Archive for the People Category

Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2014 by Thim Kwai

Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen (1834-1918) is almost a mystical personality in the christian Batak countries of north Sumatra. Nommensen came in 1862 to the then ‘Dutch East Indies’ to mission the Batak People in the area around Lake Toba in Sumatra. After several of his predecessors have been victim to the cannibalic practices of the Batak People of the time, Nommensen survived several assassination trials. At the end of his life the christian parish counted 180,000 members. His mission is counted as one of the most successful christian missions in modern history. Nommensen also translated the bible from Greek into Batak language.

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Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen

Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen

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Adolf Bastian

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People on March 12, 2014 by Thim Kwai

One of the notable travellers in Southeast Asia was the ethnologist (Philipp Wilhelm) Adolf Bastian (1826 – 1905), who travelled Burma, the Malay Archipelago (nowadays Malaysia and Indonesia), Siam, Cambodia and Vietnam in the years 1861 – 1865. Adolf Bastian wrote tons of records and published eighty books and more than 300 articles alltogether. His writings go very much in details. So far they concern Southeast Asia they are listed in the literature index.

Adolf Bastian is considered to be the first German ethnologist / anthropologist. He (co-)founded several scientific institutions, among them the ‘Königliche Museum für Völkerkunde’ (‘Museum of Folkart’, nowadays Ethnologisches Museum) in Berlin. Many pieces of his huge collection of ethnic artefacts from all over the world were displaced there.

Alone six volumes of Bastian’s work are dedicatet to ‘The People of East Asia’ (1866 – 1871), and there are more of his writings on Southeast Asian topics as Buddhism or the famous ‘inscription no. 1’ of Sukothai.

All his many publications contain detailed descriptions of the ethnics Bastian came in contact with. Often he is comparing very different peoples and their customs and particularly their mythologies. That includes also ancient cultures like the old Greek and Egyptians. Since his work is extraordinarily full with ideas, it’s not always easy to get a clear picture of his theories. His books and essays are also not easy to read; most of his manyfold implications remain unexplained and are therefore not understandable for a non ethnologist outsider. Bastian’s scientific reception is impaired by that since today.

Bastian emphasized the ‘unity of human mind’ (he called it ‘Elementargedanken’). According to this idea different peoples in all the different cultures all over the world show only a small variability in their basic world reception. The Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung adapted and developed Bastian’s ‘Elementargedanken’ to the concept of the psychological ‘archetypes’.

Societies in their geographic distribution with all the peculiar influences of different landscapes, climates and local histories differ apparently. People organize in response to that their social structures and mindsets. That shapes the cultural differences between the ethnics in different regions of the world. Bastian called that ‘Völkergedanken’ (‘folk ideas’).

Studying a great number of different ethnics around the world, Bastian concluded the ‘folk ideas’ as secondary to the ‘Elementargedanken’ of human’s psychic unity. The secondary layer, so to say, can only grow exclusively on the very basic layer. That explains the many congruencies of myths, legends, sagas and religious ideas of cultures in very different locations on the earth or over long periods of history (the old Romans or Carthageans).

Bastian critizised Darwin’s ‘theory of evolution’ and followed instead the theory of ‘evolutionism’. Evolutionism describes the development of all different human societies in the way of a higher (kind of linear) development. The highest stage in this concept reached the industrialized European (and north American) societies. Evolutionism is therefore critisized as eurocentric. It seems also somewhat teleological.

Adolf Bastian’s approach to ethnology was a scientific one, influenced by the naturalist tradition of Alexander von Humboldt and Johann Gottfried Herder. Detailed obervations, as they are manyfold expressed in his rich works, were the empirical basics for his studies. Bastian was particularly eager to study and document foreign cultures before they would come under European (colonial) influence and adapt to it. He was fully aware of the threat, respectively process of extinction, for these cultures which came from European colonialism and called it’s spread over the world a world fire (‘Weltbrand’).

One of the great merits of Bastian’s work is the valuable collection of ethnic research results among native people who were still widely untouched by western civilization. Nowadays such an approach is completely impossible. Almost all of the different people in the world are completely overlayed by the poisonous impact of western capitalism. The former local cultures are, so far there are still traces of them left, merely adapted, distorted and submerged to westernization.

Nevertheless, Adolf Bastian’s documentary approach gave some cause for critics who claimed his work lacks structure and systematic empirical studies.

Adolf Bastian died in 1905 in one of his voyages in Trinidad. His remains were later brought to Germany and burried in Berlin.

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Zhou Daguan: ‘The Customs of Cambodia’

Posted in Books, Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , on March 1, 2014 by Thim Kwai

The only written report we have nowadays about the medieval Angkor empire is coming from a remarkable young Chinese man who lived some 700 years ago, in the same time as the famous Westerner Marco Polo. It’s Zhou Daguan (also: Chou Ta-Kuan), who was a member of a diplomatic mission to Angkor Thom in the years 1296/97 CE. Within fifteen years after he went back to China he wrote a report from his memories, which is titled ‘The Customs of Cambodia’ (Chinese: Zhenla fengtu ji).

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Zhou Daguan by Asienreisender

Zhou Daguan (1266 – 1346 CE)

In 1296 CE the Angkorean empire was past it’s peak. After Sukothai’s rise in the west, and particularly the emerging empire of Ayutthaya after 1251 CE, the Siamese fought the Khmer more and more back to the east. The old Khmer arch enemies, the Chams, took their part in attacking Angkor from the northeast. That must have been very bloody wars. In the long run they led to the complete decline of Angkor. A final death push came in 1431 CE, when Siamese troops conquered and sacked Angkor Thom.

The edition of ‘The Customs of Cambodia’ on which this article is based on is the 1992 one of the Siam Society in Bangkok. It is a secondary translation into English from an originally 1902 translation by Paul Pelliot from Chinese into French. Meanwhile there is a new translation done by Peter Harris, who worked it directly from the original Chinese into English. It’s certainly a professional challenge to translate a medieval Chinese script into a language of our times.

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The Java Man – Homo Erectus Javanicus

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , , , on February 10, 2014 by Thim Kwai

Eugène Dubois, a Dutch army doctor, found 1891 a prehistorical skull remain in Trinil in Java. First he considered it coming from a prehistoric big gibbon monkey and called the species Anthropopithecus (what was the latin generic name for chimpanzee); later it was recalled Pithecanthropus erectus or Homo erectus javanicus. His foundings are considered being 1 million years old.
Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald, a German/Dutch geologist and paleontologist, found in the years 1936-39 more early human remains in Sangiran, at the banks of the Solo River in Java, 65 km of Trinil. Sangiran is not far from Solo (Suryakarta); it’s an easy bus trip to go there.

Until 2011 there were more than 80 fossils of homo erectus found in Sangiran. They cover a timespan of about 1.2 million years, of who the oldest are dated back up to 1,5 million years. Sangiran is therefore the richest foundig place for human fossils on earth. The Sangiran homo erectus fossils show significant differences to the younger ones found near Beijing (Beijing Man). It’s supposed, that both populations came in different immigration waves from Africa.
About half of all the known ever found hominid fossils were discovered in Sangiran. Beside that stone tools, bone tool, axes and a number of other tools were found in Sangiran. The site was inhabited for the last 1,5 million years and shows a long line of continuous human evolution. The fossils found here document also the evolution of human culture, the evolution of local animals and the ancient environment. That all makes it a key site in the understanding of human evolution generally. Therefore it became the status of a UNESCO World Heritage.

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The Life of Buddha

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , , , on February 5, 2014 by Thim Kwai

Buddha’s life and his teaching wouldn’t be understandable and convincing at all without the kind of life which he had chosen to live. According to the records he lived the life which he was teaching. Since Buddha didn’t write anything about his life and doctrine, and his fist disciples didn’t either, what we know about his life started as an oral record, told from disciple to disciple, from generation to generation. It ned some 300 years until the biography and teaching were written first. Considered Buddha was a real living historical person, what he was probably, and not only an invention of a certain group of people. That let’s us question about what are historical facts and what are exaggerations, imaginations or distortions of Buddhas story. To make it short, there is no chance to find that out anymore. The best way to approach Buddha and Buddhism is, as I see it, to study carefully his lifestory and teachings and to reflect it critically by it’s meaning.

Nevertheless, Buddha’s story is full of supernatural appearances. That is up to the believers to believe; a critical mind of the modern age should see it as what it is: additions to the lifestory of a person, made with the intention to impress pre-modern people and the simple minds.

Buddhism, as religions in general, divides in two spheres, so to say. There is a philosophical teaching, what is concerned to the earthly life, and there is a transcendent part, what is focussed on what’s beyond humans life, mostly the afterlife and the power of gods, ghosts, spirits etc. Every religion’s claim is that the earthly life and how it is led has strong consequences for the afterlife.

Since there are ten of thousands of different religions on earth, and they all claim they would have the only valid answer for the transcedent part and therefore for what’s right and wrong on earth as well, it’s a pretty weired situation. If one is right, all the others must be wrong. The contradictions between the different religions are to big. Moreover, there are no proofs, no hard evidences for any of the transcendent and supernatural claims of any religion. It’s, again, up to the believer to believe. Believers neglect critical reflection; they want to believe, because they find comfort in their belief. To believe means literally not to know. Critically questioning the belief is for them a threat for their very orientation system. If the belief is maybe not valid, they have no idea anymore about what’s right and what’s wrong. Life is without meaning, as it seems then. That’s a reason why believers tend to react pretty harsh in case their faith is questioned.

In the 19th century the western reception of Buddhism was that of an inferiour, primitive superstition. That was still a time in which the western religion, Christianity, was made up as a legitimation pattern for colonialism. That changed in the 20th century. Buddhism got better understood and became attractive for a growing number of Westerners. Particularly after the political movement of the 1960s failed to overcome capitalistic society in the west, many young Westerners refuged mentally into weired sects, superstitions and beliefs of many kinds. One particularly attractive became Buddhism. That was certainly so for the philosophical core of the Buddhist doctrine. Another attraction in Buddhism lies in the fact that Buddhism was never so much a martial religion as Islam and Christianity. Buddhism was much less involved in war legitimation.

Very much of Buddha’s lifestory will have been invented or changed in any way. After some 300 years of oral transmission, Buddhism became an organized religion. Institutionalized. King Ashoka in India made it his state religion. From then on it was at the latest a mean of power. But even in Buddha’s time Buddha savored protection from a local king. In which way he and his teachings in his lifetime were involved in politics – the sources tell us nothing about that.

However the reception of the Buddha is, one thing is clear: Buddhism is also a practical religion, and meditation is a basic concept of it. And meditation is concentration. Concentration is the contrary to what surrounds us most of the time in modern life: entertainment and advertisements, stress, pressure and noises, what is distraction.

Basically Buddha’s life had three distinct phases: The young years as a prince, when he eventually was realizing human suffering, than the search for an absolute way of overcoming this suffering, and finally the fullfillment of his search and the commitment to spend the rest of his life by instructing others to achieve enlightenment for themselves.

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This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘The Life of Buddha’. Read here the whole article on The Life of Buddha.

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People: Henri Mouhot

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2014 by Thim Kwai

Travelling in the 19th century was by no means comparable to nowadays. There was for example almost no roadnet in the Siam/Thailand of the time. Even the capital Bangkok didn’t have a single decent road in 1858, only some dirt tracks along the many canals (klongs), who served as the main transport network.

Mouhot’s first trip then, after being introduced into the Western society in Bangkok and an invitation from king Mongkut of Siam, was a boattrip the Chao Phraya River upwards to visit the ruins of Siam’s former and legendary capital Ayutthaya. The worst thing he describes were the mosquitoes who were around in great amounts at day and night.

Ayutthaya was an easy starter for travelling inner Indochina, because it is close to Bangkok and was already known by Westerners. After coming back to Bangkok he prepared for a second journey along the coasts east of Bangkok, travelling via Chantaburi passing by Koh Kong on boat and entering the port of Kampot. I placed three quotations on the Kampot page where he described the place and met the king of Cambodia in an audience.

After visiting Kampot Mouhot travelled the land road to Phnom Penh and Udong, where he met the second king of Cambodia in another audience. Next he visited some mountain tribes somewhat riverupwards the Mekong River. In one of his letters to the Royal Geographical Society he describes the area as close to Laos and Vietnam. That sounds much for the area what is now Ratanakiri. He spent two month among the Stieng people, apparently one of the hill tribes, before he turned to Angkor. Mouhot spent only three weeks in Angkor and went on then via Battambang back to Bangkok.

Mouhot, Henri:
Travels in the central parts of Indochina,
London 1864
Volume I and II

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Raden Saleh, a Javanese Painter

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , , on September 19, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The Javanese painter Raden Saleh (Syarif Bustaman, 1811-1880) is considered to be the ‘father’ of modern Indonesian painting. He was born into a very prominent Javanese noble family and came in early years in contact with the world of the Europeans.

Interestingly, the Bustaman family supported the Javanese prince Diponegoro in the Java War of 1825-30, when a great part of the Javanese fought against the increasingly demanding Dutch rule.

Raden Saleh travelled to the Netherlands in 1830 where he studied art. He was the first Asian and generally non-European who got an European education and developed a self-conception as a modern artist. He spoke five languages fluently, among them Dutch and German.

In 1839 he travelled to Germany and spent years at the court of the duke of Sachsen-Coburg and Gotha (the German sideline of the Victorian English royal family, who renamed themselves later to the ‘Windsors’). Raden Saleh was introduced into the highest circles of nobility in Europe, what certainly contributed to his fame and the fact that his paintings still nowadays are dealt in millions of US$ on the international art markets. Some of his paintings are presented in Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

He spent altogether 22 years in Germany and was a co-founder of the German branche of Orientalism in paintings and partially also active in architecture. Remarkable that he had a white servant, inverting the common pattern of the time that usually ‘white’, western people never served to any of the colonialized people. For some Westerners of the time it was seen as a scandal.

Raden Saleh’s palace in Jakarta is designed after palais Callenberg near Coburg and is nowadays a tourist attraction; it is designed to be turned into a new ‘Prince-Raden-Saleh Museum’.

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Alfred Russel Wallace by Asienreisender

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2013 by Thim Kwai

In 1854 a man arrived in Singapore who can be counted as one of the greatest minds of the 19th century. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a former land surveyor from England, who spent already a couple of years in the tropical Amazon region collecting animals came to expand his collection and studies in the Malay Archipelago. In the following eight years he made 70 journeys through the whole, huge archipelago. In 1858 he came to the clear and elaborated conclusion that animals are not representing a fixed shape and capabilities, but being highly versatile, ever adapting to their changing environments. Species are undergoing a permanent change respective development, and the driver for that change is natural selection.

Russel wrote a great deal of essays on this topic and sent letters to England to reconfirm his position. One of his pen pals was Charles Darwin, an already accepted member of the scientific community in England. Darwin became over the time more and more impressed by Wallace’s ideas, particularly when he received a letter in June 1858, in which Wallace outlined the ‘theory of evolution’. That was exactly the concept which was stored in Darwin’s drawers since 17 years, who hesitated to publish it. Wallace even used mostly the same key terms for his theory as Darwin did.

The arrival of Wallace’s letter made history. Darwin decided now to publish his main work ‘On the Origins of Species’ (1859), a book which changed the world.

Alfred Russel Wallace is the ‘man in Darwin’s shadow’, the widely forgotten co-discoverer of the ‘theory of evolution’, what was in the 19th century still called the ‘Darwin/Wallace theory of evolution’. He travelled and studied great parts of the Malay Archipelago, a huge area what is now covered by the states of Malaysia and Indonesia, and published his experiences of the journeys in his splendid two volumes ‘The Malay Archipelago’ (1869). It is one of the finest travel narratives ever written.

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Westerners in Southeast Asia

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, People with tags , , , on August 3, 2013 by Thim Kwai

In our times, where news are going within splits of seconds around the planet, where travellers sit in stylish bars using their laptops to check their emails and watch a youtube video, where Westerners sit in their clublike bars anywhere in Thailand, Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta to watch the sports events of their favourite club life in TV while filling their beer-bellies with Heineken, it’s hard to imagine that Southeast Asia was once a completely unknown part of the world for Westerners.

The first Westerner who travelled through the world region of Southeast Asia was probably the famous Italian merchant Marco Polo. In the mid 13th century he came from Beijing, which was ruled by the Mongols under Kublai Khan in that time, travelled through what is now Yunnan in south China and went via Lopburi in the Angkorian Khmer empire (what is nowadays a historical town in central Thailand) onwards to Pagan in nowadays Burma / Myanmar. On his way back to Europe Marco Polo sailed along the south Vietnamese coast, the Malayan Peninsula and the Strait of Malacca.

Much less known than the legendary traveller from Venice is another Italian traveller, the Franciscan friar Odoric of Pordenone, who travelled in the years between about 1314 and 1330 CE through India, Sumatra, Java, Borneo and from there to Beijing. Odoric left, as well as Marco Polo, a written record of his travels.

Both early Western visitors of Southeast Asia have one thing in common: they didn’t have any impact on the countries through which they passed.

Colonialism

Tourism in Southeast Asia

Residents

Backpackers

Tourists

Common Attitude

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Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn

Posted in People with tags , , on June 24, 2013 by Thim Kwai

One of, if not the most paradigmatic explorer of the 19th century was Alexander von Humboldt, who thorougly explored and mapped parts of Europe and South America. Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, although widely forgotten, represents a talent of the same size. Unlike Humboldt, who came from the rich background of a noble family and got from young years on all the support one can wish to develop great talents and could finance all his expeditions by his own fortune, Junghuhn was born into a simple family and was initially forced into a way of life he really didn’t want.

Severe struggles with his father shaped a strong character who never avoided conflicts with authorities when he was convinced it was necessary for a good reason.

Franz Junghuhn completely explored Java‘s geography, geology and botany. He created the first reliable map of whole Java and countless of particular maps of Javanese regions, including the Dieng Plateau. He was also the first who mapped the southern Batak territories on Sumatra. A breakthrough in botany was his successfull cultivation of Peruvian bark trees (quinine production) on Java.

Junghuhn’s writings are among the best of the worlds geographic literature and influenced many scientists. His main work “Java, seine Gestalt, Pflanzendecke und innere Bauart” (1857) contains an incredible variety of detailed information on Java’s nature.

Creating a great scientific work he died much too young in the age of 54 years. I suppose he would have done much more in his later years, particularly because he had many resources to do so in the last years of his life, which he lacked in earlier years.

His biography reads like a 19th century adventure novel.

This is just part of the richly illustrated article ‘Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn’. Read the whole article on Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn.

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