Kampong Chhnang province
The Cham community in central Cambodia took its first step yesterday towards establishing the Kingdom’s first Cham cultural centre.
Religious leaders and community members gathered at Srey Brey village on Kampong Chhnang province’s O’Reussey commune to discuss their goals for a cultural resource and preservation centre.
O’Reussey commune was selected as the site for the cultural centre due to its large number of residents who speak and write the Cham language, as well as its significance in Cham history.
“This centre would be ideal for preserving Cham culture and language for future generations,” said Kai Sa, a Cham religious leader in Srey Brey village.
“There has been no previous site to preserve Cham artifacts, language and literature, so the sooner we get the centre built, the less we will lose,” he said.
The building is set to contain a library, a museum and exhibition space, and a café serving traditional Cham dishes, participants said.
Imam Ismael, a religious leader from Chrok Romiet village, told about 100 people who had gathered to discuss the cultural centre that maintaining Cham traditions was vital and that they would need to work together to find new ways to preserve their heritage.
A cultural centre was essential to safeguard Cham language, which is at the heart of Cham history and customs, he said. Cham language is quickly fading as Khmer and Vietnamese become more common for both social and administrative dialogue in the area.
As a result, Imam Ismael said, protecting the language is timely and a cultural centre could accomplish this by teaching youths and future generations of Cham about their language, history and culture.
Cham scholar Leb Ke is gathering a library of Cham texts to provide the centre with the foundation of history and literature which is critical to the preservation of Cham culture.
Kver Mas, 72, said providing the younger generation of Cham with a place to be educated about their traditions and heritage was invaluable.
“I am very concerned about Cham culture and customs disappearing in future generations. The centre will be a place where the youth can learn about the importance of our customs and how to maintain them forever,” she said.
The fear of losing their cultural identity was a common theme during the discussion, and most speakers pointed to a new cultural centre as the solution.
The committee in charge of establishing the centre hopes to have funds to build it within a year, said committee member Alberto Pérez.
Construction could begin in early 2014, he said. “Once we have a budget in place, everything can begin to take shape,” he said.
The project’s architect, Ahti Westphal, said the budget depended on how much the donors would offer. Some committee members hoped they could raise as much as US$1million, others were far less optimistic.
The committee hopes that yesterday’s discussion will demonstrate to the community that the committee is very serious about establishing the centre, and that this in turn will begin the process of gathering support within Cambodia and internationally.
Westphal unveiled a model of the proposed centre at the meeting. When it was displayed those in attendance shifted from debating whether the project was possible to discussing how to build it and how to use it.