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Posts Tagged ‘cambodia’

Buddha Relics Stolen, Recovered. Implications?

In cambodia on February 7, 2014 at 2:55 pm

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Then-King NORODOM Sihanouk holding the koṭṭha (urn) containing the Buddha’s relics

Back on December 9-10, 2013, in the midst of ongoing conflicts between the CNRP and the CPP over the disputed elections, and separate but connected mass garment worker strikes, physical relics of the Buddha, supposed to contain hair, bone, and ashes of the historical Sakyamuni Buddha, were stolen. Yesterday, February 6, 2014, police claimed to have recovered these relics in Takeo province. Before proceeding to links and discussion, it might be useful to discuss the concept of relics in general. More after the jump:

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Chineseness in Cambodia – Beginning a Bibliographic Collection of Online resources

In comment on February 2, 2014 at 4:18 pm

A nice short conversation developed on twitter yesterday, relating to ethnicity in Cambodia, and specifically to Chinese ethnicity. Chinese ethnicity in Cambodia has always vacillated between being a positive and a negative, at least from the perspective of the dominant Khmer ethnic group.  The Chinese have been seen as tricky con-men, out to deceive and rob Khmer with their superior knowledge of numeracy (late 19th century), or as Fifth Columnists under the Vietnamese-sponsored PRK regime (1979-1989), during which period ethnic Chinese display was positively forbidden.

During the period in which I stayed in Cambodia the longest (2003-2006), Chinese ethnicity was much more positively valued: not only were Chinese people able to publicly declare their ethnic heritage, use their various languages, display colors and Chinese regalia/accouterment, many called themselves Kūn Kat Chin (កូន​កាត់​ចិន; Half-Chinese Child), and being associated with Chineseness was even a positive for upwardly mobile Khmer who, when asked, admitted to not having any actual Chinese genetic inheritance. As a funerary scholar, my favorite example of this were the rise in numbers of such Khmer who adopted Chinese funeral practices, going so far as to bury, instead of burn. I promised my informants total anonymity – they remembered Circular 351 (the PRK circular forbidding Chinese language or cultural expression) far too well, but many of the Chinese coffin makers and suppliers of Chinese funeral regalia (Chinese funerals typically are much more elaborate in terms of dress, and different outfits identify the specific relationship to the deceased) confirmed that the adoption of Chinese practices by non-Chinese Khmer was a very real, and substantial, trend.

Before proceeding to the links, I want to make it clear that there is no such thing as “Chinese” in Cambodia. Instead, as has been recognized by scholars of Cambodia, and Chinese-Cambodians themselves, though far less often by Khmer or others, there are many different types of Chinese, who speak different dialects/languages (remember, ‘A language is just a dialect with an army and a navy’), and have differing cultural expressions. Some, such as the Hakka, have integrated so thoroughly into Khmer society that it can be difficult even for some of their descendants, to recall that they are ‘Chinese.’ Others, most especially the Cantonese, have a reputation for separatism, ‘snootiness,’ and an insistence on marrying other Cantonese. The only point made in the above is that there is a great deal of diversity in the ‘Chinese communities’ of Cambodia. For many, ethnicity is also fluid and occupationally-related. I interviewed several older women (I identify their age to indicate that this may have changed in the interim) who married Khmer men, but insisted to me that they “Became” or “Did” Chinese, once the were no longer farmers but engaged in the marketplace.

I promised a few links, and would be grateful for more in comments, should they be locatable.  Here you go:

William A. Willmott’s early text “The Chinese in Cambodia,” is usually referred to as the first scholarly study of the Chinese in Cambodia. I cannot find a PDF of this book online, but here’s the google book link. His influential 1969 article, “Congregations and Associations: the Political Structure of the Chinese Community in Phnom-Penh, Cambodia”, is stuck behind a paywall, which I deplore, but is certainly not his fault. 

Under the regime of Democratic Kampuchea, ethnic cleansing and genocide were directed against the Cham, Chinese, and especially the Vietnamese, though it must be emphasized that the violence levels and charges of genocide appear to be more relevantly applied to the Khmer Rouge after their loss of power (1979) than during their years in power. Regardless, it was less safe to be an ethnic minority during the DK years even than a Khmer, and it was safe for no one. Gregory Stanton’s 1992 report on this can be found here

When I was chair of the Thailand/Laos/Cambodia (TLC) Studies Group at the Association of Asian Studies, we were very fortunate to have Dr. Willmott deliver a lecture on his work over the decades. The text of that address is here, and well worth reading. That text was published in an issue of “Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review.” An introductory abstract is here, but some of the full articles are also available for free access online. The introduction to the issue, which was dedicated entirely to ‘Mediating Chineseness,’ and dedicated specifically to Dr. Willmott, is available in full, written by Dr. Lorraine Patterson and Dr. Penny Edwards, here.

Sambath Chan (full disclosure, an early language instructor of mine) wrote his Master’s thesis on “The Chinese Minority in Cambodia: Identity Construction and Contestation,” in 2005. In 1996, Chan worked with Dr. Edwards on a report for which I cannot find an online version, but which is titled: “Ethnic Chinese in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: The Preah Sihanouk Raj Academy. (mimeo)”

Dr. Edwards also has an individual article in that issue, titled “Sojourns Across Sources: Unbraiding Sino-Cambodian Histories.” (She has a particular talent for titles, in my opinion, which complements her skill at analysis)

Dr. Satoru Kobayashi wrote a working paper on the topic, titled “The Reconfiguration of Cambodian Rural Social Structure, with Special Focus on the People Called Chen and Khmae,” which is entirely available, and in my opinion, important.

In searching for online sources, I discovered Adam Jelnek’s 2008 article in Acta Asiatica, titled, “The Chinese in Cambodia.” I have not read it yet, but the entire issue is online. His article starts on page 36.

And since I have written one 2012 article on the Laerng Neak Ta ( ឡើងអ្នកតា ) rituals performed by Chinese associations in and around Phnom Penh, for alternately Chinese spirits (BenTouGong) and for Khmer spirits, I’d be remiss not to link to the bibliographic information here. It is, unfortunately, not online at the moment. It’s titled “Khmer spirits, Chinese bodies: Chinese spirit mediums and spirit possession rituals in contemporary Cambodia,” and is collected in “Faith in the Future: Understanding the Revitalization of Religions and Cultural Traditions in Asia.” 

Much other work on the construction and contestation of ethnicity in Cambodia is available, and though I have limited myself here to Chinese, I cannot help but add also Dr. Ian Baird’s 2011 work on the “Construction of Indigenous Peoples in Cambodia,” or the magnificent Ph.D. thesis by Alberto Pérez-Pereiro, titled “Historical Imagination, Diasporic Identity and Islamicity among the Cham Muslims of Cambodia.” It needs to be put online somewhere, because it reads like a novel and is one of the finest minority-studies in Cambodia pieces of writing I have read. Emiko Stock has a blog on Cham ethnicity as well, which must be checked out, called Cham Attic.

Thanks to those folks on twitter who encouraged me to write up a few notes. This is little more than a bibliographic beginning, and I hope perhaps will stir to pot further, to see what rises to the surface.

Episcope: “Begininning a Sketch of Accumulation by Dispossession in Contemporary Cambodia”

In comment on June 20, 2013 at 6:45 am

A new short piece of my writing has been published over at Episcope. It’s called “Beginning a Sketch of Accumulation by Dispossession in Contemporary Cambodia,” and I hope you go check it out. I’ve written about Accumulation by Dispossession, or ‘Primitive Accumulation,’ on this blog frequently in the past. Click here to see those posts. There are pictures by photographer John Vink as well, to induce you to click this link.

Episcope is a relatively new online blog from Cultural Anthropology, and is attempting to promote different types of ethnographic writing, as indicated in this partial description:

This is an experiment. The insights of anthropologists are usually sequestered in academic circles, networks, and classrooms. Our work is also often constrained within a slow, arduous publishing process such that our writings frequently fail to address in an immediate way the pressing realities we often grapple with in our fieldwork. For these among other reasons, anthropologists rarely affect how current issues are enacted in mainstream narratives.

Thanks, Episcope!

Read: Eve Zucker’s “Forest of Struggle”

In read on May 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm

 Eve Zucker’s first book, Forest of Struggle: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia, is a village ethnography of contemporary Cambodia. It’s also one of the best post-conflict studies (focusing on the cultural situation after the Khmer Rouge period) that I’ve encountered. In her fieldwork from 2001-2003, she moved to a very small village called O-Thmaa in the Cardamom Mountains. Her interest in this particular village was its social brokenness – unlike neighboring villages, it was clear even on her first visit that O-Thmaa was not ‘recovering’ from the Khmer Rouge era in the same way, or with the same speed.  Zucker focuses on the themes of memory, forgiveness, and morals, tying them together in a way that adroitly notes the ways in which the erasure of memory – forgetting – may be crucial to forgiveness. Ernst Renan, of course, made the same point regarding nationalism over 100 years ago, pointing out that a French person could only become part of the French nation by forgetting the terribly cruelty visiting upon their previous identities and selves (Albigensians, e.g., of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre). Examination of how morality is constructed, transgressed against, and recalled for the next generation – to put it briefly, how collective moral continuity is reproduced – are at the core of her examination.

A few things of particular note in this book: O-Thmaa is a ‘highland Khmer’ village.  This fact should attract the interest of anyone who studies mainland Southeast Asia. The supposedly great divide between lowlanders and highlanders has long been a staple of studies of Southeast Asia. Lowlanders tend to view themselves as Buddhist, rice-growing, and ‘civilized,’ opposed to highlanders, seen as Non-Buddhist, swidden agriculturalists, and ‘savage.’ Like Nicola Tannenbaum’s famous book, Who can protect against the world?: Power-protection and Buddhism in Shan Worldviewthen, Zucker’s book looks a a relatively anomalous group of people, who are highlanders, but ethnically identify as (Khmer). Zucker’s ethnography adds useful and important information to our knowledge of communities in such locations. The fluid ethnic identity of Cambodians is on display, as people early on discuss how they ‘used to be Chong or Suoy,’ but are now Khmer, or even “Pure Khmer.”

And then there are the personalities. From Yeay Khieu to Ta Kam, the personalities of the village – especially the elders – are brought to life. This is a real pleasure of the book.  Yeay Khieu embodies a sort of constant good cheer and perseverance, recalling the old ways, and telling stories with indefatigable good nature. Ta Kam is a considerably more ambiguous character – a local who no longer lives in the community, the villagers of O-Thmaa say he was a Khmer Rouge village chief, and caused the deaths of many in the village. By the end of the book he has returned to live in O-Thmaa.

There are wonderful moments in this book – especially wonderful moments for me were the chapter on commensality and the transgressive bonding over taboo foods and liquor, and reflections on the ways in which the community interacts with, and maps onto its landscape, the ideas of the wilderness, and its amoral qualities.  Against the wilderness, the village becomes the opportunity for the recreation of social possibility.

Zucker is careful not to extend her arguments too far, but does engage usefully with two broad camps of thought regarding the continuing effects of the Khmer Rouge era.  She notes that some argue that Khmer society was nearly completely broken by the Khmer Rouge, while others argue that Khmer Society has recovered and begin to re-institute itself without too much interruption.  Zucker uses these two camps of thought to discuss her example, but refrains from explicitly claiming that her example could be used to reform these camps.

In all, this is an excellent book, and highly recommend to Cambodianists.  It’s clearly written, accessible to experts and undergraduates alike, and makes excellent points in a clear manner, all while introducing the reader to highland Khmer Cambodia.

Archaeology Dissertation on Iron Age Cambodia Available

In comment on May 15, 2013 at 9:28 am

It’s been out there for a while, but I’d be deeply remiss if I failed to draw your attention to Dr. Alison Carter’s (UW-Madison) dissertation. In the spirit of actual intellectual exchange (sometimes called ‘Open Access’), she’s placed her dissertation online for download.  

The dissertation is called “Trade, exchange, and socio-­political development in Iron Age (500 BC -­ AD 500) mainland Southeast Asia: An examination of stone and glass beads from Cambodia and Thailand,” and it’s available here for download in various formats.

Dr. Carter has been doing archaeological research in Cambodia for years, and focuses on Iron Age trade objects – specifically beads. Through the analysis of these beads, she’s able to hypothesize about the geographical origins of the beads (because of the materials out of which they are made). Through understanding the geographical origins, she illuminates early trade networks – both within and beyond the boundaries of mainland Southeast Asia. Her work is deeply important to scholarship on a region, the prehistory of which is difficult to know because of a lack of preserved written texts (excepting inscriptions in stone).

Go! Read!  And when you’re done, check out her great blog.

John Burgess’ ‘A Woman of Angkor’

In cambodia, read on April 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I’ve just received a copy of John Burgess’ new novel, A Woman of Angkor, published by River Books. This book intends to be a historical novel that takes the regular people of the ancient Khmer kingdoms as seriously as most take the rulers.

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It also comes highly recommended by folks with reputations, at least judging this particular book by the blurbs on its cover, including lauds from archaeologist Michael Coe, and art historian and Angkor tour guide author Dawn Rooney.

Most promising in terms of its writing style, however, is the lovely quote from John le Carre:

Burgess has done something that I believe is unique in modern writing: set a credible and seemingly authentic tale in the courts and temples of ancient Angkor to stir the imagination and excite our historical interest.

I’m looking forward to reading it in my spare free moments, and would love to hear from readers in the comments if they have read it, or might read it along with me.

The chapters are generally quite short, so I’m going to set very modest pace of 1-2 chapters a day. I’ll write up my comments below, as well.

edit: I’ve decided against summarizing in the comments below, both to preserve against spoilers, and to allow for a more summary writeup at the end.

LTO Cambodia: Wat Bo: Scenes of daily life

In comment on April 11, 2013 at 8:38 am

You really need to head over to LTO Cambodia: Wat Bo: Scenes of daily life, to examine the closeup images of Wat Bo’s mural of olden-days, everyday Cambodian life (colonial period, about 100 years old, at monks’ estimation).  There are a lot of images, and LTO is a fine photographer. But what really makes this collection of photos wonderful is his description and surmises about what is going on, all done with reports to what the local monks had told him, and his own thoughts.  I’ll reblog one image to get you over there:

Washington DC Exhibit on Land Grabs in Cambodia: “Cambodia: Losing Ground” from Oxfam America

In cambodia on April 11, 2013 at 8:31 am

A pop-up gallery event—Cambodia: Losing Ground | Oxfam America The Politics of Poverty Blog.

Beads, Trade, and Power in Early Southeast Asia” – A Public Talk by Dr. Alison Carter

In macalester on March 27, 2013 at 8:27 am

Beads, Trade, and Power in Early Southeast Asia

I was very pleased to be able to help organize and attend Dr. Alison Carter’s public talk at Macalester College, on the topic of “Beads, Trade, and Power in Early Southeast Asia,” yesterday. It was well-attended, and exciting.

If you take the longue durée seriously, and imagine as I do that some things persevere through generations and centuries, and that therefore early history can be very important, then archaeological knowledge is crucial for people like myself, even though my focus is contemporary.  I have many notes for myself.

Dr. Carter’s presentation was hugely engaging, and dealt precisely with some of the themes we are discussing in one of my seminars at the moment, “Ritual and Ecology in Southeast Asia,” which includes the Angkor civilization and its ‘collapse.’ Those themes are complexity, emergence, and collapse, and especially understanding the nature of those processes: is the emergence of complexity dependent on trade network transformations, commodity transformations, local manufacture, the rise of local elite classes, etc., etc.?  What drove early complexity, and what processes underwrote and sustained it?  What was the nature of that complexity?

Dr. Carter will shortly be traveling to the Society of American Archaeology (SAA) conference in Honolulu, where she will be chairing a symposium titled “Technology in Southwest China and Southeast Asia II: Working with Stone, Ceramics, and other materials – tecnological innovation in Southeast Asia, Southwest China, and Beyond,” and presenting a paper on “The production of stone beads in Southeast Asia.”

Also, Dr. Carter has a blog. It’s fantastic, and I have frequently linked to it from here. Most recently, she’s written on the enigmatic jar burials discovered in the Cardamom mountains. Here it is: go, read. http://alisonincambodia.wordpress.com/

 

Association of Asian Studies

In faculty on March 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Well, here we are at the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Conference, in San Diego (famous residents include Buffy Summers, apparently), California.  In addition to the excellent looking panels and discussions this year, this is the last year I will serve as the Chair of the Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia Studies group (TLC).

Part of the TLC work is the annual invitation to a distinguished academic to speak to issues of broad significance to our members. This year, we have invited Dr. Charnvit Kasetsiri, former Rector of Thammasat University in Thailand, to speak (Dr. Kasetsiri’s personal web page, here). In line with our selected theme for the year – geographies of conflict (or to use a felicitous phrase from our sponsored panel which was unfortunately not accepted this year, “Cartographies of Violence.” Dr. Kasetsiri will be speaking tonight on the conflict over the Angkorian temple of Preah Vihear (Th: Phra Viharn), which has been an object of nationalist desire and mobilization by groups on both sides of the Cambodian-Thai border.

I’m also spending my first conference speaking to publishers, about my manuscript with the working title of “Deathpower in Cambodian Buddhism.” Everyone’s been quite nice,but for a junior scholar (yes, at nearly 40, with a Ph.D., a tenure-track job, and two children, I still consider myself a junior scholar) it’s damn-near heart-attack-inducing.  Luckily those new AED machines are all over the place. :)

This post marks my intention to return to blogging on a slow, but slightly more frequent pace. In future weeks, I should have a few short pieces including discussions about the ideas in my manuscript, my attendance and studies of Samdech Euv (King-Father) Norodom Sihanouk‘s cremation rituals, which I was fortunate to attend, thanks in large part to a generous travel and research grant from my home institution.

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