Wednesday Rojak #10

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In this edition of Wednesday Rojak, we take a tour of Indochina – specifically, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

  • In Vietnam, sample some Vietnamese poetry entitled The Multifaceted Tower of Champa.
  • In Cambodia, Erik muses about Brahmanism in Cambodia.
  • While in Thailand, Matthew posts about his visit to Ayuthuyya and Sukhothai.

In this series of weekly rojaks (published on Wednesdays) I’ll feature other sites in the blogosphere that are of related to archaeology in Southeast Asia. Got a recommendation for the next Wednesday rojak? Email me!

Possible 19th-century fortress uncovered in Bangkok

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29 October 2007 (The Nation Multimedia, Bangkok Post) – What is thought to be a fortress built during the reign of King Rama IV (1808-1868) was unearthed during the construction of a government office in Bangkok.

Fortress built in King Rama IV era unearthed

The Khlong San District Office in Bangkok has already suspended the construction of its new building because the planned site now revealed a part of what was believed to be a historically-valuable fortress built in the reign of King Rama IV.

The planned site was located next to the Pongpajjamit Fort, which has been registered as a national historical site since 1949.

“That registration has not covered areas surrounding the fort,” Tharapong Srisuchart, who heads Fine Arts Department’s Office of Archaeology, said Monday.

He joined Bangkok Governor Apirak Kosayodhin and Culture Ministry permanent secretary Vira Rojpojchanarat during an inspection at the planned site for the new building of the Khlong San District Office Monday.

While the land on the planned site was being cleared, 98 ancient logs were found.

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Conserving My Son


27 October 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – The My Son Sanctuary is one if the most under-rated archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, and worth a visit to anyone touring Vietnam.

Thanh Nien News, 27 Oct 2007

Conserving Champa
by Truong Dien Thang

The 1700-year-old Indian-inspired My Son temples have had a rough history, but thanks to recent conservation work, the site is an increasingly popular tourist stop.

In a lush green valley in central Vietnam under the imposing glare of Cat’s Tooth Mountain rests one of the most important archaeological sites of the ancient kingdom of Champa,” wrote American Matthew MacDermott in the Epoch Times last May.

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Differing concepts of "Malay"-ness


26 October 2007 (Jakarta Post) – I mentioned in the previous post about the Negara Kertagama about how Malaysia and Indonesia are embroiled in a dispute over the a traditional song, and I just wanted to highlight this editorial in the Jakarta Post which might shed light on our non-Southeast Asian readers who might not be familiar with the politics of the region. The term “Malay” does not mean the same thing in Malaysia and Indonesia!

This difference in the definition of Malay, while essentially a political one, has profound consequences in exploring the archaeology of the different Malay peoples in the region. I hope this editorial might add a little nuanced understanding in how current politics affects archaeology.

Malaysia, Indonesia out of tune
Ong Hock Chuan

Neighboring and serumpun (from the same root) countries Malaysia and Indonesia have been out of step with each other lately over the traditional song Rasa Sayang.

The song and dance over Rasa Sayang began when the Malaysian government used it as a jingle to promote the country’s tourism.

Indonesians were aghast that a homespun Ambonese song had been appropriated by its neighbor. Some legislators called for the Malaysian government to be sued in the international court for stealing an Indonesian song.

Malaysia reacted by saying that the song was as much theirs as Indonesia’s since the song came from the Malay Archipelago. And since Malaysia’s culture is dominantly Malay, they had a right to use it.

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Indonesia moves to protect heritage

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22 October 2007 (Jakarta Post) – The move by the Indonesian ministry of Culture and Tourism may seem more sparked by the episode in which Malaysia appropriated a traditional Indonesian song for its tourism campaign (another amusing story in its own right), but I was more interested by the comment about the searching the Negara Kergatama documents in identifying more aspects of Indonesian Heritage.

The Negara Kertagama (or Negaraketagama, or Desawarnana) was an epic poem written in the 14th century to commemorate Hayam Wuruk, who reigned during the height of the Majapahit Kingdom centred in Java. Besides being an extended eulogy to the founder, the Negarka Kertagama provided numerous descriptions about the kingdom’s territory, rulers and rituals which gave a new and detailed insight into the role of Hinduism and Buddhist in the kingdom. Much of the groundbreaking translations were made by Dutch scholars in the 20th century after the manuscript was rediscovered in 1896.

Ministries to cooperate on local heritage

The Culture and Tourism Ministry will soon sign an agreement with the Justice and Human Rights Ministry in an attempt to protect the nation’s cultural heritage.

“In order to avoid other countries claiming aspects of Indonesia’s heritage, we approached the justice ministry about listing our heritage with them,” Mukhlis Paeni, director general for culture, art and traditional movies at the Culture and Tourism Ministry, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

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Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum


Last week, I featured the reconstructed temples (‘candi’) that populate Kedah’s Bujang Valley in Malaysia, an area rich in archaeological finds dating as far back as the 5th century. Today, we’ll explore the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum, which sits at the entrance of the archaeological park.

Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum - Interior

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about visiting the museum. I had heard reports that due to the growing influence of Islam in the country, the Bujang Valley Archaeological Archaeological Museum was somewhat muted in mentioning that the port settlement that once resided in Bujang Valley was Buddhist and Hindu (see comments to this post). Fortunately, I can gladly say that there was no such attempt to gloss the past, and the museum was very frank to point out the ancient Buddhist and Hindu influences on the civilisation that once flourished here.

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Laos: Filling up the gaps in Southeast Asian Prehistory


24 October 2007 (Science Daily) – A report on the collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Ban Chiang Project and Laos’ Department of Museums and Archaeology and the results of the last few year’s work of surveying the area around the Mekong River for archaeological potential.

Science Daily, 24 Oct 2007

Filling In The Blanks Of Southeast Asian Prehistory

As archaeologists in the last half century have set about reconstructing the prehistory of Southeast Asia, data from one country—centrally located Laos—was conspicuously missing. Little archaeology has occurred in Laos since before World War II, and beginning in the mid-1970s, Laos shut its doors completely to outside researchers. International scholars had to content themselves with information from excavation and survey work mostly from neighboring Thailand.

That scenario is beginning to shift—and new data, as well as new collaborative relationships—may forever change our perspective on an area that was once considered a “backwater region” of human civilization.

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Wednesday Rojak #9

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We’ve got a number of features in this week’s Rojak, we take a look at some Cambodian museums, remember the passing of an Indonesian paleontologist and review the early states of Southeast Asia.

  • The Chicago Reader has an article on Ty Tim, an archivist at the Cambodian American Heritage Museum.
  • Andy Brouwer blogs about the new Angkor National Museum that is opening in December.
  • Tokyohead has an excellent series of pictures and posts about the various temples of Angkor, like this one on Bantaey Srei, or the Citadel of Women.
  • Learn about the Cambodian Silkworm Festival, held during the day of the full moon in September from the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles
  • In the regular Indonesians in Focus series, Barrie from Planet Mole posts an obituary of preeminent Indonesian paleontologist Teuku Jacob, one of the most vocal critics to the homo floresiensis-as-a-new species theory.
  • Paul K. Manansala gives us an overview of the Early States in Southeast Asia.

In this series of weekly rojaks (published on Wednesdays) I’ll feature other sites in the blogosphere that are of related to archaeology in Southeast Asia. Got a recommendation for the next Wednesday rojak? Email me!

Related Books:
A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia by M. Morwood and P. van Oosterzee
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Ancient Angkor (River Book Guides) by C. Jaques

Poor Custodians of Rich Heritage

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24 October 2007 (Nation Multimedia) – The Nation’s editorial bemoaning the fact that Ayutthaya might be removed from the World Heritage Site list, calling it a “national embarrassment”.

Poor custodians of rich heritage
The possibility of Ayutthaya being axed from the UN World Heritage List is a wake-up call to Thailand

The government and people of Thailand celebrated the inclusion of the historic city of Ayutthaya on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage List in December 1991 with great pride and joy. In the immediate few years that followed the decision, while Thailand was still in the first flush of enthusiasm, great efforts were made to preserve the historical park, which includes the ruins of the royal palace and the ancient Buddhist temples that were destroyed in 1767 by the invading Burmese.

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Public Lecture: "Malay Ethnic Identity: Unravelling the Historical from the Discursive"

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On face value, this looks like a lecture dealing with the politics of identity and ethnicity, but the historical approach that Prof Andaya is taking particularly through the history of the Malayu that have their origins in Srivijayan Sumatra should be quite interesting from an archaeological perspective. Courtesy of the Singapore Heritage Email List

Malay Ethnic Identity: Unravelling the Historical from the Discursive by Prof Leonard Andaya
15 November 2007
1700 hrs
National University of Singapore Bukit Timah Campus, 469 Bukit Timah Road, Blk B, Level 3, Auditorium
Organised by Asia Research Institute, East Asian Institute, Faculty of Law, Institute of South Asian Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

In recent years there has been a considerable number of works devoted to analyzing “Malay” identity. Such discussion often begins with the Malaysian Constitutional determination of who can legally claim to be a Malay. The more informed will cite social science theories on ethnicity and identity to emphasize the power relationships involved in the determination of any ethnic identity. Any discussion of Malay ethnic identity, therefore, often begins in the nineteenth century with the attempt by colonial authorities to identify, classify, and hence control. While governments changed over the years, the relationship between power and classification hence control was maintained. But is this the whole story of Malay ethnic identity? In this paper I attempt to demonstrate that the ethnic group called “Malayu” can be traced to the early history of the archipelago. By adopting a historical approach extending deep into the past, it is possible to see how the discursive identity associated with power relationships operated on one level, while another level existed in the marketplace. Practical economic and social factors at the ordinary level of people’s lives helped to sustain ethnic identities that did not always coincide with the government’s prescriptions. It is this dual perception that helps to ameliorate some of the harshness that at times pervades government ethnic rhetoric.

About the Speaker:
Professor Andaya received a BA in History from Yale University, and an MA and PhD in Southeast Asian history at Cornell University. He has held positions at the University of Malaya, the Australian National University, the University of Auckland, and the University of Hawaii, where he has been professor of Southeast Asian history since 1993.

His area of research specialization is Malaysia and Indonesia in the early modern period (c. 1500-c. 1800). Among his publications are The History of Johor (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1975), A History of Malaysia (with Barbara Watson Andaya) (London: Macmillan, 1981), The Heritage of Arung Palakka: A History of South Sulawesi in the 17th Century (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), and The World of Maluku: Eastern Indonesia in the Early Modern Period (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993). A second edition of A History of Malaysia was published in December, 2000. His latest book is called, Leaves of the Same Tree: Trade and Ethnicity in the Straits of Melaka, and will be published by the University of Hawai’i Press in March, 2008.

He was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to conduct research in Indonesia and The Netherlands in 2008 for a book on the history of eastern Indonesia in the early modern period.