Historians consider Cham descendants, once part of the Champa kingdom, to be an important minority group in Vietnam, Phan said.
The manuscripts they created give readers a glimpse of their religious traditions, family customs, literature and daily life.
“These people possess a rich culture that can still be appreciated today through architecture, arts, festival and literature,” Phan said. “There hasn’t been much written about the people, and not many pages of the manuscripts have been preserved. There should be thousand pages of the manuscripts still available.”
The grant from the British Library allows Phan to start a pilot project that will enable him to travel to Vietnam twice in the next 12 months. He will inspect the existing handwritten, yellowed pages, some of which were written on palm leaves.
Phan also will look for more manuscripts that might be in the hands of descendants of the Champa kingdom. “During my two trips to Vietnam, I’ll inspect the manuscripts held at the local archives and talk to the people in the communities who might have them,” he said. “Many of the manuscripts have been kept in families’ homes.”
After Phan determines his findings, he will again apply to the British Library for a larger grant to begin the digitization of the manuscripts.
Although the Champa kingdom was eliminated by the Viet in 1720, Cham people managed to stay together in large communities where their traditions and culture are well preserved.
About 146,000 Cham descendants currently live in Vietnam. The largest community is located in Ninh Thuan, a province in central Vietnam. Their ancestors belonged to a kingdom that was formed in the second century. It consisted of the largest group of Hindu and Muslim people who live in Vietnam.
Phan will take the first of his month-long trips in December when he travels to central Vietnam. His second trip, in summer 2013, will take him to the Mekong Delta in the southern part of the country.
When the entire project is complete, the digitized manuscripts will be sent to the British Library and at the same time displayed on the Southeast Asia Digital Library at NIU.
by Gerard Dziuba