A local culture longer than Angkor

Ever heard this proverb before: “The grass is always greener on the other side”? This reflects our current worry about Cambodian culture loss. Actually, looking deeper, other local ethnic identities are also endangered. Requested by Conserve Indigenous People’s Languages (CIPL), we, at SFA, trained indigenous filmmakers last month in Banlung. This ad-hoc Docu-FilmCamp by Mr. CHHORN BunHom, allowed us to understand a little more about their communities through 3 Cs.

From left to right: SAM Leakhena, SFA’s training assistant, CHHORN BunHom, SFA’s trainer, myself, SIN Bolai, CIPL’s Program Coordinator, NAUNG Sam Oeung, CIPL’s Executive Director, CIPL’s Administrator

1- Cousins and Co-Owners

From the dawn of time, Cambodia has been home to varied ethnic groups. Of which Khmer people make up for the majority. Historically, Khmer, Tampuan, Phnong, Kuy, Jarai and many others share this land once called “Khmer Empire”. Khmer people seemed to be most exposed to external cultures. Hence, we have been dominating territorial administration. In spite of Khmers’ countless historic milestones, our indigenous cousins have kept their traditions dear. Therefore, if one wishes to unearth the roots of Khmer, they might start with our indigenous fellows.

Traditional Weaving Method Currently Preserved by Tampoun Families

2- Community Issues

Despite centuries of co-existence, our indigenous fellows tend to face this recurrent dilemma: conservation of minor identities or mainstreaming into Khmer. When we went to document their lives, we could see some traditions preserved. Those include ethnic weaving methods and gongs as their basic music instrument. Yet, a few changes have been obviously spotted: Khmer casual clothes and fancy substances like drugs. Surprisingly, these issues have been raised by their young fellow filmmakers.

Behind-the-Scene of a short documentary on drug issues faced by indigenous youth, shot by the lake of Yeak Laom, Rattanakiri’s landmark

3- Civilization or Constraints?

By all means, we can only help them with filmmaking skills. So we’d rather leave the decisions and action to our indigenous trainees. We, as Cambodians, (not Khmer), believe documentaries would highlight their issues better. These can lead to more holistic solutions. For instance, after training in Bophana Center, Tumpoun filmmaker named Lean made a documentary titled “Endure“. Eventually, some authorities raised (financial) support of his female subject. Her background is worsened with divorce, after domestic violence and poverty.

A gong show in front of a Tampoun ancestor statue, shot for another documentary

Overall, the issues faced by our indigenous youth feel as big as mainstream Cambodian people. If we think every human being deserves their birthrights, indigenous people should be treated the same way. Then, we can proudly state their cultural identities and human development contributes to Cambodian diversity.

PS: Since last year, we have decided to tackle indigenous community issues in our next phase of Let’s Document Cambodia. So stay tuned for these updates on our Page from January on!

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PPS: Check out this impromptu gong performance for your relaxation!