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THE MIGHTY MONUMENTS OF ANGKOR

December 11, 1999

From RUNOKO RASHIDI

DEDICATED TO DR. ALICE WINDOM

"For the complexion of men, they consider black the most beautiful.  In all the kingdoms of the southern region, it is the same."

--Early Chinese Chronicler

On December 7, 1999 I returned to San Antonio, Texas from a two-week educational tour to Thailand and Cambodia.  It was my second trip to Thailand this year and my first trip ever to Cambodia.  Indeed, until quite recently I never really thought that I would have a chance to go to Cambodia, and so my trip there was something of a dream come true.  Quite naturally the trip was a search for African people.  I am particularly interested in African migrations.  We know now, for example, that the first humanity emerged from Africa and that streams of African people have continued to flow across the world from ancient to modern times. It is therefore very important for us to address the questions of exactly where did those Africans go, what did they do when they got there and what has subsequently happened to them.  I consider such an approach Pan-African in its nature, African-centered in character and an earnest attempt to reunite a family of people separated far too long.

THE KHMERS OF ANGKOR

The most prominent and enduring kingdom of early Southeast Asia was Angkor (ca. 800-1431), located primarily in Cambodia.  The builders of Angkor were an Africoid people known as Khmers--a name that loudly recalls ancient Kmt (pharaonic Egypt).   Noted Harvard anthropologist Roland Burrage Dixon wrote that the Khmers were physically "marked by distinctly short stature, dark skin, curly or even frizzy hair, broad noses and thick Negroid lips."  In remote antiquity the Khmers established themselves throughout a vast area that encompassed portions of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos.

The Khmers of Angkor were sophisticated agriculturalists, aggressive merchants and intrepid warriors.  They created a splendid irrigation system with some canals as long as forty miles.  They engaged in extensive and ongoing commerce with India and China.  For purposes of war they had machines designed to hurl heavy arrows and sharp spears at their enemies, and rode into battle atop ornately decorated elephants.

In the Khmer language, Angkor means "the city" or "the capital."   In 889 king Yasovarman I constructed his capital on the current site of Angkor, and over the centuries consecutive Hindu and Buddhist Khmer kings augmented the city with their own distinct contributions.  Angkor eventually covered an expanse of 77 square miles and was designed to be completely self-sufficient.  The Khmers were magnificent builders in stone, and for more than six hundred years, successive Khmer dynasties commissioned the construction of stupendous temple islands, marvelous artificial lakes and incomparable temple mountains, including Angkor Wat--the crown jewel of Angkor, estimated to contain as much stone as the Dynasty IV pyramid of king Khafre in Old Kingdom Kmt.

ANGKOR WAT

My first full day in Cambodia began with a morning tour of the regal Angkor Wat temple.   The temple of Angkor Wat, the most famous of Khmer stone structures, is truly magnificent to gaze upon and took a grand total of 37 years to build.  During this period the millions of tons of sandstone used in the temple's construction were transported to the site by river raft from a quarry at Mount Kulen, 25 miles to the northeast.  Angkor Wat rises in three successive stages up to five central towers that represent the peaks of Mount Meru--the cosmic or world mountain that lies at the center of the universe in Hindu mythology and considered the celestial residence of the Hindu pantheon.  The towers of Angkor Wat, the tallest of which rises about 200 feet above the surrounding flatlands, are Cambodia's national symbol.  The temple's outer walls represent the mountains at the edge of the world, while the moat surrounding the temple represents the oceans beyond.

The Angkor Wat temple dates from the twelfth century reign of Suryavarman II (1113-1150).  This was a time when the Khmer dominion over Southeast Asia was at its very pinnacle, with an empire known as Kambuja "stretching from the South China Sea to modern Thailand, as far north as the uplands of Laos and as far south as the Malay Peninsula.  King Suryavarman II built it as a funerary temple for himself, and dedicated it to the Hindu god Vishnu, whom the king represented on Earth and with whom he integrated on his death."

Angkor Wat is decorated throughout with intricate bas-reliefs depicting stories from the epic Hindu poems, the Mahabrarata and the Ramayana, with marching armies, fantastic demons and vivid and sensual depictions of the celestial female dancers of the Khmers known as "apsaras."  French architect and archaeologist Henri Parmentier gave his opinion of the apsaras of Angkor Wat in 1923 when he said that "to me they are Grace personified, the highest expression of femininity ever conceived by the human mind."  During the era of Khmer rule over Cambodia a walk to the center of Angkor Wat was a metaphorical trip of the spirit to the center of the universe.


Runoko Rashidi is an historian, writer and public lecturer with a pronounced interest in the African foundations of humanity and civilizations and the presence and current conditions of Black people throughout the Global African Community.  He is particularly drawn to the African presence in India, Australia and the islands of the Pacific.

To date he has lectured at more than 100 colleges and universities and lectured in fifteen countries.  He is the author of African Classical Civilizations and the editor, with Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, of the African Presence in Early Asia--the most comprehensive volume on the subject yet published. Rashidi is very active online, and recently coordinated an historic educational tour to India entitled "Looking at India through African Eyes." Currently, he is coordinating an educational tour to Australia entitled "Looking at Australia Through African Eyes" scheduled for July 2000.

To schedule lectures, order video and audio tapes, gain information on educational tours or additional information contact Rashidi at RRashidi@swbell.net or call Runoko Rashidi at (210) 648-5178.

Copyright 1998 Runoko Rashidi. All rights reserved.


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