The Royal University of Fine Arts, East-West Center, and University of Hawai'i Program in the Archaeology and Anthropology of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 1994-1998

Article excerpt

IN 1992, THE EAST-WEST CENTER and the University of Hawai'i created the "Indochina Students Initiative," an effort to bring students from Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia to Honolulu for academic training. Students need not have been admitted to an academic program nor to classified undergraduate or graduate standing; they could come for short-term workshops or for bachelor's, master's, or doctoral studies. Between 1992 and 1994, two sets of students from Laos completed sessions in agricultural and social sciences training at the East-West Center (EWC) and the University of Hawai'i (UH). In early 1994, Judy Ledgerwood joined the staff of the East-West Center and agreed that students at the Royal University of Fine Arts, Cambodia, where she had recently taught, would be especially appropriate for intensive training in archaeological method and theory, with the intention that the students would return to Cambodia and lead the reconstruction of its archaeological and heritage management program. The president of the East-West Center, Michael Oksenberg, with the advice of Terry Rambo, set aside funds sufficient for a major training program. President Albert Simone of the University of Hawai'i committed UH faculty time and facilities to the program. From an initial meeting of Drs. Rambo, Ledgerwood, and Griffin came the program that has trained many of the best students from more than three years of Royal University graduates. Indeed, six graduates of the first graduating class since 1975 were the first to travel to Hawai'i. One, Bong Sovath, is completing his master's degree and moving to doctoral studies in the fall of 1998.

In 1994, the EWC/UH initiative began the realization of the long-standing dream, originally articulated by Wilhelm G. Solheim II, of undertaking intensive training of a cadre of Southeast Asian students. The Kingdom of Cambodia was selected as the most promising and most appropriate scene of the training. The country had only recently opened to Western assistance and had completed the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) supervised elections. Professor Chuch Phoeurn, one of three French-trained archaeologists who survived the Khmer Rouge holocaust, was named vice-rector of the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) and dean of its Faculty of Archaeology. A committed prehistorian, he aimed from the beginning to have his students gain graduate training and to develop research into the prehistory of Cambodia, moving beyond simply a concentration on Angkorian studies. The creation of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the appointment in 1993 of the Honorable Nouth Narang as minister further assisted in the revitalization of the Royal University.

Professor Chuch visited the University of Hawai'i in early 1994 to discuss the student initiative. He favored a long-term program that would bring sets of students to Honolulu for intensive training in English language and in both archaeology and cultural anthropology. During the summer of 1994, Griffin, Ledgerwood, Chhany Sak-Humphry of the Department of Hawaiian and Indo-Pacific Languages, and William Chapman of the Department of American Studies at UH visited Cambodia, interviewed students from the RUFA's first graduating class in archaeology, and selected six for EWC/UH support. In addition, the UH team visited Siem Reap and the Angkor Archaeological Park, as well as Angkor Borei in Takeo Province to the south of Phnom Penh. The latter site was to prove the ideal location for research and training of RUFA students.

The Honorable Nouth Narang, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, escorted the initial group of six students to Hawai'i in September 1994. With his blessing and support, an intensive training program began. After one academic year, four students completed their studies and returned to Cambodia and to the first season's training in excavation methodology at Angkor Borei (Griffin, Stark, and Ledgerwood 1996). …