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Piecing fragments of history together

Piecing fragments of history together

There are 35 complete and fragmentary documents in Khmer that make up the Cambodian chronicles, found by the French in various wats, the royal palace, and in the possession of elite families, none of which date earlier than 1796.

They incorporate earlier oral histories and texts that have since been lost to the climate and upheaval of civil wars. Together these 35 documents make up eight different versions of Cambodian history.

The manuscripts known as KK (1869), SP (1878), VJ (1934), No. 1049 (1835), and No. 1613 (1855) are in the Buddhist Institute library in Phnom Penh; given their extreme delicacy people are not allowed to access them as a general rule. B39/5 (1818) and P3 (a copy of KK) are in Paris. The Chronicle offered to Rama I by Ang Eng in 1796 is in Bangkok.

The 35 pieces have been translated and commentated upon in French by a number of scholars, and formed the basis for the first histories of Cambodia written by Europeans (eg Jean Moura 1883, Etienne Aymonier 1900-1903). Michael Vickery wrote his doctoral thesis on disparities and similarities between the different versions.

Two Khmer scholars working in France have recently translated the most comprehensive account of the chronicles into French, also offering commentaries upon dates and events, and supplying in appendices the different or missing accounts.

These are Khin Sok. 1988. Chroniques royales du Cambodge: De Bon- Y't à la prise de Lanvaek (1417-1595). Paris: École Française d'Extreme-Orient.

Khin Sok. 1991. Le Cambodge entre le Siam et le Vietnam (de 1775 à 1860). Paris: École Française d'Extreme-Orient.

Mak Phoeun. 1981. Chroniques royales du Cambodige: De 1594 à 1677. Paris: École Française d'Extreme-Orient.

Mak Phoeun. 1984. Chroniques royales du Cambodge: Des origines légendaires jusqu'à Paramar'j' 1er. Paris: École Française d'Extreme- Orient.

Mak Phoeun. 1995. Histoire du Cambodge: de la fin du XVIe siècle au début duy XVIIe. Paris: École Française d'Extreme-Orient.

I have drawn largely upon the French translations in Mak Phoeun and Khin Sok, supplemented with a copy of parts of the VJ chronicle, and the Middle Period Khmer inscriptions published in BEFEO and JSS, Portuguese and Spanish accounts, and material found in the Khmer cbpab, or didactic codes.

About the author

* Dr Trudy Jacobsen is lecturer in history at the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics of the Unversity of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. She has taught courses on Contemporary Southeast Asia; Genocide and Persecution, Revenge and Reconciliation; and Ghosts from the Past - Problems of Revenge and Reconciliation in History.

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