Chasses au tigre et a l'éléphant: un hiver au Cambodge / A Winter in Cambodia
by Edgar Boulangier
Language : French1887 - Mercure de France, 'Le Temps retrouvé', 01/01/ 2020 - 464 pages - Paperback Alfred Mame & Fils, Tours, 1888
Notwithstanding some blatantly racist asides -- even considering the many prejudices then in vogue --, and the usual braggadocio of a compulsive big-game hunter, this document is an important description of Cambodia at the turn of the century, more on the geopolitical level than on the ethnographic one.
The traveler was then undertaking an explorative mission for the French authorities, with the logistical support of King Norodom (who liked to refer to 'prahok' (fermented fish paste) as the 'Cambodian roquefort', according to the author).
Among his findings, we shall stress:
- some useful notations on sedimentation and erosion processes in the Mekong Basin at this time.
- a detailed description of iron ore mining and iron production in the Phnom Dek area (Kompong Thom Province). Not only the author stresses the high quality of Cambodian iron -- with a minutious evaluation according to European standards -- but he also describes how the Koy ethnic minority was keeping alive centuries-old techniques of extraction, production and metalwork used in Angkorian times.
- a detailed analyzis of the country's natural resources, including precious timberwood, cotton, fruit and rice.
- the author's personal discovery of Angkor (Part V of the book), a moment when he lowers his usual guard of ironical (and often condescending) criticisism of the 'decadent laziness of the Khmer people' and marks a pause, in awe before 'this marvelous monument to human ingenuity', 'the utter splendor' of the architecture and sculpture, 'the impeccable technique' shown by Khmer masons and sculptors.
- his collection of local legends regarding the foundation of Angkor, one of which proclaiming that the temple complex was built at a time when 'the sea reached a position some 70 milles north of Angkor'. Dating the foundation of Angkor around the 12th century CE, and predicting that 'the whole temple will disappear soon, being built with the crumbliest type of sandstone', he seems to briefly overcome his blatant misogyny to note: 'According to the Cambodian legend, the great pagoda has survived the assaults of times because it has been erected by women, which simply manifests the intrinsic gallantry of the Khmer'.
Photo: The second edition of Un hiver au Cambodge, 1888.
Note: Previously to this volume, Edgar Boulangier had published: 1) Communication a la Société géographique de Paris sur son voyage au Cambodge, Revue L'Exploration, II, 1881 2) Le lac du Cambodge (Revue scientifique, 26 fév. 1881 et Compte rendu Bulletin Société maritime et coloniale, mars 1881) 3) Les mines de fer de Compong Soai au Cambodge (Excursions et Reconnaissances n° 10, 1881) 4) Chasses au Cambodge (Gazette des Bains de mer de Royan, juillet-août 1881 5) Correspondance avec AYMONIER (Journal officiel de la Cochinchine, 1881) 6) Le débit du Mékhong (Saigon, in 8) 7) La colonisation de l'Indochine (Revue maritime et coloniale, 1885) 8) The first edition (1887) was entitled Un hiver au Cambodge: chasse au tigre, à l'éléphant et au buffle sauvage, Souvenirs d'une mission officielle en 1880-1881.
About the Author
French civil engineer, indefatigable traveler and compulsive big-game hunter Marie Auguste Edgar Boulangier (1850-1899) visited Cambodia in 1880-1881, his first official mission for which he was granted logistical support by King Norodom. This 'mineralogical-hydrological' exploration was supposed to evaluate Cambodia's natural resources after the establishment of the French Protectorate (ប្រទេសកម្ពុជាក្រោមអាណានិគមបារាំង) in 1863.
An ingénieur des Ponts-et-Chaussées, he published his first book in 1887, a travelogue entitled Chasses au tigre et à l'éléphant: Un hiver au Cambodge (Tours, France, 2d edition 1888) in which he stressed the potential for iron ore and gold extraction, intensive agriculture and commercial exchanges in Cambodia, and offered a rare description of Angkor.
After Indo-China, Boulangier was sent to Subsaharian Africa, Central Asia and Siberia, mostly to study railway transportation and infrastructure development.