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Carved in history: Who's Nutini?

Carved in history: Who's Nutini?

A ny visitor to Angkor Wat should have the opportunity to spend the last moments of

the day lingering atop the temple, as the sun sinks into a golden haze of jungle

tree tops. Swallows trace graceful arcs against the darkening blue and the hot bustle

of the day dissolves into a contemplative quiet. On turning at last to leave however,

one realizes that one has not been alone. For there, on the columns and glowing walls

of the summit, names are inscribed in stone. Graffiti some would call it, these scratched

remainders of visitors who have come before. There are Chinese and Japanese characters,

Khmer and English, recent and old. Somewhere carved in stone there is the name "Nutini".

Who was this "Nutini"?, we muse as we climb down into the dark galleries

of descent. What circumstances brought him to Angkor and why did he decide to leave

his name behind for us to read?

The answer can be found in an aging colonial building, nestled behind the National

Library. Here, in the National Archives of Cambodia, musings over long, long-ago

names find all sorts of fabulous answers. Nutini was apparently an errant civil servant

suffering - according to his superiors - from "the obsession of engraving his

name in stone". In file #1995, Henri Marchal, the Conservator of Angkor, details

the first two cases of civil servants caught engraving their names on the walls of

Angkor Wat. "In the case of these engravers", he explains, there is "less

malevolent intent than a kind of unconscious disregard; these people would be incapable

of doing any harm to anybody; their type (and there are many who think like this)

believes that public things do not belong to anyone." It must be made clear,

however, that such acts are actually offenses causing "the deterioration of

public monuments".

This correspondence detailing what was considered as an alarming new phenomena in

1922 can be found in one of the many files recently unearthed from the third floor

of the National Archives. Here the many tens of thousands of files are being stored

that the French colonial administration produced during its lifetime from 1863 to

1953. Next to documents relating to the big issues of history, to war and peace and

to those who decide which one of the two prevails, one finds correspondence, reports,

and pictures that bear witness to those that history usually forgets: the little

stories, the unimportant events, the unspectacular daily life of past generations,

of those who never made it into the headlines, but yet have fascinating, funny, saddening

or grotesque stories to tell.

So, visitors to the Angkor ruins, beware! Think first before you decide to scratch

your initials into the ancient stones: for one it's against the law, but then your

name might also be recorded in another of the National Archives and be kept there

for future generations to see. And wouldn't you prefer to be associated by tomorrow's

researchers with more noble activities than some silly engraving?

- Information for this article was taken from the National Archives of Cambodia,

file #1995 (Détérioration des Monuments d'Angkor). The National Archives

is open Monday - Friday, 8-11am and 2-4:30pm. It is located behind the National Library

alongside the Hotel Royal. All are welcome to come and browse through this vast resource

and discover for themselves an intriguing moment in Cam-bodia's past.

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