Exploring stories in Southeast Asian traditional manuscripts: A case study of Khmer palace chronicle (bangsāvatār) and the Kan narrative
Lunch lecture by IIAS fellow Theara Thun
The Kan narrative is a series of events which have been believed by many Cambodians today, including top leaders, to be historical events about the contestation for kingship between a commoner named Kan and members of the royal family during the early 16thcentury. Discussing the contents, the formats, the epistemology, and key figures of the story, this lecture aims to provide the contextual origins and receptions of the narrative as well as the texts that recount it. It incorporates sources such as ancient inscriptions, bas-reliefs, folklores, novels, textbooks, films, rituals, Western missionary accounts, and 19th and 20th-century palace chronicle manuscripts which recount the Kan story as part of the genealogy of Khmer rulers. The lecture demonstrates that, due to the lack of ‘historical’ evidence to support its accuracy, the Kan narrative hardly represents any actual historical event concerning the contestation for kingship between a commoner and members of the royal family during the early 16th century. The story had been profoundly fabricated by two groups of chronicle writers during the 1900s in order to advocate the notions of ‘treason’ and ‘loyalty’ to the throne. Uncovering the contextual origins and the receptions of the narrative not only allows us to understand the process whereby a long-held body of local scholarship outside the scholarly practice of ‘history’ in the present-day sense was used to shape collective knowledge, but also to see its profound impacts on colonial and post-independence collective memory and culture.
Theara Thun is an Affiliated Fellow of IIAS. He received his PhD in History at the National University of Singapore under a joint doctoral scholarship program between the National University of Singapore and the Harvard-Yenching Institute (Cambridge, MA, USA). His research broadly concerns Asian manuscript traditions, intellectual history, Southeast Asian history, and Cambodian/Khmer studies. He has a forthcoming article in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. He is working on a monograph based on his PhD thesis tentatively titled “Bangsāvatār: The evolution of historiographical genres in colonial and post-independence Cambodia”.