Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle

26) King Dharanindravarman II

(1150--1160?, Capital: Angkor)
After the reign of King Suryavarman II, Cambodia seemed to have gone through yet another period of turmoil. His successor and cousin, King Dharanindravarman II, faced a myriad of problems. Because of the repeated military expenditures against Vietnam and Champa and the ambitious construction of Angkor Wat, Cambodia was economically and politically in trouble. As the economic situations continued to worsen, discontent among the population was widespread throughout the kingdom.
Finally, a peasants and slaves revolt had taken place, which led to further deterioration and chaos throughout the kingdom.

27) King Yasovarman II
(1160--1166?, Capital: Angkor)
Following the peasants and slaves revolt, King Yasovarman II ascended to the throne. According to the inscriptions related to this period, it appeared that King Yasovarman II ruled Cambodia along with his younger brother named Jayavarman VII as a junior-partner co-monarch.
In order to restore orders to the kingdom, King Yasovarman II moved swiftly to repress the rebellion by force. The rebel’s leaders were arrested and buried alive, and their followers were to have their hands, fingers, toes, or ears amputated. This rash action cause even more chaos in the administration of the country, for it threatened to deprive itself of a much needed labor forces to maintain the well beings of the Khmer Kingdom.
As the mayhem reached its zenith, another monarch named Tribhuvanandityavarman, with the supports of the aristocrats, staged a coup and seized power. King Yasovarman II was killed. As for his brother, Prince Jayavarman VII, he fled to Champa. Taking advantage of the weakness and chaos in the Khmer court, the Chams invaded Cambodia in 1170. However, the invasion failed miserably, and the Cham armies suffered heavy losses caused by a Khmer’s regiment of elephants. According to historical records, the Cham soldiers were stomped by these wild beasts, and many of them were chased or thrown into the moats around the city where crocodiles would have voracious feasts on their bodies. But, despite the setback, the Chams were undeterred. In 1177, after fully recovering from their earlier defeat, the Chams invaded Cambodia once again with a vengeance. They sailed up the Mekong River and mounted a surprise attack on the Khmer court at Angkor. King Tribhuvanandityavarman lost his life in battle, and Angkor was heavily looted and ransacked. The Chams desecrated temples, burned palaces, raped the ladies of the court, looted the treasures, and took thousands of Cambodian prisoners to Champa.
After the pillage of Angkor, the Chams allowed Prince Jayavarman VII to return to rule Cambodia as a puppet sovereign. It was a foolish miscalculation by the Chams, for Prince Jayavarman VII was no puppet. After having seen what the Chams had done to his beloved city, Prince Jayavarman VII vowed to take revenge.
Prince Jayavarman VII patiently worked to rebuild Cambodia from the ashes. He began to organize the country into a unified kingdom and rebuild its army. Once he had gathered up enough strength, Prince Jayavarman VII successfully expelled the Cham occupying forces from Cambodia. Soon after, he ascended the throne as king. [For detail of the battle between the Khmers and the Chams during this period, please see carvings on the outer walls of the Bayon temple in Siem Reap province.]

28) King Jayavarman VII
(1181-1220?, Capital: Angkor)
King Jayavarman VII was also the grandson of King Dharanindravarman I. After his coronation in 1181, which followed the Khmer victory over the Cham occupying forces, King Jayavarman VII decided to make the Chams pay for their earlier transgression on the Khmer court. He sent the Royal Regiment of Elephants to attack Champa, which was soon fallen under Cambodian occupation. After the conquest of Champa, King Jayavarman VII took a number of Cham prisoners to Cambodia to rebuild his capital, Angkor. He then put Champa under Khmer rule by appointing a viceroy (Moha-Uparaja) to govern it until 1220.
During this last territorial expansion period, Champa and many other vassal states had revolted against the Khmer kingdom numerous times but to no avail. King Jayavarman VII had put down most of the revolts against his rule. And Cambodia was once again the most powerful and influential kingdom in the region. Territorially, the Khmer Empire stretched from Annam to the East, China to the North, Burma to the West, and South China Sea to the South.
King Jayavarman VII had managed to build a lot of infrastructure for the development of Cambodia. He undertook the construction of numerous hospitals and rest houses to better serve the needs of his people. According to historical records, King Jayavarman VII had built more monuments, temples, roads, and bridges than all the previous kings’ put together.
For the record, King Jayavarman VII was the most popular and respected leader in Cambodia. The Cambodians respect and revere his name and reputation as much as the Americans do toward George Washington’s. King Jayavarman VII was the last Khmer king to have revived and maintain Khmer influence in Southeast Asia. After his reign, the Khmer kingdom once again lost its influence for another 100 years and has been in decline ever since. The following period and successive rulers revealed the reality of this decline.

29) The So-Call Dark Age Following the Reign of King Jayavarman VII
There were few records about the Khmer kings who reigned after King Jayavarman VII for the next 100 years or so. From the bits and pieces of historical records, it appeared that, during the 20 years or so following the death of King Jayavarman VII, King Indravarman II succeeded the throne as ruler of the Khmer kingdom. Then King Sri Indravarman followed by King Jayavaromtibaramesvara.
One of the reasons for the lack of these records was probably that the kingdom of Cambodia had undergone a terrible internal turmoil and conflict. People fought against one another because of differences in both political and religious beliefs. Some scholars even went so far to suggest that the reason for this turmoil was due to the fact that King Jayavarman VII had undertook too many construction projects that they caused the depletion of resources. And that people were so exhausted and desolate; they no longer had faith in their rulers and began to revolt against them--a theory which was quite plausible given the recent history of what the Khmer Rouge had done to the Cambodians in the 1970’s and the subsequent civil conflicts in the following decades.
Whatever the reason was for the decline of the Khmer Empire, the fact was that almost all Cambodians began to practice Buddhism. Starting from the 1300’s, all Khmer kings no longer adopted the suffix -varman as their names. Both Cambodian kings and their subjects abandoned Sanskrit in favor of Pali language and made Buddhism the official religion of the state.
In addition to the internal turmoil, Cambodia also suffered repeated invasions by the Siamese (Thais) who frequently conducted cross-border raids to pillage the city of Angkor and stole its treasures. In order to protect the kingdom from the Siamese invasions, the Khmer Viceroy who was ruling in Champa had to lead his army back to Cambodia in 1220. Eventually, the Chams took the opportunity to revolt against Cambodia and regain their independence from the Khmer ever since until the 18th century when the Vietnamese took over Champa and wiped it out from the world’s map.
(To be continued)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


The Sad Reunion

We arrived at Phum Chi Ro just before sunset. But in order to reach the village, we had to trek about one mile, crossing the farmlands along the Mekong River’s bank. Once we arrived in the village, many villagers, mostly our extended relatives, came to welcome and greet us. We went to lodge at Grandma Seung’s home, or rather hut, for all the houses in the village were destroyed during the civil war in the early 1970s. When people returned to Phum Chi Ro after the Khmer Rouge’s victory in 1975, they could only build small houses as shelters because there were no big trees in the area for people to use as building materials. All they had were wild bamboo and thatch grasses which they used as building materials for their shelters.

Though aged, the diminutive Grandma Seung was healthy and alert. She was very happy to see us again. Upon learning that the Khmer Rouge had killed millions of people, she thought that we were amongst those who were killed. Hence, our survival was no less than a miracle for her. As we reminisced on our existence and struggle to survive under the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime, we were surprise and thankful to find that all of Grandma Seung’s children survived the ordeals relatively intact. Aside from my father and Sama, no one else lost his or her life to the Khmer Rouge atrocities. This was probably due in part to the fact that all of Grandma Seung’s children, except for my mother, Aunt Muoy, and Uncle Lai Hea, were captured by the Khmer Rouge and brought to live under their control in 1973. With a combination of hard work and keeping a low profile, they all were able to escape the Khmer Rouge’s killing machine. However, other families were not as lucky as we were. One third of my father’s siblings, including him, had perished in the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields. At least half of the population who lived in Phum Chi Ro lost loved ones in the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.

Because of destruction inflicted upon it during the civil war in the early 1970s, Phum Chi Ro became a desolate place. Beside farming and fishing on the Mekong River to eke out a living, there was not much else for people to do to alleviate the poverty following the collapse of the Khmer Rouge. During down times after the farming season was over, some people went into the wild bamboo forests located behind the village to extract bamboo and make them into various products to barter with inland farmers for rice.

About one month after our arrival in Phum Chi Ro, my brother, Heang, had also arrived to find out if we were here safe and sound. He told us that when he arrived at Skun, which was located about 25 miles west of Kompong Cham City, he decided to leave a note for his wife and her extended family to continue on their journey without him as he would go to pay a visit to his birthplace, Phum Chi Ro. After having two strong young men in the family, we began to build a house on the land where our old house used to stand. Each day, Heang and Sokha would go into the wild bamboo forests to cut and collect both bamboo and small trees to be used as building materials. I was amazed to learn how versatile bamboo was. We could use them as building materials for columns, flooring, walls, and many other fixtures for the house. With the help and expertise of our neighbors, we were able to construct a small house about 35 feet by 25 feet.

A few months after we moved into our new home, Heang’s wife, Chanthy, arrived to fetch him. Her family had moved back into Phnom Penh and learned that the new regime was looking for educated people to help run and rebuild the country. As a former college student, Heang could easily find a job in Phnom Penh. Thus, his wife was urging him to go to Phnom Penh as soon as possible. However, after witnessing the Khmer Rouge’s persecution of educated people, Heang was skeptical and wary about going to work for the new regime which, after all, adhered to communism as a mode of operation. Unable to convince her husband to return to Phnom Penh with her, Heang’s wife was stuck living with us in Phum Chi Ro for a few months. By about August of 1979, Heang finally relented and agreed to go to Phnom Penh with his wife.

After Heang left for Phnom Penh, we continued to struggle to make ends meet along with the rest of the villagers. Because of shortages of human powers, materials, and foods, the new regime made people form solidarity groups in order for them to help each other out and stave off starvation. Each solidarity group would receive a plot of land, and it would divide the land further among the families within it according to the number of people within each family. As a family of four, we received about one hectare of land on which to grow vegetables and find a way to make a living out of it. Life was really tough.

During the early stage of the Vietnamese occupation, Cambodia was a messy place for people to exist. Hunger and hardship were constant companions for people, especially, those who live in the countryside. When one added hunger and hardship to the rigidity of communist ideology, by which we all had to abide, it made a perfect misery out of our existence. By the end of 1979, people began to travel about the country to conduct some petit trades within the framework of what was allowable by the new communist government. During that period of time, my older brother, Sokha, along with some of his peers, went to the Thai-Cambodian border areas to buy some smuggled goods from there and bring them back to Kompong Cham to sell and make some profit out of the transactions. The trip to the border areas was very dangerous for Sokha and his peers. They sometimes got robbed by bandits. Many traders lost their lives in the venture. However, to make a living, people continued to take the risks.

By early 1980, Heang return to visit us one more time. It was his last visit. During his stay with us for about one week, Heang told us that he now worked for the state run Cambodia’s Electricity in Phnom Penh. However, the biggest news that made everyone feel on edge was that he had secretly joined a liberation movement led by a Mr. Son Sann, who was building up armed forces along the Thai-Cambodian border. Upon learning of Heang’s dual associations, my mother was very concerned about his safety. But there was nothing she could do to dissuade him from his pursuit except for telling him to be super careful on everything he did.

After Heang returned to Phnom Penh for a few months, we learned that the government had rounded up many liberation movement agents in Phnom Penh. It was bad news for us indeed, for Heang was one such agent. We sent a message to his wife asking how Heang was doing. There was no response. About mid 1980, Heang’s wife along with her new born daughter, Chanthear, and his mother-in-law came to visit us. They told us that Heang had escaped arrest and had gone to join the liberation movement in the border areas along with one of his brother-in-laws. Because of the urgent situation, Heang had to leave for the Thai-Cambodian border about one week before his daughter was born. He didn’t have a chance to see or hold her. (Chanthear reunited with her father when she was 12 years old).

During one of his trips to buy smuggled goods on the Thai-Cambodian border areas in early 1981, my other older brother, Sokha, had disappeared. Based on information from people who had gone to the border areas with him, we learned that Sokha and two of his friends were robbed by bandits and that, after losing everything, they decided to stay in one of the camps which had sprung up along the border. Having no means to verify the news, we just accepted it as true and moved on with our lives.

(To be Continued)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Cambodian Ruyal Chronicle

18) King Rajendravarman II

(AD 944--AD 968, Capital: Koh Ker & Angkor)
King Rajendravarman II was a nephew of King Jayavarman IV. After dethroning his cousin, King Harshavarman II, he ascended the throne at Koh Ker for only one year then moved the capital back to Angkor. At Angkor, he ordered the construction of more monuments and temples and made repairs to the city after being abandoned for a few years.
King Rajendravarman II had fought with the Chams (Champa) numerous times and made Champa a tributary state. At the end of his reign, Cambodia had more than 60 tributary states,1 which would send suzerainties to the Khmer court regularly.

19) King Jayavarman V
(AD 968--AD 1001, Capital: Angkor)
King Jayavarman V was the son of King Rajendravarman II. During his reign, there was no record about conquest or war between Cambodia and its neighbors. Around this period, the influence of Buddhism had been widespread throughout Southeast Asia. However, most of the Khmer kings still adhered to Brahmanism/Hinduism. According to historical records, Buddhism had been coming to Cambodia since AD 450. However, it was until AD 490 that some Cambodian kings allowed its practice. Hence, many non-Buddhists began to join the faith.
Within the complex of Angkor near the Bayon Monument, there remained a big Buddha statue known as the Buddha of Kauk Thlok, which was built around AD 943. King Jayavarman V died in 1001 and received a burial name as Paramaviraloka.

20) King Udayadityavarman I
(AD 1001-1002)
After the death of King Jayavarman V, his nephew, Udayadityavarman, succeeded him. However, King Udayadityavarman I was an incompetent ruler. His reign lasted less than one year, for he was unable to cope with the rivalry between two princes named Jayaviravarman, who took over the leadership at Angkor, and Suryavarman, who ruled over territories to the east. The two princes fought each other for 9 years; finally, Suryavarman was able to consolidate his power over the throne at Angkor in 1010.

21) King Suryavarman I
(AD 1002-1049, Capital: Angkor)
King Suryavarman I was a descendant of King Yasovarman I. Prior to his accession to the throne, most of the vassal kingdoms settling along the Dangrek Mountain Range and the Me Nam River valley had revolted against Cambodia. Also, there was a rival prince, Jayaviravarman, who took advantage of the chaotic situation to seize the throne at Angkor. So, he had to wage war against both the rebelling vassals and the renegade prince for 9 years before he could become king.
After the war with the uprising vassal kingdoms, King Suryavarman I forged alliance with China and Champa in order to form defensive axis against the Vietnamese who were planning to invade neighboring states and make these states their vassals. The Vietnamese had been settling in the area known as Tonkin (present-day Northern Vietnam) north of Champa.
King Suryavarman I had built two monuments--one at Mount Chiso, in Batie, Takeo province, and the other at Mount Santuk, Kompong Thom province. He was a devout Buddhist; thus, after he died, he received a posthumous name of Preah Nirvanabat.

22) King Udayadityavarman II
(1049--1065, Capital: Angkor)
King Udayadityavarman II was the son of King Suryavarman I. He succeeded the throne in 1049. During his reign, Cambodia was a pariah kingdom, for it had to undergo a few times of turmoil and uprisings. In 1051, a warrior named Aranvindharada led a revolt against the king, but he was defeated and forced to flee to Champa. In 1065, another revolt, led by a general named Kamvau, had taken place. But it too was quelled, and General Kamvau was killed in battle. After the 1065’s revolt, King Udayadityavarman II was, finally, able to bring order to the kingdom, thanks in part to a very capable military leader who helped him neutralize most of his enemies. Unfortunately, the exhausted King Udayadityavarman II died in the same year.

23) King Harshavarman III
(1066--1080, Capital: Angkor)
After the death of King Udayadityavarman II, his youngest brother, Harshavarman III, succeeded the throne in 1066. During King Harshavarman III’s reign, Cambodia was once again in great turmoil because of internal strife/revolt happened in almost every corner of the kingdom. However, King Harshavarman III had successfully put down the internal conflicts and restored peace and stability to the kingdom.
Since AD 1000, China and Vietnam had been engaging in warfare. Thus, the Emperor of China had asked for the Khmer soldiers to help fight the Vietnamese. And King Harshavarman III agreed to send an army to help the Chinese, for Cambodia, at that time, had entered an agreement with China forming the Sino-Cambodian alliance. King Harshavarman III died in 1080.

24) Kings Jayavarman VI & Dharanindravarman I
(1080--…..?, Capital Angkor)
After the death of King Harshavarman III, the Khmer kingdom appeared to plunge into a state of perpetual anarchy. There were little records about the two kings, Jayavarman VI and Dharanindravarman I, who ruled Cambodia during this brief period. What appeared to be historically significant about their rules was that they had started a new dynasty known as the Mahidharapura.

25) King Suryavarman II
(1112--1150, Capital: Angkor)
Little is known about the backgrounds of King Suryavarman II. However, some sources suggested that he was the grandson of King Dharanindravarman I. He ascended the throne in 1112. At the early part of his rule, Cambodia had had a prolonged internal conflict, which caused the death of thousands of people, especially soldiers.
During his reign, King Suryavarman II had staged a series of military expenditure against Dai Viet (Vietnam). However, all of his military campaigns against Vietnam failed. Unable to subdue the Vietnamese, a frustrated King Suryavarman II turned his military adventure against Champa. In 1145, he captured Vijaya (Champa’s Capital) and put his brother-in-law, Harideva, to rule over Champa. However, in 1149, a Cham king named Jaya Harivarman I recaptured Vijaya and slaughtered most of the Khmer occupying forces included Prince Harideva. One year later in 1150, the Khmers mounted another attack on Champa. Unfortunately, a torrential rain hampered the operation. Thus, the Khmer dominance over Champa was put on hold.
King Suryavarman II had built one of the most beautiful and largest religious monuments in the world called Angkor Wat. Though there have been some damages to the surrounding structure due to weather and thefts, the main building remains splendid and stands almost as perfect as it was constructed nearly 1000 years ago. Angkor Wat is now the national symbol of Cambodia.
Though, militarily, he was not so successful, King Suryavarman II appeared to be a very intelligent and competent leader who knew how to govern the kingdom effectively. In order to reduce religious conflict among his subjects who adhered to different religious faiths, he practiced both Buddhism and Brahmanism. After his death, King Suryavarman II was given a posthumous name of Preah Botumsuryavong.
(To be continued)

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Returning Home

After returning to join our work brigades, we were ordered to go back to work in the rice fields again. It was near the end of 1978, and the main rice planting season was over. Our tasks were to tend the rice shoots and to ensure that there was sufficient water in every plot of rice fields which was one square hectare each surrounded by small dikes. Because tending rice fields needed a smaller labor force, many of us were sent to cut wood or transport logs in the jungles. I was spared from going to the jungles by the kindness of a man named Eav, who was tasked with caring for about 40 hectares of rice fields until the rice shoots bore crops. Eav was allowed to select 20 kids to work under his supervision, and I was one of those 20 kids. We were stationed in a small camp located about a mile from the main village. It was built in the middle of rice fields. Because our camp was not in the proximity of the village, the commune’s chief allowed us to cook food on site, so that our travel time to eat meals in the communal kitchen could be used for working in the fields instead. Eav appointed a boy named Ret to be a cook. He was tasked with going to the communal warehouse to receive our weekly rations and to find whatever edibles were available in the fields to supplement our diets.

Tending rice shoots was a rather leisurely task. Some of us went around spraying pesticide in the fields where there were pests invading the rice shoots, while other ensured that the water in the fields was kept at a proper level. We had a lot of time on our hands to do some extracurriculars, such as looking for crabs and snails, and other edible critters to bring to Ret to prepare as a supplement to our weekly rations we received from the communal warehouse, which contained only rice, salt, and the fish paste called Prohok. Eav was a very tolerant man. He not only allowed us to find edible things in the fields but also encouraged us to do so whenever no Khmer Rouge cadres were around. After all, as our supervisor, Eav benefited from our efforts tremendously. Because of our semi-autonomous living, we somehow managed to feed ourselves rather well relative to what the Khmer Rouge fed us so far. For the whole month of December 1978, I felt, for the first time since joining the children mobile work brigades, that I had not starved.

By early January 1979, we began to hear the sounds of transport trucks going along the dirt road leading northwestward, which was unusual given the fact that that isolated dirt road rarely saw any motorized vehicles traveling on it besides the oxcarts. When Ret went to fetch our weekly rations at the communal warehouse, we asked him to inquire about those transport trucks as to why they were traveling through this isolated dirt road. To our surprise, Ret told us that those transport trucks carried loads of people and materials apparently on the run. That evening, Eav went to see the commune’s chief and other Khmer Rouge’s notables to find out what was going on. He returned to the camp at about seven o’clock in the evening and told us to pack up and go home because there was no one remaining in the commune’s office. Apparently, the Khmer Rouge’s cadres in the commune had run away or gone into hiding.

Not knowing what to do, Ret divided the rice rations among everyone, and we all went our separate ways toward home. Ponlear Chey, the village I came from, was located farthest away from the camp. To get there, I had to walk through three other villages, Phum Bonteay Staung, Phum Chonloss, and Phum Po. Between each village, there was an empty span of rice field at a distance of about one mile. Among the kids in my camp, two of them lived in Phum Po, and I was the only one who was from Ponlear Chey. This would mean that I had to walk across that empty span of rice field between Phum Po and Phum Ponlear Chey alone. But I had no choice. Staying in the camp alone overnight was out of the question. So with fear and anxiety, I returned home in the dark with the two kids who were from Phum Po. After the two kids reached their houses, I walked alone toward home in pitch darkness with only some stars overhead. That last few miles of walking home toward freedom was perhaps the scariest experience I had ever had in my life. I still have goose-flesh when recalling that particular experience.

I arrived home at about nine o’clock in the evening. My mom was a bit surprised to see me coming home in the dark. By watching the Khmer Rouge’s truck convoys fleeing through the dirt road in front of the house, she sort of already knew that the Khmer Rouge regime was collapsing and that my returning home was just a matter of time. She asked me why I didn’t wait until morning to come home. I told her of the situation in the labor camp where everyone was eager to get away from that dreadful place, that we couldn’t wait for another minute to take flight for our freedom. My mother took the rice from me, which I had tied into a ball on both sides of my checkered scarf, to put it aside as the rice in those days was more valuable than gold. After eating some leftover food that my mom fixed for me, I went to bed and slept peacefully for the first time.

The next day, I went out into the fields along with other villagers to collect rice stalks which were put in piles in the fields after they were harvested. We threshed the rice crops from those stalks and put them in sacks, and we would use oxcarts to transport them home afterward. For a few days, I went around with my little brother, Buntha, collecting rice crops in the fields and amassed about three or four hundred kilograms of rice. At that point, two of my older brothers, Sokha and Hong, had also returned home from their work camps. My other older brother, Heang, had been staying with his wife’s family in Bonteay Staung. The only one sibling that was still missing was Sama, who had been conscripted by the Khmer Rouge and sent to the frontier with Vietnam.

The new people who had been deposited in Ponlear Chey and many other villages along the Staung River’s corridor were preparing to return to their hometowns or birthplaces. We were also preparing to go along with them, but because of Sama’s disappearance, we had to linger a bit longer. My older brothers went to other villages to inquire whether any of the people who had been sent to the frontier with Sama had returned home. To our absolute shock, among the 12 people who had been sent to the frontier with Sama, all had returned home except him. We spent about one more week in Ponlear Chey to wait for Sama’s return. But as each day passed, our hope began to fade away. We finally decided to leave Ponlear Chey for good. However, Aunt Muoy and her husband, Kun, along with their three-year-old son, Lote, decided to remain in Ponlear Chey for the time being to safeguard our rice crops, for we didn’t have any means to bring those crops along with us. They were also to keep looking for Sama in case he returned to Ponlear Chey.

Our returning home journey was a somber event. We arrived in Ponlear Chey as an intact family. However, upon our departure, two of our family members were absent. Without daddy and Sama, we felt that there was a void in our souls. Hong’s wife, Narath, had also been separated from him in late 1977 when she went to visit her parents in Tang Krosang and was unable to return to Ponlear Chey due to some unknown reasons. We didn’t even know whether she was still alive. We walked from Ponlear Chey to Kompong Thom City, the provincial capital, which was about 50 kilometers distant. We spent a couple of nights along the way. Upon reaching Kompong Thom, we set up camp on the eastern outskirts of the city. From Kompong Thom to Tang Krosang, it was about 30 more kilometers further east. Hong was missing his wife, so he asked Mom to let him go look for her. My mother was a bit reluctant to let Hong go look for his wife because the state of war between the Vietnamese occupying forces and the Khmer Rouge was not yet over. However, keeping a restless young man, who had been separated from his wife for almost two years, from going to look for his soul mate was next to impossible. Thus, my mother pleaded with Hong to return to Kompong Thom in the evening whether or not he found his wife. Hong was gone for three days, and we all were worried sick. He returned in the evening of the third day along with his wife, beaming with joy.

After finding his wife, Hong, too, was staying with his wife’s family in Kompong Thom province. Hence, there were only four of us -- my mother, my older brother, Sokha, my little brother, Buntha, and I left to continue on our journey home. With help from people who could speak Vietnamese, we were able to hitch-hike on a Vietnamese military transport truck back to Kompong Cham City where our roots were. The Vietnamese truck brought us to the edge of the Mekong River where the old ferry crossing port was located. We got off there and took shelter in one of the abandoned shop houses nearby. We walked to the edge of the river and looked across to Phum Tonle Bet Leur and Phum Chi Ro to see if there was any sign of life out there. We saw some smoke rising up on the horizon which indicated that people had been returning to reside in the area.

The next day, my mother told us to stay put in the abandoned house while she was braving the danger alone to cross to the other side of the river to see if any of our relatives still lived in Phum Chi Ro. Using some rice as a bartered fare, she asked an ethnic Cham fisherman to ferry her across the river. On the edge of the river, we all sat and watched the boat take Mom across the river toward Phum Chi Ro until it disappeared in the horizon. By late afternoon, Mom was back along with Uncle Lai Hea, her youngest brother. Uncle Lai Hea brought along a small boat. We all were very excited to see him. After giving one another a hug, we brought our meager belongings onto the small boat and rowed it back to Phum Chi Ro.

(To be continued)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle


10) King Jayavarman II
(AD 802--AD 869, Capital: Vyadharapura & Mount Kulen)
Around AD 802, a Khmer prince named Jayavarman II who was taken prisoner to Java during the Javanese invasion and occupation of Chenla/Cambodia had been sent back to rule Cambodia as a puppet monarch. However, Prince Jayavarman II was no puppet. Upon his return to Cambodia, he carefully and stealthily campaigned against the Javanese occupying troops.
After successfully defeating the Javanese occupying forces, Prince Jayavarman II ascended the Khmer throne and proclaimed himself a Devaraja or god-king. He immediately ordered the cessation of suzerainty to the king of Java and moved the capital from Vyadharapura to Mount Kulen. At Mount Kulen, he built a temple named Mahendra and a palace near Lake Mealia located about ½ kilometer from that mountain.
To ensure his prestige and power, King Jayavarman II had ordered sculptors to build a statue of him and named it Devaraja (the royal Shiva or god king). Everywhere he went, King Jayavarman II would always order his subjects to bring his statue along as an object for worshiping. He also appointed a council of Brahmans to organize the ceremonial worshiping of his statue.
Just a few years before his death, King Jayavarman II, once again, moved the capital to Hariharalaya which was located along the Roluos River in northeastern part of Siem Reap province.

11) King Jayavarman III
(AD 869--AD 877, Capital: Hariharalaya)
After the death of King Jayavarman II, his son, Jayavarman III, succeeded the throne. During his reign, King Jayavarman III did not establish much. However, he did not let the prestige and power of Cambodia erode either.
King Jayavarman III worshiped Vishnu, one of the Hindu’s gods, and had Brahmans as advisors. He built a number of religious temples dedicated to Hinduism. He died in AD 877 after 7 years of ruling.

12) King Indravarman II
(AD 877--AD 889, Capital: Mount Kulen)
Most of the kings who ruled Cambodia after King Jayavarman II always adapted the suffix -varman as their names. All of these -varman’s kings were usually warriors who would wage wars against neighboring states to expand their territories. Once they succeeded in the conquest of their neighboring states, they would appropriate their enemies’ wealth and make their prisoners build various monuments for their empire. During this period, Cambodia had great influence and prestige. However, the Chams who settled in Champa (present-day Central Vietnam) had, once in a while, succeeded in raiding and putting the Khmers on the defensive.
One of the kings who were very well-known during this period was King Indravarman I. He had built two beautiful monuments named Preah Ko and Bakong. According to the inscription found at these monuments, King Indravarman II was a warrior, but there was no indication that he had ever waged war against any of his neighboring states.

13) King Yasovarman I
(AD 889--AD 900, Capital: Angkor)
King Yasovarman I was the son of King Indravarman I. He was a very powerful leader, physically and intellectually. In the early period of his reign, he had waged war with a challenger to the royal throne and almost lost his life in battle. However, four of his leading soldiers help rescue him from the ominous defeat, and he, eventually, succeeded in neutralizing his challenger.
After calming down the turmoil, King Yasovarman I began the process of building the city of Angkor Thom (the greater Angkor complex) as a grand fortress surrounded by great stone walls in order to prevent the enemies from easily invading it. During his reign, the Chams from Champa had waged war against Cambodia several times, but King Yasovarman I defeated their armies every single time.
In addition to building the city, King Yasovarman I had also introduced the collection of taxes and promulgated laws to punish criminals such as thieves. At the time of his death, Cambodia was a grand empire with territory bordering the Salween River in Burma to the West, China to the North, South China Sea to the South, and the Gulf of Tonkin to the East (present-day Northern Vietnam).

14) King Harshavarman I
(AD 900--AD 923?, Capital: Angkor)
After the death of King Yasovarman I, his son, Harshavarman I (also known as Sri Harshavarman) succeeded the throne and ruled Cambodia from the city known as Yasodharapura, a principality within the Angkor complex. He later renamed that city Harshadharapura.
King Harshavarman I launched the dedication of the Phimeanakas Monument, which was built during his father’s reign. In the royal chronicle, there was no clear record on what year King Harshavarman I died, but there was a reference on his posthumous name, which was known as Preah Rutr Loke.

15) King Isanavarman II
(AD 923?--AD 928, Capital: Angkor)
King Isanavarman II was the younger brother of King Harshavarman I. He was also known as Sri Isanavarman. Throughout his reign, nothing unusual had happened. Cambodia was peaceful and tranquil. King Isanavarman II died in AD 928 and received the burial name as Preah Borom Rutr Loke.

16) King Jayavarman IV
(AD 928--AD 942, Capital: Angkor & Koh Ker)
King Jayavarman IV was the brother-in-law of King Isanavarman II. He usurped the throne from his nephew who was the son of King Isanavarman II.
After the death of King Yasovarman I, Cambodia was still a powerful and prosperous kingdom. Most of the successive kings continued to build monuments. However, because of internecine conflicts among the royal contenders to the throne, Cambodia’s power and influence began to decline, which opened the opportunity for the Chams to wage war against the Khmer kingdom.
In AD 930, King Jayavarman IV decided to move the kingdom’s capital from Angkor to Koh Ker, which was located in present-day Preah Vihear province, and Angkor was abandoned for the time being.

17) King Harshavarman II
(AD 942--AD 944, Capital: Koh Ker)
King Harshavarman II was the son of King Jayavarman IV and the cousin of Prince Rajedravarman II. He succeeded the throne in AD 942. According to the inscription at the Indrakausey Monument, King Harshavarman II was a very powerful leader that all of his subjects had compared him to “the shining Moon whose beautiful radiance brightened the royal lineage of Kaundinya.”
However, King Harshavarman II’s reign lasted only for two years when his cousin, Prince Rajendravarman II dethroned him in AD 944.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


A World of Uncertainty (Cont.)
One morning, as we were working in the rice fields, all the children brigades in the area were called up to assemble in a clearing. We were told that Angkar needed 42 people to go to the district headquarters, Staung, to help doing some works there for a short period of time. As to what kind of works we would be doing, nobody knew. We had to wait until we arrived there to find out. Amongst the 42 people being selected, I was one of them. After everyone was dismissed to go back to work in the fields, we were ordered to fetch our belongings and report to the sub-district headquarters, Bonteay Staung, immediately.

At the sub-district headquarters, all of us were interviewed one by one by a clerk. In addition to our names, we were asked about our backgrounds, especially what our parents did before the Khmer Rouge took over the country. After giving my biography to the sub-district’s clerk to record, I felt that going to work at Staung was just a pretext. The memory of my brother’s, Sama, disappearing was still fresh in my mind. So I decided to plot my moves to run away before the boat came to take us to Staung. At first, I asked the security guards for permission to go to the outhouse to relief myself. They told me to go to the backyard where the outhouse was located. I went to the outhouse to look for ways to escape. Unfortunately, the area behind the sub-district headquarters was fenced securely that it was impossible for me to get out of the compound without being noticed. Calmly, I returned to the office to think of a different means of escape. Looking inside my tattered bag, I saw a hammock, which my mom had made for me from a piece of cloth. Using that hammock as a ploy, I approached the security guards again and tell them that I had borrowed that hammock from my sister-in-law, Heang’s wife, who lived just across the street from the sub-district’s headquarters, and that I would like to return it to her. To my absolute surprise, the security guards let me go to return the hammock to my sister-in-law. Assuming that they were watching me, I walked across the street to my sister-in-law’s house which was located a bit off to the side opposite the sub-district headquarters. There was no one there except for two little boys, my sister-in-law’s brothers, along with their paralyzed father. I told the old man and the little boys that I needed to leave the hammock for my brother, Heang, to keep because I would be sent away from the area.

I left my sister-in-law’s home through the back door and, using surrounding trees and shrubs as cover, made my way to the rice fields. Fortunately, the rice fields in that area were dotted with shrubs and small trees. I walked quickly and carefully away from the village for about a half mile before turning eastward toward Ponlear Chey, my home village, which was located about four miles away. As I was making my way across the rice fields toward Ponlear Chey, I picked up a small stick and pretended that I was looking for lost oxen if anyone asked me what I was doing alone in the rice fields. Luckily, I was able to elude most people going about their business in the fields.

I arrived in Ponlear Chey at about one o’clock in the afternoon but was afraid to go home, for I felt that the Khmer Rouge’s cadres would certainly come looking for me there once they realized that I was missing. So I went to hide in Yeay Nhong’s home, which was located about one quarter of a mile outside of the main village. (As you might recall in an earlier passage, Yeay Nhong’s principal home in the village was converted into communal dining hall).

Upon learning that I was running away from the Khmer Rouge’s recruitment, Yeay Nhong began to worry about her complicity with me. Hence, she suggested that I hide in a bush nearby, and she would pretend that she didn’t know that I was hiding in there if my presence on the premises of her home was discovered. I did as told and, in a gesture of help, Yeay Nhong went to see my little brother, Buntha, who was looking after her cows in the fields, and told him of my predicament and whereabouts. She took the cows from Buntha to look after them and told him to go find my mother and tell her of my situation.

At about three p.m., Buntha came to see me at my hiding place and handed me a tiny bag which contained a handful of roasted corn kernels. He told me to stay put until evening as our mother was trying to figure out what to do next. I tossed a few corn kernels into my mouth and chewed on them to give myself some nutrition but, despite having eaten nothing all day, I felt no appetite for food. I spat the corn kernels out of my mouth and left the rest next to me. Meanwhile, Buntha returned to the village.

As evening arrived and darkness was about to fall over Ponlear Chey, Buntha came to see me again and told me that it was an ideal time for me to go home because all the villagers were going to fetch their food rations at the communal dining hall. Thus, with caution, we went home surreptitiously. Buntha and my mother gave me half of their food rations, so that I would have something to eat. Om Po, our host, didn’t inquire much about my being home that evening as it was not unusual to have kids, who had been sent to work away from the village, come and spent a night at home. After eating our evening meals, I told my mother that I would return to join my work unit early in the morning and face whatever consequences for my running away from the Khmer Rouge’s recruitment. My mother was deeply concerned about me being mistreated or punished by the Khmer Rouge’s cadres for disobeying Angkar’s Viney and wanted me to stay in the village for a couple more days. However, that would associate her and Buntha with my guilt as well once my runaway story was known. To limit the damages, I insisted that I must not stay in the village more than that one night.

Once again, I spent another worrisome night at home with my mother. The only difference between this night and the other was that my mother knew of my predicament. Thus, she, too, was unable to sleep. At about midnight, we heard a commotion in the street. It was the 42 kids (or rather 41, without me of course) who had returned home from the district’s headquarters, Staung. Among them was Samoeun, Om Po’s nephew, who lived next door. Upon hearing his voice calling for his parents to open the door, I jumped up and went to see him immediately. Samoeun told me that it was a clerical error. The district’s headquarters had requested for only two people to serve as couriers. Therefore, after selecting the two people, they let all of us, including the two lads who were being selected, return to our work unit. But, as it was late at night now, we all were going to spend the night at home and report back to our unit in the morning.

The news of a clerical error was a godsend for me. I felt like a big burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I asked Samoeun about what time he planned to return to his unit tomorrow so that I could time my return accordingly. Turning from worry to relief, I somehow could not fall asleep that night. Thus, just as the sun was about to rise, I walked back to join my work unit at Bonteay Staung. A few people who had been recruited along with me noticed my absence, but they didn’t talk much about it except for telling me that they knew of my running away. To that end, I thank them to this day for their consideration because my action was still punishable despite the clerical error.
(To be continued)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle

2) Chenla’s Period

5) King Bhavavarman
(AD 560—AD 600, Capital: Vyadharapura)
King Bhavavarman was the son-in-law of King Kaundinya Jayavarman. He was of Chenlan origin. After the death of King Kaundinya Jayavarman, most of the tributary states such as Chenla and Champa had revolted against Funan to gain independence. In order to regain control over Funan, King Bhavavarman dispatched his brother, Chetrasena, to neutralize the usurper, Prince Rudravarman. The campaign to take control over Funan lasted about 10 years. Finally, Funan was brought under the domain of Chenla with the ascendancy of King Bhavavarman to the throne around AD 560.
King Bhavavarman changed the name Funan to Kambuja [Kampuchea or Cambodia] to reflect the names of the mythological creators of Chenla named Kambu and Mera, which, eventually, became the official name for the Cambodian Kingdom until now.
King Bhavavarman was a very intelligent and courageous warrior who would wage wars against neighboring kingdoms to expand his territory. During his reign, Cambodia was a huge empire covering almost the entire Indochinese Peninsula including present-day Thailand.

6) King Mahendravarman
(AD 600—AD 610?, Capital:…….?
After the death of King Bhavavarman, his brother, Chetrasena, ascended the throne in AD 600 as King Mahendravarman. Soon after his ascendancy to the throne, King Mahendravarman began to stage another campaign for territorial expansion. He succeeded in annexing a few more territories to his kingdom. However, he had to contend with the existence of the Kingdom of Champa to the east, for it was too formidable for him to subdue it. King Mahendravarman died around AD 610.

7) King Isanavarman I
(AD 610—AD 635, Capital: Isanapura)
In AD 610, King Isanavarman I ascended the throne in Cambodia. To ensure a peaceful relationship with Champa, King Isanavarman married a Cham princess, and using Cham officers to serve in his army. He also set new rules for succession that only the sons of the queen could ascend the throne. Once a new heir was proclaimed, all his brothers had to have either a nose or a finger amputated in order to “disable” them from eligibility. They were also permanently forbidden to hold government office and had to reside in separate locations, lest there be any collusion.
During his reign, King Isanavarman I had built hundreds of palaces and temples. He was very fond of jewelry and grandiose lifestyle. He wore earrings and crown adorned with precious stones. Everywhere he went and stayed, he would always order his subjects to provide him with impeccable accommodation. For example, people would burn aromatic wood in portable fireplaces made of gold to provide pleasant scent in his palace.
Toward the end of his reign, King Isanavarman I succeeded in annexing the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati. After the annexation of Dvaravati, King Isanavarman I died in AD 635.

8) King Indravarman I
(AD 635—AD….?, Capital:…?
After the death of King Isanavarman I, King Indravarman I ascended the throne. There were no records on King Indravarman I’s reign, except for the fact that he was not related to King Isanavarman I. King Indravarman I had a son named Jayavarman who succeeded him in AD 655.

9) King Jayavarman I
(AD 655--AD 681, Capital: Isanapura)
King Jayavarman I was the son of King Indravarman I. He ascended the throne in AD 655. After succeeding his father, he tried to reunite and reorganize Cambodia into a cohesive kingdom. He also ensured that all territories the Cambodians acquired throughout the years were properly maintained and protected.
King Jayavarman I was cunning, intelligent, and brave that most of his enemies were quite afraid of him. They did not dare to encroach on his territories. However, in the royal chronicles, there were no references that he had ever waged war against any neighboring states.
Aside from reuniting Cambodia, King Jayavarman I also organized scholars and intellectuals to work for the good of the nation. He surrounded himself with mostly men of intellect who would help him strengthen his kingdom socially, politically, and economically. During his reign, King Jayavarman I had brought peace and tranquility to Cambodia, which enabled him to build a few more monuments to add to the legacy of previous Kings. However, after his death, King Jayavarman I left no heir behind to ascend the throne. Thus, the Cambodian Kingdom was then divided into two principalities, known as Upper Chenla (or Land Chenla) and Lower Chenla (Water Chenla). There were three rulers, Queen Jayadevi (King Bhavavarman’s daughter), Prince Pushkara of Aninditapura (present-day Southern Laos), and Prince Baladitya (who claimed to be descendent of King Kaundinya I and Queen Liv Yi) claiming sovereignty over this divided kingdom.
By AD 706, the partition of Chenla was completed. The two Chenlas appeared to have been divided along the northeastern fringe of Tonle Sap Lake. Upper Chenla was located north of Tonle Sap Lake with its capital at Sambhupura (north of Kratie, possibly at present-day Vat Phu, Laos) whereas Lower Chenla was located to the south with its capital at Angkor Borey (Takeo Province). It was during this time that Lower Chenla was brought under the wrath of the kingdom of Java (modern day Indonesia and Malaysia). According to legend, the Sailendra Maharaja of Zabag heard a rumor that the Cambodian/Chenlan king wished to see the Maharaja’s head on a plate. Enraged, the Maharaja sent one thousand armed junks to teach the king of Chenla a lesson. After capturing the Khmer or Chenlan king, the Maharaja beheaded him, put his severed head on a plate, and set sail for Java. After this event, Chenla or Cambodia became a vassal state of Java for almost 100 years.

(To be continued)

Sunday, March 10, 2013


A World of Uncertainty

It was around September of 1978 when my brigade was relocated to Bonteay Staung. Because the sub-district headquarter was located there, Bonteay Staung acted like a hub where workforces from different units would come to regroup and be sent to new worksites. Thus we frequently ran into people whom we knew. At Bonteay Staung, I once again reunited with two of my brothers, Sama and Sokha. Though we stationed at separate locations in the village, I occasionally had a chance to meet Sama in the field as our teams crossed path. We sometimes commingled during joint meeting of the youth’s and the children’s mobile brigades, which gave us brief opportunity to talk and to inquire about each other’s well being.

Because of shortages of camp sites to house the various groups of mobile workforces, the children’s brigades were allowed to lodge in villager’s homes in group of 10 or 15 people depending on the sizes of the houses. So after sleeping in camp’s huts, which sometimes had only leaky roofs over our heads for months, we had an opportunity to sleep in a house for the first time. Though we still crowded together to sleep like pack animals, the feeling of having slept in a house gave us some sense of comfort. However, despite having access to homes, our access to food had been increasingly diminished. Since the day we arrived in Bonteay Staung, our food ration had been reduced significantly. Sometimes we received corn kernels to eat as meal instead of the usual rice porridge. Given the fact that we had already lived with constant hunger since the day we were recruited to work in the mobile brigade, the reduction in the amount of our daily food ration put a tremendous strain on our health. Before long, many of us began to have swollen feet and bloated stomachs, a sign of serious malnutrition.

One day, out of the blue, my mother came to visit me during our noon time break for lunch. My mother, along with a small group of other younger elderly from Ponlear Chey, had been sent to work in a field near Bonteay Staung (the distance between Ponlear Chey and Bonteay Staung was a walk of about an hour and a half) and she took the opportunity to make inquiry of my whereabouts once she learned that the children’s mobile brigades had been stationed there. During her lunch break, my mother went to the place where the children from the mobile work brigades came to receive their meal ration and eventually tracked me down to the house where I was staying. I was both surprised and excited to see my mother. We talked briefly because my mother had to return to her worksite. Just as she was about to walk back to work, my mother took me aside, pulled from her shirt pocket a sweet yam, which she had steam-cooked in her kettle early in the morning before she came to work, and put it discreetly in my hand. Without waiting for her to tell me what to do with it, I gobbled up the whole yam and savored every bit of it. It was the tastiest yam I had ever tasted in my life. After seeing that I had eaten all the forbidden food (under Khmer Rouge’s draconian rule, possession of foodstuff other than that given by Angkar, even a yam, could get a person in trouble), my mother returned to her worksite.

After our initial meeting, my mother continued to come to visit me whenever she had the opportunity to come to work near Bonteay Staung. Sometimes, I think she might have come all the way from Ponlear Chey to see me. Every time she came to visit me, my mother always brought a yam or a small rice cake which she wrapped inside banana leaves for me to eat. I didn’t know where or how my mother obtained the food that she brought to me. As hunger had complete control on my reasoning, I just ate the food like a blind chick being fed by its mother. However, at one point, my conscience freed me from the grip of hunger when I started thinking about the possibility of how my mother might have obtained the food she brought me. If she didn’t steal the food from the communal kitchen, my mother must have bartered it from her neighbors by using jewelry or valuable clothes that she might have in her possession. Either way, it was illegal, for the Khmer Rouge did not allow people to barter with one another. People were not even allowed to have possession of foodstuffs which had not been provided by the communal kitchen. Every time my mother brought me that tiny piece of yam or rice cake carried the risk of grave punishment if she were caught. The more I thought about the consequences, the more concerned I became. One day, I told my mother about my concern and asked her to stop coming to visit me. But it was to no avail. My mother continued to come to visit me every time she got a chance.

One evening, while I was returning from work, I felt extremely fatigued and my body temperature appeared to be high. Upon arriving at our lodge, I went to the homeowners to ask if they had any coin that I could borrow to use as a scratching device to scratch my skin in a form of Cambodian traditional treatment called kaus khchol. As I went into their quarters, I walked in front of a tall vanity mirror which was imbedded in the door of a six-foot tall cabinet. Upon seeing my image in the mirror, I was quite startled that my flesh and bones looked like a living skeleton. My eyes sank rather deeply into their sockets and the muscle on my face shrank to reveal the contour of my cheek bones which made my head looked more like a skull than a living human head. At that instance, I realized that my mother must have been moved by the fact that I was a walking skeleton which compelled her to use any means possible to find food to feed me and risk being punished by the Khmer Rouge’s authority just for the sake of saving me from starving to death.

By about mid October, my unit was once again moved to a work camp located near the Staung River. At this new location, I met one of my brothers, Sama, again as our camps were next to each other. Though we were not allowed to go into each other’s camp for visit, Sama and I were able to see each other occasionally while working in the fields. One day, my brigade was assigned to work along side with Sama’s. By about mid morning, a Khmer Rouge cadre (courier) from the sub-district office came to visit the worksite, and handed our supervisors a note. After receiving the note, our supervisors summoned us to assemble in a designated area where the children’s and youth’s brigades were made to stand in lines opposite one another. Afterward, one of them read the note announcing that Angkar needed 25 people to help clear virgin forested lands for planting cassava. The new worksite located upriver far away from the village. Hence, those who are assigned to this new worksite must report to the sub-district headquarter immediately in order to board a boat which would take them there. After making the announcement, our supervisors walked around and selected 25 people from the youth brigade. Among those who were selected was my brother, Sama. Once the request has been fulfilled we were ordered to return to resume our work in the fields. I took a quick look at my brother and the rest of the people who were being selected to work in the new sites as we broke up. Most of them, including my brother, expressed apprehension in their eyes, for there was something fishy about this cassava-planting ploy. As it turned out, cassava planting was indeed a ploy. When they arrived at the sub-district headquarters, it was revealed that they were being sent to perform auxiliary function as ammunition transporters near the frontline where a conflict between Cambodia and Vietnam had been simmering for some time. Dumbfounded, several of the 25 people sneaked out of the sub-district headquarters and ran away. It was thanks to their courageous or risky behavior that we learned the truth.

Words of workforces from the youth brigades being recruited to join the frontlines or to become soldiers spread quietly among both the youth’s and children’s mobile brigades. Despite the fact that we all continued to go about our businesses as if nothing had happened, the thought of being sent hundreds of miles away from home kept everyone on edge. However, as we realized that our lives were basically under the absolute control of the Khmer Rouge’s authority and that nothing we could do if we were called up to be sent to the frontlines, everyone seemed to resign to fate. Each day, we went to work with constant worry. Even though we didn’t tell anyone that we were worried, the looks on our faces said it all. To cope with the anxiety, everyone appeared to take it one day at a time and mentally prepared for the inevitability.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle

1) Funan Period

1) King Hun Tean [a.k.a. Kaundinya I]
(AD 68--AD....?, Capital: Kauk Thlok )
Around AD 68, an Indian trader/warrior named Hun Tean [Kaundinya I] led an army from the southeastern region of India to invade the Kingdom of Funan. Hun Tean was a Brahmin (priest/teacher) in the Hindu’s social class structure known as caste. After successfully conquering Funan, Hun Tean proclaimed himself king and then married Empress Liv Yi, the leader of Funan. He also changed Empress Liv Yi’s name to Soma, which means daughter of the Moon.
During his reign (and possibly successive reigns), the name of Funan/Kauk Thlok has been changed a number of times: First from Kauk Thlok to Takaseila, then to Intabhata Yasodhara, and finally to Mohanokor Kambuja Thibadey Serey Intabhata Korurordh Rajatheaney (The Grand, Prosperous, Sovereign, and Independence Royal City of Cambodia).
King Hun Tean and Queen Soma had a son who inherited the throne, and their royal lineage in Cambodia lasted for more than 200 years--from AD 68 to AD 285.

2) King Fan Man
(AD....?--AD 230, Capital: Kauk Thlok)
King Fan Man was a descendant of King Hun Tean. He was a very intelligent, courageous, and powerful leader. During his reign, he had conquered a number of neighboring kingdoms, such as Southern Siam and Malacca, and made them vassal states.
King Fan Man introduced the Indian system of caste structure, similar to that of India, among the people he ruled. There were four castes:

1) Ksatra--kings, warriors, and nation-builders.
2) Brahmin--priests, teachers, advisers, and lords.
3) Veshja--traders, farmers, and employers.
4) Sutra--laborers and slaves.

These four castes were very segregated. They did not and could not intermarry or hold any occupation, which was outside of their prescribed caste.
In AD 230, King Fan Man was murdered by his nephew, Fan Chan, who succeeded the throne. In AD 250, King Fan Chan was, in turn, murdered by King Fan Man’s son, Fan Hsun, who became King afterward.

3) King Fan Hsun (or Siyon)
(AD 250--AD....?, Capital: Kauk Thlok)
After neutralizing the usurper, King Fan Chan, King Fan Hsun ascended the throne in AD 250. King Fan Hsun was a very prestigious and cunning leader. He established relation with China in order to strengthen and protect his kingdom from marauding pirates and other intruders.
According to historical records, King Fan Hsun was the most powerful ruler among King Hun Tean’s descendants. After the reign of King Fan Hsun, there were no records of the reigns of successive kings for the next 200 years or so. Based on the records of later history, this historical blank spot might have been resulted from the degeneration of political administration, or internal turmoil, which would seal Kauk Thlok or Funan off from foreign contacts, especially, with the Chinese travelers/explorers.

4) King Kaundinya Jayavarman [a.k.a. Kaundinya II]
(AD 480--AD 514, Capital: Vyadharapura)
Some time in the 2nd half of the 5th century, another Indian trader/warrior, from southern India, named Kaundinya [II] came to settle in or invade the Kingdom of Kauk Thlok (Funan) again. After his conquest of Kauk Thlok, Kaundinya II became king and took the name of Kaundinya Jayavarman. During his rule, King Kaundinya Jayavarman established two Capitals: one named Vyadharapura, which is believed to be located at Angkor Borey in Takeo province, and the other named Samphupura, presently located at Sambo in Kratie province.
King Kaundinya Jayavarman had also strengthened the Sino-Funan alliance in order to wage war against Champa (a kingdom located to the east of Funan but no longer exists; it’s now part of Central Vietnam) and other neighboring kingdoms and take them as tributary states. Beside conquering and expanding Funan’s territory, King Kaundinya Jayavarman also introduced Hinduism to the Khmers and other people he conquered. He died in AD 514.

Soon after the death of King Kaundinya Jayavarman, Funan was plunged into chaos. King Kaundinya Jayavarman’s son and an heir to the throne, Prince Gunavarman, was assassinated by his half brother, Prince Rudravarman. After his usurpation, Prince Rudravarman forced Queen Kulapbhavati to retire to a distant palace (put her under house arrest in a sense). Because of his usurpation by means of assassinating his half brother, Prince Rudravarman lost the supports of his subjects, which gave an opportunity to a satellite state known as Chenla to revolt against Funan. Eventually, Funan was subjugated by Chenla.
(To be continued)

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Disobeying Angkar's Viney (Cont.)
With a tattered blanket covering my whole body, I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep so that my anxiety would disappear. But my attempt was in vain. It appeared that when one was overcome by worry and fear, nothing could calm the mind. The image of Met being kicked by Chay was still fresh in my memory. And Met’s infraction was only talking back to a cadre. What about me? I had disobeyed Angkar’s Viney and, on top of that, I disobeyed a cadre’s order not to run away from the camp, a serious infraction which warranted the worst punishment imaginable. As I quietly tossed and turned under the blanket, I began to imagine myself being beaten like a piñata by a group of Khmer Rouge’s cadres to punish me for my undisciplined behavior. The thought of being beaten scared me to death. My nerve was on the brink of breaking down. At that moment, I wanted to tell my mother what had happened when I was sneaking out of the camp and the predicament that I was in. But I somehow stopped short of doing so, after thinking of my father’s words, who had told me before he died, that I should act responsibly and must always be responsible for my own action. The reminder of my father’s admonition seemed to bring some courage back into my soul when I started thinking about the cost and benefit of sharing my predicament with my mother. There seemed to be nothing my mother could do to help alleviate my anxiety except for sharing the worry with me. Hence, I remained quiet. To help calm down my worried thinking, I closed my eyes and silently prayed for divine intervention to help guide me through this frightful situation I was in.

My prayer might have been answered as I fell asleep rather soundly. The next thing I knew was that my mother had woken me up because it was time for me to return to the camp. I saw Teav was already waiting for me at the door. Thus, without a moment delay, I grabbed my checkered scarf, the krama, and said goodbye to my mother. Teav and I quietly walked out of the village. It was about two o’clock in the morning. Fortunately for us, the sky was clear. With a full moon and all the stars shining down upon us, we could see our path fairly well. However, to get back to the camp, we had to walk across the vast expanse of a rice field with many small bushes along the way. Despite illumination from the moon and the stars, the night was eerily quiet. We occasionally stumbled upon nocturnal creatures, including birds, which startled us as they flew off into the sky. Both Teav and I were scared, especially of ghosts, but in order to keep our sanity in check we said nothing. We looked straight ahead as we walked. It took us about an hour and a half to make our way back into the camp. Breathing a sigh of relief, we surreptitiously sneaked back into our hut and lay down in our designated sleeping spots. Everyone was still soundly asleep.

As morning arrived, Teav and I got up along with everyone else and went to work as if we had not been away from the camp at all. However, even though our team mates said nothing about our overnight absence, it was hard for us to hide the fact. At about noon time, while we were returning to our base camp to collect our meals, I saw Khoeun intercepting Teav to ask him some questions. I sensed Khoeun must be inquiring about our flight home yesterday evening. Hence, I walked up just close enough to eavesdrop on their conversation. Sure enough, Khoeun was asking Teav why he was running home yesterday evening and demanded to know who was running along with him. Teav told Khoeun that he went home last night to have his mother mend his torn shirt, and on the subject of who was running along with him, he tried his best to evade the question. At that point, I knew I was in trouble. Whether this trouble would be big or small depend very much on Teav’s ability to help me. Filled with anxiety, I decided to stop eavesdropping on their conversation and resigned myself to my fate.

After eating lunch, we returned to the worksite to continue our afternoon shift. I noticed that Teav was at the worksite as well—a sign that he might be able to talk himself out of trouble. I wanted to ask him about the details of Khoeun’s inquiry but decided against the idea. If Teav had told Khoeun that I was the person who was running home with him and Khoeun learned that I had preempted his inquiry by talking to Teav, my trouble would be compounded. Thus, for the rest of the afternoon, I worked quietly and anxiously anticipating Khoeun’s coming up to me to inquire about my running home last night. But Khoeun somehow did not come to visit the worksite that afternoon. As evening arrived, we returned to our base camp. I walked in the middle of our group so that if Khoeun were to look for me on my way to base camp, he would not spot me easily. The walk to base camp seemed to take a very long time for me. Even though we arrived in base camp and prepared to get our evening meal, my mind was still smothered with anxiety. It was only when I saw Khoeun relaxing with other cadres in the dining hut did my anxiety start to dissipate a little bit.

Khoeun was one of the nicer cadres under whose supervision I worked. Though he strictly followed the Khmer Rouge’s disciplines, he was not as zealously cruel as Chay. Hence, Teav and I were fortunate that he was the one who spotted us running home. If it were Chay, Teav and I would have been punished to the fullest extent. For the next few days, I was still feeling edgy despite the fact that Khoeun did not approach me to inquire about my running home. It was until a couple of weeks later when we were relocated back to our main camp in the village of Bonteay Staung, where the sub-district headquarter was located, did my anxiety begin to subside.
(To be continued)

Saturday, March 2, 2013


រឿង ទន្សាយនិងផ្លែត្នោត

(បទ កាកគតិ)
ទន្សាយមួយឆោត         ដេកក្រោមដើមត្នោត      នៅក្បែរគល់ជ្រៃ
ជួនផ្លែត្នោតទុំ                ជ្រុះធ្លាក់មកដី                  រញ្ជួយប្រថពី
                                       វាភ័យស្ទុះរត់ ។
ស្រែកប្រាប់គ្នីគ្នា           ថាគ្រោះមរណា               មកដល់ប្រាកដ
ផែនដីរញ្ជួយ                 កក្រើកបាក់ស្រុត             ច្នេះយើងឆាប់រត់
                                      គេចចេញឲ្យឆ្ងាយ ។
សត្វផងនានា               ឮទន្សាយថា                 មានគ្រោះមហន្តរាយ
នាំគ្នាស្ទុះរត់                 ជាន់គ្នាពេញព្រៃ            ខ្លះបាក់ជើងដៃ
                                     ដល់ក្តីមរណា ។
ក្សិណនោះដំរី              ជាសត្វឈ្លាសវៃ             គិតពិចារណា
ថាបើផែនដី                 រញ្ជួយមែនណា               ម្តេចឈើនានា
                                     នៅឈរនឹងថ្កល់ ។
ដើម្បីបញ្ជាក់                ឲ្យឃើញជាក់លាក់          ផុតក្តីពិភាល់
ដំរីសួរថា                      នរណាឃើញផ្ទាល់          នាំយើងទៅដល់
                                     កន្លែងកើតហេតុ ។
ទន្សាយឆ្លើយថា          គឺខ្ញុំនេះណា                     ឃើញអព្ភូតហេតុ
ផែនដីរញ្ជួយ                ក៏ស្ទុះរត់ភ្លែត                    ស្រែកប្រាប់មូលហេតុ
                                     ដល់សត្វគ្រប់គ្នា ។
ដំរីពោលថា                 បើដូច្នេះណា                     ឯងឆាប់ម្នីម្នា
នាំពួកយើងទៅ           កន្លែងនោះណា                 ដើម្បីទស្សនា
                                     ឲ្យឃើញប្រត្យក្ស ។
ពេលដើរទៅដល់         ក្រោមដើមត្នោតគល់         ផ្លែទុំជ្រុះធ្លាក់
មិនឃើញមានអ្វី           គួរឲ្យផ្អើលភ្ញាក់                  ផែនដីអត់បាក់
                                      ស្រុតបន្តិចឡើយ ។
ពេលនោះដំរី                ប្រាប់អស់ម្រឹគី                    ម្រឹគាទាំងឡាយ
ថាផ្លែត្នោតនេះ              ធ្លាក់ក្បែរទន្សាយ               វាភ័យរត់ផាយ
                                      ថាផែនដីបាក់ ៕
មុននឹងប្រកាសអាសន្ន ត្រូវពិនិត្យមើលគ្រោះអាសន្ន