MINORITIES IN CAMBODIA

MINORITIES IN CAMBODIA

Khmers make up 90 percent of the population in Cambodia. Non-Khmer groups include the Vietnamese (5 percent), Chinese (1 percent), Cham (1 percent) and hill tribes (3 percent) that mainly live in the northeastern mountains. The Chams are a Muslim group, also known as the Muslim Cham. There are also a large number of them in Vietnam. The hill tribes are collectively known as Khmer Loeu (“Upland Khmer”) even though their language and culture are considerably different than the lowland Khmer.

In the 1970s, ethnic minorities made up around 15 percent of the population of Cambodia but many died or fled during the Khmer Rouge years even though they weren’t singled out for execution by the Khmer Rouge. In December 2004, 34 members of a hill tribe emerged from hiding in the jungle. They or their parents had gone into hiding to escape from the Khmer Rouge. They believed they Khmer Rouge was still in power and Pol Pot was still alive.

Ethnic minorities in Cambodia are taken advantage of by other people. Outsiders take their land and force them deeper into the forest. Many have serious health problems, suffering from malnutrition and diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. They sometimes eat purple tubers normally fed to pigs because they can’t grow rice. Because they sometimes live so far from water sources they don’t use valuable water for washing.

The Jaria, an ethnic group in Rattanakiri Province in northeast Cambodia, are very poor. In the early 2000s, a teenage member of the group was charged with murder after shooting and killing his younger brother and sister who were starving to death. The teenager had been left to care for his siblings after his parents died and decided to shoot them after his efforts to beg for food was fruitless.

Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)

Ethnic Composition of Cambodia

The population of Cambodia today is about 10 million. About 90-95 percent of the people are Khmer ethnic. The remaining 5-10 percent include Chinese-Khmers, Khmer Islam or Chams, ethnic hill-tribe people, known as the Khmer Loeu, and Vietnamese. About 10 percent of the population lives in Phnom Penh, the capital, making Cambodia largely a country of rural dwellers, farmers and artisans. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia <>]

The ethnic groups that constitute Cambodian society possess a number of economic and demographic commonalties- for example. Chinese merchants lived mainly in urban centers and play middlemen in many economic cycles, but they also preserve differences in their social and cultural institutions. They were concentrated mostly in central and in southeastern Cambodia, the major differences among these groups lie in social organization, language, and religion. <>

The majority of the inhabitants of Cambodia are settled in fairly permanent villages near the major bodies of water in the Tonle Sap Basin-Mekong Lowlands region. The Khmer Loeu live in widely scattered villages that are abandoned when the cultivated land in the vicinity is exhausted. The permanently settled Khmer and Cham villages usually located on or near the banks of a river or other bodies of water. Cham villages usually are made up almost entirely of Cham, but Khmer villages, especially in central and in southeastern of Cambodia, typically include sizable Chinese communities. <>

Minorities Under the Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge also targeted minorities. Chinese, Muslim Chams, Vietnamese, and Thais—who were part of families that lived in Cambodia for generations—were killed as part if the effort to make Cambodia "pure." The mostly Muslim Chams were singled out because they were one of the few groups that actively resisted the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge's treatment of minorities seems to have varied from group to group. The Vietnamese endured the greatest suffering. Tens of thousands were murdered in regime-organized massacres. Most of the survivors fled to Vietnam. The Cham, a Muslim minority who are the descendants of migrants from the old state of Champa, were forced to adopt the Khmer language and customs. Their communities, which traditionally had existed apart from Khmer villages, were broken up. Forty thousand Cham were killed in two districts of Kampong Cham Province alone. Thai minorities living near the Thai border also were persecuted. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Despite the fact that Chinese and Sino-Khmers had dominated the Cambodian economy for centuries and could be considered exploiters of the peasantry, the Khmer Rouge apparently did not single them out for harsh treatment. The war drove most rural Chinese into the cities, and after the forced evacuations they and their urban compatriots were regarded as "new people." They shared the same hardships as Khmers, however. Phnom Penh's close relationship with China was probably a factor in the regime's reluctance to persecute them openly. *

“In the late 1980s, little was known of Khmer Rouge policies toward the tribal peoples of the northeast, the Khmer Loeu. Pol Pot established an insurgent base in the tribal areas of Rotanokiri Province in the early 1960s, and he may have had a substantial Khmer Loeu following. Predominately animist peoples with few ties to the Buddhist culture of the lowland Khmers, the Khmer Loeu had resented Sihanouk's attempts to "civilize" them. Cambodia expert Serge Thion notes that marriage to a tribal person was considered "final proof of unconditional loyalty to the party." Khieu Samphan may have been married to a tribal woman. *

Survivor Sopheak Try reported: “In 1974 and at the beginning of 1975, there was a lot of disorder in Kroch Chhmar District, because it was under the control of the Lon Nol people. Ta Chea served as the district leader. He harmed and tortured the Chinese people, the Chams, and the Vietnamese. He called many of them to be executed. Another group was forced to live somewhere else. He had a right-hand man named Heang Ka Pong, who was the most brutal man in the village. He could take anyone to be killed; it was up to him.All the way until 17 April 1975, the district leader and his right-hand man were accused of being traitors and Angkar on the higher level took them to be killed. Later on they installed a new district leader. [Source: Sopheak Try, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org ]

The Vietnam-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) government that came to power in 1979 after the Khmer Rouge did not neglect to court ethnic minorities. Members of one of the Khmer Loeu (or highland Khmer) tribal minorities were made leaders in several northeastern provinces, and members of the Cham minority served in the central government.

Animism in Cambodia

Animism is particularly alive among the hill tribes in northeast Cambodia and to a lesser extent among ordinary Cambodians. People guard against ghosts by placing effigies on their doorways and fence posts. Sometimes barking dogs and strange noises by livestock are believed to alert people of the presence of ghosts.

Animism is manifested mostly in the lingering belief in supernatural beings. These include spirts that inhabits mountains, forest, rivers and other natural objects; guardian spirits of houses and animals and fields; ancestral spirits; and malevolent beings, hosts and demons. Some spirits are regarded as helpful but most are regarded as troublemakers who can cause sickness or bad luck especially to those who have engaged in improper behavior.

Among tribes in northeast Cambodia Arak Chantoo, the mountain spirt, is regarded as the chief god. He presides over other gods. When he is angry he causes chest pains, headaches, dizziness, high fever and sometimes death. Arak Bree, the forest spirits, presides over cultivation. Arak Ghree, the tree spirit, must be appeased before cutting down a tree. Arak Gow protects sacred stones and can cause headaches and insanity. Washing stones with the blood of sacrificed animals is one cure for problems caused by troublesome spirits..

Religious practitioners, associated with spirits, include kru, traditional healers and makers of protective amulets; rup arak (mediums); and tmop (sorcerers). They are generally called to heal the sick.

Local people often insist that disease is caused by evil spirts. Rather than seek hospital care or see a doctor they hang sacrificed chickens and pigs on forest paths, rub blood and rice wine into their homes, and make straw effigies of swords and rocket launchers to guard their villages and huts. When disease eventually stops villagers often credit that to a big ceremony in which many villages were present and they ate meat and blood and wine and then retreated to their home to their homes for 24 hours to allow the spirts to imbibe.

Visit to a Remote Tribal Village in Northeastern Cambodia

Howie Nielsen of mongabay.com wrote: “Another sacrificial chicken was dispatched and we ended the evening drinking rice wine and a surprisingly rich tasting chicken soup was served. We were up early and needed to visit a nearby house to meet, talk (and drink), avoiding another house en route. The occupants in the forbidden house were trying to exorcise some demons that had brought illness and suffering on their household. It was 6:30 in the morning and we were led straight to a jug of rice wine and a gang that had obviously been at it all night. [Source: Howie Nielsen, mongabay.com , March 14, 2013 +++]

“This was to be another opportunity for Greg to hear more tales of spirits and ghosts of this landscape. A horrific shriek came from the direction of their afflicted neighbors. It was quickly pointed out that a pig had been sacrificed to appease the angry local deities causing the household’s misery. I got up from the wine jug and tried a circuitous route, feigning picture taking in various directions to approach the troubled abode. My attempt was noticed and a couple of men began shouting at me. In no way was I to be permitted visiting that family. I guess that I had the potential to bring down the wrath of their spirits on every household. +++

“When we got to the river, we waded across, as it was quite a span. The river was alive with fishing, and laundry, and bathing and children playing, buffaloes cooling off. We finished up in another riverside string of houses, ending at a shabby, unfinished house with multiple generations living there. We were called in off the road by a rowdy group of drinkers, who wanted to share. Greg and I obliged with a social sip, then excused ourselves, but we lost Su for a couple of hours, as he was in the thrall of a couple flirtatious young women. We continued a bit farther, ending at the shabby, unfinished house of Niem. A stream of curiosity seekers kept wandering in for a stare, then quietly moving on. Rice wine, chicken in a pot and a slab of beer. Stories into the night, but I retired to the upstairs floor and checked out early. +++

“In northeastern Cambodia—particularly Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces the indigenous or "highlander" people who lived there were still mostly animists. Due to decades of warfare and instability, Christian missionaries had stayed away, and the highlanders had retained their traditional beliefs. I was sold. They want to put in a dam on the Lower Sesan River, a project that will—if it goes ahead—flood several villages. I stayed at one of those villages in February. It’s called Kompong Commune. Early one morning I walked down to the river and saw a man coming up from the embankment with five large fish flapping in a net, their wet scales glistening in the morning sun. About twenty minutes later I saw those same fish being barbecued on sticks over an open fire, where a pot of garden-grown rice was boiling and where a pile of the freshest looking vegetables I have ever seen were being chopped up. It was the healthiest-looking breakfast imaginable, and it cost that family nothing. How do you "improve" that? Sure, healthcare is lacking, but do we need to build dams and level forests to improve hygiene and healthcare? +++

“The next morning, I performed my social duties before I could find a bush for relief. An aging matron called me to sit for a crank on the wine jug, again well before 7. I had my bins with me so, I continued off into the paddy fields and forest remnants for an hour or so of birding, returning to the house for my dose of rice. We then packed and headed down to the Sesan, an hour away. Two boats were waiting for us, ferrying back to Vuen Sai. Thinking the trip was over, I was startled when two critically endangered red-headed vultures sailed over the boat landing in Vuen Sai. We indulged in our first cold beers in almost 2 weeks before our car had us back in Ban Lung by mid-afternoon. +++

See Traveling in Virachey National Park Under Places

Chams

The Chams are a Malay people and the remnants of the ancient kingdom of Champa, which ruled southern Vietnam and Cambodia for more than 1000 years. They speak a Malay-Polynesian (Austronesian) language, similar to Indonesian, with Khmer, Vietnamese, Sanskrit, Indonesian and Arabic influences. They live primarily in south-central Vietnam and the Tonle Sap and Chau Doc areas of Cambodia.

The Cham people in Cambodia descend from refugees of the Kingdom of Champa, which one ruled much of Vietnam between Gao Ha in the north and Bien Hao in the south.Po Dharma divides the Cambodian Cham into two groups--the orthodox and the traditional--based on their religious practices. The orthodox group, which makes up about one-third of the total number of Cham in the country, were located mainly in the Phnom Penh-Odongk area and in the provinces of Takev and Kampot. The traditional Cham were scattered throughout the midsection of the country in the provinces of Batdambang, Kampong Thum, Kampong Cham, and Pouthisat. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

The Cham have traditionally been farmers, fishermen and hunters. They grow wet and dry rice, cotton, maize, tobacco, castor-oil plants, manioc, peanuts, ferns, and vegetables. They developed their own method of slash-and-burn agriculture called ray cultivation. They have traditionally fished with nets and hunted with beaters, dogs and traps and raised buffalo, goats, dogs, poultry and ducks They also harvest timber from mangroves and forests for profit. In Cambodia they work primarily as lumberjacks, cattle herders and fishermen.

There are about 100,000 Chams in Vietnam and another 100,000 in Cambodia. They are darker than Vietnamese, and wear sarongs and colorful head dresses. In Cambodia, they work primarily as lumberjacks, cattle herders and fishermen.

See Vietnam

Cham History

The Cham people in Cambodia descend from refugees of the kingdom of Champa, which once ruled much of Vietnam between Cao Ha in the north and Bien Hoa in the south. In 1471 Champa was conquered by the Vietnamese, and many Cham fled to Cambodia. Cham scholar Po Dharma points out that the Cham have lived in Cambodia since at least 1456. They settled along the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers and in Batdambang, Pouthisat, Takev, Kampot, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thum, and Kampong Chhnang provinces. At some time before the seventeenth century, the Cambodian Cham and some of those in adjacent Vietnam converted to Islam, probably as a result of contacts with their Malay kin who had embraced that religion centuries earlier. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The Cham are believed to have originated in Java, where they absorbed a number of Hindu and Indian influences. In the A.D. 2nd century, they established the kingdom of Champa near present-day Danang and dominated present-day central Vietnam, particularly the coastal areas, and to a lesser extent southern Vietnam.

Early Cham history is divided into two major periods. The first, from the 2nd to the 10th centuries, was characterized by fighting between the Cham and Chinese. The second, from the 10th to 15th centuries, was characterized by fighting between the Cham and Annamese (Vietnamese). Champa endured until 1471 when it was defeated by the Annamese emperor Thanh Ton.

The Chams were known for their seafaring skills, agricultural inventiveness and religious monuments and temples. They commanded pirate vessels that traveled in the South China Sea and fought with the Khmers to the west and the Vietnamese and Chinese to the north. During times of peace Vietnamese rulers married off their daughters to Cham rulers.

The Cham civilization was centered in My Son (40 miles from Da Nang). Established in the 4th century by King Bhadravaman and occupied until the 13th century, it is not as impressive as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Pagan in Burma, but it contained a number of monumental stone structures and temples, some of which contained bas-reliefs of elephants and birds and Malay-Polynesian-style boat roofs. They also built numerous orange brick and sandstones towers across the Vietnamese countryside.

The Chams were skilled musicians and traders. They spoke a language similar Indonesian and decorated their temples with Indonesian-style motifs. India also had a strong influence on Cham culture and political organization. The Chams adopted Hinduism around the A.D. 5th century, used Sanskrit in important rituals and incorporated Hindu symbols and styles in their art and architecture.

Decline of the Cham Kingdom

After the defeat by the Annamese in 1471 the Chams failed in their attempt to break away from Annamese dominance. Cham culture declined and the Cham kingdom was pushed into a small enclave, which included Saigon, in the south, which remained part of the Kingdom of Champa until 1698.

As the Cham kingdom declined there was an exodus of Cham nobleman and commoners to Cambodia. The Cham hung on as a shadow of their former self. At the turn of the 20th century their numbers had dropped so low they were in danger of extinction. The last Champa queen was 90 in 1997. She had no daughter, which means that in a matriarchal society her line has died out.

Today Chams only make up 0.1 of the population of Vietnam and 1 percent of the population of Cambodia. They they are extremely poor.

Friendly relations prevailed between the Cham and the Khmer for centuries even though, because of the Cham religion, little intermarriage occurred. Under the Khmer Republic of 1970 to 1975, one of the elite military units was made up of members of the Cham and other ethnic minorities. The Khmer Rouge tried, without much success, to recruit the Cham during the struggle with the Khmer Republic. The Cham were singled out for particularly brutal repression under the Khmer Rouge regime, and large numbers were killed. The PRK actively courted the Cham, and in 1987 a Cham was a member of the party Central Committee and minister of agriculture. Cham sources estimate that in the 1980, in addition to the Cham in Cambodia and in Vietnam, there were 3,000 Cham in Malaysia, 2,000 in the United States, 1,000 in Western Europe, 500 in Canada, and several hundred in Indonesia. *

Cham Religion

The Chams that live in Vietnam are almost exclusively Hindu. Many of those who live in Cambodia are Shiite Muslims. Some practice a hybrid religion that incorporates both Islam and Hinduism.

Muslim leaders include the imam, one-grou (high priest of the mosque) and the mo’duo’n (censor). Hindu leaders include a high priest recruited from the basaih caste, the paja (celibate priestesses/prophets) and riju (Hindu censors). The camenei caste is responsible for taking care of temples and the kathar caste provide music for ceremonies.

Both Islamic and Hindu Chams participate in magic-religious festivals that feature ceremonies and dancing. The two major feasts---Bon Kate in September or October and Bon Chabur on January and February---blend elements of Islam, animism and Hindu and feature five days of celebrations and rites for ancestors. Po Klong Garai, a 13th century Cham temple, hosts a Cham festival with dancing and music and appearances by the last Cham queen.

Hindu Cham cremate their dead and place their ashes in a family sepulcher. Muslim Cham bury their dead twice: once soon after death in a temporary grave and a second time a year or so later, after the last of several commemorative ceremonies are held, in a permanent community cemetery.

Cham Society

The Cham have used both a matrilineal clan system and patrilineal system for choosing queens and kings. Inheritance of property is through the female line. Both men and women share many labor-related activities with women in charge of the domestic chores, textile making and child rearing and grain preparation. Land can be both owned by the village or individuals.

Cham society In Cambodia is mostly matriarchal with matrilineal descent. There is some trace of an earlier clan system. Parents permit their daughters a considerable amount of freedom of choice in marriage. The parents of the girl usually make the marriage overtures to the boy. A Cham marriage involves little ceremony. Among the Muslim Cham, the girl's parents ask the groom if he accepts their daughter in marriage, and he is expected to answer yes. The imam acts as a witness. This simple ceremony is followed by a feast. Residence is matrilocal; the young man goes to live with his wife's family. Females inherit the family property. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Couples have a fair amount of freedom in choosing their marriage partners. Newlywed generally live with the bride’s parents. Polygynous marriages are permitted as long as the first wife agrees. Divorce is also allowed and usually initiated by the wife.

Cham Life

Cham villages are made up of several hamlets governed by a mayor and five to 15 elected officials, who are responsible for providing security, collecting taxes and distributed funds. Social control is exerted through a mix of clan customs and national laws

The Cham generally live on poverty-stricken villages in dilapidated houses made from split bamboo and supported by pilings above the ground to prevent flooding. Typically there are few possessions, and rooms, if there are any, are reached by a hallway that runs outside the house. Ducks are often kept under the houses.

The Cham make many of they the things the use. Their low beds are made of wood with cotton, wood and/or matting for bedding. Tools include spoons made from coconut shells, mortars used for pounding rice, ashtrays used for flashlight, pots, bowls, chopsticks, baskets and a few iron tools. They make and possess little furniture.

The Cham of both Hindu and Muslim groups typically live in villages inhabited only by other Cham; the villages may be along the shores of water courses, or they may be inland. The Cham refer to the former as play krong (river villages) and to the latter as play ngok (upper villages). The inhabitants of the river villages engage in fishing, in raising rice, and in growing vegetables, especially onions. They trade fish to local Khmer for rice. The women in these villages earn money by weaving. The Cham who live inland support themselves by various means, depending on the village. Some villages specialize in metal working; others raise fruit trees or vegetables. The Cham also often serve as butchers of cattle for their Khmer Buddhist neighbors and are, in some areas, regarded as skillful water buffalo breeders. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987*]

Cham dress is distinctive. The main item of clothing for both sexes is a sarong-like garment called a batik, which is worn knotted at the waist. Men wear shirts over the batik, and women wear close-fitting blouses that are open at the throat and have tight sleeves. The characteristic headdress is a turban or scarf. *

Cham Culture

Chams wear sarongs and colorful head dresses. They enjoy singing songs, hymns and play instrumental music played with rudimentary instruments. Their literature includes folk tales, hymns, payers and lists of gods.

Cham dances include the fan dance, with young women creating an image of a blooming flower; the drum dance, with white-pajama-clad drummers and tambourine players beating their chests and doing somersaults; and the pottery dance, performed by women with flowers in their hair at a beach. In their most erotic and sensual dances, women in skimpy halter tops golden necklaces and metal headdresses, gyrate and sway from a kneeling position to a standing position and snake in between by men in loin clothes.

The Cham kingdom produced lovely brick buildings and temples with prong-top towers, fluted columns with lotus head-pedal bases, and Hindu-influenced bas reliefs depicting smiling elephants, dancing lions, Hindu gods such as Shiba, Ganesh and Garuda, and rows of topless women

Cham sculpture art sandstone friezes, sculptures, statues and bas-reliefs have been collected from Cham kingdom sites such as Tra Kieu, Dong Duong and My Son. They including images of Hindu deities, legendary heros, Buddhist images, sea monsters, mythical lions, smiling elephants, prancing apsaras, proud Shivas and lots lingams---huge phalluses of stone devoted to Shiva."

Mon

The Mon are an ethnic group that lives primarily in Myanmar but are also found in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. There are an old group that has been in Burma for over a thousand years and in Thailand at least 400 years and were largely independent and had a great empire until they were defeated by the Burmese in 1757.

The Mon are also known as the Mun, Peguan, Talaing, Taleng, There about 1.5 million of them in Myanmar; 100,000 in Thailand and smaller numbers in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Mon speak an Austroasiatic language in Mon-Khmer group and practice Theravada Buddhism like the Burmese and Thais. In Myanmar, most also speak Burmese. For many Mon Burmese is their first language. Although they have their own state in Myanmar and have been active in the ethnic insurgency against the Myanmar government they have largely been assimilated there.

The Mon have traditionally lived in villages in the lowlands and raised wet rice, sweet potatoes, pineapples and sugar cane and fished for consumption and money. Competition from Thai commercial vessels has caused Mon fishing to decline. The Mon are regarded as superb potters. Many still live in thatched roof houses without electricity. Many villages have a single ramshackle school with perhaps one teacher.

Mon History

The first major group of immigrants to arrive in present-day Burma were the Mon who were originally from China and settled in what is now northern Burma around the third century B.C. The Mon where a highly cultured Buddhist people with a classical North Indian heritage who settled in Central Burma.

The Mon and were heavily influenced by Indian Hindu culture and Asoka Buddhist kingdom in India.. They established the Dvaravati Kingdom (A.D. 6th to 11th century) and several centers in mainland Southeast Asia. The Dvaravatis controlled the Menam Valley area from the 6th or 7th century to the 11th century. They were ultimately defeated by the Thais who absorbed much of their culture.

Pegu (50 miles from was established by the Mon in the 6th century, it was the capital of southern Myanmar in the 13th century, when the Mons ruled the region. In 1757, it was sacked and almost completely destroyed by the Burmese monarch, King Alaungpaya.

Khmer Loeu

The Khmer Loeu are the non-Khmer highland tribes in Cambodia. The Khmer Loeu are found namely in the northeastern provinces of Rattanakiri, Stung Treng, Mondulkiri and Crate. Khmer Loeu form the majority population in Rotanokiri and Mondulkiri provinces, and they also are present in substantial numbers in Kracheh and Stoeng Treng provinces. Their total population in 1969 was estimated at 90,000 persons. In 1971 the number of Khmer Loeu was estimated variously between 40,000 and 100,000 persons. Population figures were unavailable in 1987, but the total probably was nearly 100,000 persons. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Although the origins of this group are not clear, some believe that the Mon-Khmer-speaking tribes were part of the long migration of these people from the northwest. The Austronesian-speaking groups, Rade and Jarai, apparently came to coastal Vietnam and then moved west, forming wedges among some of the Mon-Khmer groups. The Khmer Loeu are found mainly in the northeastern provinces of Rotanokiri, Stoeng Treng, and Mondol Kiri. The Cambodian government coined the word Khmer Loeu--literally "Highland Khmer"--in the 1960s in order to create a feeling of unity between the highland tribal groups and the ruling lowland ethnic Khmer. Traditionally the Khmer have referred to these groups as phnong and samre, both of which have pejorative meanings. Some of the highland groups, in fact, are related in language to the Khmer, but others are from a very different linguistic and cultural background. *

Most Khmer Loeu live in scattered temporary villages that have only a few hundred inhabitants. These villages usually are governed by a council of local elders or by a village headman. The Khmer Loeu cultivate a wide variety of plants, but the man crop is dry or upland rice growth by the slash-and-burn method. Hunting, fishing, and gathering supplement the cultivated vegetable foods in the Khmer Loeu diet. Houses vary from huge multi-family long houses to small single family structures. They may be built close to the ground or on stilts. *

Women in the Khmer-Loeu tribe used to stretch their ear lobs with bundles of sticks. Boys in the tribe entertained guests before dinner by playing a musical instrument made from strings pegged to a piece of bamboo. A gourd, which was attached to the instrument and rested against the musician's chest, amplified the sound. For dinner blood soup and roast lizard were served. After dinner everybody---including children as young as four--- relaxed for a smoke of a harsh black tobacco. [Source: John Ambercrombie, National Geographic, October 1964]

Recent History of the Khmer Loeu

During the period of the French Protectorate, the French did not interfere in the affairs of the Khmer Loeu. Reportedly, French army commanders considered the Khmer Loeu as an excellent source of personnel for army outposts, and they recruited large numbers to serve with the French forces. Many Khmer Loeu continued this tradition by enlisting in the Cambodian army. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

In the 1960s, the Cambodian government carried out a broad civic action program--for which the army had responsibility--among the Khmer Loeu in Mondol Kiri, Rotanokiri, Stoeng Treng, and Kaoh Kong provinces. The goals of this program were to educate the Khmer Loeu, to teach them Khmer, and eventually to assimilate them into the mainstream of Cambodian society. There was some effort at resettlement; in other cases, civil servants went out to live with individual Khmer Loeu groups to teach their members Khmer ways. Schools were provided for some Khmer Loeu communities, and in each large village a resident government representative disseminated information and encouraged the Khmer Loeu to learn the lowland Khmer way of life. Civil servants sent to work among the Khmer Loeu often viewed the assignment as a kind of punishment. *

In the late 1960s, an estimated 5,000 Khmer Loeu in eastern Cambodia rose in rebellion against the government and demanded self-determination and independence. The government press reported that local leaders loyal to the government had been assassinated. Following the rebellion, the hill people's widespread resentment of ethnic Khmer settlers caused them to refuse to cooperate with the Cambodian army in its suppression of rural unrest. Both the Khmer and the Vietnamese communists took advantage of this disaffection, and they actively recruited Khmer Loeu into their ranks. In late 1970, the government forces withdrew from Rotanokiri and Mondol Kiri provinces and abandoned the area to the rapidly growing Khmer communist insurgent force, the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea (RAK), and to its Vietnamese mentors. There is some evidence that in the 1960s and in the 1970s the Front Uni pour la Libération des Races Opprimés (FULRO--United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races) united tribes in the mountainous areas of southern Vietnam and had members from Khmer Loeu groups as well as from the Cham in Cambodia. *

In the early 1980s, Khmer Rouge propaganda teams infiltrated the northeastern provinces and encouraged rebellion against the central government. In 1981 the government structure included four Khmer Loeu province chiefs, all reportedly from the Brao group, in the northeastern provinces of Mondol Kiri, Rotanokiri, Stoeng Treng, and Preah Vihear. According to a 1984 resolution of the PRK National Cadres Conference entitled "Policy Toward Ethnic Minorities," the minorities were considered an integral part of the Cambodian nation, and they were to be encouraged to participate in collectivization. Government policy aimed to transform minority groups into modern Cambodians. The same resolution called for the elimination of illiteracy, with the stipulations that minority languages be respected and that each tribe be allowed to write, speak, and teach in its own language. *

Khmer Loeu Groups

The major Khmer Loeu groups in Cambodia are the Kuy, Mnong, Stieng, Brao, Pear, Jarai, and Rade. All but the last two speak Mon-Khmer languages. All but about 160,000 Kuy lived in the northern Cambodia provinces of Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, and Stoeng as well as in adjacent Thailand. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Several small groups, perhaps totalling no more than 10,000 people in Cambodia and southeastern Thailand, make up the Pearic group. The main members are the Pear in Batdambang, Pouthisat, and Kampong Thum provinces; the Chong in Thailand and Batdambang Province; the Saoch in Kampot Province; the Samre in what was formerly Siemreab Province (now part of Siemreab-Otdar Meanchey Province); and the Suoi in Kampong Chhnang Province. Some believe that this group constitutes the remnant of the pre-Khmer population of Cambodia. Many members of the Pearic group grow dry-field rice, which they supplement by hunting and by gathering. They have totemic clans, each headed by a chief who inherited his office patrilineally. Marriage occurs at an early age; there is a small bride-price. Residence may be matrilocal until the birth of the first child, or it may be patrilocal as it is among the Saoch. The village headman is the highest political leader. The Saoch have a council of elders who judge infractions of traditional law. Two chief sorcerers, whose main function is to control the weather, play a major role in Pearic religion. Among the Saoch, a corpse is buried instead of being burned as among the Khmer. *

Kuy, Brao and Mnong

The Kui is a group that lives in east-central Thailand, northeast Cambodia and Laos. They are closely related to the Chaobon, Chomg, Pear and similar groups and are believed to be have lived in the region before the Lao and Thais. In the late 1980s, about 160,000 Kuy lived in the northern Cambodian provinces of Kampong Thum, Preah Vihear, and Stoeng Treng as well as in adjacent Thailand. (Approximately 70,000 Kuy had been reported in Cambodia itself in 1978.) Most of the Kuy have been assimilated into the predominant culture of the country in which they live. Many are Buddhists, and the majority practice wet-rice cultivation. They have the reputation of being skilled blacksmiths. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The Brao, including the Tampuon subgroup, are an ethnic group that lives scattered across a fairly large area in northeast Cambodia and southeast Laos. There were about 18,000 of them in 1985. Also known as the Lave or Love, they practice slash and-burn rice agriculture and speak a Mon-Khmer language. Their language is similar to that of the Krung and Kravet in southern Cambodia. In 1962 the Brao population in Laos was estimated at about 9,000 persons. In 1984 it was reported that the total Brao population was between 10,000 and 15,000 persons. About 3,000 Brao reportedly moved into Cambodia from Laos in the 1920s. The Brao live in large villages centered on a communal house. They cultivate dry-rice and produce some pottery. They appear to have a bilateral kinship system. *

A total of 23,000 Mnong were thought to be living in Cambodia and in Vietnam in the early 1980s. In Cambodia the Mnong are found in Mondol Kiri, Kracheh, and Kampong Cham provinces in villages consisting of several longhouses each of which is divided into compartments that house can nuclear families. The Mnong practice dry-rice farming, and some also cultivate a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and other useful plants as secondary crops. Some subgroups weave cloth. At least two of the Mnong subgroups have matrilineal descent. Monogamy is the predominant form of marriage, and residence is usually matrilocal. Wealth distinctions are measured by the number of buffalo that a notable person sacrifices on a funereal or ceremonial occasion as a mark of status and as a means of eliciting social approval. Slavery is known to have existed in the past, but the system allowed a slave to gain freedom. *

The Stieng are closely related to the Mnong. Both groups straddle the Cambodian-Vietnamese border, and their languages belong to the same subfamily of Mon-Khmer. In 1978 the Cambodian Stieng numbered about 20,000 persons in all. The Stieng cultivate dry-field rice. Their society is apparently patriarchal, residence after marriage and is patrilocal if a bride-price was paid. The groups have a very loose political organization; each village has its own leaders and tribunals. *

Jarai and Rhade

The Rhade (Rade) is a group that lives in the southern highlands of Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia. There are perhaps 250,000 of them. They live primarily in longhouses set up along paths with kitchen gardens nearby. Within the longhouses each nuclear family has its own area with special compartments for old people and young women and their guests.

The Rhade practice both slash-and-burn dry-rice and maize agriculture and wet rice irrigation cultivation. Each village has a stand of bamboo trees considered scared. Descent is matrilineal and property is controlled by women although men serve as head of the longhouses. . Villages form alliances, in may ways based on marriages. The Rhade honor a pantheon of deities and spirits and honor them with a number of rites. The most important deities are involved with rice production.

The Austronesian groups of Jarai and Rade form two of the largest ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Both groups spill over into northeastern Cambodia, and they share many cultural similarities. The total Jarai population stands at about 200,000; the Rade number about 120,000. According to 1978 population figures, there were 10,000 Jarai and 15,000 Rade in Cambodia in the late 1970s. They live in longhouses containing several compartments occupied by matrilineally linked nuclear families. There may be twenty to sixty longhouses in one village. The Rade and Jarai cultivate dry-field rice and secondary crops such as maize. Both groups have exogamous matrilineal descent groups (consanguineous kin groups that acknowledge a traditional bond of common descent in the maternal line and within which they do not marry). Women initiate marriage negotiations, and residence is matrilocal. Each village has its own political hierarchy and is governed by an oligarchy of the leading families. In the past, sorcerers known as the "kings of fire and water" exerted political power that extended beyond an individual village. The Rade and the Jarai have been involved intimately in the FULRO movement, and many of the leaders in the movement are from these two groups. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

The Rhade is a group that lives in the southern highlands of Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia. There are perhaps 250,000 of them. They live primarily in longhouses set up along paths with kitchen gardens nearby. Within the longhouses each nuclear family has its own area with special compartments for old people and young women and their guests.

The Rhade practice both slash-and-burn dry-rice and maize agriculture and wet rice irrigation cultivation. Each village has a stand of bamboo trees considered scared. Descent is matrilineal and property is controlled by women although men serve as head of the longhouses. Villages form alliances, in may ways based on marriages. The Rhade honor a pantheon of deities and spirits and honor them with a number of rites. The most important deities are involved with rice production.

Rhade, See Vietnam

Small Ethnic Minorities Cambodia

The Chong (Xong) are a small ethnic group that lives in the Cardamom Mountains along the Thai-Cambodian border. The speak a Mon-Khmer language and are closely related to the Pear and Saoch. Only a few thousand are left and they have mostly been assimilated into Cambodian society.

The Sakai are an isolated tribe that lives in the rain forests along the Thai-Cambodia border. They wear loincloths and hunt with spears. They had never been photographed until the early 2000s when a camera trap intended to track wildlife snapped a picture of one man.

The Pear are an ethnic group that lives in southwest Cambodia. There are only about 1,000 of them and they have been largely assimilated into Cambodian society. They are also known as the Bahr or Pohr and are closely related to the Chong ad the Saoch,

The Saoch are a very small ethnic group that lives in southwest Cambodia. There are only about 700 of them. They used to be hunters and gatherers but now have been largely assimilated into Cambodian society. They are closely related to the Chong and Pear.

Chinese in Cambodia

There are an estimated 300,000 and 600,000 Chinese-Cambodians in Cambodia. They tend to be assimilated and many have intermarried with Khmers (one reason for variance in population numbers is how mixed blood and intermarried Chinese are counted) . They speak Khmer, worship at Khmer Buddhist temples and have Cambodian style weddings. Few can speak Chinese. In many cases the only thing they seems to have retained from their culture is the Chinese cakes served at special occasions and the custom of living with the wife’s family after marriage.

The Chinese in Cambodia formed the country's largest ethnic minority in the late 1960s and in the early 1970s. In the late 1960s, an estimated 425,000 ethnic Chinese lived in Cambodia, but by 1984, as a result of warfare, Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese persecution, and emigration, only about 61,400 Chinese remained in the country. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Sixty percent of the Chinese were urban dwellers engaged mainly in commerce; the other 40 percent were rural residents working as shopkeepers, as buyers and processors of rice, palm sugar, fruit, and fish, and as moneylenders. In 1963 William Willmott, an expert on overseas Chinese communities, estimated that 90 percent of the Chinese in Cambodia were involved in commerce and that 92 percent of those involved in commerce in Cambodia were Chinese. The Chinese in Kampot Province and in parts of Kaoh Kong Province also cultivated black pepper and fruit (especially rambutans, durians, and coconuts), and they engaged in salt-water fishing. *

In rural Cambodia, the Chinese were moneylenders, and they wielded considerable economic power over the ethnic Khmer peasants through usury. Studies in the 1950s disclosed that Chinese shopkeepers would sell to peasants on credit at interest rates of from 10 to 20 percent a month. In 1952 according to Australian political analyst Ben Kiernan, the Colonial Credit Office found in a survey that 75 percent of the peasants in Cambodia were in debt. There seemed to be little distinction between Chinese and Sino-Khmer (offspring of mixed Chinese and Khmer marriages) in the moneylending and shopkeeping enterprises.*

The Cambodian Chinese are recognized as Cambodian citizens and as a sign of how influential they are, of the 24 member board of the Chamber of Commerce established in Phnom Penh in the early 2000s 17 members spoke Chinese, but only three were fluent in English.

Different Chinese Groups in Cambodia

The Chinese in Cambodia represented to five major linguistic groups, the largest of which was the Teochiu (accounting for about 60 percent), followed by the Cantonese (accounting for about 20 percent), the Hokkien (accounting for about 7 percent), and the Hakka and the Hainanese (each accounting for about 4 percent). These belonging to certain Chinese linguistic groups in Cambodia tended to gravitate to certain occupations. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The Teochiu, who made up about 90 percent of the rural Chinese population, ran village stores, controlled rural credit and rice-marketing facilities, and grew vegetables. In urban areas they were often engaged in such enterprises as the import-export business, the sale of pharmaceuticals, and street peddling. The Cantonese, who were the majority Chinese group before the Teochiu migrations began in the late 1930s, lived mainly in the city. Typically, the Cantonese engaged in transportation and in construction, for the most part as mechanics or carpenters. *

The Hokkien community was involved in import-export and in banking, and it included some of the country's richest Chinese. The Hainanese started out as pepper growers in Kampot Province, where they continued to dominate that business. Many moved to Phnom Penh, where, in the late 1960s, they reportedly had a virtual monopoly on the hotel and restaurant business. They also often operated tailor shops and haberdasheries. In Phnom Penh, the newly-arrived Hakka were typically folk dentists, sellers of traditional Chinese medicines, and shoemakers. *

History of the Chinese in Cambodia

There are records of Chinese envoys visiting Angkor Wat in the 13th century. The Chinese have traditionally lived in the cities and towns and controlled businesses in part because the Khmers have traditionally looked down on commerce. Chinese have controlled much of the commerce in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia since the 19th century and today are still involved in businesses throughout the Asian-Pacific region.

In the colonial period, with the help of French policies, Chinese were set themselves up so that about 400 of them dominated the Cambodian economy. Distinction by dialect group also has been important historically in the administrative treatment of the Chinese in Cambodia. The French brought with them a system devised by the Vietnamese Emperor Gia Long (1802-20) to classify the local Chinese according to areas of origin and dialect. These groups were called bang (or congregations by the French) and had their own leaders for law, order, and tax-collecting. In Cambodia every Chinese was required to belong to a bang. The head of a bang, known as the ong bang, was elected by popular vote; he functioned as an intermediary between the members of his bang and the government. Individual Chinese who were not accepted for membership in a bang were deported by the French authorities. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The French system of administering the Chinese community was terminated in 1958. During the 1960s, Chinese community affairs tended to be handled, at least in Phnom Penh, by the Chinese Hospital Committee, an organization set up to fund and to administer a hospital established earlier for the Chinese community. This committee was the largest association of Chinese merchants in the country, and it was required by the organization's constitution to include on its fifteen-member board six from the Teochiu dialect group, three from the Cantonese, two from the Hokkien, two from the Hakka, and two from the Hainanese. The hospital board constituted the recognized leadership of Phnom Penh's Chinese community. Local Chinese school boards in the smaller cities and towns often served a similar function. *

In the 1960s there were about 500,000 Chinese in Cambodia. Most of them originally came from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. In 1971 the government authorized the formation of a new body, the Federated Association of Chinese of Cambodia, which was the first organization to embrace all of Cambodia's resident Chinese. According to its statutes, the federation was designed to "aid Chinese nationals in the social, cultural, public health, and medical fields," to administer the property owned jointly by the Chinese community in Phnom Penh and elsewhere, and to promote friendly relations between Cambodians and Chinese. With leadership that could be expected to include the recognized leaders of the national Chinese community, the federation was believed likely to continue the trend, evident since the early 1960s, to transcend dialect group allegiance in many aspects of its social, political, and economic programs. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Generally, relations between the Chinese and the ethnic Khmer were good. There was some intermarriage, and a sizable proportion of the population in Cambodia was part Sino-Khmer, who were assimilated easily into either the Chinese or the Khmer community. Willmott assumes that a Sino-Khmer elite dominated commerce in Cambodia from the time of independence well into the era of the Khmer Republic. *

Chinese in Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge

Chinese-Cambodians were singled out for discrimination by the Lon Nol government that preceded the Khmer Rouge. Although Beijing was an ally of the Khmer Rouge, that didn’t stop the Pol Pot regime from killing Chinese-Cambodians and forcing them to flee the country. The number of ethnic Cambodia fell from 430,000 in 1975 to 215,000 in 1979. After the Khmer Rouge was ousted Chinese were discriminated against by the Vietnamese. At that most Chinese were poor, getting by running very small businesses.

The Khmer Rouge takeover was catastrophic for the Chinese community for several reasons. When the Khmer Rouge took over a town, they immediately disrupted the local market. According to Willmott, this disruption virtually eliminated retail trade "and the traders (almost all Chinese) became indistinguishable from the unpropertied urban classes." The Chinese, in addition to having their major livelihood eradicated, also suffered because of their class membership. They were mainly well-educated urban merchants, thus possessing three characteristics that were anathema to the Khmer Rouge. Chinese refugees have reported that they shared the same brutal treatment as other urban Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge regime and that they were not especially singled out as an ethnic group until after the Vietnamese invasion. Observers believe that the anti-Chinese stance, of the Vietnamese government and of its officials in Phnom Penh, makes it unlikely that a Chinese community on the earlier scale will reappear in Cambodia in the near future. *

Tens of thousands of Chinese were killed or driven from Cambodia during Khmer Rouge years. They were reportedly to singled out for harsh treatment because of their involvement in commercial activities. By one estimate 200,000 Chinese perished between 1975 and 1979.

One diplomat told Reuters: "They were regarded as bourgeois and forced to the fields to do hard labor. In 1979 they started to return to Phnom Penh but they had lost all their properties and land, even the Chinese temples were destroyed. They suffered a lot during those years---now they have restored their business, gradually they have started to make business and learn to make a little money so they could begin and get their property back."

Chinese in Cambodia After the Khmer Rouge

In the 1980s the Chinese kept a low profile because of Chinese support of the Khmer Rouge. In the 1990s the government softened up on the Chinese. Temples were rebuilt, Chinese-language schools were reopened and permission was given in 1990 to establish the Association of Chinese in Cambodia. In 1995, there were 13 Chinese-language schools and five Chinese temples in Phnom Penh.

In 1995, it was estimated that there were about 300,000 Chinese in Cambodia, 80 percent of them in Phnom Penh. According to many people in Cambodia the Chinese have re-established themselves as the dominant economic force in the country, playing a major role in import-export, banking, hotels, gold and rice trading, garments, manufacturing and property.

In the late 1990s and 2000s there was a kind of rebirth of Chinese culture. A number of Chinese schools opened. Other private schools offered Mandarin lessons. Chinese restaurants and Chinese newspaper were launched. The government made efforts to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from overseas Chinese businessmen and lure large numbers of Chinese tourists. Chinese-Cambodians have been encouraged by the Hun Sen government to engage in business and use their connections in China to bring in foreign investment. In this environment, Chinese-Cambodians have thrived and increased their domination in many businesses.

Vietnamese in Cambodia

There are about 10 million Vietnamese (5 percent of the population) living in Cambodia. Most work at low-level jobs as laborers, construct workers and fishermen. The Vietnamese community is scattered throughout southeastern and central Cambodia. They were concentrated in Phnom Penh, and in Kandal, Prey Veng, and Kampong Cham provinces.

Enmity has existed between the Khmer and the Vietnamese for centuries, but this antagonism did not hinder the growth of a sizable Vietnamese community scattered throughout southeastern and central Cambodia. According to an American scholar on Southeast Asia, Donald J. Steinberg, an estimated 291,596 Vietnamese, constituting more than 7 percent at the total population, resided in Cambodia in 1950. They were concentrated in Phnom Penh, end in Kandal, Prey Veng, and Kampong Cham provinces. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

No close cultural or religious ties exist between Cambodia and Vietnam. The Vietnamese fall within the Chinese culture sphere, rather within the Indian, where the Thai and Khmer belong. The Vietnamese differ from the Khmer in mode of dress, in kinship organization, and in many other ways- for example the Vietnamese are Mahayama Buddhists while most of the Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists. Although Vietnamese lived in urban centers such as Phnom Penh, a substantial number lived along the lower Mekong and Bassac rivers as well as on the shores of the Tonle Sap, where they engaged in fishing. Much of the manpower on French-owned rubber plantations was provided by the Vietnamese, who also were employed by the French as lower level civil servants and as white collar workers in private businesses. *

Dislike of the Vietnamese in Cambodia

Cambodians generally don’t like the Vietnamese. One Cambodian student told the New York Times, "Vietnam will eat up Cambodia if it can." The Vietnamese are often blamed for any problems and are convenient whipping boys for frustrations. The derogatory word for Vietnamese is “yuon.” They are blamed for stealing resources and dominating the economy.

The Khmer have shown more antipathy toward the Vietnamese than toward the Chinese or toward their other neighbors, the Thai. Several factors explain this attitude. The expansion of Vietnamese power has resulted historically in the loss of Khmer territory. The Khmer, in contrast, have lost no territory to the Chinese and little to the Thai. No close cultural or religious ties exist between Cambodia and Vietnam. *

One of the things Buddhist Cambodians have traditionally not liked about the Confucian Vietnamese, other than being occupiers of Cambodia during the seventies, was the fact they ate dog. Nonetheless in the pre-war days dog meat sausages used to sell well in Cambodian markets. Vietnamese have traditionally been the butchers and fishmongers in Cambodia. They sold their products live to ensure they were fresh. Because it was considered taboo for Cambodians to ask for the an animal to be killed, the usual custom was for customers to point at what they wanted and say something like “too bad it is still alive” and then walk down the street, with the Vietnamese vendor catching up with them and giving them what the wanted freshly killed and telling them it just died.

Refugees and Cambodia

Minorities in Vietnam have sought refuge in Cambodia. In July 2003, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees gave protection to 42 members of a Vietnamese minority that had been hiding in the jungles of northeastern Cambodia. In April, May and June 2004, hundreds of tribes people from Vietnam fled into Cambodia after clashes with troops and hid in the Cambodia jungles. The crack down came after 10,000 Montagnards, many of them Christians, demonstrated for religion freedom over the Easter holiday in April. In May 2004, Amnesty International condemned the Cambodia government for forcing some of the Vietnamese minority member to go back o Vietnam.

See Vietnam

About 40,000 Cambodians who fled the Khmer Rouge lived in refugee camps in Thailand in the 1990s. Some had to tip toe their way through mine fields and walked so far they wore the skin off the soles of their feet. Some escaped during the Vietnamese invasion in 1979 and made their way to refugee camps in Thailand. In 1994, the Thai Army trucked 25,000 Cambodian refugees back to Cambodia without informing the Cambodian government of their plans.

Cambodians in the United States

There are about 300,000 people of Cambodian descent in the United States. Around 145,000 Cambodians were given refuge status in the U.S. in the 1980s and 90s. In many cases they are among the poorest of all minorities living in the United States. The average income of those living in the Los Angeles area was $4,300 in the early 2000s and 46 percent lived below poverty level. Few spoke English well. Many were not aware of their rights and had not applied for citizenship.

There are 35,000 to 50,000 Cambodians living in Long Beach, California, the largest Cambodian community outside Cambodia. There are reasonably large communities in Fresno, Lowell, Massachusetts and the Tacoma-Seattle area. There homes are distinguished by front porch shrines and pots of lemon grass. The community is large enough to support its own youth gangs and rap and hip hop scene, with artist describing the violence experienced by their people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and on the mean streets of their adopted land.

There is a lot of crime in the Cambodian communities in the United States. In Fresno and Long beach many people know someone who has been murdered. or shot. In Fresno there was 11 shootings that claimed five lives in a five month period in 2001 and 2002.

A number of Cambodian children were adopted by American parents. Some arrived without knowing their birth dates and family names and thought their family’s were dead.

Book A Blessing Our Ashes, The remarkable Odyssey of My Unlikely Brother by Adam Fifield is the story of a Cambodian refugees journey to the United States wrirretn by his adoptive brother.

Cambodian-Americans Deported to Cambodia

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, some unlucky Cambodian-Americans who put off filling out the paperwork to become an American citizen and had a criminal record were deported to Cambodia. Some had families in the United States and had never set foot Cambodia and spoke virtually no Khmer and knew nothing of Cambodia except what their parents had told them.

The New York Times magazine described one young man who was arrested for firing a gun and spent 11 months in jail but never committed another crime. After he was released he married and had two children and graduated from college. While he was working on his M.B.A. and working for a Boeing contractor he was notified one day that he was being deported and was sent off to Cambodia ten days later and barred from ever entering the United States again. Once in Cambodia he was helpless. He couldn’t read signs in Khmer and lived off money wired to him by his wife.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia, edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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