The Snake, the Crocodile, and the King: Nautical Technology and Supernatural Potencies in Angkor

Aktivitet: Typer för tal eller presentation!!Oral presentation


The traditional boats of Cambodia are associated with serpent spirits, and even the most traditional three-point bow decoration, known as khbal bei, is thought to symbolize the serpent of the forest or poh prei. Sacred boats bearing these decorations take part in the boat races of the Water Festival, where hundreds of paddlers come together to celebrate the change of the Tonle Sap river’s course flowing once again into the Mekong River. These boats, known as touk Prasat kdar, boat of the pagoda, are the most sacred vessels in the country, kept under roofs to protect them from direct sunlight, and continuously honoured with offerings by the local communities. Although the Water Festival cannot be directly traced to the Khmer empire of Angkor (9th to 15th century CE), the extensive corpus of nautical iconography that has survived to our days shows boats used in a wide variety of settings that indicate political and cosmological responses to human-environment interactions. These scenes are unique inasmuch as they present a wealth of information of activities that took place on board vessels, from pilgrimages, to warfare, festivals, and elaborated rituals performed on water (both in man-made and natural spaces). Perhaps more importantly, the iconography depicts the boats of the elite as zoomorphic creatures of Indian ideation, with serpent- and crocodile-inspired characteristics featuring prominently. Some of these features are still recognizable in their present-day counterpart, not only in Cambodia but also in the Royal Barges of Thailand.
Using a combination of archaeological, historical, and ethnographic data, the paper will probe the relationship between the Khmer, the crocodile and the snake using nautical technology as our main access point. The presentation will discuss riverine watercraft as the functional objects that allowed the people of Angkor to colonize the aquatic space for its resources, and analyze the entanglement between aquatic powers, forest spirits, animal companions, and boat design. The other-than-human agency present in functional watercraft will then be used to explain how boats were transformed into zoomorphic vessels during the Angkor era, and how these were used in culturally charged activities as liminal agents of the aquatic world. Picking up the conversation started by Jacques Dolias in his book Le Crocodile ou la Nâgî: l’ocean dans l’imaginaire cambodgien (2012), the article will pay special attention to the role of the crocodile in ancient Khmer culture, and how the pre-eminence of this amphibian animal was superseded by the nâga.
Period2 juni 2022
HändelsetitelAquatic Powers: Divine Animals of the Asia-Pacific
Typ av evenemangKonferens
PlatsOslo, NorgeVisa på karta