Posts Tagged ‘Funerals’

Agriculture, Cooperation, and Resiliency

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2008 at 4:17 pm

I write more about agriculture on this blog than just about anything else, which appears weird on the face of it, since the blog is named, and presumably therefore about, death and its power. Of course, in the disciplines where I make my home(s), this should be considered totally normal. As Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry write in their magisterial and sea-changing edited volume, Death and the regeneration of life,

The observation that notions of fertility and sexuality often have a considerable prominence in funeral practices excited the attention of anthropologists and their public from the very beginning of the discipline. (1)

The beginning of the discipline, like, as in, 1859. Seriously. And the connection has never left. Bloch and Parry’s more direct assertion on the connection is this:

In most cases what would seem to be revitalised in funerary practices is that resource which is culturally conceived to be most essential to the reproduction of the social order. (7)

Leaving aside the question of whether a ‘single social order’ actually exists for all people in a ‘single culture,’ this is a powerful, clear, and direct linkage between fertility, agriculture, and death. It is also why I became so deeply interested in agriculture, at the beginning. Only later did my heart catch up with my head, and force me to realize that given the near ubiquity of agriculture in the lives of Cambodians, paying attention to agriculture and its vicissitudes is a vital part of engaging with real, living, Cambodians and the issues that most centrally concern them. I’ve learned a lot on this score, most of it from supposedly uneducated and ‘ignorant’ (lngun) farmers.

But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything farmers say they want: when farmers say they want high-yield, sterile (i.e., it doesn’t produce new seed) seeds (which they must buy at high prices from international companies), I respectfully disagree. When they want to buy and use lots of petroleum-based pesticides, or natural-gas-based fertilizers, I disagree. I support small-scale farming, aimed primarily for subsistence instead of primarily for cash, and favor permacultural methods. So, by the way, does George Monbiot, in a nice article noted by the excellent Resource Management issues in Asia-Pacific News.

And while I have no basis on which to offer suggestions, I can draw attention to exciting projects that I think might benefit Cambodian farmers. Like this one:

The open-source tractor. Called, the Life-trac tractor, it is a cheap, open-source (meaning in collective, constant redesign and improvement, for free), and potentially a fantastic replacement for the traditional tractors which were sinking Battambang farms a few years back (farmers were buying expensive tractors to improve yields, and then couldn’t make payments on the tractors owing to increasing fuel prices, and losing their entire property). The idea comes from the excellent Open Source Ecology wiki, dedicated to improving farming and ecology-design techniques.

That said, I would only recommend the life-trac for farmers already committed to using a mechanical tractor. The traditional Cambodian tractor undoubtedly remains the best choice:

I was directed to the OSE wiki by John Robb’s Global Guerrillas page. I’ve written about his work before, but his new identification of “Resiliency” as a core concept of his analysis is an excellent move forward, and I’m really enjoying his blog anew (the focus on terrorism and war, while crucial and well-done, depresses the hell out of me; this stuff is more hopeful!). Also check out Jeff Vail’s Rhizome based blog posts, on similar issues.

Reading: Haunting the Buddha

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2007 at 8:38 pm

DeCaroli, Robert. 2004. Haunting the Buddha: Indian popular religions and the formation of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robert DeCaroli, associate Art History professor at George Mason University, has written an exciting, direct, and convincing book of great relevance to my own work. Where I have compliments, I am indeed very impressed, since he clearly and persuasively argues points with which I am already very familiar. Where I have complaints, they should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt, since my complaints here tend to be in precisely the areas that I am myself working and have strong opinions.
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Paper Coffins

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Every once in a while, the Phnom Penh municipal government declares its desire to close all operating crematoria in the city and move them to the countryside. The justification is almost always about air quality, but the reasoning is almost always about two different things, which I’ve blogged about before. First, crematoria are big money makers for temples, and support lots of monks at urban wats, many of whom compose the most politically radical and liberal strata of Cambodia – not exactly a group that the government (any government) wants to support. Secondly, crematoria in the city decreases property values for neighboring properties, especially for non-national Chinese investors who simply cannot, will not, build their luxury hotels near crematoria, since to do so would be to invite horrible misfortune.

Now, for those who really want to be on the cutting edge, the good folks over at BoingBoing have let me know about ‘ecopods,’ coffins made out of recycled paper. Perhaps the government would like to start sponsoring this form of corpse-disposal. Of course, this doesn’t solve the next problem – where, exactly, are they going to put the coffins once they’re full of bodies? Speaking as someone whose own apartment in Phnom Penh was full of dead bodies not too many years prior to my residence, I can’t imagine the municipality has too many good ideas on this front.

Mahaghosananda Has Completed His Time

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2007 at 2:39 pm

[Mahaghosananda completing the Dhammayietra in 2003. Photo by Nirav Shah]

Ven. Mahaghosananda, a Cambodian monk of long tenure in the robes (remaining in robes through the DK period since he was in Thailand), has been given many silly names: “the Gandhi of Cambodia” is one of them. I have the utmost respect for both Gandhi and Mahaghosananda, and I think both might agree that phrases like this one do more to obscure the complex realities of individuals than they do to explain anything.

What phrases like that do get right, however, is an indication of the high esteem, tireless dedication, and deep involvement that both men shared, and the fact that for both of them, these qualities were inseparable from their religious convictions.

Mahaghosananda died a few days. My internet connection has been down, and I’ve been unable to post anything about it, which is just as well. I couldn’t do justice. And it allowed others to offer their succinct and heartfelt thoughts. My favorite so far is from Jinja, and I’m just going to quote it here:

Down the Road

Cambodia gets a bad rap on numerous scorecards – in the case of activism, I’ve heard Khmers and foreigners alike complain that Cambodians are reluctant to ‘take a stand’ for their rights. They are, however, willing to walk for them.

A great example of simple, local activism is the Dhamma Yatra – a peace march first begun in 1992, by Venerable Maha Ghosananda.

In 1994, he led the march to Pailin, still Khmer Rouge territory at the time. Further marches walked through post-Khmer Rouge strongholds. and called for peace during times of civil unrest. Some day, a book about the travels and tales of the Dhamma Yatra needs to be written. Alas, its leader has passed away.

Those who knew him and knew of him may react with sadness. I think those who knew him well might suggest that he is simply traveling further on his path.

Student Site:
Washington Post
The Star

I’ll continue adding links to the above, as I find them. Here’s some to begin with:

Monk who rebuilt Buddhism in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia, dies [ – Registration; free if you search for the headline on Google News]

Maha Ghosananda, Buddhist leader and peace prize nominee, dies [ – Registration; free if you search for the headline on Google News]

Father of Cambodian Buddhism dies [Andy Brouwer’s Cambodian Web Page]

Cambodians regret the death of top Buddhist monk

MahaGhosananda Obituary at Danny Fisher’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Web Page

MahaGhosananda Obituary at New York Times (with several strange factual errors)

The Economist‘s Obituary of MahaGhosananda.

CamNews: Anniversary of Chea Vichea Murder

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2007 at 10:56 pm

The third anniversary of the murder of beloved union organizer Chea Vichea has come and gone. From here in America, the only real symptom was that the Sam Rainsy Party seems to have coordinated a massive effort of email spam with this date, as my inbox suddenly started filling up with all sorts of stuff from them, some of which was related to the murder, much of it not.

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CamboNews: Sihanouk requests fire, not burial

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2006 at 10:46 pm

He wants to be cremated, and have the remains interred in the same stupa as his beloved daughter Kanta Bopha.

more here.


In Uncategorized on December 5, 2006 at 10:36 pm

Lots of reading this week: The new Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, almost completely on Cambodia; David Graeber’s big book on anthropological value, Thom Hartmann’s atrocious but well-intentioned eco-nightmare, and Alfie Kohn’s lovely caution against bribing your kids.

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Mourning in Groups, Mourning Alone

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2006 at 8:23 pm

I’m reading a difficult text now, and it gives me good excuses to take a moment here and there to write up some thoughts that have been running through my mind. With news that another friend has died in another land, I’m struck by the enormity of what so many people have called the ‘labor of mourning.’ ((for only one example, see what is perhaps Derrida’s best work, Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: the state of the debt, the work of mourning, and the new international. New York: Routledge.))
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Some Recent Chea Vichea related news items

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2006 at 6:04 pm

Some recent news items regarding the Chea Vichea case, posted to KI Media:

  • Va Sothy, the owner of the newsstand where Chea Vichea was murdered, signs a statement that she is living abroad for fear of her life, implies the murderer is a police officer, and that the two accused are ‘police fakes.’
  • Union Leader’s Killers Wrongly Jailed: Witness.” Cambodia Daily. October 2, 2006.
    • A reprisal of the above.
  • Chea Vichea Case Leans on New Testimony.” Cambodia Daily. October 3, 2006.
    • Sok Sam Ouern of the Cambodia Defenders Project believes new case for accused will be successful with the new statement, but the Judge warns that he is not required to consider the statement since the witness is not in Cambodia and subject to cross examination by the Judge.
  • Witnesses in Chea Vichea Case Hard To Find: NGO.” Cambodia Daily. October 4, 2006.
    • The CDP states that witnesses in the case are hard to find, and not interested, since they lack all confidence in the court.
  • Unions Reduce Wage Demand To $63 Monthly.” Cambodia Daily. October 3, 2006.
    • ‘Union leaders decided Monday to issue an Oct 30 deadline to garment factories to raise the industry’s minimum wage to an “acceptable level” or they will go on strike.
      Manufacturers and 17 union leaders met behind closed doors three times in September. After the latest round Saturday, unions lowered their monthly wage demand from $82 to $63. The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia had offered to raise the $45 a month minimum to $47.75.
    • “It must be finished by Oct 30,” said National Independent Federation Textile Union President Morm Nhim. Otherwise, she said, “we will announce a strike with the interunion federation.”‘
  • “Cambodia pressed on convictions.” BBC News. October 4, 2006.
    • Human rights groups continue to hammer on the Cambodian government’s insistence that two men in jail are responsible for the murder of Chea Vichea. Claims of cover-ups and police intimidation are claimed.
  • Notarized declarations of the only eyewitness of Chea Vichea’s murder” By Va Sothy, Published to KI Media. October 5, 2006.
    • Two articles in tabloid L’Express on the murder and funeral of Piseth Pilika

      In Uncategorized on September 28, 2006 at 7:25 pm

      Piseth Pilika’s assassination spawned the largest street marches, and largest spontaneous protests, in recent Cambodian memory, only recently matched (or possibly, eclipsed) by the massive mourning street protest following Chea Vichea’s murder. People have spoken, since the very beginning, about a theory which lays the blame for the murder of Pilika at the feet of Bun Rany, the wife of PM Hun Sen, who was rumoured to have had an affair with Pilika.

      In two articles in L’Express, translated into English here on KI Media, blame is laid explicitly, in print, at the feet of Bun Rany.

      One wonders about the timing of these relevations, coming as they do during the middle of Heng Pov’s ongoing clandestine journeys and samizdat press releases about the crimes of the current regime, in which he was involved, but I myself am more interested in the details of the protests and funeral, which I was not witness to, unlike the Chea Vichea gatherings.

      Link 1

      Link 2 


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