of Empire – Online initiative by NIAS Press

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An online initiative with the title “End of Empire – 100 days in 1945 that changed Asia and the world” by NIAS press was launched recently to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Asia.

The initiative publishes day by day ‘real-time broadcasts’ of what happened in Asia at the end of World War II. The site combines daily events with commentary, photographs, maps, personal accounts and other material plus links to resources found elsewhere.

Aiming to balance the focus on European events in global public discussions and reminiscences of World War II, the project focuses on a brief, 100-day period at the end of the war across a broad sweep of eastern Asia – a time when the Indonesian and Vietnamese revolutions were born, the fragile wartime truce between Communists and Nationalists in China began to fray, and the first steps were made in Japan towards a new democratic order.

The website is part of a radical, multi-faceted project to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the war’s end and its immediate aftermath. This is done not just via the website but also in printed and electronic publications plus via social media. Nor does the project simply present existing scholarship. It also actively reaches beyond the academic world to encourage non-academics to come forward with primary source material unknown to historians and often limited to their own private circles.

Here, perhaps, is a model for scholarly publishing and learning that both exploits new technologies and retains traditional standards.

One of the great merits of this website is the way it conveys a sense of the fast pace of events in mid-1945 and their interconnectedness across the region at the time.

Those who may find the website difficult to navigate may want to consult the Facebook page for the project.

The outcome of the initiative is due to appear in published form as End of Empire: 100 Days that Changed Asia and the World edited by David Chandler, Robert Cribb and Li Narangoa.

(reported by Gerald Jackson and Inga-Lill Blomkvist)

Endangered Archives Programme – Call for applications 2015

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The Endangered Archives Programme has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. This aim is achieved through the award of grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise the material, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The digital collections from 144 projects are currently available online, nearly 5 million images.

The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting grant applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 6 November 2015 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website.

The Programme has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and even rock inscriptions. Since 2004 approximately 270 projects have been funded, ranging from rare books in Armenia to Cham manuscripts in Vietnam.

To find out more about the Programme and previous digitisation projects, visit their Endangered Archives Blog.

(reported by Cathy Collins, Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library)

Locations of previous projects of the Endangered Archives Programme in Asia

Locations of previous projects of the Endangered Archives Programme in Asia

Thai music inventory online

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Thailand has an incredible variety of popular and traditional musics. The website Thaimusicinventory attempts to make Thai popular music available to people who are not Thai and also aims to facilitate the exchange of information and views between Thais and non-Thais. The Thai popular music industry is the most developed in the region and has an unbroken history that extends over 100 years (even through WWII). However, Thai popular music is generally not easily available outside Thailand and has not made any impression on Western sensibilities. The study of Thai music (both popular and traditional) is still in its infancy in comparison to that of China, Japan, Indonesia and India. Even in Thailand, the study of Thai popular music is often not considered to be a worthwhile activity.

This website hosts articles on various aspects of Thai popular music, some scholarly and some more popular in approach, as well as lesson plans for high school teachers.  There are also links to the Isan music performances filmed by John Draper’s Khon Kaen University Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalization Program. Of particular interest is a newly added page illustrating the breadth of the Thai 78 rpm Discographical Framework.

The two main authors are Dr James Mitchell and Peter Garrity. James has studied and published widely on Thai music and Peter is a very well known figure in the Bangkok lukthung concert scene. Comments in Thai or English are encouraged and every effort to facilitate communication through these comments will be made.

This website is only for educational purposes and is intended to foster a love of Thai music and Thailand. It is not for commercial purposes.

The website has been developed with the generous support of the Australian Thai Institute, an Australian government body that seeks to build links between the two countries.

(information from the Thaimusicinventory website)

 

Corpus of the Inscriptions of Campā online

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In 2009, the French School of Asian Studies (École française d’Extrême-Orient, EFEO) launched the project Corpus of the Inscriptions of Campā (CIC), aiming to renew the tradition of scholarship on these inscriptions that had thrived at the institution in the early 20th century.

The primary aim of the project is to update and to continue the EFEO inventory of the inscriptions of Campā, compiled in the early decades of the 20th century by the renowned scholar George Cœdès. In this inventory, each inscription received a unique ‘C.’ number (C = Campā), under which were recorded various types of useful information, such as: the place where the inscription had been found; the place where it was currently located (if it had been moved after discovery); the language(s) used in it; its date; availability of reproductions of it in public libraries; bibliography of publications about the inscription. A first version of this inventory was published in 1908, comprising 118 entries; a revised and updated version came out in 1923, and at that time the list comprised 170 entries; supplements published in 1937 and 1942 raised the total first to 196, and finally to 200 entries. After this, the inventory fell into disuse, and for many decades there was no central registration of newly discovered inscriptions, or of changes in the situation of previously registered items.

And it was not only the maintenance of an inventory that came to be neglected. After a small handful of publications of inscriptions of Campā by EFEO scholars that appeared in the 1920s and 1930s, the study of these inscriptions, inside and outside the EFEO, came to a complete stop due to World War II and the subsequent period of Vietnamese struggle for independence and reunification. At that time, only about half of all known inscriptions had been published, and in general the study of inscriptions in Sanskrit language had received much more attention — at least it had advanced more significantly — than that of inscriptions in Cam. Most Cam-language inscriptions whose texts had been published, had been published without translations. Even the existing translations were almost never precise renderings of the originals, but rather loose patch-works of understood, guessed and ignored elements of the originals. In this situation, the second important aim of the CIC project is to publish texts and translations of the inscriptions whose existence was known but had not yet been published; bring out texts and translations of newly discovered inscriptions; publish translations of texts that had been published without any translations; and, last but not least, review the texts published by previous scholars, which often allows the correction of wrong readings, and hence improvement in the interpretation of texts published a long time ago.

The project has opted for a two-pronged publication strategy. Results are being published in traditional print publications, both through international journals (mainly in French), and through publications in Vietnam (using Vietnamese). But simultaneously an online database is being developed, bringing together the corpus in its entirety, and presenting the most up-to-date versions of descriptions and translations of the individual inscriptions. About fifty detailed descriptions, some with translations, are accessible on this database already, with more information being added continuously. A very useful bibliography complements these online descriptions. To access the list of inscriptions, please view the homepage of the Corpus of the Inscriptions of Campā (CIC).

Khmer manuscripts online

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SEACOM southeast asia communication centre

A very useful online resource for the study and research on manuscripts in Khmer and Pali languages is http://www.khmermanuscripts.org/.

This platform is the outcome of a long-term research, digitisation and preservation project carried out by the EFEO in collaboration with Buddhist temples in Cambodia and many Cambodian researchers and monks. The emphasis was on conservation of the manuscripts, preparation of a catalogue and digitisation. The digitisation and online publication of numerous manuscripts makes it possible to study the various facets of the Khmer manuscripts tradition as well as Buddhist and traditional literature in Cambodia.

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Mandalay Marionettes Theater Online

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The ever growing Southeast Asia Digital Library (SEADL), hosted by the Northern Illinois University, has made available access to ten videos recording various aspects of the Mandalay Marionettes Theater.

In Burma, marionette puppetry has played an important role in the history and development of dramatic art and culture over the last 500 years. Burmese puppetry served as a means of making people aware of current events; as a medium for educating people in literature, history, and religion; as a display of lifestyles and customs; and as mouthpieces for the people in the days of the monarchy.

Burmese puppet theatre show, photograph by Philip A. Klier, 1895 (British Library Photo 88/1(42))

Burmese puppet theatre show, photograph by Philip A. Klier, 1895 (British Library Photo 88/1(42))

The practice of traditional marionette puppetry in Burma has waned over the decades, and is on the verge of becoming a lost art form. In 1986, Mrs. Ma Ma Naing and Mrs. Naing Yee Mar formed the Mandalay Marionettes Theater as a step in saving this rich legacy. This troupe has been working to preserve Burmese puppetry and original Burmese traditions such as Burmese dancing and music, sculpture, sequin embroidery and painting.

The Mandalay Marionettes Theater troupe has contributed an assortment of performance videos to the SEADL. Included in these is an introduction and overview to the Burmese marionette tradition; a ritual dance that is done to respect the Nats, or the guardian spirits of the area; the Himalayas dance, featuring the horse, monkey and demons; and a dance of an alchemist or the Zaw-Gyi dance. Daw Ma Ma Naing, one of the founders of the Mandalay Marionettes Theater, also gives a brief history about marionettes. Other videos highlight the skills of the puppeteers themselves, while demonstrating the dance of the two royal pages; a humorous dance performed by two villagers named U Shwe Yoe and Daw Moe; a dance between a human being and a puppet; a romantic and sentimental dance called “Myaing Da;”and a performance from the Ramayana epic where Rama chases a golden deer for his princess, Sita.

To go directly to the video collection at SEADL, click HERE.

For further information about the Mandalay Marionettes Theater, please visit http://www.mandalaymarionettes.com/.

Digital “resurrection” of lost Lao Ramayana murals

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A groundbreaking project with the aim to digitally replicate the lost Phralak-Phralam (Lao version of the Ramayana) murals at Vat Oub Mong in Vientiane has been under way for several years. The project is being carried out by the Digital Conservation Facility, Laos (DCFL); affiliated since 2003 with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) at Northern Illinois University. DCFL founder Alan Potkin has recently been developing interactive visualization and virtual reality technologies in ecological and cultural conservation for applications in impact assessment, heritage management, museological and site interpretive materials, public participation; and accessible institutional memory for corporations, government agencies, and NGOs.

The historical temple hall at Vat Oub Mong that contained the original murals had been demolished in the year 2000. However, prior to the demolition, photographs were taken of the murals which had been created in 1938. Thanks to this initiative and newly emerging technologies, digital replication of the lost cultural heritage is now possible.
But digital replication is not the only goal of the project – equally important is the replication at Vat Oub Mong (Vientiane) of the demolished Phralak-Phralam murals which was completed in 2011. In addition to this, the original 2,100-page palm leaf manuscript containing the Pralak-Pralam text in Lao tham script has been digitised and is currently being transliterated into modern Lao by the monks at Vat Oub Mong.
Alan Potkin gave talks about this project and its progress at several conferences in the recent years.

An abridged translation of the Phalak-Phralam text together with some photographs of the original murals from the demolished temple can be found on the homepage of the Center for SEA Studies at Northern Illinois University.

Latest news from the project can be found on the Theravada Buddhist Civilizations website.

An English translation of a Phralak-Phralam text found in a manuscript at the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang, together with photographs of the murals at Vat Oub Mong are in Sachchidanand Sahai’s book “Ramayana in Laos. A study in the Gvay Dvorahbi” (published in 1976 by B.R. Publishing corporation, Delhi).

Asian bookbinding traditions

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Asian bookbinding traditions which can be found in the Southeast Asian manuscript cultures as well are the subject of a research paper by Colin Chinnery and Li Yi (International Dunhuang Project).

This research paper combines textual descriptions together with diagrams illustrating binding techniques and photographs of a selection of objects. The aim of the paper is to give a comprehensive introduction to the different kinds of Chinese bookbinding contained in the Dunhuang collections. Included are details about butterfly binding, stitched binding, palm-leaf binding (pothi), whirlwind binding, concertina binding, and wrapped-back binding.

Bookbinding methods found in the Dunhuang collections. Diagram by Li Yi and Colin Chinnery (British Library)

Bookbinding methods found in the Dunhuang collections. Diagram by Li Yi and Colin Chinnery (British Library)

The International Dunhuang Project is a ground-breaking international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available on the Internet and to encourage their use through educational and research programmes.

The IDP has partner institutions in Beijing, St Petersburg, Kyoto, Berlin, Dunhuang, Paris and Seoul which provide data for and act as hosts to the multilingual website and database.

Much of IDP’s early work focused on conservation and cataloguing, both of which remain core activities. These have been supplemented in the past few years with digitisation, education and research. IDP started digitising the manuscripts in 1997 with the aim of bringing together the collections in virtual space. Its web site went online in October 1998 and allows free access to the IDP DATABASE with high-quality images of the manuscripts and other material, with cataloguing and contextual information. In this way, Silk Road material is becoming increasingly available to academic and general users alike.

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