>Khmer Surin: Will They Survive The Language And Cultural Genocide?

2 ខែតុលា 2009 § 1 មតិ


Chey Mongkol on a journey to buy books in Cambodia to set up a Khmer library in Surin to teach Khmer children there.

“Culturally and linguistically the Khmer and the Thai are very similar………..These similarities are the recipes for easy, natural and stealth assimilation and integration into the Thai society. And hence the speedy death of the Khmer culture and language. As I call it: culture and language genocide by stealth.”

Editorial by Khmerization:- Upon reading Chey Mongkol’s noble quest to revive Khmer culture and language in the Thai-occupied former provinces of Cambodia, one cannot help but feel proud. Also one must fell nostalgic and sad to see the Khmer culture and language in Surin in such a sorry state (read the article below).
Culturally and linguistically the Khmer people living in the Thai-occupied provinces such as Surin, Sisaket, Buriram etc. are in danger of losing their Khmer ethnic identity in more phenomenal pace than the people of Kampuchea Krom. My analogy is based on the simple fact of the present reality. Culturally and linguistically the Khmer and the Thai are very similar. We are both Buddhists, dress and eat very similar food. The Thai and the Khmer borrowed many of our terminologies and vocabularies from the old Indian languages of Pali and Sanskrit. These similarities are the recipes for easy, natural and stealth assimilation and integration into the Thai society. And hence the speedy death of the Khmer culture and language. As I call it: culture and language genocide by stealth.
On the other hand, the Khmer and the Vietnamese are culturally and linguistically ways apart. Also past deep animosities and mistrusts between the two people due, in large part, to the Vietnamese atrocious treatments of the Khmer people, have made many Khmers living in Kampuchea Krom refused and consciously resisted the temptation of assimilation and integration into the Vietnamese society. The Vietnamese atrocious treatments of the Khmers have given rise to Khmer nationalism. This nationalistic sentiment was and is an instrumental factor which motivated the Khmer Krom to preserve Khmer culture and language on a grand scale. I said on a grand scale because after many centuries of Vietnamese occupation and oppression the Khmer Krom had managed to preserve Khmer culture and language very impressively. Almost every Khmer Krom knows Khmer culture and can speak Khmer very well, although with a Vietnamese accent. And this I say: the culture and language genocide by force did not work.
On the contrary, the Khmer Surin and the Khmers living in other Thai-occupied Khmer territories have, up until now, almost lost all of their Khmer identity. Many of them cannot speak Khmer because they were forced or voluntarily chose to speak Thai. They practised Thai culture and practised a Thai form of Buddhism, chanting in Thai, I mean. Many of them don’t know Khmer culture because they can’t tell the difference between the Khmer and Thai cultures because both are very similar.
Coming back to Mr. Chey Mongkol, one cannot help but laud him with praises. His quest to help revive the almost extinct, if I can use this word to describe the state of the Khmer culture and language in Surin, Khmer identity is a noble act coming out of a conscience of a true Khmer son who has only one aim: to see the Khmer culture and language survive. He cannot do it by himself alone. It is essential that the Khmer government and the well-to-do Khmers as well as overseas Khmers provide him with financial, material and moral supports, if he is to have any chance of success at all.//END//
Below is an article from The Koh Santepheap newspaper………
Khmer teacher from Surin came to look for Khmer language books in Cambodia

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chey Mongkol gave an interview to Kok Santepheap (Photo: Chamnab, Koh Santepheap newspaper).
Friday, 15 February 2008
Koh Santepheap newspaper
Translated from Khmer by KI-Media

Phnom Penh city – Chey Mongkol, a native Khmer from Surin province (Thailand) and a Khmer language teacher from Sisaket province (Thailand), declared on 13 February 2008 that the majority of Khmer people living in Surin no longer know how to speak Khmer anymore because they are not using their own language. However, now, Chey Mongkol has set up his small elementary school which is attended by about 60 children. The goal of his teaching is so that the younger generations know the Khmer language, otherwise, in the future, Khmer Surin will no longer know Khmer language at all, and they will only know Thai and Lao instead.In an interview with Koh Santepheap at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in Phnom Penh, Chey Mongkol indicated that his presence in Phnom Penh is to purchase books used to teach young Khmer children in Surin. He said that book merchants in Phnom Penh had given him 250 books also, and most of these books are for first grade level.Chey mongkol indicated that only about 1-2% of Khmer people in Surin know their native Khmer language and still speak Khmer in Surin currently, but most of them are already very old. He added that the younger Khmer people no longer speak Khmer, they only know Thai: “I spend a lot of time teaching them, I want to preserve our Khmer language, otherwise, our Khmer language will disappear.”Nevertheless, Chey Mongkol said that his teaching to young Khmer children did not meet with any opposition from the Thai authority. He added that, in the past, about 40-years ago, Khmer people were afraid to use their own language because they were forced to speak Thai at school and in public places, later on, Khmer people lost the habit of speaking their own language, and some say they are ashamed, and they stop speaking Khmer altogether.Chey Mongkol claimed that, in spite of all this, the preservation of old Khmer customs in Surin still remains somewhat even if there is an influx of foreign culture or modern culture which seriously affect the preservation of Khmer Surin original culture. He added, currently, only old Khmer people still speak Khmer at home, whereas the younger generations no longer speak Khmer anymore.Chey Mongkol said that he started a library for the students to read Khmer because he believes that Khmer teaching is not sufficient yet, therefore the additional book reading could complete part of the education. He added: “We want Khmer in Surin to preserve Khmer language so that it would be easier for them to communicate with Cambodians inside Cambodia.”From Phnom Penh, Chey Mongkol will take back to Surin documents in Khmer language. He indicated also that he is giving a lecture to RUFA students where he showed slides about the situation of Khmer students in Surin, about dances performed by Khmer people in Surin, so that RUFA students understand about the current issues faced by Khmer people in Surin.History students who listened to Chey Mongkol’s lecture said that they are interested about the history of Khmer people in Surin who has the same customs, and same origin as other Khmer people, and they want to preserve our Khmer language also in order to facilitate the communication between themselves and Khmer people in Cambodia. The RUFA students added: “Even though we are separated because of past history, but we are still one single people, we must connect with each others.”Chey Mongkol indicated also: “In my family, they do not talk Khmer that much, some speak Thai, others speak Lao. Only I persevere to speak Khmer, even at the market, they don’t want to speak Khmer, but they speak Thai and Lao instead.” He added: “I am calling for the generosity of people who want to help expand Khmer language to help provide their support to me.” He added that he is working hard to help educate young generations of Khmer children to know their Khmer language, and to preserve their Khmer language.
For those who wish to support Chey Mongkol and Khmer Schools in Surin, please contact Chey Mongkol at the following email address: KhmerSurin@gmail.com.


>Studying Khmer in Surin

5 ខែ​កុម្ភៈ 2009 § បញ្ចេញមតិ



>Kantreum Surin

5 ខែ​កុម្ភៈ 2009 § បញ្ចេញមតិ



>Khmer Surin and their losing Identity

4 ខែ​កុម្ភៈ 2009 § បញ្ចេញមតិ



By Sarah Oliveira
Unofficial translation from French by Tola Ek

They are called “Khmer Surin” from the name of the province where they live, but for the majority of Cambodian people, they are exactly the same as their compatriots living in the northeast of Thailand. Nevertheless, Khmer people living north of the Dangrek mountain chain are borne out of the Khmer culture. They were separated from the motherland following the shrinking of the Khmer territory to the benefit of the neighboring Siam, and these Khmer people nowadays have Thai citizenship. Between them and Cambodian people, the border is nothing but a delineation on the maps, and one that is also ingrained in their heads.

“These are Siamese kramas (scarfs)!” a tailor in Phnom Penh burst at the sight of fabrics from Surin. When she is informed that they were woven by “Khmer Surin,” she continues to get mixed up: “Khmer Surin, they are Siamese,” she muttered. It is difficult to conceive that on the other side of the Thai border, those whom people call “Khmer Surin” constitute the same people, the same language … And even, according to the Cambodian ethnologist and historian Michel Tranet, there is no doubt that they are Khmer people.

A foremost geographical isolation

To understand the history of the people in the area, Michel Tranet suggested to completely forget about the concept of border. According to him, the presence of Khmer people in the province of Surin, Buriram, Sa Keo, Ubon, Sisaket, Trat and other provinces [currently in Thailand] took place since the Funan and Chenla eras, and even before those eras. “They have preserved a particular archaism in the Khmer language and culture because, living on high plateau, they were geographically isolated,” Michel Tranet explained.

The [Khmer] culture is preserved even though Cambodia lost the sovereignty on these territories since the 16 and 17th centuries (1). Nowadays, Khmer Surin are gradually tipping towards the Thai culture, the youths in particular. Other Khmer people in Thailand, especially in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima (Nokor Reach Seima in Khmer), taken over by Thailand in 1374, are completed blended with the Thai people. Currently, what is left of the Khmer culture are some temples, the most famous of which is the Phimaï temple. As for the Khmer culture, it has disappeared and the Khmer people living in this region do not speak their native language anymore. This phenomenon is not unique to Thailand: “In summary, one can consider that this is also taking place in the same manner for the Phnong people in Cambodia,” Michel Tranet underscored.

A political rift

Nowadays, contacts between Khmer Surin and the Cambodian people remain limited. Cambodian workers mainly cross the border through the Poipet border gate to look for work in Thailand, much to the south of Surin. Cambodian tourists visiting Surin are very rare even though there are a lot of sights that would impress them there: dozens of pre-Angkorian and Angkorian temples, as well as several Baray (water reservoirs) with imposing area extent. “One day, some Cambodians living in the border refugee camps, obtained the authorization to attend a conference in Surin. When they realized that we spoke Khmer also, they were so moved that they embraced us,” Thong Luang, an old villager from Phum Ponn, Surin, recalled.

It would be easily conceivable that Khmer Surin and the Cambodian people would have maintained strong links among themselves, even with a dividing border, the latter is not completely shut. According to Thong Luang, the main reason of the rift is political,” to hear him speak about it, this remnants of this rift still remain, in particular due to Norodom Sihanouk’s hostility towards Thailand.

To this political rift, there are other minor incidents and preconceived ill hardships which do not favor the warm up of the relationships between the two camps. “As soon as I cross the border, even just to buy fish, I am conned even if I speak Khmer with the sellers,” Thong Luang complained. As for Tim, a young Khmer Surin woman, she confessed that she does not actually understand what the meaning of “bombs excuse” she uses is, for her not to travel to Cambodia.

Chaimongkol, a fervent defender of the Khmer language in Surin, is concerned about the generalized state of corruption which exists in Cambodia – while recognizing that Thailand suffers from corruption as well, “but, to a lesser extent”. “There’s no need to eliminate corruption at 100%! A drop of 20% would be sufficient for now. Why not set a day where there is no corruption at all, a day in which everybody promises not to accept bribes?” Chaimongkol suggested with irony. Then, turning to a more serious tone, he confided: “If corruption does not back down in Cambodia, I believe that we will meet with catastrophe.”

Preab Sovath in Surin?

Lack of relationships, mutual misunderstanding, prejudice … If Cambodia is not tempting for young Tim, it was with emotion that she pronounced the name “Angkor.” Thong Luang had the opportunity to visit Cambodia already, the “Khmer from below” as he called it. He has photos showing him and his wife posing religiously in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, in front of Angkor Wat. While turning the pages of his photo album, Thong Luang said: “You know, this is not like traveling overseas. This is like going back to your own country, because, over there, everybody speaks Khmer…”

“Staking on cultural exchanges would be an effective mean to create a rapprochement with the Khmer from below,” said Thong Luang. On this subject, Chaimongkol is filled with ideas: “Why not inviting a ‘chapey’ player from Cambodia or even Preab Sovath [a Cambodian pop star singer] to give a show in our Phum Ponn village during the next New Year celebration?” Lum Leut, the Sino-Lao commune chief who also speaks some Khmer, said that he does not see any problem to this idea. “However, the commune cannot fund the event by itself,” he indicated. This year, during the New Year evening celebration organized by the commune, several Khmer Surin songs were added to Thai songs.

Would Preab Sovath – some of whose songs feature Khmer Suring ‘kamtreum’-style music – know that this Khmer Surin music was originally used for spirit possession ceremony? “It’s better off that the Cambodian people do not know about this, they could be scare of it, and they would stop listening to kantreum!” Chaimongkol said with a bursting laugh.

Researches end at the border

Among all the Cambodian historians, Michel Tranet is the exception, he is the only one closely interested in Khmer Surin. “Numerous Thais are conducting research on Khmer from northeast Thailand. But their views are biased because they have no choice. The Thais being a young people, their speeches are filled with politics and nationalist rhetoric,” he said. Nevertheless, Michel Tranet believes that his researches will not upset the Thais. It is not about taking back the territory, but to help them understand better the people living in their land.

Michel Tranet is sorry to see the lack of interest among Cambodians to research. And for the very few who dedicate their time to them, he deplored that their interest more often than not, stops at the border, or is limited to the Angkor period. He suggested a non-politic and not-cloistered approach closer to historic reality by studying the larger outreach of the Mon-Khmer culture.

Conducting research on the Khmer Surin culture allows a better knowledge of the Chenla history and the evolution of the Khmer language, Michel Tranet insisted. “Not to study the history of a people on all their territorial extent, and limiting it to a single era, it’s crippling it. The Angkorian period is only one tree, whereas the Mon-Khmer culture, it’s the forest. The goal of my research is to preserve the collective memory of an ancient people. By knowing where we came form, then we find our identity, our pride, our spirit.” As a historian, one must place oneself above the crowd, above the political disputes, in order to contribute to the building of a culture of peace, Michel Tranet concluded.
(1) Michel Tranet (2005). “History of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Alliance between the Khmer and Thai people from the 13th Century,” in Khmer.

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