Buddha Relics Stolen, Recovered. Implications?


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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Sounding on Cambodia for April 28, 2011

Well, between my visit to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, campus, the screening of Who Killed Chea Vichea? on my campus, and the end of the semester looming, my attempt at disciplined, scheduled, blogging, has already collapsed. Instead of getting upset about that, I’ll just return to the attempt soon. In the meantime, there are big stories in Cambodia that need to be addressed.

  • Dry-Season Warfare at the Cambodian-Thai Border
  • Lao appears to begin construction of potential “Mekong Killer” dam
  • Hun Sen Denies Lung Cancer Rumors
  • “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” screens at Macalester College
  • ‘Bamboo Hypothesis’ gets a bit more complicated

SOUNDING on Cambodia, September 3, 2010

Holy Crap – I have almost never, in my entire museum-going life (and folks, I’m *married* to a curator, so I’ve been to a lot of museums) heard about an exhibit I want to see more than this one: “Life, Death, and Magic: 200 Years of Southeast Asian Art,” at the National Gallery of Australia, in Canberra.  the description of the exhibit is as follows:

For thousands of years, across mainland and island Southeast Asia, the deification of significant ancestors and the veneration of spirits of nature have formed the basis of traditional beliefs. It has also been the impetus for the creation of splendid and extraordinary works of art in fibre, stone, metal, wood and clay—made to protect and give pleasure to the living, to honour the ancestors and to secure safe passage for the human soul between this world and the afterlife.

Life death and magic: 2000 years of Southeast Asian ancestral art provides an evocative overview of the region’s ancestral arts and culture, from prehistoric times to the twenty-first century. Beautifully designed, it is prolifically illustrated with works of art from countries and regions including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, East Timor, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia and southern China which are drawn from museums around the world and the National Gallery of Australia’s exceptional collection of Southeast Asian art.

Now, there’s no way I can raise the scratch to go see this exhibit, so I’m counting on my Australian friends to go, take photos if possible, and comment or post them somewhere.  This is astonishing looking work.  Thank Flying Spaghetti Monster they’re publishing a catalog.  Which I’ve already ordered. Massive Hat Tip to Alison of AlisoninCambodia for the notice.

NoelbyNature, the animating force behind the Southeast Asian Archaeology Blog, has some lovely notes and photos from excavations at Angkor Wat.

Hat tip to Igor Prawn for posting the nice graphic of the World’s Tallest Towers, including a space for the entirely hallucinatory and never-to-be built tower bragged about recently by PM Hun Sen.  Phnom Penh Post.

Also, Tuol Sleng, the notorious prison and torture center also called (more appropriately, S-21), rated a mention at Atlas Obscura.


SOUNDING on Cambodia for August 31, 2010

The US continues to expel long-term legal residents (from Cambodia, and elsewhere), for crimes that were misdemeanors when they were committed, but reclassified as felonies after the fact.  Even as felonies, these young men and the occasional woman have almost no memory or connection to contemporary Cambodia, and have an immensely difficult time reacclimating.  One of the great success stories has been Tiny Toones (warning: auto-start music soundtrack), but the deportations are inhumane, serve the US population not at all, and are a waste of time and money. From the Phnom Penh Post.

As always, Rice production (‘farming’), processing (‘milling’), marketing (‘selling’ and ‘buying’), and exports (‘leaving’) is an issue of continually underexamined importance outside of Cambodia. Here is the full text of PM Hun Sen’s recent address about a new policy document on Rice farming and leaving in Cambodia.  I link here to the “Hun Sen Blog,” without further comment.

And “Igor Prawn” of the SEA-focused blog “BANG!” has been writing a few short book reviews lately, which I appreciate in my quest for non-academic fare to consume about Cambodia and Southeast Asia.


The Wet-Season Offensive at Preah Vihear?

I’ve written a fair bit on this blog about Preah Vihear, including perhaps especially this post here, which discusses a famous ritual performed at the site by Bun Rany Hun Sen, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen. That ritual, the Krong Pali ritual, immediately brought accusations in Thailand that the Khmer were (typically) practicing ‘black magic’ against the Thais.

The dry season is over, so it’s out of season for the current hubbub over the ownership of Preah Vihear; these have thus far largely corresponded to the traditional military dry season offensives, which is an interesting aspect of the mobilizations themselves.  The current kerfuffle, rather, is based on a different calendar altogether, the calendar of opportunism within Thailand.

AFP PhotoHaving routed the Red Shirts, and with the Thai government hunting them down in ways that smack of Thaksin’s extrajudicial killings during his notorious ‘war on drugs,’ the Yellow Shirts (PAD and allies within the military and government) having again taken up the popular irredentist banner of nationalism. They definitively lost the last round, and Preah Vihear temple was properly listed as a World Heritage Site, under Cambodian authority.  This round is really about the administration plan for Preah Vihear, which the PAD insist be delayed until all land disputes on the border are resolved. Which, of course, they will never let happen.  Should disputes appear resolved, they’ll just head to the border again and cause more violence with the relatively amicable Thai and Khmer on the border, as they did last time. Continue reading


Sounding on Cambodia for February 9, 2010

  • Hun Sen didn’t quite manage to make it to ប្រាសាទ​តាមាន់​ធំ​ Prasat Ta Moan Temple, which I’ve written about previously (start here, I suppose), last time Thailand and Cambodia’s nationalist factions started squabbling over it.  The whole thing is simultaneously silly and infuriating.  ព្រះ​វិហារ, which is the real object of contention, is clearly Khmer.  Everyone of consequence has agreed, including previous Thai governments.  But now, because Thailand is dealing with a nascent fascist movement (again), relatively meaningless issues like the placement of a border post and the control over a non-lucrative, largely ruined, temple like Prasat Ta Moan, becomes serious.

    And it’s all cloaked in the language and rhetoric of sovereignty and nation.  If these governments are so concerned with the well-being of their co-nationals, they might question why Surin province in Thailand, and Oddar Meanchey province in Cambodia, receive so little serious government support or funding for issues relating to actual well-being.

    Andy Brouwer’s got some good background and pictures here.

  • Meanwhile, Cambodia has asked the US government to cancel it’s outstanding debts of $339 Million dollars from the 1970s (when the client regime of Lon Nol was fighting a proxy war against its own people and the guerilla communists, on behalf of the US), or else turn it into aid.  I doubt the US would agree to stop collecting debts on its historical protection rackets (can you imagine them canceling the debt that Iraq is going to be saddled with for its ‘liberation?’), they might turn it into ‘aid:’ that all just gets spent on American machinery and ‘foreign expert’ salaries, anyway. See Will Easterly’s awesome, and relatively new, blog, Aid Watch.
  • I don’t have the fight in me for this round of “Let’s blame an American intellectual for the Khmer Rouge,” but Sophal Ear, whom I know and am friendly with, has entered another round in this effort (scroll down about halfway).  I have no sympathy for it, and find it sad to see yet another generation of scholars and thinkers on Cambodia enrolled into stale and meaningless Cold War thinking.  What exactly is Chomsky accused of?  Apologist for the Khmer Rouge?  Never did it.  Critic of American intellectuals who merely cheered while we illegally and secretly bombed Cambodia, leveling it with more tonnage of explosives than was used in all of World War II?  Yes, he did that, and I can’t imagine apologizing for that. By virtue of this previous critique, is he supposed to have been a proponent of the authoritarian and secretive Khmer Rouge?  Hardly: Chomsky has been a avowed anarchist since his youth, which necessarily entails a critique and opposition to not merely the unrestrained forces of feral capitalism, but also the vicious and violent authority of the state (anarchists were the first critics of the authoritarian communists of the Soviet Union, for instance, and have been persecuted more often by their state-communist sisters and brothers than even by the capitalists). It all seems very much like those who want to make Chomsky responsible for the horrors of the Khmer Rouge are either egregiously overestimating Chomsky’s influence (do they imagine he was somehow influencing public policy, and that therefore more bombing of Cambodia would have helped keep the KR at bay?) or holding him morally responsible for being an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, which I doubt he’d be inclined to apologize for.


  • Nobody expected the Garment Factory owners to simply roll over when the workers asked for a payraise.  They didn’t, even though the government itself claims workers need a minimum of $93/month to live, and they currently receive $50. Now, new subcontracting ‘workrooms,’ unregistered and illegal places where factories are skimming even more money from the workers, have been reported in Cambodia, and are supposedly threatening Cambodia’s trade status with the US:

The presence of unregistered workrooms could also damage the work Cambodia has done towards making a name for itself in good labor conditions. This has been sought as a competitive advantage, as Cambodian manufacturing can cost more and labor skills are lower than in competing countries.

Buyers like Levi Straus, Gap, Nike Air and Walt Disney demand respect for labor standards and worker rights. Such buyers can lose confidence in Cambodia if the country does not respect its promises of high standards, Art Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers, told VOA Khmer.

The presence of workrooms can decrease the impact of demonstrations or strikes, he said, because they allow owners to subcontract their work. He would welcome such businesses if they operated legally, he said.

  • The great explorer Zheng He, whose Chinese ships came through Southeast Asia, is explored on the BBC World Service. Check it out! (via)
  • oh yeah – my little post on the word យូន has begun receiving comments over at Details Are Sketchy, who kindly posted a link to it.  Conversation will probably be over there, I imagine.

SOUNDING on Southeast Asia, 4 February 2010

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is about to make his first trip to ព្រះ​វិហារ (Preah Vihear) temple in the midst of the run-up to the dry-season offensive (military potential, but it’s going to be loud, at minimum), has also been preaching parables to people in his client-base.  This parable is all about a good Buddhist elder and a bad Buddhist elder, and how at some point, the good guy eventually gets tired of being good to the bad guy and the bad guy stops getting what he asks for, gets leprosy, and dies.  Just sayin’!

Meanwhile, just across the Thai border, the cold-hearted bastards at Reuters who analyze trends for investors have started warning about a possible coup.

Economic indicators in Cambodia: a brand-new, purportedly high-quality modern Rice Mill has opened in Battambang Province.  The president has a Khmer name; is the company owned by a Cambodian and do profits stay in country? Meanwhile, pawn shops are becoming legal.  That’ll help. Cause god knows, there aren’t enough opportunities to buy second-hand, stolen commodity goods in Cambodia right now.

Human Rights Watch has released a 93 page report which is very hard to read.  It details the horrendous abuse taking place in Cambodia’s Drug “Rehab” centers, largely of young children from the streets.  Beatings are not the worst of it.  HRW recommends that the centers be monitored by the UN. I think they should be destroyed and ripped down to the foundations.

Oh, and that cool image from the MMAP folks of what appears to be a burial urn?  It was.  And that’s the second one evah.  Awesomes.