Home

Stirring and Stilling: Dharma Songs from Cambodia

Leave a comment

Cambodia is one of the few countries with over 90% of their population practicing Buddhism. Since around the 5th century, Khmer people began to follow Mahayana Buddhism, and Theravada Buddhism has been the main religion since the 13th century. The only exception was during the Khmer Rouge period which resulted in the destruction and loss of much of the Buddhist cultural heritage of Cambodia. Therefore, the preservation of the surviving cultural treasures of Cambodia is of utmost urgency.

Among these treasures are Buddhist scriptures, classical Khmer literature, poetry, music, dance and theatre. Cambodian religious music includes chanting of certain Buddhist scriptures in Pali and the recitation of poetry rendered by monks and lay people alike. However, Pali (the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism), is rarely understood by the laity. The recitation of religious poems (smot) occupies a position between chanting and singing. Unlike chanting, poetry recitation may be accompanied by a solo instrument such as a flute or string instrument. The main themes of smot recitation are devotional and educational Buddhist texts and the Buddha’s Birth Tales. These poetic texts are composed entirely in Khmer language, or sometimes mixed with some Pali and Sanskrit phrases, but easily understood.

Phnom Penh pagoda Botum Vodei

Buddhist procession at Wat Botum Watey Reacheveraram in Phnom Penh, c.1919. Source: Base Ulysse, Archives nationales d’outre mer

Great efforts have been made in recent years to preserve Cambodian manuscripts through digitization and conservation. However, the preservation of oral traditions appears more difficult and is paid less attention to. One rare resource that aims to help to preserve and to publicize Buddhist poetry recitations from Cambodia is the website “Dharma Songs” by Trent Walker. Recordings of recitations in Khmer language with translations into English, performed by Trent Walker, are presented. The website offers a chance to learn about—and listen to—the Cambodian Dharma song tradition, smot. Associated with it is a multimedia online book  with the title “Stirring and Stilling: A Liturgy of Cambodian Dharma Songs” that was originally conceived as a printed book accompanied by a set of CDs. However, the text and recordings have been made available online to enable people from around the world to experience and appreciate this special musical tradition.

Dr Trent Walker, a scholar of Southeast Asian Buddhism, developed the resource based on six years of research into Cambodian Dharma songs as both a student and performer of smot himself. His English translations of sixteen Dharma songs are presented in this resource for the first time. Walker also works with Bangsokol, a multi-disciplinary stage production combining music, film, movement and voice.

 

New issue of SEALG Newsletter online

Leave a comment

A new issue of the SEALG Newsletter (2019) has been published and is now available online.

Included in the Newsletter is the report of our group’s Annual Meeting that took place in June 2019 in Leiden. In addition to this detailed report by Marije Plomp, the latest issue of the Newsletter contains the following articles:

  • A brief account of traditional Shan manuscript culture by Chaichuen Khamdaengyodtai
  • Calendars and horoscopes in mainland Southeast Asia by Jana Igunma
  • Two Bugis Manuscripts in the Library of Seminar für Südostasienwissenschaften (FB 9), Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität Frankfurt by Sirtjo Koolhof
  • Exploring Southeast Asia Scholarly Resources in Taiwan by Virginia Shih

Previous issues of the Newsletter in electronic format are also available on the SEALG homepage.

newsletter2019frontpage

Marhaen: An Indonesian Journal from 1980s West Berlin

Leave a comment

In 2011 the Library of Southeast Asian Studies of Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt acquired the library of the Stiftung Asienhaus (“Foundation Asia House”, then located in Essen, now in Cologne), an association of several German NGOs working on Asia. Among the many uncatalogued materials of this collection we recently found three volumes of a small Indonesian-language leftist journal named Marhaen: Analisa & Berita Bulanan.

Marhaen - Ill 1-page-001 (1)

Marhaen volume 1, front cover

This journal was published in West Berlin and does not have any reference to a particular publisher, thus, it must have been published by the editorial staff themselves. As editors are listed Christin Litan, Sammy Litan, Mohamad Isa and Agus Darmadji. In Frankfurt, the volumes 1-3 of this monthly journal are available. As in volume 3 a fourth volume is announced, one can assume that several further issues have been published  (Waruno Mahdi, personal communication, 11.01.2019). However, there is only one further holding of this journal known to me: The German Berlin-based human rights group Watch Indonesia! keeps the first volumes of Marhaen in their collections (Alex Flor, personal communication, 21.01.2019; Pipit Rochijat Kartawidjaja, personal communication, 04.04.2019).

There is no publication date found in all existing volumes, but as its contents contain citations from contemporary political magazines (such as Far Eastern Economic Review or Indonesie: Feiten en Meningen) from early 1985 it seems fair to estimate the date of appearance from 1985 onwards.

Marhaen - Ill 2-page-001

Marhaen volume 3, front cover

The last existing issue known to me is volume 6 from 1986, unfortunately not available in the Frankfurt collections (Pipit Rochijat Kartawidjaja, personal communication, 04.04.2019).

The text is completely written in Indonesian, the available issues consist of 10 pages (vols. 1-2) or 14 pages (vol. 3). Later issues became more voluminous, e.g volume 6 consists of 48 pages. They are among the last breaths of the pre-computer era, as they were type-written. The volumes contain some illustrations like photo-copied photographs or critical cartoons. As the volumes are small it is not surprising the articles and essays are usually very short and often bear the character of an annotation or footnote, in particular in the section “Berita & Ulasan” (“News & Commentaries”).

Not much is known about the editors except for the late Mohamad Isa (1922-2008). He became cultural attaché at the Indonesian Embassy in Prague in 1964 and was removed from this position in 1966. Mohamad Isa could not return to Indonesia after General Soeharto took over power in 1965. In 1967 he therefore moved to East Berlin to escape the harassments of the new representatives of the Indonesian so-called New Order-regime as there was no Indonesian embassy in the German Democratic Republic until 1976. He then worked until 1981 as lecturer of Indonesian at Humboldt University, until he was replaced by a former Indonesian student from Moscow and lost his work permit as well as his residence permit for the German Democratic Republic for political reasons. After his application for asylum was rejected in the Netherlands he and his family moved to West Berlin. Mohamad Isa’s daughter Reni became lecturer of Indonesian at Humboldt University in Berlin in 1989 (Keller 2014). The other editors are not known. For a good overview of Indonesian (student) activities in Berlin including their publications (but not Marhaen!) from the 1950s until today see Hasyim (2014). Pipit Rochijat Kartawidjaja thought that they might be of the same generation as Mohamad Isa (personal communication, 04.04.2019).

The title Marhaen indicates the closeness to the Sukarno-style form of socialism Marhaenisme, which the first President of Indonesia Sukarno labeled after a Sundanese peasant named Marhaen whom he had allegedly met in the 1920s (Sukarno 1970: 157, for deeper analysis of Sukarno’s form of socialism see Mintz (1965) and Mortimer (1974)). Thus, it is not very surprising that most of its contents and articles are highly critical towards the dictatorial regime of his successor Soeharto.

Marhaen - Ill 3-page-001 (2)

Example of a type-written page from volume 3 of Marhaen

For example, there is an article on the Roman emperor Caligula, seemingly unfavourably indicating a comparison to the former Indonesian dictator. Another essay is entitled “Betina yang Paling Kaya di Dunia” (“The Richest Woman in the World”), but the Indonesian term betina for ‘femaleness’ is used for animals only and here refers to Soeharto’s wife Siti Hartinah (called ‘Ibu Tien’), widely known for her greediness (Schulze 2015: 164). Other articles discuss contemporary developments in Indonesia such as “1985: Jakarta Bebas dari Becak” (“1985: Jakarta is Trishaw-Free”) or “ABRI lawan ABRI” (“ABRI Fights ABRI”, ABRI is the Indonesian acronym for the Indonesian National Armed Forces). Further essays e.g. are entitled “Moral dan Anti-Moral” (“Moral and Anti-Moral”), “Rasisme terhadap Cina” (“Racism towards the Chinese”), “Suharto di atas Punggung Macan” (“Suharto on the Back of the Tigers”) or “Teori-teori Kaum Penindas” (“Theories of the Suppressors”).

The existing issues of the journal “Marhaen” in Frankfurt are available under the shelf mark “ZS 1082” and can be ordered to be viewed in the reading room at Universitätsbibliothek J.C. Senckenberg.

References:

Hasyim, Syafiq (2014): Challeging a Home Country: A Preliminary Account of Indonesian Student Activism in Berlin. In: ASEAS – Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies 7 (2), 183-198.

Keller, Anett (2014): Ziviler Ungehorsam als Lebensprinzip. In: Südostasien 30 (4), 34-36.

Mintz, Jeanne S. (1965): Mohammed, Marx and Marhaen: The Roots of Indonesian Socialism. London: Pall Mall Press.

Mortimer, Rex (1974): Indonesian Communism under Sukarno: Ideology and Politics 1959-1965. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Schulze, Fritz (2015): Kleine Geschichte Indonesiens: Von den Inselkönigreichen zum modernen Großstaat. München: C.H. Beck.

Sukarno (1970 [1957]): Marhaen, a Symbol of the Power of the Indonesian People. In: Indonesian Political Thinking 1945-1965 (Herbert Feith, Lance Castles, eds.), 154-160. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

 

by Holger Warnk

J.W.Goethe-Universität, Library of Southeast Asian Studies

(Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Alex Flor, Pipit Rochijat Kartawidjaja and Waruno Mahdi for their help and for providing much background information.)

Buddhism Illuminated – A new book on manuscript art from Southeast Asia

Leave a comment

I would like to draw your attention to a new book with the title Buddhism Illuminated – Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia which is a fully illustrated guide to Southeast Asian Buddhist manuscript art based on the British Library collections. Many years of research and digitisation have resulted in this major publication that goes far beyond Buddhist manuscript illustration. The book consists of six chapters covering all aspects of Buddhist manuscript art in mainland Southeast Asia. A brief overview of the contents is below:

  • Introduction: The British Library collections – Some aspects of Buddhism in SEA – The Burmese manuscript tradition – Manuscript production in Khmer and Tai cultures
  • Buddha: The Enlightened One – The names of 28 Buddhas – Previous Lives of the Buddha – The Life of Gotama Buddha – The future Buddha
  • Dhamma: The Righteous Way – The Tipitaka and commentaries – Kammavaca ordination texts
  • Sangha: The Monastic Community – Ordination in Theravada Buddhism – Interaction between the Sangha and the lay community
  • Kamma: Cause and Effect – The thirty-one planes of existence – The sixteen sacred lands of Buddhism
  • Punna: Making Merit in Everyday Life – Royal donations – Death and afterlife – Pagodas and monasteries – The Buddha’s footprints – Monasteries during Buddha’s long ministry – Communal festivals

Buddhism Illuminated – Manuscript Art from Southeast Asia includes over 200 coloured photographs of Buddhist manuscript art from the British Library’s collection, relating each manuscript to Theravada tradition and beliefs, and introducing the historical, artistic, and religious contexts of their production. It is the first book in English to showcase the beauty and variety of Buddhist manuscripts in Southeast Asia and reproduces many works that have never before been photographed.

The book is available from British Library Press and University of Washington Press, as well as all major book sellers and online suppliers (ISBN 9780712352062).

A free review copy can currently be requested from Newbooks Asia.

Read a short article revealing some more details about the book on the British Library’s website, and a short promotional film (part 1) can be viewed online.

blog01 front cover full

New issue of SEALG Newsletter published

Leave a comment

The latest issue of the SEALG Newsletter has now been published and is available freely on our homepage www.sealg.org.

It includes articles on Thai royal editions of the Buddhist scriptures by Larry Ashmun, two previous exhibitions in Mandalay and Rangoon by San San May, special collections at the Southeast Asia Studies Library in Frankfurt/Main by Holger Warnk, and on the preservation of endangered archives (and manuscripts) in Southeast Asia by Jana Igunma and Jody Butterworth.

Previous issues of the electronic newsletter which covers all aspects of Southeast Asian librarianship, curation, collection, custodianship and research can be accessed on http://www.sealg.org/newsletters.html.

Tribal Music Asia – An online source for traditional music, ceremonies, and culture of the ethnic groups of Southeast Asia

1 Comment

Created by American researcher, documentarian, and musician Victoria Vorreiter for over a decade, Tribal Music Asia is the home of the Resonance Project, a dynamic multi-media archive that aspires to record and preserve the traditional musical heritage of the indigenous peoples living in the mountains of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and China, who have depended for millennia on “the mother tongue method” to transmit their ancestral knowledge, history, and beliefs. Numbering over 130 groups and subgroups, most of these communities continue to live close to the earth, to practice animism, and to maintain a vital oral tradition. Culturally and sonically, this is one of the most extraordinary places on the planet.

Xob Lwm Vaj and Friends
Performing the Qeej at the New Year Festival
at Ban Tan, Phongsali Province, Laos
December 2005.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter

By interweaving a variety of visual, aural, and tactile components, the Resonance Project spotlights these highlanders’ astonishingly rich soundscape—springing from a vast repository of songs, chants, invocations, and instrumental music—to demonstrate music’s vital role in charting human emotions, celebrating cycles of seasons, marking the arc of life, and animating ritual enactments. It is hoped that in giving voice to cultures that may seem remote, this project contributes to an awareness of our world that transcends borders.

The Resonance Project first produced the Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle multi-layered project (April 2009), consisting of the Songs of Memory Book, Compact Disc, and Multi-media Exhibition of photographs, films, musical instruments, artifacts, and textiles for a family (father, mother, son, and daughter) of the six major ethnic groups in the region: Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Mien, Hmong, and Karen.

“Songs of Memory”, front cover of the book.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter

The Songs of Memory collections have been hosted in such prestigious venues as the East-West Center, Hawaii; the Jim Thompson Center, Bangkok; the University of Mandalay, Myanmar; the Golden Triangle Gallery, Chicago; the Chiang Mai Arts and Cultural Center; and numerous international conferences at Chiang Mai University, Thailand.

In recent years, the Resonance Project has specifically delved into Hmong traditions, producing the Hmong Songs of Memory: Traditional Secular and Sacred Hmong Music archive, based on the Hmong Songs of Memory Book and Film (December 2016), which offers readers, viewers, and listeners an in-depth experience of Hmong music and its primal role in propelling their rites.

Cover of the “Hmong Songs of Memory” film.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter.

To bring the book and film alive, the Hmong Songs of Memory, Hmong Threads of Life Exhibition was launched, providing visitors with a variety of integrative components—photographs, film, a comprehensive collection of Hmong musical instruments, artifacts, detailed text panels, and full textiles of the four major Hmong subgroups in Laos and Thailand.

“Hmong Songs of Memory”, front cover of the book.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter

The Tribal Music Asia website provides access to recordings of Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Mien, Hmong, and Karen music, various publications and reviews, photo galleries, and layouts of recent and previous exhibitions. It is possible to directly order books, CDs, note cards, and documentary films.

Lahu Shi Man and Grandson
Celebrating the Harvest Festival at
Wan Kong Pyak Tae, Keng Tung, Myanmar, 2005.
Copyright: Victoria Vorreiter

An important book: “Cultural Property and Contested Ownership”

Leave a comment

We rarely present new books on this blog (simply because there are so many), but there is one recent publication not only art and museum curators, but also archivists and librarians should be aware of. The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property concerns not only “ancient” works of art or cultural heritage, but also material which could be of a rather recent date. The Convention is not only relevant in regard of collection or acquisition, but also when cultural heritage material is being displayed publicly or made available through digitisation, for example.

The book Cultural Property and Contested Ownership, edited by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin and Lyndel V. Prott (London & New York: Routledge, 2017) provides long awaited insights and experiences from an interdisciplinary point of view by professionals working with cultural heritage material.

The publisher’s description of the book says the following:

“Against the backdrop of international conventions and their implementation, Cultural Property and Contested Ownership explores how highly-valued cultural goods are traded and negotiated among diverging parties and their interests. Cultural artefacts, such as those kept and trafficked between art dealers, private collectors and museums, have become increasingly localized in a ‘Bermuda triangle’ of colonialism, looting and the black market, with their re-emergence resulting in disputes of ownership and claims for return. This interdisciplinary volume provides the first book-length investigation of the changing behaviours resulting from the effect of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The collection considers the impact of the Convention on the way antiquity dealers, museums and auction houses, as well as nation states and local communities, address issues of provenance, contested ownership, and the trafficking of cultural property. The book contains a range of contributions from anthropologists, lawyers, historians and archaeologists. Individual cases are examined from a bottom-up perspective and assessed from the viewpoint of international law in the Epilogue. Each section is contextualised by an introductory chapter from the editors.”

The book is divided into three parts. Part one is dedicated to the theme Plunder, trafficking and return, and includes contributions by Keiko Miura on Destruction and plunder of Cambodian cultural heritage and their consequences, Alper Tasdelen on Cambodia’s struggle to protect its movable cultural property and Thailand, and Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin who discusses Looted, trafficked, donated, and returned: the twisted tracks of Cambodian antiquities.

The second part deals with Profit, authenticity and ethics, and contains contributions by Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz on Struggles over historic shipwrecks in Indonesia: economic versus preservation interests, as well as by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin and Sophorn Kim on Faked biographies: The remake of antiquities and their sale on the art market.

Part three of the book looks at Negotiating conditions of return, and includes contributions by Barbara Plankensteiner on The Benin treasures: difficult legacy and contested heritage, by Anne Splettstößer on Pre-Columbian heritage in contestation: The implementation of the UNESCO 1970 convention on trial in Germany, and finally by Sarah Fründt who gives insights in Return logistics – repatriation business: Managing the return of ancestral remains to New Zealand.

In addition, there are an introduction by the editors and an epilogue. Each article is accompanied by a detailed list of references which are useful for further study of the entire topic.

Front cover of the book “Cultural Property and Contested Ownership” (ISBN 978-1-138-18883-9)

 

Older Entries