Hello and welcome back to another episode of the Anakut podcast!
Symbols of Khmer identity abound here in Cambodia, where Angkorian motifs still feature front and centre in the modern aesthetic. But while you don’t have to look far to find references to the srok Khmer, or the national homeland, it’s harder to find a real analysis of what this all means against the reality of a Cambodia that has always been home to non-Khmer peoples.
Thina and I wanted to learn more about this process of Khmerisation, by which the majority culture has been promoted over the years as something interchangeable with Cambodia itself. We had some questions about this admittedly tricky topic, so we had on our friends Din Darathtey, a social commentator and author of the newsletter Campuccino, and Prim Phloeun, the executive director of Cambodian Living Arts, an organisation that promotes and preserves traditional cultural offerings for the modern era.
Darathtey avoids using the label Khmer, describing it as a term that is used all too often to exclude those who don’t adhere to a narrow set of social values
We started the episode wanting to parse the differences between the Cambodian and Khmer identities and dig into the tendency of many in the country to automatically conflate the two. Darathtey told us right off the bat she avoids using the label Khmer, describing it as a term that is used all too often to exclude those who don’t adhere to a narrow set of social values. This brought us to an interesting point early on in the form of a big question: What is “Khmer”, anyway?
The answer, our guests suggested, is less clear-cut than what you might assume, with even some of the biggest symbols of Khmer culture (Angkor Wat, anyone?) raising more questions than answers as to what or who Khmer identity might actually include. We dove into this uncertainty to find some of the reasons why the Khmer label is used so widely, including by those within the government, and what purpose it serves for the people living in Cambodia today. As we wind our way through the topic, we close with a look to the future and a vision of what a truly inclusive, multi-cultural Cambodia might look like.
This is a lively episode and a great listen for anyone curious about Khmer identity and the ways it fits (or doesn’t!) within the demographic reality of modern Cambodia. Scroll back up top and hit that play button to get started!