Header: Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia.
Top row: (1) Dvaravati Buddha, Thailand. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. (2) Semang children in North Malaysia. (3) Angkor, Champa & Khmer battle scene on
murals at Angkor. (4) Row of statues at Angkor.
Bottom row: (1) Stone faces at Angkor complex. (2) Africoid figure from early Vietnam (Champa). (3) Buddha, Thailand, 800 A.D. (4) The Mani of Southern Thailand.
“The Bayon is my favorite Angkor temple. From a distance it seems a mere mass of stone. But as one approaches the temple in its park-like setting, you are immediately struck by the hundreds of huge African looking faces that dominate the building. The Bayon, a temple second in size only to Angkor Wat, is an intricate, eight hundred-year-old shrine celebrated for the gigantic stone faces of its builder, Jayavarman VII.”
Runoko Rashidi - Historian, Researcher and Writer
Of all the kingdoms of early Southeast Asia, one of the most recognised and magnificent has to be Angkor, located in northern Cambodia. Angkor’s beauty is illustrated by thousands of lavish temples, wonderfully built with laterite, brick and sandstone, and a massive hydrological system of reservoirs and lakes, all of which cover a huge area of some seventy-seven square miles. The people responsible for building these tremendous structures were an industrious Black Africoid people known as Khmers. Roland Burrage Dixon, an anthropologist at Harvard, described the ancient Khmers as physically “marked by distinctly short stature, dark skin, curly or even frizzy hair, broad noses and thick Negroid lips.”
“In remote antiquity the Khmers established themselves throughout a vast area that encompassed portions of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos.” In addition, some of the earliest Buddha statues from neighbouring regions such as Thailand and Vietnam have clearly discernable African features, such as broad noses, thick lips and woolly hair in cornrows, they have the appearance of any African found in sub-Sahara Africa today. This was at a time when the region was not subject to foreign domination and race infusion, and it had reserved the purity of this type.
The builders of the earliest kingdoms in Southeast Asia, the Funanes, who were essentially the same as Khmers, were described in a Chinese historical document as “ugly and Black...their hair is curly.” The men were described by the Chinese as “small and Black.”
There are, however, much more complimentary descriptions from earlier Chinese records. The Chinese chronicler Nan Ts’i Chou more flatteringly and probably reflecting earlier and less prejudice times, expressly stated:
“For the complexion of men, they consider Black the most beautiful. In all the kingdoms of the southern region, it is the same.”
From as early as 192 A.C.E. the people of the Southeast Asian kingdom Champa (Vietnam), known to the Chinese as Lin-yi, which meant the “land of Black men” were described by Chinese scribes as possessing: “Black skin, eyes deep in the orbit, nose turned up, hair frizzy.”
Chinese scribes also stated that the people of Cham adorned themselves:
“In a single piece of cotton or silk wrapped about the body...They are very clean; they wash themselves several times each day, wear perfume and rub their bodies with a lotion compounded with camphor and musk.”
The Funan’s stature and prestige had greatly suffered due to extensive agricultural reversals combined with the loss of cardinal trade routes. According to historians regional domination was then shifted northwards to Chenla, where the abundance of stone was used for major building projects for the first time in the history of Southeast Asia.
Chenla was divided into two parts, Upper Chenla and Lower Chenla, and was initially a vassel state of Funan. Lower Chenla, the southern state, was covered with lakes and waterways, and bordered on the sea, and was called Water Chenla. Upper Chenla, called Wen Tan and Polieu by the Chinese, was the northern state. It consisted of mountains and valleys, and extended northwards to the present Chinese province of Yunnan. Upper Chenla, as the Lower Chenla counterpart, was called Land Chenla. In fact, the Chinese referred to the whole country now known as Cambodia as Chenla. Historian, researcher and writer, Runoko Rashidi describes Chenla’s decline:
“In 722 Upper Chenla joined in a war against the Chinese governor of Chiao-chou (Tonkin). The leader of the revolt defeated the Chinese forces, conquered Chiao-chou and proclaimed himself He-ti, “Black Emperor.” The chronicle of the Khmer Kingdom of Chenla is much the same as that of Funan. After many decades of prosperity, late during the eighth century trade with India was disrupted, resulting in a severe administrative breakdown and Chenla’s descent into darkness.”
It was during the reign of the Angkorian king Indravarman I (c. 877 - 889 A.C.E.) that inscriptions began to refer to the kingdom of the Khmer as Kamuja, or Kambujadesa, which is the origin of the modern name Kampuchea (the country formerly called Cambodia). According to historians the initial kingdoms of Southeast Asia emerged by the third century A.C.E. However, this should be noted with extreme caution, historians admit that little is known of this so-called early historic period, and there is compelling evidence that the civilisation and its initial kingdoms emerged considerably more earlier. This point will be returned to later.
The region attracted Indians due to the areas rich source of minerals, coral and forest. Over the years Indian merchants gradually established themselves at strategic points in small colonies throughout the area. These Indians brought with them ideas of government, administration, religion, architecture, engineering and literature. It is important to note that historians have found no evidence of armed invasion, forced conversions or large scale migrations at this period. The first known Southeast Asian monarchies developed by the mixture of those Indian colonies who possessed a large Africoid Dravidian element and the native Mon-Khmer people, who were numerically large and also highly Africoid.
Statue of a Buddha (Enlightened One).10th century Bronze,Thailand. Janake Collection.
According to mainstream academics the kingdom of Angkor essentially lasted from 802 to 1431, although, again, these apparently fixed dates should be noted with caution. Archaeologists are discovering layers and layers underneath Angkor as though they are reincarnations of previous temples that go back a great deal further. In the early ninth century Jayavarman II (802-850) unified the Khmer kingdom and identified himself with the popular Hindu deity Shiva. In 889 King Yasovarman I constructed his capital on the current site of Angkor, in the Khmer language Angkor means the city or the capital. Since his reign Angkor (city or capital) has been reconstructed and personalised over consecutive centuries by successive Hindu and Buddhist Khmer kings. Again, as previously mentioned this should be noted with caution, although Yasovarman I is credited with creating the site Angkor or the capital, as you will see it is much more likely that he merely augmented a region that was already flourishing as a major city way before his time, again, this point shall be returned to later.
Angkor at its height is estimated to have housed a population of 1 million people. The Khmers were master builders with stone, and throughout the successive dynasties demonstrated exceptional engineering prowess.
They not only built marvellous temple islands and mountains, but also artificial lakes such as Indratataka, moats, massive hydrological system of reservoirs, and other wonderful water related constructions such as canals. Regarding this magnificent work, historian, Dr Elizabeth Moore, head of the department of Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University London, said:
“Angkor's beauty is seen in its temples, but the greatness of the Khmer city lies in the multitude of water-related constructions...The Khmer kings nominally dedicated temples to Hindu and Buddhist deities, but the underlying significance was veneration of ancestral spirits, ensuring fertility of the land. Management of water was essential, both for control during the monsoon rains and conservation during the dry season and involved the construction of moats, dikes, canals, tanks, and reservoirs. The largest of these reservoirs, dated to the 12th century AD, is eight kilometres (five miles) long and its function remains a matter of archaeological debate.”
The Khmers also applied there engineering skills to warfare; they had machines designed to hurl heavy arrows and sharp spears at their enemies.
In battle they could be seen riding atop of ornately decorated elephants. They were also sophisticated agriculturalists and merchants who engaged in extensive and ongoing commerce with India and China.
Education and intellectual pursuits was highly regarded. Each Angkor temple possessed two library buildings filled with manuscripts. This pursuit of knowledge was especially reflected during the time of Jayavarman V (969-1001).
The women occupied a prominent role within Khmer society, and as in ancient Egypt and other ancient African societies, the genealogy of Angkor was generally matrilineal. This is evident in the writings that repeatedly reveal the names of the grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and granddaughters of the king. In fact, the upperclass women of Khmer spent much of their time involved in intellectual pursuits. Regarding the notable role of women, Angkor scholar, Christopher Pym remarked:
“Women occupied a dominant place in Khmer life, but the influence of upper-class women was marked. Usurpers of the Khmer throne had to show their relationship to previous kings through intermarriage. In priestly families descent and inheritance followed the female line.”
Another scholar Lawrence Palmer Briggs wrote:
"There is probably no reign in the history of the ancient Khmers in which more distinguished ministers, scholars, dignitaries are mentioned in the inscriptions.
The exalted trust to Prana by the king, the praises of Indralakshmi in the inscriptions and her erection of an image of her mother, and the foundations of Jahnavi, show the high social and political positions held by the women of Cambodia at this time. Chinese writers praise the women of Cambodia for their knowledge of astrology and government, and say the women of the royal family sometimes held high political posts, including that of judge.”
Furthermore, King Jayavarman VII’s wife Indradevi who has been described as “intelligent by nature, scholarly, very pure, and devoted to her husband,” became the chief lecturer at a Buddhist foundation.
Undoubtedly, the most famous of Angkor sites is Angkor Wat, a beautiful temple mountain that took 37 years to build. This awe-inspiring masterpiece was constructed using millions of tons of sandstone which were transported to the site by river raft from a quarry at Mount Kulen, 25 miles to the northeast. Renowned historian, researcher and author Runoko Rashidi, vividly describes this impressive temple:
“Angkor Wat rises in three successive stages up to five central towers that represent the peaks of Mount Meru--the cosmic or world mountain that lies at the center of the universe in Hindu mythology and considered the celestial residence of the Hindu pantheon. The towers of Angkor Wat, the tallest of which rises about 200 feet above the surrounding flatlands, are Cambodia's national symbol. The temple's outer walls represent the mountains at the edge of the world, while the moat surrounding the temple represents the oceans beyond.”
According to historians, Angkor Wat dates from the reign of the Khmer king Suryavarman II (1113-1150). Supposedly, at this time Khmer’s empire known as Kambuja was at its zenith and covered the South China Sea, Thailand, Laos and as far south as the Malay Peninsula.
Angkor Wat temple lavishly depicts stories of famous epics such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata (stories of Krishna, Vishnu and Rama) and Hindu poems, all marvellously decorated in intricate bas-relief. The reliefs show marching armies and more than 1,700 sensual images of celestial female dancers known as apsaras. They have been described by the archaeologist, Henri Parmentier, as “grace personified, the highest expression of femininity ever conceived by human mind.”
Rashidi describes what Angkor Wat meant to the Khmer people: “To the members of the Khmer court a walk to the center of Angkor Wat was a metaphorical trip of the spirit to the center of the universe,” he said.
One of the most notable kings of Angkor was Jayavarman VII, who was proclaimed king in 1181. He is a ruler that is often likened to Egypt’s Ramses II (Ramses the Great), for his colossal construction projects, lengthy reign, and noble and wise leadership in military affairs. He embarked on a series of military campaigns that extended the Khmer empire to Malaysia in the south, to the borders of Myanmar in the east and to Laos in the north, when he was over sixty. Indeed, his very name appropriately reflects his successful military endeavours.
In Sanskrit the word “varman” means armour and “jaya” means victory; thus, Jayavarman means “protector of victory.” Nearly half of the famous temples at Angkor are credited to him, and they stand as testimony to his dedicated and determined efforts to reconstruct the city after it had been devastated by war.
Second in size only to Angkor Wat, stands the magnificent structure called the Bayon, another monument with sculpted stone faces of Jayavarman VII. The Bayon is a sculptured stone mountain located at the center of the six square mile walled city of Angkor Thom, which is about a mile northeast of Angkor Wat. It was the capital of the Khmer empire from the late tenth through to the early thirteenth century. In 1297 a Chinese diplomat by the name of Chou Takuan gave a detailed description of the Bayon, he said:
“On the eastern side is a golden bridge, on each side of which are two golden lions, while eight golden Buddhas are placed at the base of the stone chambers. North of the Golden Tower, at a distance of about two hundred yards, rises the Tower of Bronze (Baphuon), higher even than the Golden Tower: a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base. A quarter of a mile further north is the residence of the king. Rising above his private apartment is another tower of gold. These are monuments which have caused merchants from overseas to speak so often of “Cambodia the rich and noble.”
An inscription on the Bayon temple pertaining to Jayavarman states that, “He suffered from his sicknesses of his subjects more than from his own: for it is the public grief which makes the grief of kings and not their personal grief.
The Bayon has proven to be a personal favourite to at least one historian, regarding this splendid monument, Rashidi said:
“The Bayon is my favorite Angkor temple. From a distance it seems a mere mass of stone. But as one approaches the temple in its park-like setting, you are immediately struck by the hundreds of huge African looking faces that dominate the building. The Bayon, a temple second in size only to Angkor Wat, is an intricate, eight hundred-year-old shrine celebrated for the gigantic stone faces of its builder, Jayavarman VII.
As well as these temples, Jayavarman also produced Ta Prohm and Preah Khan as mausoleums for his mother and father respectively. “The Preah Khan temple, a genuine labyrinth of pavilions, halls and chapels, immerses about a square mile of ponderously wooded land just north of the enclosed city of Angkor Thom. According to the dedicatory stele dating to 1191, the site sheltered 515 pietistic portraits which were embellished with immense quantities of silk veils and golden jewelry set with diamonds, emeralds and pearls.”
Ta Prohm has provided useful information concerning the times of the man. Inscriptions reveal that there were 102 hospitals in the Khmer empire, each consisting of two doctors, two pharmacists, fourteen guardians, eight male nurses, six female nurses, six orderlies, two cooks, two clerks and sixty general assistants.
As marvellous as Angkor is and was, it was not the only remarkable kingdom of Southeast Asia. The kingdom of Champa was also a major power and also substantially Indianised.
Scholars believe that the Cham settled along the coastal plains of mid-southern Vietnam (Annam) more than two millennia ago. They dominated this region, scholars believe, from approximately the fourth through the thirteenth centuries. Regarding Champa’s early historical period, Rashidi remarked:
“According to one account, the Kingdom of Champa was born of a victory by the Blacks over the Chinese province of Je-Nan in +137; later, it frequently demonstrated its unruliness and spirit of conquest, including against China, of which it had become theoretically a tributary.”
As early as 192 A.C.E. Chinese dynastic records reference a kingdom of Lin-yi, which meant “Land of Black men.” Rashidi continues:
“The kingdom of Lin-yi was known as Champa in Sanskrit documents. Its inhabitants possessed “black skin, eyes deep in the orbit, nose turned up, hair frizzy” at a period when they were not yet subject to foreign domination and preserved the purity of this type.”
These records expressly state that:
“For the complexion of men, they consider Black the most beautiful. In all the kingdoms of the southern region, it is the same.”
Chinese scribes added that the Cham adorned themselves:
“In a single piece of cotton or silk wrapped about the body…They are very clean; they wash themselves several times each day, wear perfume, and rub their bodies with a lotion compounded with camphor and musk.”
The major centres of Champa were TraKieu and Pandulanga (Phan-Rang) based near Dong Duong. As well as these major centres there was also the capital Vijaya (BinhDinh), which was the great southern capital and Mi Son, the religious centre and early northern capital. There were more than seventy temples built at Mi Son during the seventh through to the twelfth centuries, and from its inception in the fifth century it was a cardinal centre of Brahminic worship. In August 1969, however, U.S. Army commandos attacked Mi Son and obliterated a huge seventy-foot high stone tower masterpiece.
The distinctive Africoid appearance of the Chams began to deteriorate by the early tenth century as the population became pressurised and slowly absorbed by Sinicized Vietnamese. By the end of the tenth century the northern provinces of Champa had been annexed by these foreign invaders. In 1283, the Mongols under Kublai Khan desolated the entire coast. Champa, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, that was by that time highly transformed by the rapid influx of Sinicized Vietnamese, waged war with Angkor. At the Bayon a bas-relief chronicles an event that occurred in 1177 when a Cham fleet sailed up the Mekong River and sacked the city. At this event the famous exiled Khmer prince, Jayavarman VII bravely defended Angkor. With his army of loyal soldiers he demolished the Cham enemies and drove them out.
Angkor later had to repel further attacks by Thai invaders who were, at the time, Sinicized or Mongoloid types. These Thais, at least a large portion of them, lived in the southern and south eastern portions of the country, known today as China.40 Jayavarman VII himself built a moated stone wall around the city with five monumental bridges to protect Angkor Thom.
After his death, however, Angkor began to decline, and no great monuments were constructed by any of his successors. Brahmin dominance was restored at the Khmer court by his successor Jayavarman VIII (1243-1295), and by the beginning of the fifteenth century the entire kingdom was on verge of total collapse.
Angkor experienced regular invasions by these Mongoloid Thais during the fifteenth century and the Khmers endeavoured to repulse these attacks in order that they may preserve the last vestiges of their great kingdom. Regarding this terrible period in Khmer history, Rashidi remarked:
“The Thai invasions of Angkor were a life or death struggle for the Khmers. Their impact on the Khmer economy was absolutely disastrous. Able-bodied Khmer men and the last remnants of the Khmer intelligentsia were abducted as captives and carried away. Excavations have shown that the Thais actually blocked the canals at Angkor, so that the complex and elaborate irrigation system was eventually ruptured. In 1431, after a seven month siege, the Thais occupied and ravaged Angkor and removed many of its statues, and by the end of 1432 came the physical abandonment of Angkor by the Khmers and the removal of the capital first to the province of Sre Santhor and later to Phnom Penh and Oudong. Angkor was eventually retaken from the Thais and even experienced a brief renaissance in the late sixteenth century, but soon afterwards slipped into deep obscurity.”
In credit to the level of sophistication and strength of the native Khmer people of Champa and Angkor, today there are still a multitude of superbly crafted statuary and hundreds of wonderfully constructed temples and water works that serve as testimony of the genius of these Black men and women of Southeast Asia.
As previously mentioned, in the early ninth century Jayavarman II (802-850) unified the Khmer kingdom. King Yasovarman I is credited by historians as being the actual initiator of Angkor in 889 when he constructed his capital on the current site of Angkor, in the Khmer language Angkor means the city or the capital. Since his reign Angkor (city or capital) has been reconstructed and personalised over consecutive centuries by successive Hindu and Buddhist Khmer kings. It’s for these reasons that Angkor’s history starts from the early 9th century seemingly unanimously amongst mainstream academics. Yet, many historians would admit that little is known of Angkor’s erroneously called “prehistory.” Today, much of the civilization of Angkor is hidden beneath a dense forest canopy and is inaccessible due to poor roads, land mines and political instability.
Despite this absence of prehistoric knowledge, what most academics never do is leave historical dating open to question, and simply admit ignorance in the area. Come hell or high water a date must be applied in order to control the public perception of time. Consequently, the methods that academics employ in order to date civilisations are often dubious and extremely poor. To give an example of how conclusions are drawn, in this case using India:
“There is a perforated window in the west wall [of cave 15, a Hindu cave] over which is engraved a Sanskrit inscription in the Brahmi script of the eighth century. It is, however, incomplete and much of it has been damaged due to weathering. It gives the genealogy of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, from the founder Dantivarman (c. 600-30) and records the visit of Dantidurga (752-7) to the cave. It can, therefore, be placed in the middle of the eighth century.”
This, of course, only proves that the caves existed in the 8th century and were engraved at that time with this inscription. Again, “There were inscriptions on pillars [in cave 33, a Jain cave] which are now mostly worn; a few letters that have survived suggest that the cave may have been built at around the ninth century.”
However, evidence reveals that the region of Angkor was already well populated and flourishing as a major city well before Jayavarman II’s time of 802 A.C.E. This would account for the fact that Jayavarman II is not attributed to any capital settlement by historians, and yet, strangely, his name is attached to Angkor’s birth. In fact, King Yasovarman I is credited with making Angkor a capital over 80 years after Jayavarman II’s reign. Jayavarman II is historically canonised due to pacifying and unifying the Cambodian countryside and thereby supposedly bringing about the birth of the culture we now know today.
However, this event has nothing to do with being responsible for Angkor’s birth, but simply unification and consolidation of warring factions.
A publication called Expedition published in 1995 by the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania stated:
“An archaeological survey of the Angkor plain in Cambodia led to the discovery of about 1000 new sites which have provided new insights into the origins of the Angkorean culture. Many of these sites are habitation mounds, indicating that the Khmer Empire's capital city was located in a densely populated area. The density of the area's prehistoric population is evidenced by the discovery of pottery, tools and other indicators of human occupation in all of the habitation mounds so far investigated.”
In 1998 high-tech methods were employed in the form of highly detailed maps produced with data from an airborne imaging radar instrument created by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration organisation (NASA). These maps revealed hidden temple remains at Angkor. For over three years Dr. Anthony Freeman, a radar scientist at JPL (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Dr. Elizabeth Moore, Head of the Department of Art & Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London collaborated on the project. When speaking about the use of radar on the Angkor site, Moore said:
“The radar data have enabled us to detect a distribution of circular 'prehistoric' mounds and undocumented temples far to the northwest of Angkor. The site's topography is highlighted by the radar, focusing our attention on previously neglected features, some at the very heart of the city.The radar maps not only bring into question traditional concepts of the urban evolution of Angkor, but reveal evidence of temples and earlier civilization either absent or incorrect on modern topographic maps and in early 20th century archaeological reports.”
In December 1997, Moore and Freeman noticed that the radar image revealed a small mound on the perimeter of the famous 12th century A.C.E. temple, Angkor Wat. Speaking of this discovery, she said:
“Previous archaeological accounts from 1904 and 1911 note only two temples and make no mention of the distinct circular form of the mound. We found four to six temple remains, including pre-Angkorean structures.
This suggests occupation of the 12th century site some 300 years earlier, radically changing accepted chronologies of Angkor.”
Of course, an occupation 300 years earlier is only an estimation, occupation could and probably did occur very much earlier. It, however, neatly fits into the rigid chronological dates that historians apply for pre-Angkorian development which are c.500 - 802 A.C.E.
However, when reading these facts and reports a number of obvious questions come to mind: If a 12th century site can be re-dated some 300 years earlier then what are we to make of other Angkor sites? Furthermore, does this not suggest that we really have no idea how old Angkor is? If we do not truly know Angkorian history then why are we dubiously stuck with the 802 A.C.E. date, as the accepted dogma for the birth of Angkor civilisation? Based on the evidence we now know full well that there had existed a flourishing city well before Jayavarman II, thus we now have an Angkor before the Angkor. Why isn’t there a question mark in place of the 802 A.C.E. date? Terms such as “pre Angkor” do not help either; the language itself betrays the evidence.
Regarding this confusing predicament, renowned Angkorian historian Christophe Pottier remarked:
“Patiently reconstructed from epigraphy, architectural and stylistic analysis of monumental remains, history and historians placed the birth of Angkor with the coronation of Jayavarman II as “universal sovereign” at the top of Phnom Kulen in 802 AD. With him, the Angkorian period officially started. After him, almost all the sovereigns stayed and reigned in Angkor until its abandonment somewhere around the 15th century. Thus, Jayavarman II seems to be not only the first "supreme king" to reign in Angkor, but more specifically the creator of Angkorian royalty, its organisation and some of its worship practices which endured for all of the following reigns.
Despite the fact that no capital settlement has ever been attributed to Jayavarman II, this historical framework has been rigidly adhered to for nearly a century. Promising but incomplete archaeological discoveries made in the 1930s by Georges Trouvé revealed substantial remains of an earlier capital in the vicinity of the Western Baray. Unfortunately, they were unable to trigger any reassessment of the accepted historical reconstruction. Recent archaeological works highlight once again the inconsistencies and the gaps of this nice (hi)story, and reveal some significant pieces of typical Angkorian settlements pre-existing Jayavarman II. How can archaeology claim that Angkor predates Angkor?”
(1) Colossal Buddha head. Dong-Duong, Vietnam (Champa), 875 C.E. Sandstone, Musee Guimet, Paris. (2) Buddha, 7th century, Thailand. Sandstone. (3) Maasai elder of East Africa. Note the distinctive elongated ears, compared with those of the Buddha sculptures.
Malaysian youth. African Presence in Early Asia, 2009. p.50.
Semang children in North Malaysia. Photo courtesy of Runoko Rashidi.
Dvaravati Buddha, Thailand. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Photo by Runoko Rashidi
According to historians, the specificity of this developing civilization as it diverged noticeably from its cultural antecedents is brought forth by epigraphic, architectural, and artistic evidence. A radical change is evident in Khmer statuary at the beginning of this period (early ninth century). As opposed to earlier human and divine figures with gracefully tilted hips and waist, the new figures stand abruptly straight. The loss of nuance in corporal flexion is most clearly noticeable.These linguistic and artistic elements do not, however, serve alone to prove the ninth century a watershed in Khmer history, according to mainstream academics. They are rather the manifestations of a singular political event: the rise to power of Jayavarman II in the year 802. This event marked a political turning point in the eyes of modern historians, and the evidence does suggest that this is correct.
This evidence, however, only highlights a cultural shift and not the birth of the region’s civilisation, as the aforementioned evidence clearly reveals. For example, a shift in religious views, epigraphy, linguistics and artistic expression was obviously the consequence of political change and upheaval, and reflects a change in attitude due to unsettled times rather than a birth of a culture. During the pre-Angkorian and Angkorian periods the Khmers were under constant threat of invasion by the Vietnamese and Thais who were both by then Sinicized or Mongoloid types. At this time a more military stance and attitude was adopted which is why in the art, as previously mentioned, “earlier human and divine figures with gracefully tilted hips and waist,” eventually became “figures which stood abruptly straight, with a loss of nuance in corporal flexion.”
Using terms such as “developing” gives the impression of a rapid shift from the ninth century upwards to the cultural, scientific and artistic elements that Angkor today is presently famed for, but most of these cultural elements were already in place such as architecture, art and statuary, writing and philosophical science. What the shift and apparent relatively short Angkorian existence suggests is a continued descent at the time of the early ninth century and not an upward trend, hence the change in religious worship by successive Khmer kings, which only serves to highlight confusion and political instability. Thus, the pre-historic to Angkorian period or what historians sometimes refer to as proto-Angkorian period, should be viewed as a shift from a pure philosophical scientific cultural base to a more militaristic and defensive one. Compare Angkor’s existence at its supposed height of merely 627 years (c.802 - 1431 A.C.E.) to ancient Egypt’s civilisation which lasted well over 3000 years, more or less culturally intact. Moreover, it is surely foolish to assume that this culturally rich civilisation suddenly sprung-up in the ninth century with all of the traditional and elaborate cultural elements in place.
Regarding the little known about Angkorian pre-history, Pottier stated:
“Within the history of Ancient Cambodia, the importance of the Angkor area appears after the arrival of king Jayavarman II in 802 A.D., and with the establishment of Roluos at the end of the following century, understood as the first case and model of Angkorian town planning. However, epigraphy and the study of architectural and sculpted remains are not sufficient in themselves to solve a number of paradoxes punctuating this remarkably ignored period of the birth of Angkor.”
The fixed and rigid Angkor dates of 802-1431 A.C.E. are repeatedly circulated across all levels of academia as if it were an unquestionable religious doctrine. However, it’s clear based on all the objective evidence that these dates need to be urgently reconsidered if we are to move forward, and truly understand Angkor’s unique and wonderful past.
Runoko Rashidi and Ivan Van Sertima, African Presence in Early Asia, New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers, 2009.
Article: NASA Radar Reveals Hidden Remains at Ancient Angkor, February 12, 1998.
Runoko Rashidi, African Star Over Asia, The Black Presence in the East, Books of Africa Limited, United Kingdom, England, 2012.
When did Angkor start? Archaeological challenges in an historical context” (Ecolefrançaised’Extrême-Orient).
Christophe Pottier, “About pre-Angkor at Angkor, Proceedings of the Conference on Contemporary Research on Pre-Angkor Cambodia, Centre for Khmer Studies, Siem Reap, 10-12, January, 2005, (Sous presse).
Christopher Pym, The Ancient Civilisation of Angkor (New York: Mentor-New American).
Lawrence Palmer Briggs, The Ancient Khmer Empire (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1951).
Ian Glover and Peter Bellwood, Southeast Asia, From Prehistory to History, Routledge Curzon, London and New York.
M. K. Dhavalikar, Ellora, 2003, pp. 36-7 and p.7.
Expedition, University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, 1995.
Photos: Buddha, 7th century, Thailand; Colossal Buddha head from Dong Duong, Vietnam (Champa), 875 C.E.; Buddha, 10th century Bronze,Thailand. Janake Collection. - African Presence in Early Asia, 2009, p.51; p.345; p.335 respectively.
Images above: (1) First people of the Philippines. (2) Malaysian Youth. (3) The Bayon Temple, Angkor, Cambodia. (4) The Semang of North Malaysia.
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