A lecture at the Siam Society, Bangkok on 12 July.
Boxer Codex: A plan to invade Siam
A Talk by John Silva
The sumptuously illustrated 16th century Boxer Codex, with close to 100 images on rice paper featuring the people of the Pacific, Asia and Southeast Asia is the first known illustrated manuscript of the region.
The Orientalist Charles Boxer had acquired the manuscript in 1947 at an auction in England, and despite Boxer’s naming it as “Manila Manuscript” (its printing attributed to the Chinese-Filipino printer Keng Yong or Juan de Vera) his colleagues would name the codex after him.
Ever since the acquisition, no complete and modern transcription, editing and annotation of the whole manuscript was done until this new book printed by the Vibal Foundation of the Philippines in 2016 to commemorate the coming 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish on Philippine shores.
Philippine historian Carlos Quirino in the 1950’s worked on the Philippine section of the Codex and for Filipinos, accompanying images of Filipino tribes, richly adorned in gold changed local perceptions of pre-Spanish past and instead, instilled pride and identification.
But it is the complete transcription, Massachusetts. He is an author and contributor to various Philippine and international translation and annotation of this publication written in the modern understandable style, covering the chosen kingdoms, groupings and tribes of Asia, plus two very important end letters attached and addressed to the then Spanish King Philip II which draws our attention and is the subject of this talk.
The finery drawn showed native wealth, the treasures that abound, the descriptions of fortifications and sailing routes, the local conflicts, all lead up to the end letters (from the Portuguese Bishop of Malacca and the Spanish Governor General of Manila) urging King Philip to invade Siam and, from there complete the conquest of neighboring kingdoms including China and Japan. In addition, Manila would become the Vice-Royalty for Spain in the east to administer the conquered areas.
Several events scuttled the conquest plans and the Boxer Codex is appreciated today as a late 16th century pristine manuscript capturing a visual and literary slice of life of the peoples of Asia.
Mr. John L. Silva is the Executive Director of the Ortigas Library in the Philippines. The private Library has extensive rare books, maps, prints, and vintage photographs of the Philippines and is open to the general public. Mr. Silva received his M.A. in Philippine-American Studies from Goddard Cambridge in publications.
Exhibition of Rare Books at The Siam Society from the collections of Prince Prisdang and Mom Luang Manich Jumsai
27 June – 26 July 2018
The opening of the 3rd exhibition of old and rare books from Prince Prisdang and Mom Luang Manich Jumsai’s collection will take place on 27th June at 5.30 pm. These books are on permanent loan to the Siam Society by Dr. Sumet and his family.
This exhibition will include books on Siam published between 1900 and 1950 (Rama V – IX). Altogether over sixty titles have been selected for this exhibition. The books are in English, French, German and Dutch. Exciting and classic titles like “The Land of the White elephant”, “Mission Pavie Indo-Chine” and “A Half Century Among the Siamese and the Laos”, will be of great interest to book lovers of Asia-Pacific history and travel. We owe much to the adventurous travelers and writers who took a keen interest in the far away land so that we can understand what Siam used to be like at the turn of the last century.
The Rare Books Exhibition will be on view from 28 June – 26 July (except Sunday and Monday) from 10 am – 5 pm.
Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this talk by Dr Surat Lertlum on 18 January 2018:
Since 2005, Thai and Khmer scholars have conducted research utilizing multi-disciplinary approaches, including archaeology, anthropology, geo-informatics, geo-physics and information technology, with the continued and generous support of the Thailand Research Fund (TRF). At the outset, the study focused on the royal roads from Angkor. The work of the international team has benefited from the results of remote sensing surveys, which have significantly helped the systematic ground trusting conducted during several campaigns in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. The team, consisting of experts from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, subsequently expanded the scope of its study to identify the cultural relationships involving Mainland Southeast Asia, based on ancient communication networks. This presentation will be centered on the cross-border, multi-disciplinary research on ancient communication networks in Mainland Southeast Asia, aimed at identifying all the remaining sections of ancient roads and communication networks in the region. The discussion will extend to cities connected by ancient roads and trails, as well as waterways serving as communication networks, revealing physical evidence of cultures interconnected by a complex range of different communication systems and the common heritage that ensued from these ancient networks.
Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this talk at the Siam Society by Trongjai Hutangkura on 31 August 2017.
The Geography, written in the second century CE by Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100 ce- c. 170 ce), described the Earth’s geography through knowledge from Greco-Roman trade routes. The map India beyond the Ganges presented geographical information stretching from the river’s east bank towards China. Although previous studies provided place-names based on cognate comparisons between Ptolemaic data and recent toponyms, the identification of the Ptolemaic eastern limit remains problematic, exemplified by a location known to the ancient Romans as Kattigara, possibly Hangzhou (China) or Óc Eo (Vietnam). My research raises the possibility of Kattigara being located in the vicinity of the Korea Bay, based on a comparison of geographical landmarks such as the river’s mouth and cape. Other possibilities may involve Suvarṇabhūmi and a town called Zabai (Óc Eo). Though geographic recognition of Ptolemaic toponyms has since disappeared, their graphic information is still acknowledged and carries some influence in Southeast Asia, including in maps compiled by European and Arab cartographers in the 12th-16th centuries. These maps are a blend of Ptolemaic place-names and navigational information of their ages, visualising an imaginary continent of Southeast Asia. My presentation will illustrate research on the identification of cartographic information of Ptolemy’s India beyond the Ganges and Chinese lands as the basis for the study of ancient Southeast Asian maps.
Another talk for readers in Bangkok – this one by Damian Evans on LiDAR in Angkor.
Using Airborne Laser Scanning to Uncover, Map and Analyse Ancient Landscapes in Cambodia & Beyond
A Talk by Dr. Damian Evans
Date: Thursday, 4 February 2016
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Venue: The Siam Society
Traditionally, scholarship on the Angkor period has focussed on three main areas: architecture, inscriptions and art history. In recent years however there has been increasing interest in the human and environmental context of the temples, and archaeologists are beginning to understand much more about the urban and
agricultural networks that stretched between and also far beyond the well-known monuments of places like Angkor. Even though the cities that surrounded the temples were made of wood, and the water management systems were mostly made of earth, we can still very clearly see and map the traces that remain on the surface of the landscape using remote sensing techniques such as aerial photos and satellite imagery. Until recently, however, archaeologists who focussed on the mapping methods faced one very serious limitation: the fact that vegetation covers much of the areas of interest, and limits our ability to see and map these ancient features. Since 2012 however archaeologists in Cambodia have been using the technique of airborne laser scanning or “lidar”, which has the unique ability to “see through” vegetation and map archaeological remains, even underneath thick forest or jungle. This presentation will outline past, present and future projects involving lidar, including presenting some preliminary results from the latest lidar campaign in 2015, which increased coverage from Angkor to include a wide array of sites across Cambodia, and discuss potential applications in other countries in Southeast Asia including Thailand.
This book traces the ornaments and artefacts, which brought about the changes in beliefs, rituals, social and cultural aspects of early Myanmar, from the prehistoric to the proto-historical period, and cultural links between China and Myanmar. Links between China and Myanmar are corroborated by bronze artefacts and stone beads from the Samon River Valley, the Bronze-Iron Transition culture that flourished c. 700 BCE-100 CE. Beads from the Samon are linked to the Western Zhou Dynasty of China (11th-8th century BCE). The tiger with cub in the mouth is an iconic artefact from this period. Although the Samon figurines are of different material, due to the wider availability of semi-precious stones in Myanmar, they bear stylistic affinities with the Chinese version.
Gradual changes in the Samon River Valley culture led to the Pyu Era (200 BCE-900 CE), a contemporary of Dvaravati (Thailand), Champa (Vietnam) and Funan (Cambodia). The Pyu were thus a bridge between the Bronze-Iron Transition Age and Myanmar’s early Buddhist period, one of the earliest Buddhist cultures of Southeast Asia. In addition to ancient ramparts and a few inscriptions, there is a wealth of excavated material, from Buddha effigies to golden plates, jewellery, coins and other moveable artefacts. This transition to the Buddhist period shifts the focus from China to India and links with the crossroads of East Asia, visible in the Pyu’s gold dice beads decorated with auspicious symbols and the main events in the Buddha’s life.
Cosmology was one of the important sciences of the pre-modern period. Cosmological treatises were source books or encyclopaedias on ethics and metaphysics, on time and space, and on the rich narrative traditions of Buddhism. They described Nirvana, the heavens and the hells, and the worlds of humans, animals, and spirits. The science of cosmology enabled individuals to situate themselves in the world by mapping human psychology and moral action against wide-ranging physical and temporal landscapes; it breathed meaning into the rhythm of the ritual and calendrical years.
Some of these treatises were designed as complex charts that integrate the visual image and the written text into a meaningful whole, painted in bright palettes on the broad panels of accordion manuscripts made of paper. The earliest examples are from the Ayutthaya period; the practice continued up to the early twentieth century. Recently my colleagues and I have studied and translated an illustrated Traibhumi manuscript from the collections of Harvard University, with the intention to publish it in celebration of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Sixtieth Birth Anniversary. By an unknown artist, the beautifully illustrated Harvard Traibhumi is one of the latest examples of the genre, dating to about the end of the nineteenth century. It presents a condensed description of the “Three Worlds” with paintings that gracefully introduce perspective and the vocabulary of western illustration into the traditional themes of Thai artistry.