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!

A Resilient Family Trip From Northwest to Northeast of Cambodia

Due to our current lockdown, our family trip for important holidays such as Pchum Ben turned inbound! This year, we roamed Northwest to Northeast of Cambodia, covering Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri. Although this itinerary felt personally familiar with me, revisiting these four charming provinces with family felt like a total package!

1- Preah Vihear

The province is named after its temple complex, known for its bordering disputes. The ruins sit on a steep hill overviewing inland Cambodia. Before getting there, we dropped by Koh Ker, marked with its own historic uniqueness and architectural style. On a professional level, the two last times I visited this latter temple complex were dedicated to producing our documentary called “Koh Ker the Lost Wonder” in 2014. Recently, Ahkara was lucky enough to have translated the book on the same complex. Between these two sites, we stopped by a new site called Poeung Preah Koh, thanks to its outstanding huge rock on land!

Full House in Preah Vihear Temple

2- Stung Treng

We would rather consider this province our transit if it was not for Sopheakmith waterfall or Lbak Khaon. This natural site boasts its ceaseless water flow, especially in the rainy season. In contrast, the dry reason will reveal more rocks blocking this waterway. I still felt mixed on the way from Preah Vihear to Stung Treng. On one hand, I doubted the unusual silence for over 100 kilometers of a road paved with jungles on either side. On the other, we could spot some wild animals like monkeys or birds from time to time.

Squeezed Shot at Sopheak Mitt Waterfall, Stung Treng

3- Rattanakiri

I didn’t expect us to stay in such a delicate place as Ratankiri Boutique Hotel. Yet, our swimming experience at night was all the fun we could make out of our stay there. Of course, the following day, we followed a familiar itinerary like Kachanh waterfall and Yak Loam lake. The lengthy rains of our late monsoon didn’t keep us, though, all sane from breakfast till we left this indigenous province.

3/4 Family Shot at Yak Loam Lake, Rattankiri

4- Mondulkiri

There was where I found the lodging contrast of a guesthouse labelled as a (three-starred?) hotel! Anyway, all the landscapes we visited in this cool land memorized us all along. Once there, keep in mind: Dos Kramom hill, Bou Sra waterfall, Coffee Plantation Resort. This time, I got to see a second Sea Forest less eye-catchy, yet more organized, on Bai Chhao hill. Also, the zig-zag to a grassland hill, named Anlong Snae, felt fresh to me/us.

Anlong Snae, from a Hill Top, Mondulkiri

To wrap up this journey, despite its intensity, we all learned to love each other’s company better. Although this may be our first time to travel with a local agency for an indoor tour, we were pleased to support this threatened industry, once reliant on international tourists. Come what may, life goes on, with more heart-warming trips ahead!

The Vast and Mysterious Prey Lang

After my self-quarantine time, it looks like the second half of my 2020 has been packed with a series of outdoor trips. This time, my destination was to Prey Lang, or Tbong Teuk village (Kampong Thom province), to be exact. Instead of life lessons, the whole experience taught me some hidden facts. If you know about Prey Lang, stop here! If you don’t, let’s go further down this post!

1- Vastitude Means Natural Wealth

By “vastitude”, I refer to the coverage of this largest forest of Cambodia, over four neighboring provinces: Kampong Thom, Kratie, Preah Vihear and Stung Streng. Kampong Thom itself is the largest province of the Kingdom. Both indigenous and Khmer people living around and on this natural habitat, in terms of construction materials, herbal medicine and wild food. Hence, the name “Prey Lang” itself is translated in Kuy language as “Our Forest”.

Aerial View by Our Drone Footage

2- One Forest, One Community

It is a bit exaggerating to cite “one community”, because even villages located 10 kilometers away from Prey Lang still depend on her. Here, I simply meant the forest united those communities into one to protect her. This cause of protection alone compelled me and my SFA team, to organize training for local participants to document their own natural resources. The course was conducted award-winning documentary maker Polen LY. Also, we collaborated with our partner agency Mekhala with USAID Cambodia Green Future, as our funder. Surprisingly, by the end of this camp, we have “appropriated” the importance of such a Mother-Forest.

Polen Training Local Youth in Documenting their Forests

3- The Mystery of Prey Lang’s Core

Here comes a sensitive part, despite our efforts to foster positive change toward Our Forest. The hard fact is that her core is rumored to go bald. I myself can’t confirm this as the community forests feel already abundant on my scouting trip. If that is the case, I really hope our short eventual documentaries will trigger some short-sighted people about our shared future. Of course, these deal with forest protection itself and conservation of a lake, originating from Prey Lang.

One of the Most Precious, Yet Rare Trees in a Community Forest

4- Changes Can Happen Anytime

Even if I get curious about that entangling puzzle, I still want to focus on positive action or campaigns. The thing is, if we can’t undo a straining past, we can build a “more constructive” future. Other people may then care about our environment for a name’s sake. In turn, we ourselves know what is true to our heart and Nature. If you ever feel alone in this “fight”, join us at SFO in holistically preserving and even developing our precious resources!

Attending Launching of Social Behavior Change Campaigns

As a whole, as long as Prey Lang maintains her abundance, surrounding lives will keep sustained, if not prosperous. After all, Nature is “intelligent” enough to sense what to keep or remove over time! Therefore, if one speeds up their results with greed, watch what will befall them. Yet, if one conserves and develops her in harmony, rejoice in her by-products to us earthlings.

PS: And here’s your bonus video of my boat ride to the other lakeshore by community forest in T’bong Teuk!

PPS: This post was written as a my personal opinion and should not considered a sponsored content.