Four Cambodian institutions on Monday signed agreements with the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient that will help safeguard and study thousands of palm-leave books that are part of Cambodia’s written heritage.
The agreements with the school, known in English as the French Far-East school, will help restore, analyze and manage Cambodia’s largest book collections, which are mainly Buddhist texts.
At the signing ceremony, musician Suos Somaly played traditional flutes and horns that might have been heard a century ago when the newly created EFEO began restoring Angkor’s monuments and studying Cambodia’s history, culture and language.
Through an agreement with the National Library, the EFEO’s foundation for the publication of Cambodian manuscripts, Fonds pour l’Edition des Manuscrits du Cambodge, will take on the restoration and classification of the library’s collection.
There is an urgency to the work, said FEMC head Olivier de Bernon, because insects are threatening the books’ palm leaves. The five-year agreement includes FEMC training the library staff in restoration science and techniques.
The 10-year agreement with the Buddhist Institute transfers to the institute management of two libraries established by FEMC, which will continue to handle book conservation.
According to de Bernon, with the addition of the 3,500 books of Watt Saravann Dejo in Phnom Penh and 2,500 books of Watt Phum Thmei Serey Mongkol in Kompong Cham province, the collection managed by the institute now will be larger than in 1970.
The third agreement, signed with the National Museum, makes FEMC responsible for the restoration and classification of the museum’s collection during the next five years.
The fourth agreement, signed with the Ministry of Health, establishes a working relationship between the ministry’s National Center for Traditional Medicine and FEMC for the study of traditional-medicine books during the next decade.
Culture Minister Princess Norodom Bopha Devi, Health Minister Hong Sun Huot and Religious Affairs Minister Chea Savoeun attended the ceremony, along with French Ambassador Andre Jean Libourel.
During the signing ceremony, the EFEO returned to the Buddhist Institute a microfilm believed destroyed in 1970s. Compiled between 1911 and 1950, the film consists of about 1,515 frames on topics ranging from court rituals to customs and music. It was discovered at the back of a drawer at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.
The EFEO was created in 1900 but obtained its official status in February of 1901.
To mark its 100th anniversary, the French Cultural Center is holding a photo exhibit illustrating the school’s restoration work at Angkor since the turn of the century.
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