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Lives of Seven Masters Documented in US

  • Im Sothearith
  • VOA Khmer

A group of young girls, performed a traditional Khmer dance, through the Buddhist Society’s cultural program.

A group of young girls, performed a traditional Khmer dance, through the Buddhist Society’s cultural program.

The journey and struggle of seven Cambodian master artists in the state of Maryland have now been documented in a multi-media collection that will soon be available to the public.

The project, funded by a Maryland state grant, was issued through the Cambodian Buddhist Society, based at Wat Buddhikarama in the town of Silver Spring, Md., and enabled multi-media producer Stephane Janin a chance to capture the memories of the masters.

“I went to see the artists; I interviewed them,” said Janin, who spent six months and hundreds of hours on the project. “I went to see them at their work, taking photos of them at their work. I scanned their archives. I came here several times, 15, 20 times, for the last six months.”

The seven masters—Ny Jewell, Masady Mani, Ngek Chum, Sochietah Ung, Viphas Heng, Puthyrith Sek, and Kantya Nou—all work to train young Cambodian-Americans in Khmer arts, including classical and folk dance and classical music. Their most recent works, which received wide acclaim, were “Agangamasor” and “His Magic Power.”

A DVD displaying the project will soon be available at www.cambodian-buddhist.org.

“The overall purpose of the grant is to document, preserve and strengthen Cambodian culture and traditions,” Cynthia Way, a volunteer grant coordinator for the Buddhist Society, told VOA Khmer. “So, we wanted to document their rich history and the amazing struggle, as most of them are refugees who escaped genocide from Pol Pot. And we also wanted to pay them tribute for the amazing accomplishment of building this community.”

Say Raci, the Buddhist Society’s cultural affairs president, said the Maryland Tradition Grant played an essential role in documenting the lives of the seven masters.

“We have been working on preserving our national culture in this country for so long, but had never thought of documenting it,” she said. “Our arts and culture are maintained in those children who come to train.”

Way, whose daughter is adopted from Cambodia, said few people know the full story of the cultural group and how it started. The DVD will help document it, she said.

“People like Raci, who is part of the story, know the story,” she said. “But people like me who [are] new… they don’t know the story. They don’t know how this came to be and the challenges and the journey of their teachers, like the obstacles they overcame in order to be here and their commitment to keeping the art alive.”

Say Raci said that through the Buddhist Society’s cultural program, the younger Cambodian-American generation can participate in preserving the arts, culture and pride of their heritage.

“They are so proud of the project, which we started with difficulty,” she said. “We woke them up in the morning to come to the temple to practice. Now they are grown up, and they look back, they can speak fluent Cambodian, they can dance. So, they start to appreciate it 20 years later.”

Parents, meanwhile, have “come to realize that it is very important that the time they spend with their children here is not a waste,” she said. “It changes your children’s lives from being totally American to being proud of your heritage.”

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