The objective of this column is to encourage
communication between Southeast Asian and foreign archaeologists (i.e.,
those from outside Southeast Asia), with a particular focus on their working
relationships and problems associated with working in areas with different
cultural traditions. As always, comments, suggestions, ideas, or criticism
are warmly welcomed. We value your opinions, so please send contributions
for this column to the editors. We look forward to hearing from you.
(all references are in the next page)
POSSIBLE AVENUES FOR SHARING INFORMATION
Elsewhere (SEAAIN 2) I have briefly mentioned the issue of sharing information among archaeologists who work in Southeast Asia. I would now like to follow this up since this issue is, in my opinion, one of the most crucial problems for the future development of Southeast Asian archaeology. This essay sets out to show how Southeast Asian and foreign archaeologists would benefit from increasing cooperation and sharing of information. However, I should emphasize here that I speak as a Thai archaeologist and my Southeast Asian colleagues may not share my opinion. Furthermore, I only use the phrase "Southeast Asian vs. foreigner" in a loose sense to demonstrate my points. As always, we are trying to create an opportunity for direct communication and for bridging any gaps that may arise from misunderstanding and from different cultural perspectives.
DIFFERENT REGIONAL TRADITIONS WITHIN ARCHAEOLOGY
Undoubtedly, western influence on archaeology in Southeast Asian countries is widely recognized. Archaeology has been closely associated, first, with the European Colonial enterprise and more recently, with western imperialism(1). Earlier works in the field were directly commissioned by colonial administrations. We probably all agree, in particular, that English is the most common international language among the Southeast Asian archaeological communities (even though French is another popular language as well). As a result of the role of English language in the global context(2), the western world has established itself as the authority in setting "an international standard" (in other words, a "western standard") supported by modernization or the presumed superiority of industrialization. In fact, the western world has set and continued to set the agendas in the area of theory and method in archaeology(3). It is generally assumed that "the core state archaeologists dominated the archaeology of peripheral states"(4). What has changed is that now Southeast Asian countries have gained control over the granting of research permissions and their own pasts under the concept of "National Heritage".
In Southeast Asian countries with long and complex histories, the investigation of the past through material remains developed in the "pre-modern era" long before the introduction of "modern" scientific archaeology. The archaeological tradition, therefore, developed differently from that of the west, and native views of the past were often recorded in the form of historical accounts. Western contributions to archaeology in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries entered an already complex "native" intellectual arena. I should also point out, however, that in Thailand, prehistoric archaeology has been better investigated and better studied by foreign archaeologists than Thais doing historical archaeology.
PROBLEM OF LANGUAGE BARRIER
It is important for archaeologists who conduct their research in such countries to make an effort to understand the native concept of the past and how it has been studied. However, the lack of skill in Southeast Asian languages is the major disadvantage of most foreign archaeologists (e.g., western, Japanese). It is a paradox that their research goal primarily focuses on the study of "the human past", while Thai archaeologists are more concerned with increasing the awareness of national unity and dignity (at both regional and local levels). In other words, we study our "own past" or "national history" whereas foreign archaeologists who work in Thailand are interested in or think only about the archaeology of Thailand and not about archaeology from the "Thai" point of view.
Over the past several decades, there has been an increasing number of Southeast Asian archaeologists trained in their own countries and abroad. They have conducted extensive archaeological research and have written a number of archaeological reports and books, as well as articles, in their mother tongues (in some cases, an English summary is included). However, the research by Thai archaeologists, for example, is relatively unknown to foreign archaeologists or the world archaeological community since most of the reports are published in Thai, which very few western scholars can read. Increasing language skills will increase communication of these different goals and also change research agendas on both sides.
At the same time, it is true that very few Thai can read English fluently or are proficient enough (including me!) to follow general academic discussion in the texts, let alone the complicated papers arguing about theoretical issues and discussing fancy statistical models or scientific methodologies. Although this problem may be less serious for the Burmese, Filipinos and Malaysians, who frequently use English in their academic writing and communications, it remains a major problem for the rest of Southeast Asian archaeologists, who rarely use English in their academic contexts unless they attend international meetings.
PROBLEM OF INACCESSIBLE INFORMATION
Also related to language barrier is another important problem: Southeast Asian archaeologists' lack of access to information generated by western archaeologists, and vice versa. As a result of this inaccessibility (both documents and direct communication) as well as differences in research traditions, Southeast Asian archaeologists are particularly disadvantaged in learning what is going on in contemporary world archaeology. While western archaeologists are disadvantaged because of their limited knowledge of the local language that might hinder them from keeping up with current research in Southeast Asian archaeology.
As mentioned earlier, English is the major communicative medium in world archaeology. Whether we like it or not, we cannot isolate ourselves from our professional community. To get ahead in the modern post-colonial era, what we need is English. We are not waiting helplessly for western archaeologists to come up with great ideas about Southeast Asian prehistory or history, we need to use English to get information from the world and to build up our own resource base in Southeast Asia. The future center of Southeast Asian archaeology should be shifted toward or should be relocated in this region. Neither should development always come from outside; rather, internal development should be preferred in the modern post-colonial (or post-imperial) era. Ideally, we should be able to establish a two-way interaction. So, how can we help each other to develop genuine, fruitful cooperation under the rubric of a new world order?
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
First we need to ensure that the information from western (or Japanese) publications be available, at reasonable costs, to Southeast Asian archaeologists and other interested local people. Over the pat couple of decades, there have been an increasing number of good local publishers in Southeast Asian countries and the overall printing cost is much cheaper than in the west. Though publishing books or reports in Southeast Asian countries may be less "prestigious" than in the west, they will definitely reach a larger number of Southeast Asian archaeologists. In addition, some publishers (e.g., Cambridge University Press) have cooperative arrangements for simultaneous publications in foreign countries (e.g., India) and this should be promoted in Southeast Asia as well(5). Second, we can cooperate in a division of labor concerning the translation or summary of archaeological research reports. In fact, this suggestion was raised in the field of Asian Studies a couple of years ago by Benedict Anderson(6):
..the quantity and pace of translations in and out of English is crucial. Southeast Asian scholars will obviously do the bulk of the translating out of English into their own vernaculars; non-Anglo-Saxon European, Chinese, Japanese, and other Asians have the burden of turning their own vernacular texts into English. For native English speakers, the main task is rendering Southeast Asian vernacular work of importance into their mother tongue. Only then will we have a fair and generalized system of exchange that will help make Southeast Asian Studies a comprehensive, intellectually vital enterprise [1992:37].
In actual fact, there are a few good examples of the use of local publishers and translation or summary efforts in Thai archaeology as well as in other Southeast Asian countries. Publications include, for instance, Early Metallurgy, Trade and Urban Centres in Thailand and Southeast Asia, edited by Ian Glover, Pornchai Suchitta and John Villiers, and published by White Lotus, Bangkok; House Built on Scattered Poles: Prehistory and Ecology and Negros Central Philippines, edited Karl L. Hutterer and William Macdonald, and published by San Carlos University, Cebu City; Prehistoric Studies: The Stone and Metal Ages in Thailand, edited by Pisit Charoenwongsa and Bennet Bronson, and published by Amarin Printing Groups Co. Ltd., Bangkok. Examples of translation or summaries, include: the translation by the late Chin You-Di or a number of English articles into Thai for archaeology students and the general public(7). Pisit Charoenwongsa(8) and Surapol Natapintu(9) translated Ban Chiang(10) into Thai. Donn Bayard(11) wrote a summary of his Non Nok Tha research in Thai in his own handwriting. Amphan Kijingam and Charles Higham(12) incorporated both Thai and English text in their Ban Na Di volumes. Later, Amphan Kijingam(13) translated the Ban Na Di volume into Thai.
There are a number of options that we can adopt beyond these laudable efforts at translation. For example, we can work together with a co-director to translate brief summaries of projects into Southeast Asian languages or English and incorporate them in volumes or reports (see also a suggestion on writing partnerships by White and Nishimura in SEAAIN 2). Furthermore, we can take advantage of local newspapers or weekly magazines to inform the general public about our work in a simple writing format(14). For the world community, although a number of Southeast Asian journals have included English summaries, it is still important for us to consider publishing our work in international journals such as World Archaeology, Journal of World Prehistory, Journal of Archaeological Research, Journal of Field Archaeology, Antiquity, Asian Perspectives, Indo-Pacific Prehistory Bullentin, and the Asian and Pacific Archaeology series of the University of Hawaii. It is also necessary to note that these international journals have foreign archaeologists who work in Southeast Asian on their editorial boards. Since we have had a great number of on-going research projects and a large amount of newly discovered materials in the past several decades, we have important information to share with the world. We need to see Southeast Asian archaeology included in cross-cultural comparative studies. For information on submitting an article, Southeast Asian archaeologists could directly contact their friends and colleagues who work in their countries or foreign archaeologists who are editors or on editorial boards (e.g., Peter Bellwook, Ian Glover, Michael Graves, Bion Griffin, Charles Higham). For the local academic communities, I strongly encourage foreign archaeologists to consider the option of publishing in local academic journals such as SPAFA Journal, Journal Arkeologi Malaysia, Philippine Quarterly of Culture & Society, Silpakorn (Thailand), Silpakorn University Journal, Muang Boran (Thailand), Siam Society Journal, Vietnamese Studies, Khao Ko Hoc (Vietnam), Journal of Southeast Asian Archaeology (Japan), etc. These are some of the possible avenues for sharing information which we could explore and work on together in the future.
To this end, I hope this discussion will provoke more
conversation among Southeast Asian and foreign archaeologists and stimulate
more awareness of their role in their communities as a part of their
professional responsibilities. Admittedly, there are many good examples of
Southeast Asian and foreign archaeologists who have worked closely together
(either quietly or in a high profile manner) to bridge these problems.
Again, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are trying to eliminate
the dichotomy between Southeast Asian vs. foreigner.
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