An update from “the Angkuoch project:” Documenting Jew’s harp in Cambodia

By Catherine Grant | 24 March 2020

Download a Khmer translation of this blog post here

We are excited to report that research fieldwork for the Angkuoch project (Jew’s harp in Cambodia) has come to a successful close! The process of making the angkuoch has never before been documented in depth. We are grateful for the opportunity to undertake this urgent work.

In Cambodia, angkuoch are found in several provinces both among the majority Khmer people and some ethnic minorities. Before the Khmer Rouge era (1975-1979), playing and enjoying angkuoch was a popular local pastime in village communities. However, angkuoch is now highly endangered both as an instrument and as a performance practice.

Traditional social functions for playing angkuoch include as a rural pastime, as a way for young men to communicate and flirt with young women, and to accompany simple folk songs. Players and makers of angkuoch are typically men, though there appear to be no cultural restrictions on women playing or making the instruments.

There are at least three types of Cambodian angkuoch: one of bamboo (angkuoch russey), one of metal (angkuoch daek), and one that is stringed (angkuoch ksae). It is unclear whether there are any living instrument-makers who know how to produce angkuoch ksae.

Angkuoch russey is sometimes still found in village contexts, and is also produced as souvenirs for tourists.

Angkuoch daek is almost non-existent in contemporary public life.

The project team worked with two rural village communities in Siem Riep province, where three instrument-makers were identified for this project. In Srah Srang Khang Choeung Village, Master KRAK Chi (69 years old) and his sons CHI Chen and CHI Monivong produce angkuoch russey.

Krak Chi also plays the Angkuoch Russey.

In Preah Kor Thmey Village lives BIN Song (78), who makes angkuoch daek, and is possibly the only remaining living maker of the instrument. His childhood friend SON Soeun, also 78, is the only person the project team could identify who can still play the instrument.

The project team are now turning their attention to project outcomes: in-depth digital documentation including photographs, audiovisual recordings, an illustrated brochure about Angkuoch, and a 20-minute video documentary in Khmer with English subtitles.

Project outcomes will be made freely publicly available through the EMKP Digital Repository of the British Museum. Locally, they will also be made available through the ‘Heritage Hub’ in Siem Riep province and the national audio-visual archive Bophana Center in Phnom Penh.

UNESCO Cambodia is funding a public launch event for the video documentary at the Heritage Hub in Siem Riep later this year. The participating instrument-makers and people from their villages will be invited to attend. All welcome!

 

Author: Catherine Grant catherine.grant@griffith.edu.au