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Southeast Asia in historical photographs: Vietnam

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The National Overseas Archives in Aix-en-Provence (ANOM) have opened up to the public an ever growing online database called Base Ulysse, thereby making a variety of digitised materials from the Archives and their library available for research. Begun in 2002, this database currently makes available well over 45,000 individual photographs, albums, postcards, posters, drawings and maps.

These materials document on one side the history of the French colonial empire in general, but on the other side they are a rich source for the study of the cultures, traditions and everyday life in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in historical perspective. The materials mainly originate from public records (state secretariats and departments that managed French colonial territories from the seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth century, general government offices, etc.) and private archives, but also from donations, purchases, and bequests.

The digital collection contains over 3000 photographs from Vietnam which include 1935 images related to Tonkin, 886 images related to Cochin-China, 615 images related to Annam, and 463 images categorized under Vietnam. Most of these images are photographs from the first half of the twentieth century, but the oldest images date back to the 1880s. Interestingly, they do not only document the French colonial influence in Vietnam, but also Vietnamese traditions, ceremonies and everyday life. In addition, the cultures of ethnic minorities and religious communities in Vietnam are depicted in these photographs. The Cao Dai religion, Buddhism and Islam and their rituals are well presented in this collection, as well as the cultural traditions of the Thai ethnic groups in north Vietnam, the Cham in south Vietnam and the Chinese in Saigon, Hanoi and other large cities. Some of the images document how these photographs were taken by French colonial officers and photographers.

Some examples that illustrate the wide range of topics covered by the collection of photographs from Vietnam are presented below. All images were sourced from the Base Ulysse.

Tonkin Hanoi street view 1897-98

Street view in Hanoi, Tonkin, c.1897-8

Tonkin Vietnamese woman 1884-85

Studio photograph of a Vietnamese woman in traditional costume, Tonkin, c.1884-5

Tonkin group of dancers 1892-96

A group of Vietnamese dancers, Tonkin, c.1892-96

Tonkin orchestra 1884-85

Traditional Vietnamese orchestra, Tonkin, c.1884-5

Tonkin Buddhist nun and novice 1919-26

Buddhist nun and novice, Tonkin, c.1919-26

Tonkin land surveyors 1884-85

Land surveyors with traditional measuring instruments, Tonkin, c.1884-5

Tonkin Hanoi two young Chinese men 1894-85

Studio photograph of two young Chinese men, Hanoi, Tonkin, 1884-5

Tonkin Thai ethnic group 1895-99

Members of the Thai ethnic group, Tonkin, c.1895-9

Annam royal ceremony at royal palace in Hue 1919-26

Ceremony at the royal palace, Hue, Annam, c.1919-26

Annam mandarin 1884-85

Studio photograph of a Mandarin, Annam, c.1884-5

Annam colonial photography taking photos of Moi ethnic group at Djiring by Rene Tetart 1919-26

Colonial photographer taking pictures of ethnic minority men at work, Annam, c.1919-26

Cochinchina maritime fishery at Cau Gio 1921-35

Maritime fishery near Cau Gio, Cochin-China, c.1921-35

Cochinchina Cham fishermen in the Mekong Delta 1921-35

Cham fishermen in the Mekong Delta, Cochin-China, c.1921-35

Cochinchina traditional art school at Lai Thieu 1919-26

Traditional art school at Lai Thieu, Cochin-China, c.1919-26

Cochinchina theatre stage at the pagoda of Hocmon 1921-35

Theatre stage at the pagoda in Hoc Mon, Saigon, Cochin-China, c.1921-35

Cochinchina Beng Angsa Khmer Buddhist pagoda 1930-54

Khmer Buddhist temple Soctrang at Beng Angsa, Cochin-China, c.1930-54

Cochinchina Buddhist monks on alms round 1921-35

Buddhist monks and novices on alms round, Cochin-China, c.1921-35

Cochinchina Mosque at Threa with worshippers 1930-54

Mosque at Threa with teachers and students, Cochin-China, c.1930-54

 

 

Cham manuscripts online

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The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme aims to contribute to the preservation of archival material that is in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration world-wide. This is achieved principally through the award of grants in an annual competition. Last year, an award was granted to the Northern Illinois University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, for a pilot project dedicated to the preservation of Cham manuscripts.
The Cham are an important ethnic minority in Vietnam. Descendants of the Champa kingdom that lasted from the 2nd to the 17th century AD, the Cham are the largest group of Hindu and Muslim people living in Vietnam.
The Cham’s writing system is mainly based on Sanskrit, with the majority of Cham manuscripts still in existence written in the akhar thrar script. Writings were previously inscribed on palm-leaves, but in more recent times they are recorded on paper. Cham manuscripts contain rich information about Cham customs, religious practice, literature and daily activities of Cham people. Many are records of officials and families in the communities. Manuscripts still in existence are mainly from 50 to 150 years old.
Cham manuscripts unfortunately have not been well preserved. Some have been collected by local governmental institutions and many more still exist in Cham communities. Cham manuscripts privately held by families in the communities are also disappearing. Many manuscripts are simply ruined over time by the hot and humid climate. Most young Cham people today are not able to read Cham scripts and thus pay little attention to the preservation of manuscripts in their families. Furthermore, some Cham people believe that it is bad luck to keep ‘deserted books’ (Akhar bhaw) in the home and hence, books not cared for or read frequently will eventually be discarded in rivers.
Three digitised Cham manuscripts from this project are now available online on the library’s Endangered Archives homepage.

(Information provided by Hao Phan / Endangered Archives homepage)

Exhibition “From the Red River to the Mekong”

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An exciting art exhibition with the title “From the Red River to the Mekong: Visions of Vietnam” is currently on display at the Musée Cernuschi in Paris. The exhibition presents works by graduates of the Hanoi School of Fine Arts, which was established in 1924, and associated art schools in Thu Dau Mot, Bien Hoa, and Gia Dinh. These schools gave a boost to local artistic output, bringing innovations in terms of both content and style. Moving testimony to a fusion of two civilisations, the works on show in this exhibition bring back a distant era as they take us on a journey through a captivating country. More detailed information can be found on the museum’s homepage http://www.cernuschi.paris.fr/en/exhibitions/red-river-mekong-visions-vietnam .