New inscriptions to Asia/Pacific Memory of the World Register celebrated in the land of smiles

Wat Pho (Temple of the Bodhi Tree) in Bangkok - © UNESCO

Gathering in Thailand, the “land of smiles”, delegates to the Asia Pacific Regional Committee of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme (MOWCAP) celebrated the addition of four new inscriptions to the Asia Pacific Register at a ceremony in Bangkok on 16 May. They included the first documentary heritage from Papua New Guinea and Tibet, a precious collection of woodblocks of Buddhist sutras in Vietnam, and “letters to home” from the Chinese diaspora which spread across the region in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The new inscriptions were a highlight of the 5th general meeting of MOWCAP, convened in Bangkok and generously hosted by the Thai National Memory of the World Committee, the Ministries of Culture and Education, and the SEAMEO Regional Centre for Archaeology and the Fine Arts (SPAFA). Held from 14 to 16 May at the Amari Watergate Hotel, the meeting was the largest to date, attracting over 60 participants from 13 countries.

A special feature of the meeting was an expert symposium on the preservation of documentary heritage in the region, with a focus on traditional approaches to the care and storage of documents. Such methods dispense with expensive building construction and electricity-driven environmental management techniques, and so are more environmentally and financially sustainable.

The new MOWCAP Facebook page was launched at the meeting, and immediately attracted a buzz of activity. It presages the redevelopment of the MOWCAP website which will proceed in the coming months.

The Asia Pacific region extends over half the earth’s surface, from Turkey in the west to the Pacific island countries in the east, and from Mongolia in the north to New Zealand in the south. Serving as the biennial meeting point for the national MOW committees across the region, the gathering reviews the activities and strategies of MOWCAP, which are aimed at strengthening the work of libraries, archives and museums, raising awareness of the documentary heritage, and improving preservation and access skills and capabilities.

MOWCAP is managed by a voluntary Bureau, whose members serve in a personal capacity for the benefit of the whole, not as representatives or advocates of countries or groups. MOWCAP maintains a newsletter and website, is a catalyst for workshops and other activities, and will shortly release its first major publication, “Memory” – a coffee table book journey through the heritage of the Asia Pacific region.

List of new inscriptions on the Asia Pacific MOW Register 2012

  • Papua New Guinea/Australia (joint nomination): F. E. Williams Collection
    Glass plate photographs and negatives of Papuan society from 1922 to 1943, the period of ‘first contact’ with a culture hardly known to the West at the time.  
  • China: Qiaopi and Yinxin: Correspondence and remittance documents from overseas
    Chinese  Some 170,000 items of personal correspondence tracing the fortunes of Chinese emigrants to South East Asia, Oceania and America in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Tibet Autonomous Region of China: Official records of Tibet from the Yuan Dynasty China, 1304-1367
    The only records of their kind now extant, they are from the period of Mongol rule and are the oldest surviving written official records of China.  
  • Vietnam: Woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, Bac Giang Province 
    Over 3,000 woodblocks, engraved from 1871 to 1932, containing Buddhist sutras and other documents of the Truc Lam Zen sect in the Nôm script. This distinctly Vietnamese Buddhist tradition has spread to many countries.
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