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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks to sastra sleuk rith artisan Phoeun Phavy on Tuesday in Siem Reap, where he offered to buy her Khmer palm leaf manuscripts to distribute to all pagodas and state-run schools. Photo supplied
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks to sastra sleuk rith artisan Phoeun Phavy on Tuesday in Siem Reap, where he offered to buy her Khmer palm leaf manuscripts to distribute to all pagodas and state-run schools. Photo supplied

Artist gets powerful patron

A dying art form has gotten a new lease on life this week after Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged to buy as many sastra sleuk rith manuscripts as Siem Reap craftswoman Phoeun Phavy can produce.

In a post to his Facebook page on Tuesday, the premier announced he has offered to buy the traditional form of Khmer manuscript, in which Buddhist scripture is painstakingly inked onto palm leaves, from Phavy at double her current rate.

Hun Sen met with Phavy, 30, in Siem Reap to urge her and her family to continue the traditional craft, of which Phavy is one of the last practitioners. During the meeting, the premier said he planned to distribute the completed works to all pagodas and state-run schools.

Previously priced at 12,000 riel ($3) per leaf – each covered with ornate Buddhist calligraphy – Hun Sen said he hoped the new price tag of 25,000 riel ($6.25) would encourage Phavy to keep creating the manuscripts.

Reached yesterday, Phavy, who was taught how to produce sastra sleuk rith by her father, said it was a welcome move for a business that has not been doing well due to lack of promotion of the craft.

“We are lacking people who love to do sleuk rith these days . . . and there is no promotion [of the art]. The encouragement from the government will help to maintain our tradition . . . We make [sleuk rith] when we receive orders for it, but if there are no orders, we do not produce it,” she said.

According to Van Bunna, of the Cults and Religions Ministry, while some pagodas still have old sastras, which consist of multiple leaves that are bound together, many do not.

“Some pagodas have scripts that were left from the past, but during the Pol Pot regime, many were destroyed. Now the government is urging all pagodas and schools to keep them for future generations,” he said.

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