Thursday, August 30, 2012

Essay on Cambodia

Cambodian People, Society, Culture, and Civilization
Throughout its historical journey, Cambodia, as a nation, appeared to be full of paradoxes. To most observers, the Cambodian people, from the past to the present, appear to be socially, economically, and politically unremarkable, yet they were able to manage to build one of the greatest civilizations on earth. Throughout their history, the Cambodians have been, from time to time, subjected to the most horrific tragedies and abuses ever occurred to humankind, yet they were able to rebound, regroup, rebuild, and preserve their society and culture. At times, the survival of their culture and identity as a people appeared to be rolling down toward the abyss of extinction, yet they were able to manage to rescue themselves from the graveyard of history. These Cambodian paradoxes are perhaps one of the most misunderstood and interesting phenomena of Cambodian history. Take the building of Angkor, for instance. When the monuments at the Angkor complexes were discovered by the European explorers in the 19th century, not many of them believed that such grandiose civilization could have been founded by the backward and apparently unremarkable Cambodians. However, evidences showed that they did it. Just how did these backward people manage to do it, nobody seems to be able to give a satisfactory answer to that question either because it appeared to be part of the Cambodian paradoxes.


As a nation, Cambodia appears to be less receptive to social changes, especially those imposed by outsiders. The greatest forces to resist social changes were and are the Cambodian people themselves. Though easygoing and placid, the Cambodians appear to be very reactive when their traditional way of life is threatened by the imposition of outsiders’ ideas. Over the course of its history, we have seen attempts to bring about social changes in Cambodia quite a few times, the latest being the worldly beloved concepts and principles of democracy which the United Nations and the international community try to instill within the Cambodian psyches since the 1990s.

Among all the cultural and social changes ever to shape Cambodian lives, only Hinduism, which arrived in Cambodia during the early part of its history, appeared to be met with better success—at least for a thousand years or so. As a religious concept vis-à-vis culture, Hinduism seemed to fit and intertwine very well with the Cambodian system of belief in the supernatural being, namely the Neak Ta. In all likelihood, it was probably the marriages between Hinduism and the belief in supernatural beings that propelled the Cambodians to achieve and build one of the most admirable civilizations at Angkor. Though, artistically, we don’t precisely know as to how much Indian influences upon the Cambodian creativity when their civilization at Angkor was founded, most experts agreed that Angkor was mainly the creation of Cambodians with the assistance of Indian concepts.

After the honeymoon at Angkor, the marriages between Indian and Cambodian cultures turned sour when another religion, Buddhism, entered into the relationship. The arrival of Buddhism coincided with the decline of Cambodia as an empire and a dominant kingdom. The devaraja monarchy, as an institution which had driven the placid Cambodians to conquer and build their empire for hundreds of years, began to fall apart. After being exposed to the teaching of Buddhism which emphasizes compassion and pacifism, the once assertive and, maybe, aggressive Cambodians, who, for many years, had been spurred on by the concepts of conquest and nation building, mellowed down and returned to a life of simplicity.

From the closing of the 14th century onward, the Cambodian rendezvous with destiny has been an arduous journey. The once mighty Cambodian Empire has now been reduced to a feeble and pariah state where palace intrigues and royal feuds were the regular features of the affairs of the kingdom. The internal conflicts amongst its rulers for the next four centuries, or so, were so pervasive that the Cambodian political, social, cultural, and economic infrastructures were in tatters. The kingdom grew weaker by the day. There were no able leaders to revitalize the kingdom and stop it from falling further into a state of disarray. Furthermore, the Cambodian population appeared to be utterly alienated with the reality of their lives. They seemed to be withdrawn from any ambition to rebuild their kingdom beyond that of their own basic domains. As a result, Angkor, as a city and center of the Cambodian political and cultural organizations, was abandoned and neglected. In addition, invasions and encroachments from rivaling states such as Thailand and Vietnam dealt even further blows to the weakening Cambodian kingdom. At times, the survival of the kingdom itself was in question when the once mighty Cambodia became an alternate vassal state of its neighbors, namely Vietnam and Thailand.

During this period of decline, two attempts to bring about social changes to the Cambodian kingdom were made. The first attempt to bring about social changes to Cambodia was made during the first quarter of the 19th century by the Vietnamese who had briefly occupied Cambodia. After receiving reports about the ways in which Cambodians conducted their daily lives from his general named Truong Minh Giang who was in charge of administering Cambodia at the time, Emperor Minh Mang of Vietnam, in 1839, wrote a detailed instruction to Truong Minh Giang to institute a reform and change the habits of the “barbarian” Cambodians. Perhaps unaware of the existence of the civilization and achievements accomplished by Cambodians in the past, Emperor Minh Mang embarked on what could be called a civilizing mission to lift Cambodia from its barbarian state. The mission included changing the ways they work the fields, how they should organize and govern themselves, and, most important of all, the dress codes for Cambodian officials should be modeled after those of the Vietnamese’s. These infringements on the Cambodian identity and their way of life triggered a massive backlash. A general uprising against the Vietnamese overlords was ensued. Needless to say, the mission was a disaster and an utter failure. Every cultural icon associated with Vietnamese was hated and the rift between the two cultures has forever widened. After the failure of the civilizing mission in Cambodia, General Truong Minh Giang committed suicide by poisoning himself upon returning to Vietnam. As for the Cambodians, they were left to pursue their interests according to what they saw fit for their lives, namely a relaxed, easygoing lifestyle which was the trademark of their society since time immemorial.
(To be continued)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

រឿងល្បើកនិងរឿងនិទាន

រឿង គ្រួសារពីរ

(បទពាក្យ ៨)
គ្រួសារមួយមានកូនដល់ដប់ពីរ                   រវល់វក់វីនឿយហត់អត់ឈប់
ឪពុកធ្វើការព្រឹកទល់ព្រលប់               ម្តាយធ្វើសព្វគ្រប់កិច្ចការក្នុងផ្ទះ ។
ខំដាំដំណាំចិញ្ចឹមមាន់ទា             មើលថែបុត្រភ្ងាហត់នឿយខ្លាំងណាស់
ជីវភាពក្រីក្រតែងតែខាតខ្វះ         យ៉ាប់យ៉ឺនលំបាកគ្មានពេលណាល្ហែ ។
មានអ្នកជិតខាងប្រពន្ធនិងប្តី                  មិនគិតលកលៃយកកូនមួយទេ
ជីវិតពួកគាត់ស្រួលហើយទំនេរ 
មិនដែលស្គាល់ទេភាពនឿយឥតស្រាក ។
ពួកគាត់ចំអកឡកឡាយឡែបខាយ
មើលយើងសប្បាយមិនស្គាល់តោកយ៉ាក
ដើរលេងគ្រប់ទីមិនដែលខានអាក់
ទ្រព្យធនលុយកាក់យើងចាយហ៊ឺហា ។
ជាច្រើនខែឆ្នាំចាកផុតកន្លង                      ជីវិតក៏ឆ្លងដល់វ័យជរា
សុខភាពទន់ខ្សោយថែមមានរោគា       លំបាកវេទនាកើតទុក្ខចំបែង ។
តាយាយអត់កូនខិតខំត្រដរ                      រកឧសដាំស្លរែកទឹកខ្លួនឯង
ពេលមានឈឺថ្កាត់គ្មានអ្នកមកលេង       កណ្តោចកណ្តែងកំសត់ឯកា ។
គ្រួសារកូនច្រើនម៉ែឪឥតព្រួយ                 ដ្បិតមានកូនជួយបម្រើការងារ
តបស្នងសងគុណមាតាបិតា               តាមដោយមាត្រាជាកូនកត្តញ្ញូ ៕
បើចង់ឆ្ងាញ់លោកថាឲ្យរកអន្លក់ បើចង់ស្រណុក ត្រូវតែលំបាកពីក្មេង

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fables and Folktales

រឿង មេស្វានិងកូន

មេស្វាមួយមានកូនពីរ ដែលវាស្រឡាញ់មិនស្មើគ្នា ។ រាល់ពេលទៅ
ណាមកណាម្តងៗ មេស្វានោះតែងតែយកកូន ដែលវាស្រឡាញ់ មក
ឲ្យតោងនៅក្រោមដើមទ្រូងរបស់វា ឯកូនដែលវាមិនសូវស្រឡាញ់ វា
ដាក់ឲ្យតោងនៅពីក្រោយខ្នង ។ មានថ្ងៃមួយនោះ មេស្វាបាននាំកូនវា
ហែលទឹកឆ្លងស្ទឹង ដើម្បីទៅរកបេះផ្លែឈើ នៅឯត្រើយម្ខាង ។ នៅ
ពេលដែលមេស្វាហែលទឹក ទៅដល់ត្រើយម្ខាង វាក៏ស្រាប់តែឃើញ
កូនសម្លាញ់របស់វា ដែលវាដាក់ឲ្យតោងនៅក្រោមដើមទ្រូងវានោះ
ឈប់ដកដង្ហើម និងមានខ្លួនទន់ល្មើយ ។ វេលានោះ មេស្វាក៏ដឹងថា
កូនវាត្រូវបានឈ្លក់ទឹកស្លាប់ នៅក្នុងខណៈដែលវា កំពុងហែលទឹកឆ្លង
ស្ទឹង ។ បន្ទាប់ពីបានយល់ អំពីមូលហេតុ ដែលបណ្តាលឲ្យកូនសម្លាញ់
របស់វាស្លាប់ មេស្វាមានសេចក្តីឈឺចាប់ និងទោមនស្សចំពោះខ្លួនវា
យ៉ាងខ្លាំង ។ វាបានដាក់កូនវាមួយទៀតដែលនៅរស់ ឲ្យអង្គុយនៅលើ
មែកឈើ រួចហើយ វាក៏ឱបកូនសម្លាញ់របស់វា ដែលបានស្លាប់ទៅហើយ
នោះ លោតចូលទៅក្នុងទឹកស្ទឹង សម្លាប់ខ្លួនវាទៅ ៕

រឿងល្បើកនិងរឿងនិទាន

រឿង កណ្តុរនិងស្ការ

កាលពីព្រេងនាយ កណ្តុរនិងស្ការបានឈ្លោះគ្នា រហូតដល់មានសង្គ្រាម
បង្ហូរឈាមដ៏ឃោរឃៅមួយ ។ នៅក្នុងសង្គ្រាមនោះ កណ្តុរតែងតែ
ទទួលបរាជ័យជានិច្ច ។ ថ្ងៃមួយ កណ្តុរទាំងអស់បានបើកសម័យប្រជុំ
មួយ ដើម្បីរៀបចំយុទ្ធសាស្ត្រសង្គ្រាម យកជ័យជម្នះលើស្ការ ។ បន្ទាប់
ពីបានពិភាក្សាគ្នាយ៉ាងល្អិតល្អន់មក កណ្តុរទាំងអស់យល់ថា កងទ័ព
កណ្តុរ ខ្វះមេដឹកនាំ និងវិន័យក្នុងការធ្វើសង្គ្រាម ។ ដូច្នេះ ពួកគេក៏បាន
ជ្រើសរើសកណ្តុរណាដែលមានកាយសម្បទារឹងមាំ និងមានសេចក្តី
ក្លាហានជាងគេនៅក្នុងសឹកសង្គ្រាម ឲ្យធ្វើជាសេនាប្រមុខ ឧត្តម
សេនីយ៍ និង វរសេនីយ៍គ្រប់ជាន់ថ្នាក់ ដើម្បីហ្វឹកហាត់និងដឹកនាំទ័ព ។ លុះហ្វឹកហាត់ក្បួនយុទ្ធសាស្ត្រល្អិតល្អន់ហើយ កណ្តុរក៏នាំគ្នាលើក
ព្យុះហយាត្រា ទៅច្បាំងជាមួយនឹងស្ការ ។ នៅលើសមរភូមិ មេទ័ព
កណ្តុរគ្រប់រូបបានយកចំបើងនិងស្មៅ មកចងនៅលើក្បាលរបស់ពួកគេ
ដើម្បីងាយស្រួលឲ្យកងទ័ពទាំងអស់បានដឹងថា អ្នកណាជាមេ អ្នកណា
ជាកូនទ័ព ។ ការប្រយុទ្ធជាមួយនឹងស្ការ មិនទាន់ទាំងបានចាប់ផ្តើម
ស្រួលបួលផង កណ្តុរដែលជាកូនទ័ព បានមើលឃើញថា ពួកស្ការ
មានប្រៀបជាង ។ បន្ទាប់ពីស្ថានការណ៍សឹកមានសភាពកាន់តែដុន
ដាបទៅៗ មិនអាចតស៊ូតទៅទៀតបាន ពួកកណ្តុរដែលជាកូនទ័ព ក៏នាំគ្នារត់គេចចូលក្នុងរន្ធអស់ទៅ ។ ចំណែកមេទ័ពកណ្តុរ ដែលមាន
ចងស្មៅនិងចំបើងនៅលើក្បាល ដើម្បីបញ្ជាក់អំពីឋានន្តរសក្តិរបស់ខ្លួន
នោះ ពួកវាមិនអាចរត់ចូលក្នុងរន្ធបានឡើយ ព្រោះទើសនឹងស្មៅនិង
ចំបើង ដែលពួកវាបានយកមកចងនៅលើក្បាល ។ នៅទីបំផុត កណ្តុរ
ដែលជាមេទ័ពទាំងនោះ ត្រូវបានស្ការចាប់ជាចំណាប់ខ្មាំង ហើយខាំ
សម្លាប់អស់ទៅ ៕
ការពាក់គ្រឿងឥស្សរិយយសនៅលើសមរភូមិ វាអាចខ្លាយជាអាវុធ
សម្រាប់បំផ្លាញខ្លួនឯង

Monday, August 27, 2012

WAR AND GENOCIDE

The Siege of 1973

It was the beginning of the rainy season. Pushing by the seasonal Monsoon winds, thick black clouds occasionally rose from the Indian Ocean and moved toward Southeast Asia bringing along with them violent tropical rainstorms that would sometimes knock out electric power in the city. However, the rain had nevertheless regenerated new life around our rental home. The jasmine flowers which were planted in a clay pot beside the staircases had grown up beautifully with new stems shooting up and blooming flowers. About a few feet from the fences, banana trees had produced new leaves providing shade for their new shoots which were growing up from their bases. But despite the cool spray of the first seasonal rain which Mother Nature had brought about, the lively blossom of the greeneries seemed to last only as long as the morning. As the rain drops dissipated, intense heat waves had brought back the dry and dreary scenery which seemed to epitomize the cheerlessness of a country at war and of the people whose lives were just as changeable as the scenery itself. Today, the garden plants grow because of the rain. But, tomorrow, they would have to withstand the heat that beat upon them by the hot climate of the tropical sun. In a sense, our worrisome lives under the shadow of a civil war appeared to be not much different from the lives of these heat-beaten garden plants.

One afternoon, as I was feeding my goldfish on the ground floor of my house, I saw my brother, Hong, who was in the army, come home. (I used to go to the nearby lake with other kids in the neighborhood to catch those goldfish, put them in a bottle or jar filled with water, and hide them somewhere near the house as my parents didn’t want me to keep such pets; they knew that I and other kids would make the fish fight while they were not home. Of course I did it regularly). With great excitement, I jumped up and ran toward my brother. Since he had gone to join the army, my brother paid a few visits home but never one unexpected like that. He smiled wanly as I approached him. I looked at his expressionless face and grabbed him by the hand. He was very calm; his hand was cold and felt like something else rather than a hand. The first question my brother asked me was: “Are Mom and Dad home?” I told him that they were probably at the central market where mother sold groceries and would be home around 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening.

While we were walking upstairs, I sensed a chill from the apparent terror emitting from my brother’s body language. I knew that my brother must be up to something because his home visit this time was quite different from the ones before. He looked awful. Instead of wearing the elegant American-supplied camouflage uniforms, he wore a short sleeve civilian T-shirt with a pair of dirty green pants and a pair of old flip-flop sandals. There was a small, almost empty sac on his back. Psychologically, he seemed to be in a terrifying state of mind. His face was pale. There was a hint of fear in his eyes. As he lay down on the coach, my brother told me that he had just suffered a defeat under the Khmer Rouge’s attack.

Like lightening struck nearby, I was shocked and quite startled by the news. My first reaction was to ask my brother whether he was all right. He nodded his head and told me to bring him a glass of water. He promised to tell me and everybody about his defeat when Mom and Dad came home. I brought him a glass of water and after drinking it, my brother rested quietly.

As my brother rested, I was sitting nearby and wondering about how he had managed to elude capture by the Khmer Rouge and get away from the chaotic situation when he was defeated. I used to hear people talk very often about soldiers who faced defeat and had to retreat. They said that it was a matter of life and death. If a retreat were disorganized, it would be a complete disaster. Few soldiers would have the chance to survive the enemy’s attack under such circumstance because they would usually run for their own lives. No one cared about the plight of others. As a result, they became easy targets for their enemies who pursued them. The best chance for defeated soldiers to survive was to be fully organized and properly retreating. Their commanders had to be with them and give proper instruction during the retreat. I heard people say that a wise officer would divide his troops into three groups called the left wing, right wing, and the body. The body would have about half of the total troops, while the two wings have about one fourth each with a radio to communicate with the body. The two wings were to counterattack the enemies while the body was retreating and to retreat while the body was counterattacking the enemies. Though it sounded somewhat simple, this story of military tactics was nevertheless very interesting and entertaining for me as a kid growing up in a war torn country to listen to. It showed how people coped with the stress of facing danger some day by telling stories about that danger which could very well happen to them. In a sense, this war story served as a practical lesson, I guessed.

My brother’s unit was part of Operation Chenla II, the only short-lived successful military operation the Lon Nol government had ever achieved for the entire period of its existence. The Operation was intended to reopen National Highway 6 and bring relief to the besieged city of Kompong Thom located about 104 miles north of Phnom Penh. Chenla II was led by Colonel Oum Savuth, a reckless, little drunkard who was known around the country as a daredevil that liked to drive his car at terrifying speeds. After the Operation reached Kompong Thom, my brother’s unit was stationed at one of the strategic areas between the town of Tang Kok and Rumlong that the Viet Cong used as a crossing passage to avoid detection by the American bombers. The unit was placed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ith Suong, one of the least competent officers of the Lon Nol regime.

When the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge crossed Highway 6 to reach their sanctuaries in the south central part of Cambodia, they came upon the many military outposts of the Lon Nol soldiers, which were located along the highway. Fierce fighting between the Lon Nol soldiers and the two communist guerrilla forces broke out immediately. However, the often neglected and unpaid Lon Nol soldiers were no match for the well-disciplined Khmer Rouge and the superior, well-trained Viet Cong. Within days, the Khmer Rouge and the Viet Cong destroyed many of the government’s fortresses, which were established along National Highway 6 in the aftermath of the Chenla II’s Operation, and cut off that lifeline to Kompong Thom City again. My brother’s unit was badly hit during that fighting. He and his comrades endured intense attack from the Khmer Rouge and the Viet Cong for two days and nights. Despite the neglect and lack of support from their commanders, the soldiers fought back courageously. My brother recalled that, in the wake of retreat, his immediate commander deserted the troops by hotfooting it away on horseback without notifying any of the soldiers under his command.

In a tumultuous situation, my brother and his fellow soldiers abandoned their post and ran across the rice fields to seek some sort of safe haven in a distant village. Like a herd of wild animals being chased by predators, my brother and his comrade in arms dodged the Khmer Rouge’s bullets until they finally reached a small hamlet. During this tumultuous retreat, some unfortunate soldiers were hit by the Khmer Rouge’s sniper bullets and left to die in the rice fields.

After narrowly escaping death from being captured by the Khmer Rouge (they rarely took or kept prisoners), my brother and his comrades made it safely to an isolated town. Exhausted and terrified, some of them collapsed and lay down under the shade of trees. However, despite the fact that they were away from the battlefield, danger and death were still within reach of those soldiers. My brother recalled that as he and his fellow soldiers were resting under the trees’ shades, some villagers had driven oxcarts up to them and offered them ride to reach a nearby town which was still under the control of the government. Some villagers even helped providing directions to the soldiers who wanted to take a short-cut toward the regional government’s enclave.

Many soldiers, exhausted and tired, were very grateful to the villagers. Some of them climbed up on the oxcarts and hitched a ride with the villagers while others took off through the short-cut routes provided by the villagers. As though by instinct, my brother sensed something suspicious in those villager’s offers of help; therefore, he decided not to hitch a ride with them. Neither did he follow the short-cuts those villagers pointed out to him. He chose to take an alternative route along which he felt safer to travel.

When he arrived at the regional government outpost, my brother learned that the soldiers who hitch-hiked on the villagers’ oxcarts or followed the short-cuts given by the villagers had never made it to the government controlled areas. In fact, those villagers were Khmer Rouge’s sympathizers who came to lure the soldiers into the Khmer Rouge’s traps to be captured.

My brother’s harrowing experience with defeat and danger seemed to be an omen for the people of Kompong Cham. Several months later, Kompong Cham City was besieged by the Khmer Rouge’s attacks from all directions. At first, the fighting appeared to be far away from where we lived since the sounds of artillery and mortar explosions seemed to take place on the distant horizon. However, several weeks later, the rumble of artillery rounds and mortar explosions moved closer and closer to the city limits, which indicated that the Khmer Rouge had made their advance toward Kompong Cham City. Soon, we began to hear the sounds of machine guns and small rifle exchanges mixing with the heavy explosions of rocket propel grenades which signaled that the fighting was coming near our doorstep. Most people, who lived on the perimeter of town, including our family, began to pack up their vital belongings and prepared for the inevitable flight, either to the Khmer Rouge’s controlled areas or toward downtown Kompong Cham where the government was bringing in more reinforcement troops to protect it from being taken over by the Khmer Rouge.
(To be continued)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Essay on Cambodia

Cambodian People, Society, Culture, and Civilization
Angkor or Nokor or Nagara (in Sanskrit) means city. However, the Cambodians use these terms to mean country or kingdom as well. For instance, if one spoke of Nokor Khmer, he or she would refer to the Khmer kingdom. Thus, the term Angkor, in this context, would be used interchangeably between city and kingdom.


Upon their arrival in Cambodia, the Indian warriors or Javanese Brahmins began the process of transforming the primitive world of the Funanese/Cambodians into a civilized culture--one that had the sound and rigor of an organized society. We did not know how the indigenous people reacted to the arrival of these conquerors, but based on what they left behind, they appeared to have formed a very successful society which was built around absolute monarchy and the adherence to Hinduism.
The achievements of these early Cambodians could be found at an ancient city of Angkor which is presently located in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. Though many infrastructures, namely the domains of mankind, had not survived to the present day (because they were built of wooden materials), the religious monuments, which were splendidly built of stones, had indicated a well-organized society with superb civilization. Based on the scattering religious monuments at Angkor, it appeared that this ancient Cambodian City was at least as large as the United States Capital, Washington, D.C. From the various religious monuments and the inscriptions and carvings left on their walls, we learned that the Cambodians who lived during this period (roughly from the 1st to the 14th century) were followers of Hinduism. They were ruled by absolute monarchs and appeared to have formed a federation of kingdoms under the leadership of a universal sovereign who (from the 9th-14th century) used Angkor as the central seat of government.

As far as population was concerned, after the arrivals of those early Javanese Brahmins and their companion settlers, other ethnic groups such as the Mons and the Khams (Khemaras or Khmers), who appeared to have lived in the territories north of Cambodia or Funan, began to make contact and commingled with the Funanese at roughly around the 8th century. Also, many Chinese (most of them sailors) appeared to have made Cambodia their home as well once they made contacts with the indigenous people after their exploration ships docked at Cambodian ports. Perhaps the clearest evidences of the Chinese immigrants living in Cambodia were a report made by a Chinese envoy named Chou Ta-Kuan who visited Cambodia at the end of the 13th century.

In addition to contacts with the Indians, Javanese, Mons, Khams, and Chinese, the Funanese/Cambodian population, society, and culture have also been shaped by their interactions, from the 15th century onward, with other ethnic groups such as the Thais, the Vietnamese, and the French. It was the amalgamation of interactions with these various groups of people and their cultures that seemed to shape and define the identity and culture of modern Cambodians. However, before we jump into modern Cambodia, we should perhaps look at the cultural and societal structures of ancient Cambodia first.

Little is known about how early Cambodian society was organized before the arrivals of Indian/Javanese traders/settlers. However, from archaeological and historical evidences, it appeared that early Cambodians led a rather simple life, or “subsistent lifestyle”--as some historians would have put it. Their society was largely built based on the dictates of nature rather than the dictates of mankind. In this context, early Cambodians were probably hunters and gatherers whose rhythms of life followed the rhythms of nature. Because hunting and gathering of foodstuffs tends to require collective efforts in order to ensure success and to maximize the outputs, this phenomenon would certainly lead to the formation of a society which was based on the premise of collectivism.

In terms of territorial administration, early Cambodians appeared to structure their territorial administration somewhat based on a federation system. They called their kingdom or country phaendey and the territories of which they ruled or put under the sphere of their influence sroks. Phaendey or kingdom referred to the overall territories, which a certain monarch had conquered or persuaded to submit to his or her rule whereas the sroks or nokors referred to the territories (in some cases kingdoms) that were subjugated into the larger sphere of influence. Please notice that the Cambodians nowadays used the term srok interchangeably to mean district or county as well. However, the term srok or nokor here mean territories or kingdoms populated by distinct ethnic groups of people and ruled by chieftains or lesser monarchs. For example, sroks or nokors Cham, Leav (Laos), Siem (Siam), et cetera, would mean the territories or kingdoms of Champa, Laos, and Siam, respectively.

Traditionally, the Cambodians used mountains or bodies of water to mark the borders of their kingdom. Because early Cambodia, as a kingdom, depended largely on the ability of her monarchs to muster and extend their overall controls or influences over various semi-autonomous territories which were populated by different ethnic groups of people, the Cambodians have never had a fixed and firm demarcation of their territorial borders. The present boundary was only drawn in the 19th century by French colonizers who ruled over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia roughly from the 1860’s to the 1950’s. Thus, throughout much of Cambodian early history, we found that the kingdom of Cambodia sometimes stretched over vast areas under the rules of certain monarchs who were able to assert their influences over distant territories while other times the country was moderate in size.

It is perhaps worthwhile to look into how the Cambodian governmental structures were like throughout history, especially, the uses and development of the terms Phaendey and Sroks. There seems to be no evidence suggesting when the terms phaendey or daendey and sroks entered into the Cambodian vocabulary. However, based on historical context, these terms might have dated back to the Angkorian Era when the concept of universal monarch began to take roots in Cambodia. The term phaendey could probably be intertwined with the concept of a universal monarch (sdach phaendey) because he was the only master of his domain and his phaendey means territories (including those under the rules of other monarchs) of which he, the universal monarch, was able to consolidate under his rule.

Organizationally, the Cambodians of antiquity appeared to structure their governmental administration along the concept of a federation system possibly similar to the former Soviet Union in the late 20th century. The kingdom as a whole would be composed of a number of vassal kingdoms and autonomous territories which would answer to the central kingdom, Cambodia, and her universal monarch. It was those vassal kingdoms and territories that the Cambodians used the term sroks to identify them.

In the administrative scheme of things, each srok had a semi-independent leader either a vassal monarch or a chieftain. Their roles were to protect the interests of their own turfs vis-à-vis those of the universal monarch who acted as a grand council and protector, or, in some cases, prosecutor, for all of them. As far as government was concerned, the relationships between the Cambodian monarch and his administrative staffs, namely leaders of the sroks, were largely based on a patronage structure. As a matter of fact, we could still see this patronage structure remains in practice today.

Like most monarchic empires throughout the ages, whose rules of governance were usually based on absolutism, the Khmer Empire (though comparatively small in size) was eventually fallen apart after several hundred years of existence. As the empire fell, the influences of the universal monarch waned, new or renewed kingdoms emerged, the administrative structures began to change as well. This was what happened to the Cambodian kingdom in the late 14th century. The event coincided with the Mongol invasion and occupation of China. As the Mongol invaded and occupied China, the Tai people, an ethnic minority living in the Chinese southwestern province of Yunnan, moved down the Mekong River valley to settle in northern Siam (Thailand). There they commingled with the Siamese and eventually formed the kingdom of Sukuthai from where the present kingdom of Thailand was originated.

Sukuthai (and subsequently Ayutthaya) played a pivotal role in the demise of the Khmer (Cambodian) Empire. It not only challenged the Cambodian hegemony over Siam but also subdued and broke down the power structure of the Cambodian kingdom. After the rise of Sukuthai, we saw that the concept of universal monarch and the term phaendey as a political administration began to fade away from the realm of Cambodian politics. The term srok was also modified to signify a large region instead of a vassal kingdom. Subsequently, in the 19th century, after the arrival of the French colonial rulers, the Cambodian political administration was once again changed to reflect the taste of French politics. The French drew the boundary of the Cambodian kingdom and divided it into provinces (khaets), districts (sroks), communes (sangkats), and villages (phums) similar to that of France. So, this is what remains of the Cambodian kingdom--a country now bureaucratically cloaks in French clothes and survives largely through the wits of its easygoing and placid people.
(To be Continued)

Fables and Folktales

រឿង កញ្ជ្រោងនិងឆ្មា

(បទ កាកគតិ)
កញ្ជ្រោងនិងឆ្មា         ស្វែងរកអាហារ           នៅក្នុងព្រៃធំ
វេលាថ្ងៃមួយ              ពិគ្រោះជំនុំ                  ក្រោមដើមរាំងភ្នំ
                                   មានមែកសាខា ។
កញ្ជ្រោងអួតខ្លួន       ថាមានល្បិចក្បួន         ច្រើនឥតគណនា
អាចគេចសត្រូវ         ដេញតាមប្រហារ         ក្នុងស្ថានភាពណា
                                   ក៏អត់ព្រួយដែរ ។
ល្បិចរាប់មិនអស់       ជាផ្លូវអាចដោះ             សង្គ្រោះរិះរេ
ពេលមានអាសន្ន        រួសរាន់គ្នាន់គ្នេរ           មិនពិបាកទេ
                                    ផុតទុក្ខផុតព្រួយ ។
ឆ្មាប្រាប់វិញថា             រីខ្ញុំនេះណា                  មានតែផ្លូវមួយ
ផ្លូវនាំក្តីសុខ                 ដែលជាជំនួយ              ផ្លូវខ្ញុំតែងជួយ
                                     រក្សាជីវិត ។
គាប់ជួនពេលនោះ       ឮសូរឆ្កែព្រុស               តម្រង់មកជិត
ឆ្មាតោងមែកឈើ         រាំងភ្នំនៅជិត                 ពួនទីងងឹត
                                     ផុតភ្នែកសត្រូវ ។
ឆ្មាសួរទៅមិត្ត               កញ្ជ្រោងបងគិត           ប្រើក្បួនណាទៅ
នេះគឺក្បួនខ្ញុំ                 គេចភ្នែកសត្រូវ             ល្បិចមួយណាទៅ
                                     បងត្រូវយកប្រើ ។
កញ្ជ្រោងស្លន់ស្លោ       ឆ្លេឆ្លាឆោឡោ                ទន់អស់ដំណើរ
រត់គេចឆ្វេងស្តាំ            មិនចាំថាតើ                  យកល្បិចណាប្រើ
                                     ឲ្យទាន់ស្ថានការណ៍ ។
ត្រូវអ្នកប្រមាញ់            លើកធ្នូព្រួញបាញ់         ក្សិណក្ស័យសង្ខារ
ក្បួនរាប់មិនអស់           អត់ច្បាស់មួយណា       ដោះស្រាយបញ្ហា
                                      ជួយខ្លួនមិនបាន ៕

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fables and Folktales

រឿង គង្វាលចៀមនិងចៀមវង្វេងហ្វូង

គង្វាលចៀមម្នាក់ បានឃើញចៀមមួយ ដែលវង្វេងហ្វូងរបស់វា ។
ឃើញដូច្នោះ គាត់មានគំនិតចង់ទាក់យកចៀមនោះ មកធ្វើជាកម្មសិទ្ធិ
របស់គាត់ ។ លុះគិតរួចហើយ គាត់ក៏ហូតយកប៉ី ពីក្នុងហោប៉ៅអាវមកផ្លុំ
ដើម្បីអន្ទងហៅចៀមនោះ ឲ្យរត់ចូលមកនៅជាមួយ ហ្វូងចៀមរបស់
គាត់ ។ ប៉ុន្តែ ចៀមវង្វេងនោះ មិនបានស្តាប់ ឬក៏ធ្វើតាមការអន្ទងហៅ
របស់គាត់ឡើយ ទោះបីជាគាត់ខំផ្លុំប៉ី ហៅវាយ៉ាងណាក៏ដោយ ។ គង្វាល
ចៀមខឹងណាស់ គាត់ក៏រើសដុំថ្មមួយដុំ គប់សំដៅទៅចៀមនោះ បណ្តាល
ឲ្យត្រូវចំស្នែងរបស់វា បាក់ហូរឈាមកក្លាក់ ។ ឃើញដូច្នោះ គង្វាលចៀម
មានការភិតភ័យឥតឧបមា ហើយក៏ចូលទៅអង្វរចៀម កុំឲ្យប្រាប់ម្ចាស់វា
ថាគាត់បានយកដុំថ្ម គប់ត្រូវវាបាក់ស្នែង ។ បន្ទាប់ពីបានស្តាប់ពាក្យអង្វរក
របស់គង្វាលចៀមហើយ សត្វចៀមក៏តបទៅគាត់វិញថា៖ “នែ៎ ! មនុស្ស
ចម្កួត ទោះបីជាខ្ញុំមិននិយាយប្រាប់ម្ចាស់ខ្ញុំក៏ដោយ ក៏ស្នែងរបស់ខ្ញុំដែល
បាក់ទៅនេះ វាអាចនិយាយប្រាប់គាត់បានដែរ” ៕

Sunday, August 19, 2012

WAR AND GENOCIDE

The City of Refugees

It had been two years since we moved to live in Kompong Cham City. We had adapted and integrated well into our new environment. Everyone had been doing fine. Though my mother had to work a lot as a groceries salesperson, she nevertheless earned plenty of income to support the family. My father had gotten a new job as a civil servant in the Khmer Republic government. My second oldest brother, Heang, had passed his exam and been admitted to college. The third one, Sokha, had also passed his high school entrance exam. There were only two people left in primary school, my fourth brother, Sama, and I. My youngest sibling, Buntha, was still too young to join us in the primary school; he had just turned four years old.

I had entered the third grade now and had done well in class. I received straight A’s in every subject and was promoted to become the class’s peer leader. It was the happiest moment in my life to have been recognized and received merit in education for the first time. However, my happiness in learning achievements was soon covered by disruption and distress because of the Khmer Rouge’s insurgencies.

Since late 1970, the Khmer Rouge had been doing so well in organizing small guerrilla’s attacks on the government’s troops who had been stationed around the country, that they had captured many districts and town centers in rural areas, and now mobilized their forces to attack key cities and towns. The Viet Cong and North Vietnam had also helped them (Khmer Rouge) to strengthen their capability. They (Vietnamese) sent military experts in guerrilla warfare and tacticians to train the Khmer Rouge inside Cambodia. They even provided the Khmer Rouge with armaments, medicines, and other military supplies. The Khmer Rouge, in turn, allowed the Viet Cong to use any Cambodian territory they occupied and travel anywhere in the Khmer Rouge controlled zones. Consequently, the cooperation helped the Viet Cong a great deal in terms of military strategy. The Viet Cong would attack the South Vietnamese and American military posts along the Cambodian-Vietnamese border at night and cross the border back to Cambodia to hide in the villages during the day. The U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers who were stationed in those posts would never have found out where the hell those Viet Cong came from to attack such places where there was rarely any Viet Cong guerrilla in sight. As a result, the confused situation led the U.S. to bomb the hell out of every jungle or place of hideout it suspected. Needless to say, not many successes were achieved with those bombs.

The Viet Cong had been playing this cat and mouse game for years with the Americans and their South Vietnamese ally. They even passed the tactic along to the Khmer Rouge. As for the American service personnel who were in charge of operations, it appeared that the bombs that were wasted in the Indochinese jungles were not in vain; it achieved the objectives while soldiers in the fields along the Vietnam-Cambodian borders were dying every night under the Viet Cong guerrilla’s ambushes. In hindsight, it was such a tragic consequence which had to be paid with so many lives of both American and South Vietnamese soldiers.

While the Viet Cong were wreaking havoc in South Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge increasingly expanded their insurrection in Cambodia. So far, the Khmer Rouge had won more battles than they lost. They had captured and cut off some main national highways that link many key cities to Phnom Penh and forced the Lon Nol soldiers who were stationed in the areas to confine themselves to the perimeters of provincial headquarters. The Khmer Rouge had tightened the grip around almost every city. Communications between many provinces were cut off. Ground transportation was also unsafe. Relatives who lived in different cities were separated and unable to make contact or pay any visit to one another. Government supplies to provinces were limited. To some places, it could be made through airlift only. As a consequence, food shortages and starvation were widespread.

To reduce the tension and help the Lon Nol government, the U.S. decided to send some South Vietnamese troops to Cambodia in a joint military effort to counterattack the Khmer Rouge and the Viet Cong. Most of the South Vietnamese troops were assigned to operate in the provinces east of the Mekong River where the Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong had established numerous sanctuaries and been very active. However, this joint military venture seemed to create more problems than solutions. Instead of looking for the Khmer Rouge or Viet Cong, those ill-disciplined South Vietnamese soldiers, many of whom were pedicab’s drivers or bandits who were rounded up from the streets of Saigon and thrown into the military camps, were looking out for their own interests. After enduring years of being ambushed by the Viet Cong, these half-hearted soldiers had no inclination to confront their enemies any more. They would dig foxholes next to villager’s homes to cover themselves at night and stay close to the local people throughout the mission. In the meantime, with their American-supplied M16 rifles as weapons, they would relentlessly rob and rape women in the villages whenever an opportunity arrived. Eventually, those supposedly friendly South Vietnamese soldiers created more trouble for the local people than the Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong combined. As a result, the relief mission became the exodus. People fled their homes whenever they saw the South Vietnamese troops moving into their areas.

As the presence of South Vietnamese troops and their rampant abuses of the local population spread, people started abandoning their homes by the thousands. The hardship which they used to endure was now no longer endurable. Waves of refugees left their villages and headed toward the townships where authority and order were bearable to live with. They left almost everything behind except for their children. Along the way, these people crossed many perilous lines where all parties to the conflict had their excuses to abuse them. If they were found out by the Khmer Rouge that they were leaving their villages to seek refuges in the government controlled areas, the Khmer Rouge would accuse them of defecting to the enemy’s side and arrest them. In some cases, they were imprisoned and tortured or even killed by the Khmer Rouge for switching sides. In a similar fashion, the friendly soldiers, namely the South Vietnamese, mistreated them as well. The South Vietnamese troops, who scattered around the area and frequently checked those refugees for signs of linkages to the Khmer Rouge, would occasionally confiscate or rob valuable property in their possessions.

While arriving in the city, the refugees had to face yet another calamity. Since the war began, living condition in the city had increasingly worsened. As the Khmer Rouge had cut off so many routes linking the different cities together, especially to the central government in Phnom Penh, government help in the form of food and shelter had been scarce. The prices of commodities and foodstuffs were shooting up like a rocket. Inflation was widespread, and the refugees who poured into the city suffered the most. Those who had relatives living in town were considered lucky, for they could at least find temporary shelter by living in with their kin. However, for many refugees who had neither relatives nor friends, they ended up living under the shade of trees along the city’s streets. Many of them found refuges in pagoda compounds and lived in whatever spaces they could find.

Responding to the crisis, the government had diverted some of its American aid food supplies and commodities to help these desperate people. It had created a food stamp-like system to bring some relief to the refugees by issuing welfare coupons which they could use to get food and commodities from relief agencies. However, in a place like Cambodia where corruption was always endemic, this noble American-inspired idea of issuing welfare coupons to help the desperately poor people was eventually exploited by corrupt officials. Since many of the refugees were peasants and farmers, they were less adapted to the urban environment and soon becoming easy targets for the many government officials who wanted to get rich quick. In a sad twist of fate, the refugees were being cheated upon by the very party they had come to seek help from. Most of the valuable goods and commodities which the government and charity groups had sent to help alleviate the hardship of the refugees landed in the market instead. Like fish out of water, many of the refugees were left to wander in the city’s streets without any hope of gaining footholds in the new environ.

I remembered, as a kid, I used to wander with my friends around the city’s sections where refugees lived. One day, I sneaked out of the school ground during a break and went across a street to visit a pagoda compound where hundreds of refugee families lived. The place seemed cool and composed despite so many people scattering their make-shift tent houses all around. There were a lot of kids about my age playing under the shade of a mango tree near the temple. Some of them looked after their younger brothers or sisters while their mothers were selling banana rice cakes or waffles on the sidewalks of the streets. They looked at me with wishful feelings as I walked by. From the bottom of my heart, I could sense that these refugee kids were not as happy as other kids in town. Though they giggled and laughed while playing, their laughter appeared to be not as thrilled as happy kids would naturally expressed. Judging from the look in their eyes, I could somehow detect what they were missing. Comparing between them and me, the new and the old refugees, we had few things in common. I wore neat clothes and went to school every day; they didn’t. My parents earned enough income to support the family; their parents could barely make enough money for a day-to-day basic food supply. I would go to see the movies with my brothers or stroll around town every weekend; they would not, because not many of them could afford such leisure. What was most depressing was that they missed a lot of opportunities which kids their ages should deserve, especially, a chance to attend school.

It was depressingly sad for people who witnessed the essence of calamity which these refugee kids and their parents endured. They had been displaced by the conflict in which they played no part. They had crossed many dangers and encountered countless terrors as they fled their homes. They had chosen an alternative option by risking their lives to rally to the government side in search of safety and security. But safety and security seemed to elude them constantly. Their hopes of finding safety and security came to a halt as the hopeless government gave them no hints of any effective helping hand. Starting from scratch in a desperate situation, the refugees had to sacrifice everything they had in order to coexist within the corrupt Lon Nol government which was decaying from the core of its leadership.
(To be continued)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

រឿងល្បើកនិងរឿងនិទាន

រឿង កុមារចក់និងដើមឈារី

មានកុមារម្នាក់ឈ្មោះចក់ រស់នៅក្នុងស្រុកវ៉ាស៊ីនតោន នៃសហរដ្ឋអា
មេរិក ។ នៅពេលដែលកុមារចក់មានអាយុ ៧ឆ្នាំ ឪពុកមារបស់ចក់ម្នាក់
ឈ្មោះ ចន បានឲ្យកូនពូថៅមួយមកចក់ សម្រាប់ទុកកាប់កូនឈើតូចៗ
នៅក្បែរភូមិ ដើម្បីយកមកឲ្យម្តាយវា ធ្វើឧសដុតចម្អិនអាហារ ។ ចក់
ស្រឡាញ់កូនពូថៅនោះណាស់ ព្រោះវាស្រាលហើយមុតទៀត ។
ថ្ងៃមួយ ចក់បានយកកូនពូថៅរបស់វា ទៅកាប់កូនឈើមួយចំនួន
ដែលដុះនៅជុំវិញរបងផ្ទះ ។ ចក់មិនបានដឹងថា កូនឈើដែលវាកំពុង
កាប់នោះ ជាដើមឈារី ដែលឪពុកវាបានដាំនោះទេ ។ល្ងាចនោះ នៅ
ពេលដែលឪពុករបស់ចក់ ត្រឡប់មកពីចម្ការវិញ បានឃើញដើមឈារី
ដែលគាត់ដាំ ត្រូវបានគេកាប់ចោលអស់ គាត់មានការខឹងច្រឡោតយ៉ាង
ខ្លាំង ហើយក៏សួររកមុខ អ្នកដែលបានកាប់ដើមឈារីរបស់គាត់ ។ នៅ
ពេលដែលឪពុកចក់ហៅចក់មកសួរ ចក់បានរត់មកឱបជើងរបស់ឪពុកវា
ដោយយំអណ្តឺតអណ្តក ហើយនិយាយថា៖ “ពុក ! កូនមិនអាចកុហក់
ពុកបានទេ” ។ បន្ទាប់ពីបានស្តាប់សម្តីចក់ ឪពុករបស់ចក់ក៏យល់អំពី
អត្ថន័យរបស់វា ។ គាត់បានលើកចក់ពរហើយពោលថា៖ “កូនសម្លាញ់ !
ដើមឈារីទាំងនោះ ថ្លៃមិនស្មើនឹងសម្តីទៀងត្រង់របស់កូនទេ” ៕
សច្ចៈភាពជាអាវុធដ៏ពិសិដ្ឋ សម្រាប់រំងាប់សេចក្តីក្រេវក្រោធ

Essay on Cambodia

Cambodian People, Society, Culture, and Civilization
Among the earliest kingdoms to have formed on mainland Southeast Asia were Funan and Linyi/Champa (we’ll use Champa hereafter) which were located at present-day Cambodia (including a region formerly known as Kampuchea Krom which is now part of southern Vietnam) and central Vietnam, respectively. Though there might also be some other lesser-known contemporary kingdoms existed in the area, it appeared that Funan and Champa were the most visual, influential, and dominant ones, for they had been actively mentioned in the Chinese foreign embassy activity records.


If we were to dig deeper into the cultural and linguistic evidences, we would find that both Funan and Champa appear to share their identities with people living in the Indonesian archipelagos. Though Funan seems to have a rather murky linkage with Indonesia, Champa has nevertheless had a very strong link with Indonesia. According to the archaeological and historical evidences, it has been accepted that Champa, as a kingdom, was founded by the people of Indonesian origin. These people appeared to be pirates who had been chased away from the Strait of Malacca’s and Sunda’s areas by their Indonesian kins.

Given the fact that Champa had been founded and appeared on the Chinese foreign mission’s records a few hundred years behind Funan, it begs the question whether the Funanese could have been an earlier group of people who had been chased out from the Straits of Malacca and Sunda as well. At this point, we should point out that the Straits of Malacca and Sunda were the most important maritime trade routes in the early day. They provided and acted as a vital conduit for maritime trades between the Far East, Middle East, and beyond—just like the Panama Canal nowadays providing maritime linkage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Thus, whoever controlled the Straits of Malacca and Sunda would control one of the most lucrative maritime routes in the world because they allowed people who controlled them to impose taxes and tariffs on ships passing back and forth.

We could only imagine that back in those old days, the Straits of Malacca and Sunda must have been the most contested areas because of their strategic and commercial importance. As a matter of fact, our imagination couldn’t have been wrong if we briefly looked at the history of colonialism. It was the strategic importance of the Straits of Malacca and Sunda that brought the Dutch to Indonesia. Whether the Straits of Malacca and Sunda played any role in the process, Indonesia was also the first country in Southeast Asia to be colonized by the Europeans.

If we assumed that the Straits of Malacca and Sunda had been the major maritime trade routes since pre-historic time up to the 19th century of the Christian Era, it would be possible that people had been fighting one another countless times to gain control of these areas because they were the economic power bases for global trades which depended mostly on maritime transports. Though we could only hypothesize what had taken place in insular Southeast Asia during the earlier period of its history, it is possible that among the people who had probably contested, lost, and been chased away from the Straits of Malacca and Sunda were the Funanese (Cambodians).

It is conventionally difficult to contemplate a theory as far-reaching as to suggest that distant mainland Southeast Asian people such as the Cambodians had their origin in insular Southeast Asia. However, for the history which is as complex and intertwined as Southeast Asia’s, we probably need to have a far-reaching hypothesis in order to uncover or, at least, come close to the truth.

Based on archaeological evidence and historical records, Funan was located at the southernmost region of the Indochinese Peninsula just a little bit north of what is now called Kamao, Southern Vietnam. Geographically, if we looked at the southern tip of the Indochinese Peninsula in relation to the Malay Peninsula where the Strait of Malacca is located, we would see that the distance between the two regions is surprisingly so close to each other that they could have ideally served as short-cut stopping points for ships traveling from India to China and vice versa. Thus, it is fitting that for people who were looking for places to build maritime ports alternative to the areas surrounding the Straits of Malacca and Sunda, the southern tip of the Indochinese Peninsula would be an ideal spot because it is conveniently located between China, the Strait of Malacca, and beyond.

Whether the Cambodian people have their place of origin in the Indonesian archipelagos or in Northeastern India, only time and further research can determine for sure. But based on some archaeological and historical records, there seemed to be strong evidences, though inconclusive, linking indigenous people of Cambodia to those of Indonesian stocks. If we took off a few later cultural layers such as the influences of Buddhism, Islam, and Indian rituals, we would see that indigenous people of Cambodia and Indonesia (Malays included) have a lot in common. For instance, the belief in Supernatural Beings such as the Neak Ta and the practices of leaving deceased loved ones in the forests or caves.

For the Cambodians, or Khmers, or Funanese, the history began at the place called Oc Eov (a corrupt spelling of the Khmer words O Kaev which were given to the French colonialists by their Vietnamese assistants who could not pronounce the Khmer words properly), located at the southern end of present-day Southern Vietnam. It was probably at Oc Eov’s settlement that the Chinese travelers/sailors reported of seeing “ugly” people with very dark skin and frizzy hair. The Chinese called their country Funan. From the records left behind by these early Chinese travelers, the Funanese are the predecessors of modern Cambodians or Khmers. But, just like other indigenous people throughout the world, the Funanese and their culture were eventually glossed over by the arrivals of new ethnic groups and their cultures.

According to both historical and archaeological evidences, the Funanese appeared to lead a very primitive existence. Their lives revolved around hunting and gathering. They lived in villages surrounded by fences. Little was known about their governmental structure. However, it was likely that the Funanese formed tribal community and appointed or accepted whoever was the strongest or most cunning person to be their leader. Culturally, the Funanese liked to wear tattoos on their bodies and believed in shamanism and spirits. One of the most enduring symbols of spiritual worshiping was the Neak Ta, the omnipresent guardian of both the villages and the forests, which is still being worshiped today by many Cambodians.

The primitive world of the Funanese was first transformed around the 1st century of the Christian era when they came into contact with the Indian explorers/adventurers. According to the Cambodian history, these Indian adventurers or conquerors were not coming from India but rather from Java (Indonesia). The Cambodians or Funanese called them Pream Chvea or Javanese Brahmins and regarded them as warriors. Thus, it was likely that the Indian warriors who came to conquer or colonize Funan were Indian immigrants or traders from Java. Along with these Indian traders/warriors, there must have been Javanese troops, for, in order to conquer or colonize a territory which had already been settled by other people, ones must have forces.

Based on inscriptions and historical records, these “Indian” traders/conquerors arrived in Funan/Cambodia by ships and, after subduing or winning over the indigenous people’s acceptance, they established governmental administration which was modeled after the Indian Raja. Along with these conquerors, Hinduism, a religion which is the foundation of Indian culture, also arrived in Cambodia. It was the arrival of these conquerors and their religion that shaped the early history of Cambodia known as the Angkorian Era.
(To be continued)

Monday, August 13, 2012

រឿងល្បើកនិងរឿងនិទាន

រឿង កង្កែបនិងក្តាម

(បទ កាកគតិ)
ភ្លៀងធ្លាក់ចុងឆ្នាំ       ផ្គរគ្រហឹមផ្តាំ          ថាជិតផុតហើយ
រដូវវស្សា                  ខ្យល់បក់រំភើយ      នៅឯនាយត្រើយ
                                 សត្វច្រៀងសប្បាយ ។
កង្កែបអរណាស់       ក្រោមមេឃស្រឡះ     វាសើចក្អាកក្អាយ
ដើររកគូរាំ                តែសត្វទាំងឡាយ        មានគូគ្រប់កាយ
                                 វាខកចិន្តា ។
ពេលនោះឃើញក្តាម   មួយឈរនៅស្ងៀម      វាបបួលថា
រាំជាមួយខ្ញុំ                សប្បាយអស្ចារ្យ           កុំអាលទៅណា
                                  រាំលេងនឹងគេ ។
ក្តាមឮហើយឆ្លើយ    បងកង្កែបអើយ !          ឮផ្គរលាន់ទេ ?
មកជួយកាយរន្ធ       ទាន់យើងទំនេរ            មុនពេលថ្ងៃជ្រេ
                                   មានជម្រកថ្មី ។
កង្កែបឆ្ងល់ណាស់      សួរក្តាមឲ្យច្បាស់        តើប្អូនខ្លាចអ្វី ?
ឬខ្លាចផ្គរលាន់           ទើបខំឃ្មាតខ្មី               កាយរន្ធក្នុងដី
                                   លាក់ពួនអាត្មា ។
ក្តាមក៏ឆ្លើយប្រាប់       កង្កែបបងស្តាប់            ផ្គរលាន់នេះណា
ប្រាប់ឲ្យយើងដឹង       ទុកជាសញ្ញា                ថាខែវស្សា
                                   ជិតផុតទៅហើយ ។
ច្នេះបងជួយខ្ញុំ             យើងតោងខិតខំ          កុំនៅកន្តើយ
ទាន់ដីនៅទន់             កាយរន្ធឲ្យហើយ         យើងនឹងបានស្បើយ
                                   នៅរដូវក្តៅ ។
កង្កែបឆ្លើយថា           រដូវវស្សា                       មិនទាន់ផុតនៅ --
ឡើយទេណាប្អូន       ក្នុងគ្រាឥឡូវ                 រាំលេងសិនទៅ
                                   ជាមួយគេឯង ។
កន្លងច្រើនថ្ងៃ             មេឃរាំងបើកថ្ងៃ            ដីស្ងួតហួតហែង
ត្រពាំងបឹងបួ              រីងបែកក្រហែង              កង្កែបស្វះស្វែង
                                   រកកន្លែងជ្រក ។
វាឃើញរន្ធមួយ         តែចិត្តគិតព្រួយ              ខ្លាចប៉ះជម្រក
កន្លែងពស់នៅ           ដើរទៅដើរមក               មិនហ៊ានចូលជ្រក
                                   ក្រែងក្ស័យសង្ខារ ។
ក្តាមឃើញដូច្នោះ       មានចិត្តសន្តោស           ក៏ស្រែកសួរថា
បងរកទីជ្រក               ឬមួយយ៉ាងណា ?          ចូលមកនេះរ៉ា
                                    ជ្រកជាមួយខ្ញុំ ។
កង្កែបត្រេកអរ             វាថ្លែងអំណរ                  គុណដ៏ឧត្តម
ប្រាប់ទៅក្តាមថា         ឆ្នាំក្រោយនឹងខំ              ស្វែងរកទ្រនំ
                                   លែងប្រហែសហើយ ៕
មិត្តល្អ គឺមិត្តដែលចេះជួយគ្នាក្នុងគ្រាក្រ

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

WAR AND GENOCIDE

The Urban Life


We arrived in Kompong Cham City at about 7:00 p.m. The glimmering and glittering lights of the neon signs had completely captured my attention for the moment. Along the sidewalks, glamorous people walked back and forth as they enjoyed each other’s companionship. In the streets, automobiles and motorcycles dominated each other, pushing bicycles to the sides. It was quite a surprise to me that the city was in such a jubilant mood while the small towns and villages located on the other side of the river were falling into a chaotic situation.

While I was letting my soul wander out into the wondrous scenes of the city’s spectacular activities, I felt someone put his hand on my shoulder. It was my oldest brother, Hong, who had come to attend high school here in the city. He stayed with one of my paternal aunts, Om Ren, who had been running a business in the city for years. He used to come to visit us at home every semester break. I hugged him, and he lifted me up and put me on his shoulder as he walked toward a pickup truck parked nearby. My brother seated me in the truck’s cabin beside the driver, whose name I didn’t know, and went to the back of the truck to help my parents and other brothers load the bags and luggage onto the truck’s bed. After they had done the loading, my father told my mother to come and ride in the cabin with me while he and my brothers climbed onto the truck’s bed and rode amid the bags and luggage.

The driver started the truck, and off we went through big and small boulevards under the glimmer of the bright orange and white electricity’s lamps. The truck ran for about 15 minutes then pulled over and stopped in front of a fairly big residential house. I looked up at the house through the truck’s door windows and saw a television’s antenna sticking out from the top of its roof. As we got off the truck, several people came down from the house to greet us. Some of them I knew, but some I didn’t. They helped unload the truck and carry all the bags and luggage up inside the house. As we walked into the house, I noticed that there was a white car parked in the garage. “This must be a wealthy residence.” I thought. While walking up the stairs, I still had no idea whose residence it was until we went to the living room and met my aunt, Om Ren, that I realized it was her house.

Om Ren was about 55 years old--a healthy and stern-looking woman with an aristocratic appearance. My parents told me and my brothers to pay respect and introduce ourselves to her and her husband, Om Sen, who sat on a coach beside her. We were also introduced to other youngsters in the house. They were all related to us by blood. Like my oldest brother, Hong, all of them came from the suburbs and faraway districts to attend college or high school here in the city in a quest for higher education and better future. However, their quests for a better future appeared to be put on hold for the time being because the Lon Nol government recruitment agents had already enlisted three of them to join the army. One of the three recruits was my brother, Hong, and the other two were my cousins, named Long and Heng. All of them were in their senior year of high school; however, with the verge of a civil war looming so ominously, it was very unlikely for any of them to come back and finish their studies. They were awaiting and expected to be called up for the training camps very soon.

It was about 8 o’clock when we prepared to have a late dinner. Om Ren and her husband also joined us for dinner. They had a chit-chat with my parents about the volatile situation around the country and the perceivable tumult which could occur in the near future. They talked about the split among government officials who either supported or opposed Prince Sihanouk. They talked about the Khmer Rouge who played a wild card role inside the power struggle between Prince Sihanouk and the present government, the Khmer Republic. However, as far as I could see, for my parents, the real issue of concern for them was: How could they manage to start a new life in a big city with their empty hands.

After dinner, we went back to the living room and watched news on a black and white television. There was some news about the American bombardments on the Viet Cong bases in Cambodia, and the U.S. government’s aid and military support for the new government led by General Lon Nol. There were also reports that the U.S. would send some military experts and trainers to assist the Cambodian government in training its military. After the news, there was a show about military training on how to disarm an opponent in a hand to hand combat performed by actors and actresses. The TV program ended at about 10:30 p.m., and we all were ready to go to bed. We said good night to each other, and my parents brought me to sleep with them in a fairly large guest room located at the front corner of the house. They put me into a small bed and said good night to me. Afterward, they walked toward a small study desk and sat down in the wooden chairs beside it. They turned on the reading lamp on the desk and switched off the overhead light to make me go fast asleep. Through the soft white light of the reading lamp, I could see the sad expression on their faces. They sat still and appeared to be deeply thinking about every possible, conceivable plan to start their new lives in a city where everything seemed to be a challenge.

My parents faced hundred of obstacles and problems. They lost and left behind almost everything they owned and all the privileges they had prematurely to the political conflict and a civil war which had not yet fully emerged. Now, like a fish out of water, they had to start all over again with an uncertain future. As for me, my parents’ concerns seemed to become a part of my consciousness. Despite their attempt to keep the kids out of all the problems occurring to the family, I had the feeling that I could not disconnect myself from the facts around my family’s plight: My parents are now the refugees, the premature refugees who have to flee their home before conflict and danger were actually visible. They have lost everything they had and gained only fear and frustration. They played no role in the coup d’etat, which had driven Prince Sihanouk out of power. Neither had they taken any part in the political upheaval. But, they were among the first who lost and have to face hardship. For us, life was very unfair!

The following days my parents had sent my brothers and me off to attend a nearby primary school. They had also rented a grocery stand in the central market to start a small business. Every morning my mother would go off to sell groceries in the market while we were going to school. My father had another errand to tend to. He had to go around the city to look for a suitable rental apartment for the family to live in, and come to help my mother selling goods every now and then. He had contacted several rental agents and got a few available houses from their lists. But none of the houses was preferable because they were located either far from the main roads or from the school my brothers and I attended. However, one of his old friends had given him a tip about a flat available for rent. Its occupants had just moved out a few days earlier. My father went to see it and decided to take that flat, for it was located close to the school to where my brothers and I went. We decided to move into that flat the following week.

One day, before we moved to our new residence, an uncle from our hometown came to visit us. Along with him, he brought over some bad news for my father and every one of us. He said that a group of Khmer Rouge operatives had come to our house and confiscated some of our properties. They looked for my father and also offered reward for anyone who could bring him to them. It was a shocking news. By not supporting the Khmer Rouge, my father became a fugitive.

Reacting to the news, my father told my uncle to stay calm and keep the news of him (my father) being the Khmer Rouge’s fugitive from spreading further. He ordered my uncle not to come in contact with him too often, lest his visit to my father attract the Khmer Rouge’s suspicion and give them pretext to persecute our relatives who still lived in the areas under their influences. My father said that, here in the city, the Khmer Rouge wouldn’t be able to get him unless they could topple the government’s armies. It was at that time when I finally realized why my parents abandoned their house and fled to the city. I also learned that my father was an anti-communist activist who had been an outspoken critic of communism. That was why the Khmer Rouge blacklisted his name.

On that gloomy day, we also received another piece of news. The army had called on my brother, Hong, and my cousins, Long and Heng, to report to the recruitment center by late afternoon. Everyone had to put anxiety aside as we prepared to send the three brave young men to the military training camps. We accompanied my brother along with our cousins, Long and Heng, to the recruitment center where we met other families who accompanied their relatives as well. There was an open field in front of the center. Beside it, a line of military trucks were parked on the road nearby. My brother and cousins left us and went into the center as we stood and waited outside. About ten minutes later, they came back out along with other recruits and went to the field where a number of officers stood by and ordered them to stand in the designated areas. An officer came out after them with a clip of papers in his hands. He started to call the name of each recruit and tell them to stand in various specific rows. After the roll call was completed, the recruits were told to board the trucks. As they were walking toward the trucks, all recruits waved their hands bidding farewell to their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and sweethearts. We all waved back to them and wished them luck. The recruits climbed up onto the trucks one after another and stood around looking at us with mixed emotions. When all of them had boarded the trucks, an officer blew a whistle and gave signal to the drivers to start moving. People who stood along the road started to applaud and cheer them on while many were breaking into tears. It was such an emotional farewell for many people whose loved ones began to depart for military services without knowing whether they would ever be able to see each other again.

My mother began to cry while the truck carrying my brother started moving. Emotionally, it was a very heavy atmosphere for everyone. My father watched the convoy in silence and stood still like a statue. Looking into my father’s eyes, I could see the concerns inside his head. He faced many challenges in the world around him. The Khmer Rouge had made him lose everything: privileges, dignity, and the right to live in his own home. They accused him, threatened him, and made him their enemy. They wanted to get him badly, so that they could torture him, mutilate his body, and kill him to show off their capability of destroying anyone who opposed their political ideology.

Despite the narrow world in which he lived, my father still had something to be proud of in life. He had a family with whom he could share his lament and laughter. He had kids to raise and find them a good future. And he had everything in the world to live for. In answering to the Khmer Rouge’s persecution on his life, he sent one of his sons and two nephews to join the army to fight against the political group that he opposed and to fight for the cause of his principle--opposing Communism.
(To be continued)

រឿងល្បើកនិងរឿងនិទាន

រឿង កណ្តុរមានល្បិច

កណ្តុរចាស់មួយឈ្មោះ ស្កាន់ដា បានចូលទៅស្វែងរកចំណីស៊ី នៅ
ក្រោមជង្រុកស្រូវរបស់អ្នកស្រែម្នាក់ នៅក្នុងភូមិ ពន្លាជ័យ ។ នៅពេល
ដែលវា កំពុងដើរស្វែងរកចំណី នៅក្រោមជង្រុកស្រូវនោះ ស្កាន់ដា
បានជួបនឹងកណ្តុរជំទង់មួយឈ្មោះ មោក្សា ដែលកំពុងតែដេកគងអន្ទាក់
ខ្លា នៅលើគ្រាប់ស្រូវមួយគំនរ ។ ឃើញដូច្នោះ កណ្តុរឈ្មោះស្កាន់ដា ក៏និយាយទៅកាន់កណ្តុរឈ្មោះមោក្សាថា៖ “នែ៎ ! អាច្រម៉ក់ ឯងមិនគិត
គូរ ចេញទៅរកចំណីស៊ីទេឬ បានជាមកដេកនៅក្រោមជង្រុកស្រូវ ធ្វើ
ព្រងើយដូច្នេះ ?” ។ “ខ្ញុំមិនចង់ចេញទៅណាទេ” កណ្តុរឈ្មោះមោក្សា
ឆ្លើយ ។ “ព្រោះខ្ញុំខ្លាចឆ្មាវាខាំខ្ញុំស្លាប់ ។ ម្យ៉ាងទៀត ស្រូវដែលនៅក្នុង
ជង្រុក លើក្បាលខ្ញុំនេះ ខ្ញុំស៊ី ១០ឆ្នាំទៀត ក៏មិនទាន់អស់ផង” ។ ឮ
ដូច្នោះ កណ្តុរឈ្មោះស្កាន់ដា ក៏និយាយទៅកាន់មោក្សាបន្តទៀតថា៖
“ឯងនេះល្ងង់ណាស់ ! នៅក្នុងផ្ទះបាយរបស់អ្នកស្រែ យើងអាចរក
បានត្រី ឬក៏សាច់ យកមកស៊ីឆ្ងាញ់ជាងស្រូវ នៅក្នុងជង្រុកនេះទៅ
ទៀត” ។ លុះឮស្កាន់ដានិយាយថា មានត្រីនិងសាច់ នៅក្នុងផ្ទះបាយ
អ្នកស្រែ កណ្តុរឈ្មោះមោក្សា ក៏ចេញទៅស្វែងរកចំណី នៅក្នុងផ្ទះ
បាយ ជាមួយនឹងស្កាន់ដាដែរ ។ នៅពេលដែលកណ្តុរទាំងពីរ កំពុង
ដើររកចំណី នៅក្នុងផ្ទះបាយ ស្កាន់ដាបានឃើញសាច់អាំងមួយដុំ
ដែលគេដាក់ធ្វើជានុយ នៅក្នុងអង្គប់ ។ ដោយដឹងថា កណ្តុរឈ្មោះ
មោក្សា មិនដែលស្គាល់អង្គប់ ស្កាន់ដាក៏បាននិយាយបញ្ឆោតមោក្សា
ឲ្យចូលទៅស៊ីសាច់ក្នុងអង្គប់ ដោយពាក្យដូច្នេះថា៖ “ឯងមើលហ្ន៎ !
ម្ចាស់ផ្ទះបានជ្រុះសាច់អាំងមួយដុំ នៅគៀនជញ្ជាំង ។ ដោយហេតុ
តែឯង មិនធ្លាប់បានស៊ីសាច់អាំង ដូច្នេះ ឯងចូលទៅស៊ីសាច់នោះ
មុនយើងចុះ ។ យើងនឹងដើររកសាច់ផ្សេងទៀត” ។ បន្ទាប់ពីបានឃើញ
សាច់អាំង នៅគៀនជញ្ជាំង កណ្តុរឈ្មោះមោក្សា ក៏ថ្លែងអំណរគុណ
ដល់ស្កាន់ដា ហើយស្ទុះចូលទៅខាំសាច់អាំង ស៊ីជាអាហារ ។ ប៉ុន្តែ
នៅពេលដែលវា ចូលទៅជិតសាច់អាំង ដែលគេដាក់ធ្វើជានុយនោះ
មោក្សាបានជាន់ចំគន្លឹះអង្គប់ ហើយក៏ត្រូវអង្គប់វាយបាក់ក ស្លាប់
យ៉ាងទាន់ហន់ ។ នៅពេលដែលគន្លឹះអង្គប់ ត្រូវបានគន្លាស់ ដោយ
សារភាពល្ងង់ខ្លៅរបស់មោក្សារួចហើយ ស្កាន់ដាក៏ចូលទៅពាំយក
សាច់អាំង ដែលជានុយនោះ ទៅពួនសម្ងំស៊ី នៅក្រោមជង្រុកស្រូវតែ
ម្នាក់ឯង យ៉ាងឆ្ងាញ់មាត់ ៕

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Essay on Camboda

Cambodian People, Society, Culture, and Civilization

Based on the archaeological evidence from the discovery of the Java Man, we know that people have been settling on insular islands of Southeast Asia for a long, long time--as long as some of those found in Africa. We also know that the people of Southern Pacific islands (Indonesians included) were and are seafarers--that is to say adventurers of the sea. We know that these people used their sailing skills to hopscotch from island to island all over the Southern Pacific Ocean. Given the fact that the Monsoon winds also blow directly from Java (Indonesia) toward Funan (the predecessor Kingdom of the Kingdom of Cambodia) in every summer of the year, the people of insular islands of Southeast Asia could have easily used these winds to sail in search of new lands. Even though they didn’t want to go look for new lands, the winds could have blown them toward mainland Southeast Asia anyway, for they didn’t have compasses back then and the use of stars’ positions for navigation could not be possible if the skies were dark. Hence, given the fact that Cambodians’ ancestral origin connecting to the distant lands of South Asia appears to be murky, could their origin lie with insular islands of Southeast Asia? This is only the question. And I hope, with the help of the human genome project, this question would be once and for all answered in the near future.


Evidences of human settlements in mainland Southeast Asia dated back to at least as early as 10,000 BC. Among these early traces of settlements are the Hoabinhian cultures, so named after the village of Hoa Binh located along the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam where they were first discovered. According to archaeological evidences, the Hoabinhian cultures appeared to spread from Northern Vietnam to Southern Thailand. Though there are no firm indications that the Hoabinhian people were the first and only group of people to settle in mainland Southeast Asia, based on similar artifacts and stone tools found in different caves in the region, it appears that they were, at least, the precursors of Southeast Asian civilizations.

In terms of place(s) of origin, the Hoabinhian cultures seem to be shrouded in mystery. Though some experts believe that they were parts of the larger cultures of China and India, the hypothesis remains inconclusive, for there are so many broken links between pre-historic Southeast Asian cultures and their counterparts in China and India. For example, according to the artifacts found on mainland Southeast Asia, prehistoric Southeast Asian people appeared to have developed a distinct culture independent of influences from either China or India. One of the evidences of this independence is the development of metallurgic technology. According to a bronze spear head found near the village of Ban Chiang, Thailand, prehistoric people of mainland Southeast Asia appeared to have made bronze tools in about 2,000 BC, which was only 800 years or so after the Bronze Age began in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). If the trail of archaeological evidences were valid, after it began in Mesopotamia, bronze tool making technology reached China about 800 years later which, in effect, put China and Southeast Asia matching neck and neck into the Bronze Age. Also, given the fact that people did not have instant Internet-speed means of disseminating information then, it is hard to imagine that the Bronze Age moved into China and filtered down into Southeast Asia in such a short period of time. If it took some 800 years for bronze tool making technology to travel from Mesopotamia to China, it would take at least another 300 years for this technology to travel from China to Southeast Asia. Thus, it is very unlikely that pre-historic people of Southeast Asia learned their bronze tool making from China. On the other hand, it is quite possible that both geniuses in China and Southeast Asia developed their bronze tool making at about the same time. Furthermore, based on metal artifacts found at Ban Chiang, it appears that pre-historic people of Southeast Asia might be or were among the first to move into the Iron Age.

Collectively, Southeast Asia civilizations are full of paradoxes—that is to say they are not readily fit into our perceptional order of things. Therefore, studying Southeast Asian pre-historic civilizations is like trying to piece together badly broken pieces of a puzzle without its holding board and with many of the pieces missing.

As far as modern Southeast Asian society is concerned, it is almost universally accepted that both insular and mainland Southeast Asias are the offshoots of Indian and Chinese cultures. To the east, namely Vietnam, is the cultural basket of Chinese influences whereas to the west and south starting from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, and, to some extent, the Philippines are the breeding grounds of Indian culture glossed over by Moslem influences in insular’s region. The Indian cultural influences over the majority of Southeast Asian region were both obvious and misleading that, for so many years, most early Southeast Asian scholars referred to the area as Farther India. The term Southeast Asia had only been coined around 1945 during World War II when the Allied troops, namely the Americans, weary of the war and couldn’t care less about the cultural ties, called the region Southeast Asia so that it would be easier for the war planners to locate and monitor the progress of the troops who were chasing after the Japanese soldiers. Imagine you were a war planner in Washington, D.C. in an urgent situation trying to find Farther India or to locate your troops in the Indian Ocean. The result would certainly be a spectacular disaster, for the majority of Farther India is neither in the geographical proximity of India, nor located in the Indian Ocean.

Though it might be just a coincidence, the creating of the term Southeast Asia couldn’t have been more correct since the region was neither Farther India nor the cultural basket of India and China. In reality, Southeast Asia has its own independent identity and civilization except that it has been glossed over by more influential cultures namely those imported from India, China, Arabia, and recently the Western world brought forth by European explorers, missionaries, and colonialism.

As far as its culture and civilization are concerned, Southeast Asia is like an onion. To fully learn of its true nature, one must try to get to its core by peeling the outer layers one after another. Undoubtedly, Southeast Asian cultures and civilizations have as many layers as an onion. The more we peel, the more we will learn of its true nature.

In order to get to the unknown bottom layers, or core, or origin of a particular country or region, we have to start with the earliest known evidences. Because the purpose of this essay is to shed some lights on the origin of Cambodian people and their society, culture, and civilization, the main focus, from this point on, will be on mainland Southeast Asia where Cambodia is located. Thus, I will make reference to insular Southeast Asia only when it is necessary.

Based on archaeological evidences and histories, namely the Chinese dynastic and diplomatic (foreign relation) records and the royal chronicles of various countries in Southeast Asia, we learn that several “kingdoms” existed on mainland Southeast Asia dating back to at least as early as the first century of the Christian Era. Over the years, most of these ancient kingdoms have been transformed into new political entities and, in the process, lost their original identities as they take on new ones. Through this metamorphism, some of the kingdoms have lost their original names while other unfortunate ones lost almost everything including their cultural, political, and territorial identities. An example of this extinct kingdom is Champa, which is now part of central Vietnam. Another is the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati, which is now part of southern Myanmar and north central Thailand.

(To be continued)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fables and Folktales

រឿង ក្មេងឃ្វាលចៀមនិងសត្វចចក

មានក្មេងឃ្វាលចៀមម្នាក់ នាំហ្វូងចៀមរបស់ឪពុកវា ទៅឲ្យស៊ីស្មៅនៅ
ក្បែរមាត់ព្រៃ ។ ឪពុកវាបានប្រាប់វាថា៖ “បើមានសត្វចចកមកយាយី
ហ្វូងចៀមនោះ គប្បីស្រែកថាៈ ចចក ៗ ! ដើម្បីឲ្យអ្នកស្រុក រត់មកជួយ
ដេញចចកនោះ ឲ្យរត់ចូលព្រៃវិញ” ។ ក្មេងឃ្វាលចៀមបាននាំហ្វូងចៀម
ទៅឲ្យស៊ីស្មៅនៅក្បែរមាត់ព្រៃ ជារៀងរាល់ថ្ងៃ ។ ប៉ុន្តែ វាមិនដែលឃើញ
សត្វចចក ចេញមកយាយីហ្វូងចៀមវាម្តងណាសោះ ។ ថ្ងៃមួយ ក្មេងឃ្វាល
ច្ៀមបាននឹកឃើញល្បិចមួយ ដើម្បីបញ្ឆោតអ្នកស្រុក ឲ្យរត់ចេញពីភូមិ
មកដេញវាយចចក ។ វាក៏ឡើងឈរលើទួលដំបូកមួយនៅក្បែរភូមិ ហើយ
ស្រែកខ្លាំងៗថា៖ “ចចក ៗ !” ។ នៅពេលដែលអ្នកស្រុកបានឮថា មាន
សត្វចចកចូលមកក្បែរភូមិ ពួកគេក៏ម្នីម្នា កាន់ព្រនង់និងដំបង រត់ប្រសេច
ប្រសាចចេញមក ដើម្បីដេញចចកឲ្យចូលព្រៃវិញ ។ ប៉ុន្តែ នៅពេលដែល
ពួកគេចេញមកដល់មាត់ព្រៃ ពួកគេមិនឃើញមានសត្វចចកឡើយ ឃើញ
តែក្មេងឃ្វាលចៀមម្នាក់ កំពុងឈរសើចចំអកឲ្យពួកគេ ។ កន្លងប៉ុន្មានថ្ងៃ
ក្រោយមក ក្មេងឃ្វាលចៀមក៏បានទៅឈរនៅលើដំបូកក្បែរភូមិ ហើយ
ស្រែកថាៈ ចចក ៗ ! ម្តងទៀត ។ ដូចដែលវាបានគិតទុកជាមុន អ្នកស្រុក
ក៏ផ្អើលឆោឡោ ឈប់ធ្វើការងាររៀងៗខ្លួន ដើម្បីរត់មកជួយដេញចចក
ឲ្យចូលទៅក្នុងព្រៃវិញ ។ នៅពេលដែលពួកគេរត់មកដល់មាត់ព្រៃ មិន
ឃើញមានសត្វចចក ឃើញតែក្មេងឃ្វាលចៀម កំពុងឈរសើចយ៉ាង
សប្បាយ អ្នកស្រុកទាំងនោះក៏ដឹងខ្លួនថា ចាញ់បោកក្មេងព្រើលនោះម្តង
ទៀតហើយ ។ ពួកគេក៏នាំគ្នាវិលត្រឡប់មកផ្ទះវិញយ៉ាងស្ងៀមស្ងាត់ ។
ថ្ងៃមួយ នៅពេលដែលក្មេងឃ្វាលចៀម កៀងចៀមឲ្យទៅស៊ីស្មៅនៅ
ក្បែរមាត់ព្រៃដូចសព្វដង មានឆ្កែចចកមួយ បានចេញពីក្នុងព្រៃមកដេញ
ខាំចៀមរបស់វា ។ ក្មេងឃ្វាលចៀមភ័យណាស់ វាបានរត់ទៅក្បែរភូមិ
ហើយស្រែកយ៉ាងខ្លាំងៗថា៖ “ចចក ៗ !” ។ ប៉ុន្តែ គ្មាននរណាម្នាក់ចេញ
មកជួយវាឡើយ ។ ពេលនោះ ចចកក៏បានខាំសម្លាប់ចៀមរបស់វា អស់
ជាច្រើន ៕

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

WAR AND GENOCIDE

The Flight

After a few weeks of turmoil and chaos around the country, everything began to turn back to normal. People started to go about their businesses as usual. By looking at people’s activities, there appeared to be no sign of civil conflict in sight except for the occasional thunder-like explosions occurring in a faraway distance, presumably American bombs which might have been dropped by the U.S. Air Force on the Viet Cong’s bases somewhere between the Cambodian and South Vietnamese border. However, the tranquility around the community where my family resided seemed to have something suspicious going on. Each day, my father would go to work surreptitiously in the morning and return home late in the evening as if he was probing every move he made. The socialization among neighbors seemed to be less cheerful as well. People seemed to be on guard and very cautious in their interactions with one another as though they were being watched. In fact, the community was experiencing something mutually fractious among its inhabitants. There were rumors that those supporters of Prince Sihanouk, who had joined the Khmer Rouge, would come to raid the villages and get those who refused to join or support them. There were also rumors about certain people’s names that they already had put on their black list.

One day, I heard a strange noise moving over my head. It was an airplane flying at a very low altitude above the villages located along the eastern bank of the Mekong River. I looked up and saw thousands of pieces of papers falling from the sky. Obviously, they were dropped from the airplane. As a kid, curious and naïve, I ran out into the open fields and picked up as many flyers as I could and brought them to the house. Some people came over and took a look at the flyers. The flyers were government propaganda and campaign tracts to stop the people from believing in Prince Sihanouk and supporting the Khmer Rouge. Each tract had a caricature picture of Prince Sihanouk wearing black pajama uniform and Ho Chi Minh’s (former North Vietnamese Communist leader) sandals, opening the gate of a typical Cambodian home, and making gesture to the Viet Cong guerrillas to come inside. Beside the pictures, there were several lines of hand-written statements saying that Prince Sihanouk was a traitor who sold Cambodia to the Communist Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. He had betrayed the Cambodian people by illegally opening the Cambodian border and allowing the Viet Cong to use Cambodian territories as military bases. The messages had caught many Cambodians by surprise. However, the government’s campaign to win the hearts and minds of the jittery population seemed to have little impact on those who lived in the countryside and rural areas. Many of these people had already gone to join the Khmer Rouge, and they had little chance of returning back to where they were before except for going along with their commitments. Some villagers who were not interested in supporting Prince Sihanouk or the Khmer Rouge but lived close to the Khmer Rouge’s operating areas had to move away from their homes and go find refuges somewhere else. But for those who were unable to get away from the Khmer Rouge, they had no choices except to stay where they were and mutually cooperate with or tacitly lend their support to them.

One morning I saw my mother begin to pack our belongings. She looked anxious and worried. I quietly approached her and was about to ask her why she started packing stuff, but my instinct held me back. Without saying a word, I went to my room and picked up a basic Cambodian textbook for elementary school pupils to read.

Later on in the afternoon, I learned that my family was about to move to Kompong Cham City, the third largest city in Cambodia which was located just across the Mekong River about four or five miles from my house. Before we left for Kompong Cham, I remembered asking my mother several questions:

“Why do we have to move?”
“How about grandma, uncles, aunts, and their families; aren’t they going to go with us?”
“Are we going to abandon our house, our farms, and all the livestock here?”

No answers, but tears. My mother did not respond even a single word to me. Some of my uncles had come over to help carry the bags and luggage to the riverbank where a small boat was waiting to transport us across the river. I was in shock and couldn’t believe it. My parents abandoned their newly built house, a huge beautiful traditional Cambodian house, which they had just finished building a year before, and all the property they had. It was emotionally painful for every one of us, especially my parents. From the calm expression on their faces, I could see the anguish and uncertainty which they were to face in the future. But strong as they were, my parents had revealed little of their worries to us kids, for, psychologically, they did not want us to get involved in the situation which could affect our future.

As we headed toward Kompong Cham City, my uncles remained standing on the bank of the river. Emotionally, it was a painful moment as we bade goodbye to each other. The boat took us across the river; and under the glaring sunset light of that gloomy evening, we sadly waved our hands to bid farewell to our relatives who stood motionless on the shore. They slowly waved back to us. Some of them wiped away their tears. They stood there and watched us until the boat took us far away from the shore and disappeared into the darkness of the night.
(To be continued)