The Preservation of Palm leaf
Manuscripts in Lao PDR
Dara Kanlaya, MS
Manager and Chief Editor of DOKKED Publisher.
Permanent Advisor, Preservation of Lao Palm Leaf Manuscript Program
National Library, Ministry of Information and Culture
This paper deals with the palm leaf manuscripts’ preservation and transmission, as it was performed in the traditional way in the Lane Xang Kingdom in the past 600 –700 years. When Laos lost its independence, the leading role of manuscripts in the education were also degrading due to ongoing wars. In the past, there were two periods of great loss. There had been attempts to safeguard the manuscripts. During the cultural renaissance period between 1928-1941 and thereafter, the attempts of intellectuals and leading administration (cooperating with concerned foreign researchers), the renovation of monasteries and the copying of palm-leaf manuscripts were registered. Transliteration into Lao language and publication for school purpose by Chanthaboury Buddhist Council provided a broader dissemination to all Buddhist schools throughout the country.
However, when the modern educational system developed with an emphasis on general education, the curriculum related to Buddhism was reduced and Lao manuscripts were no more in appropriate care.
In 1988, the Ministry of Information and Culture ((MIC) carried out a national seminar on manuscripts preservation with financial support from The Toyota Foundation. Monks from 17 provinces have participated. They were invited to present their reports concerning the condition and number of palm leaf manuscripts in their respective provinces. Thereafter, the project staff members were nominated by the MIC in order to carry out inventory work in 6 provinces, namely: Vientiane Capital, Vientiane province, Luang Prabang, Khammouane, Savannakhet and Champassack. With the financial support of The Toyota Foundation, the project-team was able to work for 6 years, on an inventory in the selected monasteries.
Although the survey work in 6 provinces was completed, only the manuscripts of 252 Buddhist monasteries could be registered, while Laos has more than 2,800 monasteries in the whole country. In response to this need, the MIC applied for financial assistance from the Federal Republic of Germany. As a result, the following 10 years of “Lao-German Cooperation” (1992-2002) can be considered as an historical event in the protection of Lao manuscripts: All 17 provinces were covered and many important and ancient manuscripts were registered and microfilmed. The project activities emphasized on the participation of the public and thee mobilization of concerned villagers and monks in that way ensuring the involvement of people from all social strata. Regarding the study of these documents, the project has encouraged and supported Buddhist monks and National University in studying the traditional tham script, Pali language and ancient literature. The project came to an end in 2002, however 2 years of follow up work has been carried out. The final work was to establish four Preservation centers: (Luang Prabang, Vientiane Capital, Savannakhet and Champassak) where the Lao Buddhist Fellowship will continue the preservation and dissemination work on their own, but with close follow-up and technical assistance of the National Library
The paper includes a lively series of photos showing the activities of fieldwork throughout the country.