Wearing shorts, a T-shirt, a traditional krama scarf and a palm leaf hat, a Cambodian cowboy takes a break from caring for his bulls to guide children through the Angkor temple complex.
But his guests don’t need to go to Siem Reap to enjoy the tour. Holding the newly released book Exploring Angkor in their hands at home and flipping from one page to another, the cowboy will show them around the ancient temples.
The Exploring Angkor guide book was published by SIPAR, an NGO that promotes literacy in Cambodia, after the organisation conducted a survey and found that children were curious about their cultural patrimony.
“When we did the survey with the children, they told us that they wanted to know Angkor Wat,” said Sun Heng Meng Chheang, 73, one of the book’s two co-authors. “Most of the children have never been there, so they are curious to learn about their temples.”
“SIPAR tries to raise awareness of Khmer history,” said Aurélie Giraud, Fundraising and Communications Officer of SIPAR. “Not much about the Khmer Rouge because there are many books about it. I mean the history before the Khmer Rouge.”
Because of the Kingdom’s history of conflict, many people have grown up in the past 30 years without access to books, often because they are unable to afford them. Even today, many children still lack books to read, especially comic books for kids.
For this reason, SIPAR began operating a library project at public schools in 1992. After 10 years, the organisation launched a publishing programme to stock libraries with much-needed editions. Up to now, SIPAR has published about 80 titles for readers ranging from young children to adults, with a total of one million copies put out in Khmer.
Exploring Angkor is SIPAR’s most recent publication, with its official launch set to take place this evening to coincide with the 10th anniversary celebration of SIPAR’s publishing programme.
And unlike other publications, this book has been published in three languages – Khmer, English and French – also making it appealing to young non-Cambodians interested in learning about the history of the world-renowned UNESCO site.
“I think this book is not just important for Cambodians but also for foreigners who are interested in the Angkor Wat or Bayon temples,” said Giraud, adding that the more expensive foreign-language versions will help subsidize the Khmer edition so as to make it more accessible to Cambodians.
The colourful 56-page book is a combination of text, illustrations and photographs that easily engages young readers. On every page, the cartoon Cambodian cowboy plays the tour guide and introduces his audience to the history of the ancient temples.
The book is written for children 12 years old and up, so the authors tried to balance between text and pictures so as not to bore readers.
“If readers are younger, we publish more pictures than text,” said Sun Heng Meng Chheang. “But since this book is for children 12 and older, we put in more text because they can read.”
The book doesn’t just narrate the history of the temples, it also illustrates the way the Angkor Wat temple was built. Though there is still some controversy among experts as to the techniques and tools used by the temple’s creators, the book presents the government’s official interpretation.
“We decided to illustrate the picture of how the Angkor Wat was built based on the analysis of scientists and proof from the ancient temple. We also got approval from the government Apsara Authority,” said Huot Sarith, 30, also a co-author of the book.
A total of 15,000 copies will be printed in Khmer, and 5,000 copies each in French and English. The Khmer version costs US$2.75 while the foreign-language version is $9. The book will be available at many bookstores, including Monument Books, Peace Book Center, International Book Center, Angkor Thom Book Center and Popular Book Store, among others.
The book launch for Exploring Angkor begins tonight at 6pm at the Institut Francais on #218 Street 184, Phnom Penh. There will be a talk by the authors, a photo exhibit, a film screening and other activities. Entry is free.
By Roth Meas
The Phnom Penh Post
29 March 2012
Huot Sarith and Sun Heng Meng Chheang, co-authors of Exploring Angkor, use text and illustrations to teach children about the the history of the Angkor temples. Photo by Roth Meas