The forgotten literature of the Mon

A bit apart from my central activities (but also pretty much in the centre of my interests) is a study/translation of a classical Mon epic called 'The story of Prince Sangada'. Written in traditional Mon verse, this work not only gives valuable insight into Mon literary forms and language, but also into local beliefs and myths. The poem is not dated, but its rhyme patterns date back to a pre-devoiced/pre-register form of the language. No piece of Mon literature has been translated and published in a Western language in many decades and also among the Mon themselves the traditional literature is in danger of disappearing. It is hoped that this study will help to bring to a bigger audience this 'forgotten literature' of Southeast Asia.

Other important pieces of Mon literature I am currently working on are the "Legend of Gavampati" (hla pot Gawompatoe), a quasi historical account of Buddha's journey to Southeast Asia and Monland, and the more recent compilation of the "History of Kyaikhtiyo", the famous golden rock in Monland. Both texts are very popular among the Mon but hardly known to ousiders. A Mon translation of the famous Thai epic Khun Chang Khun Phaen (Kon phen kon chaeng in Mon) was published in Burma in 2001, but its origin must be much earlier. The story is found in palm leaf manuscripts, one kept at the EFEO in Paris, and might well be the translation of a proto-version of the Thai text which has later been extended and edited several times, resulting in the present "official" Thai version.

I am especially interested in local histories, legends, and literatures of the peoples in Southeast Asia (click on the link "Mon historical sites" at the bottom of the page for a short description of some unexplored historical sites in Monland). A few dozen palm leaf and mulberry paper manuscripts in my private collection, mostly in Khün and Shan (and some mixture of both), with some in Lao, Burmese and Mon, are waiting to be edited, analysed and translated. The topics found in these manuscripts are mainly locally adapted Buddhist tales, folk medicine, astrology and historical legends. A sample of a Khün text in transliteration with translation can be downloaded at the bottom of he page (Kannakavatti).

In most cultures religion plays a major part, and the Theravada-Buddhist traditions of Asia, intermingled with indigenous beliefs and Hindu myths are a fascinating background for cultural and historical research.

Apart from doing linguistic research in the Thai-Myanmar border area, I am also involved in the organisation and development of a Mon Dance and Music Project. The project started in 2003 with a group of engaged Mon people in the border village of Sangkhlaburi. It intended as a way to promote and preserve Mon culture and give the children in the village a possibility to spend their spare time with creative and constructive activities. The project developed into a well known institution in the community, with some twenty children performing not only in Sangkhlaburi, but also in other provinces of Thailand, including Bangkok, and neighbouring Myanmar. Teachers from across the border are regularly hired during holidays to further the musical and dancing skills of the young dancers and musicians. I am especially interested in local histories, legends, and literatures of the peoples in Southeast Asia (click on the link "Mon historical sites" at the bottom of the page for a short description of some unexplored historical sites in Monland). A few dozen palm leaf and mulberry paper manuscripts in my private collection, mostly in Khün and Shan (and some mixture of both), with some in Lao, Burmese and Mon, are waiting to be edited, analysed and translated. The topics found in these manuscripts are mainly locally adapted Buddhist tales, folk medicine, astrology and historical legends. A sample of a Khün text in transliteration with translation can be downloaded at the bottom of he page (Kannakavatti). In most cultures religion plays a major part, and the Theravada-Buddhist traditions of Asia, intermingled with indigenous beliefs and Hindu myths are a fascinating background for cultural and historical research.