Arts and Culture
This paper looks at the culture of writing – literacy – in the Thai domains in the first centuries of their foundation. For specialists in this field the period running from at least the 13th century to the 15th century CE is quite problematic because it is a time of documentary emptiness, with a complete absence of surviving manuscripts (this situation is not exceptional and occurred, with some chronological variations, in many neighboring or distant cultures). The only material trace of early literacy in Thai is offered by lithic and bronze inscriptions.
Epigraphy alone may give us useful keys to the reconstruction, element by element, of the literate life. Without dwelling on the linguistic aspect of the epigraphic documents, I will attempt to highlight the information they contain about the material history of books and texts, on the history of libraries and manuscripts, and possibly on the chain of command in the production of documents. This archeology of (book) knowledge – as humble as it could be – will confirm or oppose what is known about the culture of manuscripts in Thailand, a knowledge largely based on observations made from the late 19th century to the 20th century and widely accepted as representative of much earlier situations. This study will be based on examples drawn from the main epigraphic corpora known in Thai countries (corpus of Sukhothai, Lanna, Ayuthaya) and their antecedent in the corpora of older founding cultures (Mon and Khmer).