Honorable Mr. Krit Thanavanich,
Distinguished Dr. Rome Chiranuchrom,
Distinguished Dr. Pathamarat Nakanitanon,
Dear Hagen Dirksen
Dear Prof. Harald Hundius,
Dear Mr. David Wharton,
Dear Dr. Suchanart Stanurak,
Dear Khun Ubonphan,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very warm welcome to all of you to this celebration and dinner reception on the occasion of the completion of the German-Thai project to digitize historic Northern Thai Manuscripts.
The German Government has been supporting this project since 2013 and we are proud to have contributed to its successful completion. It is the last chapter in a long history of German assistance in support of research and preservation of Northern Thai literary heritage, beginning more than 40 years ago.
Our experts and driving forces behind this programme, Prof. Hundius and Mr. David Wharton, will in a few minutes give you an insight into the achievements and findings of the project. Before that, however, allow me to say a few words on the German government’s involvement through our Cultural Preservation Programme more in general.
The German Cultural Preservation Programme (CPP) was established in 1981 in support of the preservation of cultural heritage across the globe, focusing on providing assistance to countries where there is an immediate threat to cultural property and heritage sites. Since then, the CPP has supported some 2,750 projects in 144 countries with a total of about 70 million euros (2,5 billion Thai Baht).
Based on the assumption that cultural assets are the very foundation of people’s identity and self-esteem, of their perception of and appreciation for their homeland, and of their orientation about what and who they are and belong to, the CPP was designed to help protect and maintain cultural identity and diversity as one of the priorities of the Federal Foreign Office’s cultural work abroad. Preserving cultural heritage helps people understand their own origins and identity while, at the same time, promoting respect for and dialogue with other cultures. It thus contributes to the mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence of peoples and cultures.
Projects under this programme, throughout the last 37 years, covered a wide range of activities such as:
- restoring or conserving historical buildings, artefacts and manuscripts,
- collecting and documenting oral traditions in music and literature,
- conserving and digitizing historic manuscripts and film/audio archives,
- documenting endangered cultural heritage,
- organizing exhibitions and colloquia on cultural heritage,
- or even providing training for restorers, archivists, museum experts and researchers.
And I would like to emphasize in particular this last point: Projects under this programme are usually developed and implemented in close cooperation with experts and the local populations. They are often supplemented with a training component in the field of conservation and restoration. Therefore, through its funding CPP also fosters knowledge transfer and creates employment and income opportunities for the involved local communities. This helps enhance the success and sustainability of the measures as much as it intensifies cooperation and cultural dialogue among partners.
The Kingdom of Thailand, throughout the last 37 years, has been a privileged partner of this programme with a large variety of projects supported in the Kingdom including for instance:
- the compilation of Lanna stone inscriptions,
- the restoration of Wat Suthat,
- the publication of traditional Thai literature,
- a workshop on crafting musical instruments and consultancy on ceramics pottery.
And – last but not least, of course – the Wat Ratchaburana Safeguarding Project, in timely reaction to the severe damage this unique temple complex in the royal city of Ayutthaya suffered from the disastrous flood in 2011, and its successful completion in February last year.
The overall financial support for these projects in Thailand sums up to approximately 1.8 million euros (50 million THB).
I’m delighted that today we can celebrate the completion of another very significant, long lasting and successful project: the digitization of Northern Thai Manuscripts - which is the culmination of manuscript preservation work, started over 40 years ago.
The northern part of Thailand is a region with a distinct, particularly rich and diverse cultural and literary heritage, where there is an abundance of indigenous literature and historical writings to be found, as well as works pertaining to social relations, customary law and everyday life.
These texts – most of them written on palm leaves - represent five hundred years of Northern Thai heritage. They are kept in archives of hundreds of Buddhist monasteries as well as in public and private collections in all provinces. But due to lack of accessibility until today these rich manuscript collections remain severely under-researched.
This afternoon I had the opportunity to visit Wat Duang Dee and meet with the Abbot and monks there. I was shown around the repository and could see some of the old manuscripts that are so worth keeping for our descendants.
The Cultural Preservation Programme of the German Federal Foreign Office has supported the project to digitize these manuscripts in cooperation with the Chiang Mai University library since 2013 with a total of 352,000 Euros (more than 13,5 million Thai Baht). Approximately a third of this sum was used for part of the project taking place in Germany, and the bigger part of more than 210,000 EUR channeled into work on site through the German Embassy in Bangkok between 2013 and 2017.
The total support to the research and preservation of Northern Thai literary heritage since the first project under the newly established Cultural Preservation Programme in 1987 amounts to some 850.000 Euros (more than 32 Mio Baht) .
We are very proud that with this long time intervention by German Prof. Hundius and his team we were able to contribute to the establishment of the Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts. It contains more than 6,000 formerly inaccessible documents that are now digitized on the internet – so that researchers and the general public alike can now easily access them from their smartphones or computers all around the world.
And now, without further ado, I would like to pass on the floor to Prof. Hundius and David Wharton who will elaborate further on the details and findings of the project itself.
Before doing so, however, let me once again thank in particular Prof. Hundius and David Wharton as well as the Chiang Mai University, the abbots and monks at the temples and all others involved in this project for their work and commitment.
And a big thank you as well, of course, to my dear friend, our Honorary Consul in Chiang Mai, Hagen Dirksen and his charming wife, for hosting this event in these beautiful premises.
Prof. Hundius, the floor is yours.