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Saving Khmer heritage takes commitment

Dear Editor,

The threatened closure, or even downsizing, of the Centre for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap must be a matter of considerable concern to anyone seriously interested in historical research in Southeast Asia.

 The "Heritage Industry" in Cambodia is alive and thriving and is a key driver to the economy. But, as everywhere, the tourist is usually presented with a potted and sanitised view of the past. Discovery of the true heritage of any culture is an everlasting process that needs, at its heart, careful objective scholarship undertaken by people free from commercial pressures.

Work also needs to be done out in the field, through the collection, for example, of folk tales and songs and memories of periods that currently attract little attention. For obvious reasons there is plenty of collected information on the Khmer Rouge era, but not nearly so much on, say, the minutiae of village life in the 1930s.

Unfortunately, the raw results of such research work are not usually marketable, although they often provide the basic material for those who popularise history. One can only hope that a donor will come forward and sponsor the next stage of the CSK development. Its loss would be very regrettable.

 

Michael Hansen

Phnom Penh

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