[Talk] Boxer Codex: A plan to invade Siam

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.

Source: The Siam Society

Exhibition of Rare Books at The Siam Society

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.

Source: The Siam Society

An almost forgotten glory

via Bangkok Post, 28 June 2018

It was a fine sunny day when more than 70 culture vultures strolled the old Front Palace (Wang Na), the palace of viceroys in the early Rattanakosin period, near Sanam Luang, to learn about its history, importance and changes. Anyone wanting to know the old palace as more than just the National Museum Bangkok can follow the footsteps of the recent “Walk With The Cloud: The Hidden Palace”, led by Khun Sirikitiya Jensen, an official of the Fine Arts Department and the youngest daughter of Princess Ubolratana.

Source: An almost forgotten glory

New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi

Over the weekend, fellow rock art enthusiast Francesco Germi and I took a day trip from Bangkok to Saraburi province to visit Wat Phraphuttachai, a temple known for its Buddhist and ‘prehistoric’ rock art. For my doctoral research, I studied rock art sites across Mainland Southeast Asia that had later become religious shrines and so this site was of some personal interest.

Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi province, Thailand
Wat Phraphuttachai, Saraburi province, Thailand

Wat Phraphuttachai is located on a cliff face and the gold-roofed pavilion at the side of the cliff contains its namesake: a Buddhist rock painting in which is said to be an imprint of the Buddha himself.

Buddha's imprint, the 'Phraphutthachai' of Wat Phraphuttachai
Buddha’s imprint, the ‘Phraphutthachai’ of Wat Phraphuttachai

Just beside the entrance of this pavilion is a small section of wall that contain some other rock paintings. The rock art, which was gazetted by the Fine Arts Department in 1935, consists of hand prints, some honeycomb designs and an assortment of fragmentary red paintings. Most are extremely hard to see today.

The cliff side of Wat Phraphuttachai. The rock art is located just to the right of the pavilion's entrance, behind the Buddha statues.
The cliff side of Wat Phraphuttachai. The rock art is located just to the right of the pavilion’s entrance, behind the Buddha statues.
Red handprints and examples of very faded paintings at the site
Red hand prints and examples of very faded paintings at the site.

It wasn’t until we got back home and started to analyse our pictures with DStretch that we realised that one section of the wall with fragmentary paintings was actually a massive and magnificent image of the Buddha! Like the Phraphutthachai image, this Buddha is also life-sized but is more embellished.

New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, practically invisible to the naked eye. Only parts of the "wings" can be seen easily.
New Buddhist rock art at Wat Phraphuttachai, practically invisible to the naked eye. Only parts of the “wings” can be seen easily.

I’m wondering now if the paintings all belong to the historic Buddhist period, rather than a two-layer prehistoric-then-Buddhist occupation. It could be some of the earlier paintings that were called human and animal figures were really misidentified. Finding this elaborate Buddhist image was quite cool, and if any readers could comment on the style of art, we would like to hear them – leave a comment below. For now, we have submitted a preliminary report of the finding to the Fine Arts Department of Thailand.

SOAS statue: school denies it was smuggled, but provenance has not yet been established

via The Nation, 16 June 2018: SOAS denies that the donated statue was smuggled but critics point out that the provenance of the statue is lacking, or at least has not yet been established (see other links at the end of this post).

London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has denied claims the prestigious institution possesses a 13th-century sculpture likely smuggled from Thailand

Source: Thai Buddha statue not smuggled: SOAS – The Nation

See also:

MoU promotes cross-border trips between Angkor and Sukhothai

via Bangkok Post, 15 June 2018:

Thailand’s Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta) yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Cambodia’s Apsara Authority to exchange knowledge and expertise about community-based tourism and World Heritage Site management.

Source: MoU promotes cross-border trips

London university accused of accepting smuggled sculpture

via The Nation, 14 June 2018: A developing story about the donation of a Lopburi-style sculpture to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, that was accepted without documentation of provenance. The details were first released by Dr Angela Chiu, an independent scholar, on her website.

The Culture and Foreign ministries are following up an accusation made by London University’s prominent School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), that it accepted as a gift a 13th-century sculpture possibly smuggled from Thailand.

Source: London university accused of accepting smuggled sculpture – The Nation

See also:

[Talk] Mystery of the Prehistoric Log Coffin Culture in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son Province

Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this talk at the Siam Society on Thursday by Prof. Rasmi Shoocongdej.

Mortuary practice is an important indicator of past ideology and its analysis can be developed by classifying burials into specific types, a method which can limit our understanding of mortuary variability, particularly the horizontal and vertical scales of social organization. Research in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son province, on the Thai-Myanmar border, has revealed the unique features of log coffins placed on posts inside caves atop limestone cliffs. The log coffin culture dates to 2,200-1,000 years ago and bears similarities with the hanging coffins of the extant local inhabitants, the Yue, who are associated with the Tai peoples of Yunnan, South China. This talk will present an overview of Log Coffin culture in Thailand in relation to China and Southeast Asia, through a cross-cultural approach. It will also examine the cemetery organization from the Ban Rai Rockshelter and Long Long Rak Cave sites of Highland Pang Mapha, through a temporal and spatial analysis of the archaeological evidence, to assess the stylistic approach and mortuary practice as units of analysis for the symbolic and cultural landscape, cemetery organization and social memory. The resulting analyses will help our understanding of mortuary and social organization of ancient Highland communities and the complex interactions between South China and Southeast Asia.

Source: Mystery of the Prehistoric Log Coffin Culture in Highland Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son Province. A Talk by Rasmi Shoocongdej