I was digging around the National Archives of Cambodia in Phnom Penh during the holidays and came across an undiscovered letter by Alfred Raquez. These are pretty rare so I was very excited.
The paper was in a very fragile state. One corner had come off and the ink had bled through creating a sort of palimpsest. Here is a scan of the photocopy from the archive.
Check out his letterhead as editor of Revue Indochinoise:
The letter was written on Aug 10, 1904, to Dr. Philippe Hahn. Hahn was the Resident Mayor of Phnom Penh, as well as King Norodom’s personal physician. In 1904 he was named head of the commission to assemble the Cambodia pavilion for the Indochina section of the 1906 Colonial Exposition in Marseille. Raquez, who was put in charge of the Laos pavilion, sent the letter about his own planned mission through Laos to collect material for the exposition (see my article about Mission Raquez in the journal History and Anthropology).
I was able to clean up the text, and with my colleague Paul Bruthiaux, transcribe and translate the letter. See below.
Mon cher Docteur,
Le Gouverneur Général m’adjoint à vous comme je l’ai demandé. C’est fait et j’en suis bien heureux. Le choix a été ratifié par le commission plénière qui s’est réunie Samedi. Je suis plus spécialement chargé de Laos et M. Beau m’y envoie dès Octobre ou Novembre pour recueillir sur place les collections. Parmi celles-ci seront les documents ethnographiques qui formeront un des clous de l’Exposition.
Je vais visiter autant que possible toutes les tribus de Laos en commençant par le haut et voici mon programme:
Acheter un costume d’homme
un ” de femme
Avec bijoux, coiffures, accessoires, etc….
Faire mettre sur mannequins par celui q[ui] a fait nos mandarins annamites. Voir Entrée Gratuite, la gravure.
Je prendrai une douzaine de photos toute[s d’]un même type, même distances, mêmes [missing].
Village – Type de maison – Marché – T[out] partout enfants – Groupes d’hommes – femmes – têtes d’hommes et de femmes de très près face – profile – buste qd possible – Enfin, les [illegible] des costumes que j’achèterai.
L’emporte en outre deux phonographes avec 300 rouleaux pour prendre le chant des tribus – leur orchestres – une conversation.
Une notice ethnogr. sera collée au bas des tableaux renfermant les photographies.
On verra donc ces sauvages et on les entendra.
N’auriez vous pas un emplacement pour qu’au fur et à mesure je puisse faire descendre à Pnom Penh toutes les collections dont nous ferions ensemble le recollement lors de mon passage final.
Je suis bien heureux, mon cher Docteur, de travailler sous votre égide si bienveillante et je suis convaincu que nous ferons bonne et belle besogne. Je vous promets un Laos soigné!
Veuillez agréer avec mes vœux de bonne santé la vive expression de mes très dévoués sentiments.
10 Août 1904
My dear Doctor,
The Governor General has brought me aboard, as I asked. It is done and I am very happy. The choice was ratified by the plenary committee which met on Saturday. I am especially in charge of Laos, and M. Beau sends me there in October or November to gather the collections on the spot. Among these will be the ethnographic documents which will form one of the highlights of the Exhibition.
I will visit as much as possible all the tribes of Laos starting from the top and here is my program:
Buying costumes of men and women, with jewelry, hairstyles, accessories, etc, to put on mannequins by the same craftsman who made our Annamese mandarins [for the 1902 Hanoi Exposition]. See the images in Entrée Gratuite.
I’ll take a dozen photos of the same type, same distances, same [missing].
Village – Type of house – Market – children all over – Groups of men – women – heads of men and women with close-ups of faces – profile – busts, when possible – Finally, the [illegible] costumes that I will buy.
I will also bring two phonographs with 300 blank rolls to record the songs of the tribes – their orchestras – a conversation.
An ethnographic explanatory note will be pasted at the bottom of the tables enclosing the photographs.
We will see these primitives and we will hear them.
What do you think?
Would you have a space so that, as and when I get down to Phnom Penh, all the collections that we brought together could be collated and verified before my final passage?
I am very happy, my dear Doctor, to work under your kindly aegis, and I am convinced that we will do good and beautiful work. I promise you a sleek, meticulous Laos!
Please accept, with good wishes, the lively expression of my most devoted sentiments.
The first review of our translation of Alfred Raquez’s Pages Laotiennes has appeared…by Peter Gordon in the Asian Review of Books!
Check it out!
“The book is of course of academic interest, both for Raquez’s detailed (if not always objective) observations of customs, dress, festivals, ruins, temples, and the like, as well as for its first-hand look at the philosophy behind French colonialism. The appeal of the book to the general reader is probably Raquez himself, who is irrepressible.”
Raquez’s forgotten masterpiece is now ready for the Anglophone world!
After a month delay in production–this is a big project–we finally wrapped our editing of the proofs and index. The book is scheduled to go to the printer next month (December).
It’s a beautiful book, reproducing all the photographs from the original plus new maps for each stage of Raquez’s journey, a 50,000 word introduction and of course footnotes galore.
Beat the inevitable crowds at your local high street bookstore and pre-order your copy from Amazon now!
In 1904, French explorer and author Alfred Raquez embarked on a year-long ethnographic mission through Laos to collect material for the 1906 Colonial Exposition in Marseille. He published his notes in L’Avenir du Tonkin and its sister publication La Revue Indochinoise, and took hundreds of photos, many of which are still collected as postcards, and made hundreds of phonograph rolls of field recordings, which are now lost.
I am very pleased that my article on Mission Raquez has been published in the prominent peer-reviewed journal History and Anthropolgy, published by Taylor and Francis, and listed in all sorts of spiffy neat-o international humanities indexes.
Here is the abstract:
This paper focuses on Mission Raquez, a French ethnographic expedition through Laos to collect material for the Marseille Colonial Exposition of 1906. This paper discusses the location of extant material and considers the ethnographic methods used on the mission in conjunction with anthropological study, mass media, and popular celebrity in turn of the century France.
You can access the article at this permalink:
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I’ve very pleased that Philippe Drillien has translated my article in For the Record into French for publication in PHILAO No 104. As I noted in that article, Raquez most likely made the first field recordings ever in Laos. He used a Pathe phonograph in extremely difficult terrain. Fortunately, there are two photographs still in existence (as postcards) of these recording sessions; and Raquez wrote about playing European music for local peoples in his articles in Revue Indochinoise. Unfortunately, his recordings, apparently more than 300 cylinders, are now lost. If anyone has any information about phonograph cylinders from Laos, please contact me.
I’m excited that my article on Alfred Raquez’s use of a phonograph in Laos has now been published in the magazine of the City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society, For the Record, (summer 2016, No. 58). http://www.clpgs.org.uk/our-magazine.html
The article details Raquez’s use of a Pathe phonograph to make (or so the experts I consulted believe to be) the first ever sound recordings in Laos. He would record in the field and claims to have made more than 300 separate cylinders. These were brought to Marseille for the 1906 Colonial Exposition there. After his death there in 1907, they seem to have been lost. If recovered, they would create an amazing record of the sounds of Laos at the turn of the century.
If anyone knows anything about these cylinders from Laos (they would have been recorded in 1905-1905), please contact me.
As noted in previous posts, my scholarly translation, with Paul Bruthiaux, of Raquez’s first book, Au Pays des Pagodes [The Land of Pagodas], will be published this year by NIAS Press. My research into a biography of Raquez continues.