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Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Other Kampuchea

It is not too often that you discover a new country in this CROWDED OLD WORLD, especially one right beneath your nose. It is not often you learn of a new struggle in a mediascape littered with lost causes, but learn of one I have done, these past few days. Who would have thought that Ho Chi Minh City, my current home away from home away from home, is actually a new metropolis, a colony in fact, built on stolen land? Not any kind of stolen land, mind you, but the OLDEST LAND IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, according to those that know: KAMPUCHEA KROM. Once part of the Kampuchean Empire, Kampuchea Krom (henceforth called Khmer Krom) was conquered by the Nguyễn lords who marauded southwards in the late 18th Century, much at the same time that the British blustered their way into Australia. Saigon as we know it is not so much older than Sydney, which was also built on stolen land, much further to the south. Well, the Khmers lost their land, but the land did not lose its Khmers... they are still there today, speaking their own language, and cooking their own foods. I haven't seen them myself, but I am told they are there. Recipes for their meals can be seen online, at sites such as this one. They sing songs, reedy and melancholic, the womens' voices trilling. They have their own heroes, tragic and patriotic. Oknha Son Kuy seems to be the greatest hero of them all: governor of Trapeang province, he was beheaded by the Vietnamese in 1821.

Buddhist monks of Khmer Krom.
In a country already divvied up into provinces and districts, crowded into communes, sewn into strategic hamlets, it is refreshing to find alternative maps, alternative names, written in a strange, flowery script. To the Khmer Krom, Ho Chi Minh City is called Prey Nokor (ព្រៃនគរ ). Vũng Tàu is known as O-Kab (អូកាប់), while Phú Quốc is called Koh Trol. Reunificaton Hall was actually given a Cambodian name when it was built (the Norodom Palace (វិមាននរោត្តម)). Óc Eo (អូរកែវ), the former capital of the ancient state of Funan, is located in Khmer Krom. If the southern Khmers ever regain their independence, perhaps Óc Eo might be born again.

Here are some websites and weblogs on the Khmer Krom cause, and the land that they inhabit:

Khmer Krom News
Khmer Krom NGO
Phu Quoc Island

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