ELHAS Meeting Report March 2009

The ELHAS March meeting saw us making an interesting departure from local history into the realms of world history, with an intriguing account of the history of Cambodia, from the Angkar Wat to the Khymer Rouge covering the period from the 6th century to the present day . The talk given by Ms Mairian McDonald certainly gave the audience food for thought.

Mairian , who was born in Cumberland has lived in Leeds since the early sixties and is a former geography teacher. She spent her teaching career at many of the area's most prestigious schools including Leeds Girl's High and Notre Dame 6th Form College. Now retired, she and her husband enjoy holidaying in exotic locations - hence the subject of last night's talk.

Mairian began by explaining that although Cambodia has been settled since the 7th century, there is very little written evidence of the early years. This is because they wrote on skin or leaves that have not survived. Fortunately their story is told by the carvings on the ancient temples for which Cambodia is famous.

Much of her illustrated talk centred on the most well known of these, the Angkar Wat . This temple, built in the 12th century by King Suryavaman the Second is the largest religious building in the world and covers an area of one square mile. We were fascinated to see intricate scenes of royalty, warfare and everyday life carved into the laterite brick of which the temple is built. The temple also contains over 1500 carvings of Aspara dancers , a familiar symbol of Cambodia.

Having explained how progress over the centuries, including irrigation and the building of roads eventually led to the downfall of the empire, she went on to describe how the French eventually colonised the country in the 19th century. The Cambodian people resented being settled by the French and it was eventually granted independence in 1953. Unfortunately, the country was bankrupt and the people starving, This situation led to the rise of the infamous Khymer Rouge and allowed the notorious leader, Pol Pot to march into Phnom Penh in 1975 and begin his murderous regime in the country. During his reign of terror over 170,000 people were executed, - religious, medical staff, professionals and even wearers of glasses. When he was finally overthrown in 1979 the country slowly returned to normality and began to encourage visitors from the west. Today tourism is the lifeblood of the country although it remains one of the poorest East Asian countries. However from Mairain's photographs we were able to see what a beautiful country it is and hope with her that its future in the 21st century will be more peaceful and prosperous.

The next meeting on April 27th will be a talk by Malcolm Wright on the history of Armley Goal from 1844. This will be followed by our annual Pea and Pie Supper.