A la poursuite de l’inscription chame – Episode II

* First, you may want to check out Episode I.

So here I am, in Siem Reap… to work, as I’ll be giving a short talk on “Cambodian society” in situ, just minutes from now. But well, who said work and pleasure can’t be mixed??? I still have one more hour before the plane takes off, back to Phnom Penh. What the hell could I be doing in Siem Reap? Ideas? Well, one may come to mind… I take a look at my big fake luxury watch and run straight to the EFEO (Ecole Francaise D’Extreme Orient). I meet there with Christophe Pottier, an archaeologist, who is naturally much more speed than I am, even without the flight-hurry-schedule. And that’s a good thing because he goes straight to the point when I ask: ‘’ever heard of this mythical Cham inscription in Angkor Wat Chams so often talk about?’’

©emikostock

The Famous “Inscription Chame” itself… Nowadays located in the Conservation d’Angkor.

©emikostock

The same “petits voyous” from 1881 who signed the chame inscription ??? Located in great discretion in the Ta Prohm temple?

Well… he does have a picture of the inscription chame I am working on – thanks to documentations sent to me by the EFEO Office in Paris – and can even send me to see it in situ at the Conservation d’Angkor (where artifacts from the site are collected and stocked to be protected). “We also have ma chère, this small inscription in Khmer in Ta Prohm Temple, recently discovered, mentioning the date of 1881″… Probably the same group of authors as THE cham inscription we conclude, since this one mentions 2425 (Buddhist era), meaning 1881. But what about THE one supposed to be located somewhere in Angkor Wat itself? It must exist… as one of my cham guru – Kru Sar – repeated again just a week earlier. Pu Sary, an archaelogist also working at the EFEO quickly concludes by a enthusiast “well, we just need to check it out… Let’s go… NOW’’! We only have like 30 minutes to go to both the Conservation d’Angkor and Angkor Wat before my flight. We finally decide to chose Angkor over the Conservation as time is of the essence (not that inscriptions usually leave out of the blue, but I most certainly do!). “East entrance, south gallery, 3rd or 4th pillar” insists Kru Sar, over the phone, politely, patiently, pondering without a single complaint about my total absence of orientation… And yet… Nothing… We looked at each nude pillar with our best eyes (well… let say in my case with a “best-as-I-can” myope-eye as far as I am concerned…) with no success. It was funny to see the tourists’ reaction: normally they are all facing the opposite wall, famous for its wonderful bas-reliefs. But they were so curious to see what we were actually looking for that after a while they were all checking the nude pillars also… “Then it must be South Entrance, East gallery” concludes Kru Sar after I call to report our failure… It must be… So we go on… Again. Running in the galleries… again. Looking at the pillars… again. And still, nothing… It’s only when the sun starts to decline that I realised my flight is leaving in … 17 minutes not allowing much time for the long awaited ‘’discovery’’. I make a run to the from the galleries to the site, from the site to the road, from the road to the airport. The young steward tries the line “the door is closed, it is too late”, I try my best smile, it works out, and one hour later I am in Phnom Penh, only with a half smile now: disappointed for sure, but already trying to think about this adventure, what exactly went wrong and more importantly where, taking notes and ideas to continue to search the inscription for the next part of: “A la poursuite de l’inscription chame”.

To be continued… 

Phnom Penh, February 11, 2013, Emiko Stock.

* Originally very informally shared with a couple of friends over my personal FB page, 13/08/09.

Those little field-notes are reminiscences of the past blogs and shares. While they are not proud of their flaws, I thought they shouldn’t be punished for it. Hopefully you will forgive them to be just as they come, just as they will remain.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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4 thoughts on “A la poursuite de l’inscription chame – Episode II

  1. Hello there. I am Cham and I’ve heard about Cham inscriptions at Angkor Wat. Can you tell me more about it? What are the details of the contents? And did you ever go back to find it? I’m so curious now! I was recently in Cambodia and had visited the sites but didn’t get to do much exploring.

    • Dear Rofek, thanks a lot for your interest. I know it can be frustrating not to find the inscription, I had been looking for it myself for years, following the guidance of – sometimes in all contradiction 🙂 – Cham elders indications. I unfortunately don’t have my notes of the time with me here in the states, but could get back to you from Cambodia this summer if that’s of any use? (It’s indeed in Angkor Wat but I can’t remember the exact gallery / side). I am afraid that, compared to what we usually hear about this inscription, its content may disappoint you: it’s rather uneventful, it states the date and attests that the Cham authors where here then. It still leaves room for the best stories though. 🙂

      • Hi Emiko. I was hoping that it would contain eventful information but that’s okay. I’m sure, with most things, the contents of the Cham inscription has been exaggerated over time. I’ve even heard that Angkor Wat was built by Chams! A crazy claim, I know. The interesting thing is, though, during that time there were Cham+Khmer alliances who were at war with other Cham+Khmer groups. I don’t claim that Chams built Angkor Wat but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chams engineers and slaves had a hand in contributing to the temple. I also remember reading somewhere that Suryavarman II was half Malay and had a Cham princess as one of his wives but I don’t have any sources to back that up. Anyway, finding your site was a nice find and I look forward to reading more things about contemporary Cham culture/life.

      • Dear Rofek, sorry for the late reply. I think you are exactly pointing out to all those layers of complexities that are now starting to be recognized as part of Cham history / anthropology. I am totally with you on the different alliances of a mix of Khmers and Chams against other alliances of a similar mix: it is unsettling for it implies that our categorization Khmers VS Chams is too simple to even scratch the surface of it all, but it is what makes it so much more fascinating if you ask me. On that line, the craziness of a Cham origin of Angkor Wat isn’t crazy at all if we switch from thinking in terms of ethnicity or nations, to -rather- a constant layering. What is interesting is not whether Angkor Wat is ”historically” Cham or not – the line between facts and fictions is so much thinner than we often think when it comes to making history – but rather that it matters to many Chams, who do see Angkor as theirs. Thanks again for your interest!

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