[ndlr] Message d’Oscar Salemink à VSG que nous publions avec son aimable autorisation.
Please join me in congratulating Dr. Thérèse Guyot-Becker with the successful defense of her doctoral thesis ’La servitude pour dette au Campa du sud au XVIIIe siècle: Étude des archives légales du « Panduranga-Campa » de la Société Asiatique de Paris’ [Serfdom for debt in 18th Centyury southern Champa : A study of the legal archives of Panduranga-Champa at the Société Asiatique de Paris]. Ms. Guyot defended at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) of the Sorbonne in Paris.
The dissertation constitutes a meticulous and detailed empirical study of a collection of legal documents – mostly contracts about transactions – held at the Société Asiatique in Paris. The provenance of the collection is most likely the ‘trésor des roi chams’ described by Durand and Parmentier (1905). It consists of legal documents in three languages: Cham, Hán, and Hán-Nôm; the smaller section of documents in Hán and Hán-Nôm have been translated into modern Vietnamese by Vietnamese collaborators of Ms. Guyot, who translated the Cham language records which constitute the vast majority of the collection. By making this collection available for scholarship Ms Guyot has made an important contribution to our knowledge of Cham society in the 18th Century, under the tutelage of the Nguyễn Lords.
The thesis is divided up in five chapters. The first chapter contains a description of the collection; of the various types of legal documents; of the styles in which they were written up; and of the various actors involved in the transaction. Not much else is known about 18th Century Cham society, so the description of the monetary value of the transactions, of the places mentioned and especially of the dates of the contracts required a painstaking, pioneering labor on the part of Ms. Guyot who devised a system by which the Cham dates could be rendered in the Gregorian calendar. From this chapter it is clear that it took an enormous effort to make the collection accessible for scholarly description and analysis.
The subsequent four chapters engage the collection of legal documents from different vantage points. The methodological strategy of Ms Guyot is to see the collection as a quantifiable database which enables her to enumerate and calculate specific aspects, detect patterns and correspondences, and make these insights visible in a large number of tables (‘tableaux’) and charts (‘grafiques’). The author convincingly isolates and describes the terms of her statistical calculations, which is oftentimes a problem in quantitative research.
Chapter II describes the documents as sales documents, mostly concerning the selling of persons, either as definitive sale or as redeemable sale. It calculates the (monetary) value of the transactions and the average value of individual persons. And it compares the transactions involving three categories of people: villagers; notables and dignitaries; and the Po Taray (Cham princes).
Chapter III describes loans and debts – which are usually the precursor for the sale of persons. It describes loans with and without interest, and loans with collateral. It describes the various interest rates and types of collateral – oftentimes persons – and their distribution over various types of loans and their actors. And finally, it distinguishes again the transactions according to the category of the contractors – villagers, notables and dignitaries.
Chapter IV discusses the various types of redemption of debts, which might involve donations by third parties. It discusses legal procedures and legal cases when the pay-back was defaulted. And finally it discusses the various types and registers of redemption in Cham society of the time.
The final Chapter V engages the vernacular category of the person as property – halun – and asks the question whether halun constitute slaves or servants. It distinguishes between various categories of halun according to the reasons for their status as property: given up by others (‘aliénés’); endebted; or at fault in juridical terms. The chapter reviews the various rights and responsibilities of both masters and halun, and establishes that halun are not absolute property – i.e. reduced to objects – but remain subjects with the legal right to complain and seek justice. Finally, the chapter distinguishes between various types of halun, in the sense of their attachment to various types of ‘masters’ – e.g. villagers, notables, the prince, temples.
In the absence of much other knowledge of southern Cham society at the time, Dr Guyot-Becker made the philological choice to narrowly focus on this collection of Cham legal documents and make those documents accessible to contemporary scholarship, which in itself constitutes a veritable monk’s labor. That choice was presented as an effort to let herself be guided by the sources only, rather than by comparative insights derived from other sources and contexts. This choice may have prevented her from filling in the lines between the dots and offering a more coherent historical narrative, which hopefully will be developed in the time to come.
Ms Guyot-Becker’s thesis received the highest distinction from the jury (consisting of Philippe Papin [supervisor], Andrew Hardy, Eric Bourdonneau, and myself). The world has another scholar fluent in ancient Cham!
Oscar Salemink (11/02/2014)