Bophana Audio Visual Archives, Phnom Penh


A review of materials on the Cham minority of Cambodia at the Bophana Audio Visual Archives (Phnom Penh, Cambodia).

Across the world, economics and war are critical factors that constantly threaten scholarly production. For example, in Cambodia, decades of twentieth century civil conflict, including the worlds’ seventh largest genocide, left the country with few precious scholarly resources by the time of reconstruction in the mid-1990s. Subsequently, the inability of the Ministry of Culture to provide sufficient funds for institutions such as the National Library and the Buddhist Institute have resulted in these collection being further threatened, leading individual staff members involved to move parts of collections to the, only comparatively, better supported National Archives of Cambodia. Meanwhile, non-governmental institutions such as the Center of Khmer Studies and the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM) have begun to build their own collections that are freely accessible to the public, with the aim of easing international research collaborations. A similarly inspired organization, the Bophana Audio Visual Resource Center located at 64 Street 200 (Oknha Mén), Phnom Penh, Cambodia offers a rich archive that covers Khmer, French and English language materials from the early twentieth century through to the present. A detailed list of the archive collections is available on their website.

However, in this review, the author focuses on the nature of the archival collections drawing off of the understanding of Pierre Nora, that the archives are “memory places” that reflect a certain understanding of a nation’s identity. Given this understanding of the archives, this review focuses on materials related to the Cham, Malay and Islamic minority populations in the archives, noting that the greatest amount of materials available on the Cham, Malays and Muslims in Cambodia is directly linked to ongoing struggles for Cambodia to reconcile with its past in an increasingly tense present. In the end, this review therefore hopes to give a deeper understanding of the variety of the contents available in the Bophana audio-visual archive.

The question of “why focus on the Cham” (or Malays or Muslims, for that matter) with regard to Khmer history is somewhat self-evident. The answer to this question draws from the assertion of David Boyle (a former Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [ECCC] legal officer). It has been widely recognized, as Boyle argued in a 2007 radio France visit, that the case of the Cham-Muslim population of Cambodia is quite simply put: the EASIEST argument to use in an international tribunal of genocide to indict the Khmer Rouge (Democratic Kampuchia or “DK”) regime for their actions from 1975 to 1979 (RFR_AU_001821. Entre Karma et Justice [Between Karma and Justice]. Cambodge, le pays des tigres disparus. Radio France Series: 2007). The program notes that despite the end of the civil war in 1993, the process of reconciliation for the Cambodian Cham, Malay and Islamic community did not really begin until 1997-1999. At 40 minutes into the program Tuan Serai reveals that it took years of gathering signatures from eyewitnesses before people began to believe that the ideology of Pol Pot was a particular form of explicitly anti-Cham and anti-Islamic ideology. This points to the “selling point” of the radio show that seeks to reveal “the roll of the mosque in the country of pagodas,” demonstrating the tight linkage between the state and religion in Cambodia. Unfortunately the radio program goes too far by reporting that there are no “menara” (minerettes) in the country, since Svay Khleang, one of the country’s oldest surviving mosques is also frequently reported as “Cambodia’s only menara.” Furthermore, there is a gross overestimation of the Cambodian “Cham” population at 1 hr 03 mins where the interviewee states that there are “1 to 2 million Chams in Cambodia today.” Nevertheless, the radio show does provide several useful points about flexible notions of identity in amongst contemporary Muslims in Cambodia. For example at 1 hr 02 mins, a “Khmer-Islam” man who notes that he believes that he is “no longer Cham” since he cannot speak the Cham language, and that both the Cham and the Islamic communities in Cambodia were generally opposed to Sihanouk and Lon Nol because they favored being called “Cham-Islam” rather than “Khmer-Islam.” In the end however, the linkage between this community and the Khmer Rouge trials highlights the relevance of the concerns of the Cham, Malay and Muslim communities to the contemporary Cambodian state and the global political arena.

Thus, rather than a critical voting block on a national scale, the history of the predominantly Cham (90+%) Islamic population represents a critical narrative in Cambodia’s history. The evidence for ethnocide stems from the fact that the Cham were singled out, forced to wear blue and white checkered scarves, visually separated from the Khmer population and that there are first-hand accounts of groups of Chams being executed based solely upon their ethnicity during the Khmer Rouge regime. Hence, the death rate of the Cham population – 25% – is matched only by the death rate of Khmer Buddhist monks, while the death rate of the Cham religious elites – the Tuan, Imam and Hakim – as high as 80% to 90% – is matched only by the death rate of the upper echelon of Apsara Khmer traditional court dancers. While this information is merely a summary of the deep suffering of the Cham, Malay and Islamic populations under the Khmer Rouge regime, it is enough to make a clear case for the Cham population during the ongoing UN tribunals. Nevertheless, the Cham, Malays and Muslim believers of Cambodia also have a greater regional historical significance and this point has been explored by many scholars of the region including Mathieu Guérin (Mathieu Guérin, “Les Cams et Leurs ‘veranda sur la Mecque’ Le Influence des les Malais de Patani et du Kelantan sur les Cams du Cambodge.” Aséanie, 14.14 (2004): 29-67), Ing-Britt Trankel (Ing-Britt Trankel, “Songs of Our Spirits: Possession and Historical Imagination among the Cham in Cambodia,” Asian Ethnicity 4.1 (2003): 31-46.) Mohammed Effendy Abdul Hamid (Mohammed Effendy Abdul Hamid, “Understanding Cham Identity in Mainland Southeast Asia: Contending Views.” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 21.22 (2006): 230-253.), Philipp Bruckmayr (Philipp Bruckmayr, “Phnom Penh’s Fethullah Gulen School as an Alternative to Prevalent Forms of Education for Cambodia’s Muslim Minority.” Eds. Cantori, Louis J., Hermansen, Marcia K. and Capes, David B. Muslim World in Transition: Contributions of the Gulen Movement. SOAS: University of London. (2007): 347-361 and “Between Institutionalized Syncretism and Official Particularism: Religion among the Chams of Vietnam and Cambodia.” in Rituale als Ausdruck von Kulturkontakt: “Synkretismus” zwischen Negation und Neudefinition; Akten der interdisziplinaren Tagung des Sonderforschungsbereiches “Ritualdynamik” in Heidelberg, 3.-5. December 2010. (2013): 11-42) and and Alberto Pérez-Pereiro (Alberto Pérez-Pereiro, “Historical Imagination Diasporic Identity and Islamicity among the Chams of Cambodia” Dissertation in Anthropology submitted November 2012. Arizona State University).

With his in mind, it could be said that by choosing to highlight the search terms “Cham,” “Malay” and “Muslim/Islamic,” return a loaded, yet small enough to handle, cross-sampling of materials at the Bophana center. This collection demonstrates not only how colonial and international scholars have attempted to negotiate an understanding of the Chams, Malays and Islam within the frame of Southeast Asian history, but it also reveals some of the greater benefits of the Bophana center. As with any “search results” or general research guidelines, certain terms must be eliminated. In the case of research on the Cham of Cambodia, one must also take care to not review the excessive results that will be returned by the Cambodian province “Kampong Cham,” which although it is historically linked to the first arrivals of the Cham in Khmer territory, more frequently turns up materials related to the majority Khmer population. In this review of archival material only selections of the most important and revealing materials related to classical history, the colonial period, the Khmer Rouge (also known as Democratic Kampuchea or DK) regime and reconciliation have been selected.

The earliest results for the search of the “Cham,” “Malay” and “Muslim/Islamic” populations at the Bophana archives reveals a very early visual record of the Malay community, presumably of Kampot. The collection is a series of photos that were taken around 1886 and collected by Adhemard Leclere, a colonial official who travelled widely along the Cambodian-Vietnamese borderlands until the turn of the century. Notably there are just three photographs of “Malais” from this collection (Photo No.s: 44, 46, 49). However, by reading these images as a text it is possible to suggest the linkages between Islamic communities through the Malay adaptation of the Turkish fez, present in Cambodia, by the end of the nineteenth century. However, notable appearances of traditional Malay dress that are now perhaps less common also appear in these photographs, particularly the two (46 and 49) that appear to be the wedding photos of a young couple. Importantly, Leclere’s photo collection also tells us that a community of Malakars, or Bengalese garment traders was also present at the turn of the century as well (ALE_IF_002159. Adhemard Leclere [A series of photos taken in about 1886 and collected by Dhemard Leclere]).

After the Leclere photo collection, the next earliest results on the Cham in the Bophana archive come from the Mimi Palgen Collection. Mimi Palgen (1918-1995) was a photographer who spent much of the 1950s and 1960s photographing Cambodia. In short, her photographs, many of which are held at Arizona State University in the United States are a critical element to catching a glimpse of Cambodia in the age of decolonization. On the edge of the collapse of the empire, Mrs. Palgen recorded the new rise of the Kingdom of Cambodia. As such it is not a surprise that the majority of the returned results reveal a glimpse of the history of the Cham are in fact classical Khmer visions of the Cham, although Palgen did note that there were some Cham communities amongst a collection of floating “sampan” villages that she recorded between 1942 and 1962 (MPA_IF_002349. Mimi Palgen Collection. Photography. 1942-1962. ASU: Bophana Collections. 2013).

One of the only other mentions of the Cham is in reference to the Prea Khan, which Palgen interestingly notes was likely built as a residence after the Cham invasion of 1177 (MPA_IF_00219. Mimi Palgen Collection. Photography. 1942-1962. ASU: Bophana Collections. 2013), in contrast to Coedes classic interpretation that the temple was built in celebration for the victory over the Chams in 1191. Regardless of the interpretation of the history of the Prea Khan temple, it can be sure that the site was critical to the construction of the Cham as a people that were distinctly separate from the Khmer population; a point that could be used politically to raise support for the occupation of the Cham homelands at Vijaya from the end of the twelfth through the beginning of the thirteenth century. A similar point could be made regarding the famous depictions of the Cham-Khmer battle and naval engagement at the outer gallery of the south side of the east wing of the Bayon at Angkor Thom (MPA_IF_002186. Mimi Palgen Collection. Photography. 1942-1962. Angkor Thom 2/2: Photos # 13 and #15. Bophana Collections. 2013). The depiction of this is important, however, as it not only captured the imagination of Palgen, but also of award-winning photographer John Vink, who captured the same image as Mimi Palgen in 1991 ((VIN_IF_001938. John Vink Collection. Photography. 1989-1991: #10 Cham Army carved on the wall of the Bayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia. 24/11/1991 – this is the same image as Mimi Palgen’s #13). Finally, a third classical depiction of wars between the Cham and the Khmers was noted by the Department of Cinema and Diffusion (DDC) in their 2001 work on the temple Prasat Banteay Chmar, whose south wall also depicts an engagement between the Cham and the Khmers in a similar vein of “otherization” (DDC_VI_001993. Department of Cinema and Diffusion (DDC). “Prasat Banteay Chmar.” 2001). In a collection of cinematography dated to 1952, one notes that the only dance that features “Chams” from a collection on “Musiciens et danseuses cambodgiens” is a depiction of when the Chams were defeated by Jayavarman VII where the central figures are the Apsara and warriors engaging in symbolic combat with long staffs. The remaining content remained centered on images evoking an equation between Khmer ethnicity and Cambodian national identity (GPA_VI0006555.Gaumont Pathe Archives. [Dances et Combat]. Musiciens et danseuses cambodgiens. Indochine au deux visage. 1952).

Emphasizing the otherization of the Cham on the Bayon, at Prea Khan and at Prasat Banteay Chmar is critical to the understanding of one of the many problems that historians face: what happens when the trail of research goes cold? The classical civilization of Angkor is crucial to the basic understanding of Southeast Asian history, and hence, global studies. Moreover, Angkor was also critical to the nationalist ethos that was constructed throughout the process, and hence the national myth that Angkor was a homogenous Khmer society. Therefore, with the exception of the scant, but magnificent, photos of the Mimi Palgen collection there are precious few sources that can be used in the Bophana archives to study an audio-visual portrayal of Cham society in the days that lead up to the 1975 revolution.

The continued efforts of the archives may adapt to this assessment, however, as the collection stands we have only one film that mentions a Cham, dated to the beginning of the end of the ‘golden era’ of Khmer cinema: “Pacha Por Tevy” a 1971 film where the main character, whose name “Tevy” is derived from the Sanskrit/Pali for “goddess” is the ill-sought after love interest of the son of a Cham millionaire (NUK_VI_002358. Korng Pich Pheap Yun Collection. “Pacha Por Tevy.” 1971). The second of these sources come from a compilation of “Khmer” music that was recorded by the Royal University of Beaux Arts in Phnom Penh throughout the early years of the 1970s and released in 1975. The collection is generally a “folk music” collection and, borderline, ethno-musicological material as track 12 features a haunting “Voice of a possessed Cham woman” that is reminiscent of an artistic re-representation of spirit possession rituals. Despite the comparatively decreased popularity of these rituals amongst the majority of the Cham in Cambodia, almost all of them would have been identified as “Khmer Islam” rather than Cham, even when the recording was made on April 20, 1970 (POU_AU_00325.Thonveth Pou. Musiques du Cambodge des forest. Khmer Language. 1975).

The more artistic portrayals of the Cham from the 1970s offer insights into the construction of the image of the Cham leading up to the 1975 revolution as, on the one hand, high-class and, on the other hand, mystical; both traits that would be considered threats to the revolution. Furthermore, they provide a bridge to the more recent productions of the archives, most of which have been made in light of the atmosphere of reconciliation. This is particularly the case with certain photographs of the John Vink collection and Agnes DeFeo’s 2006 and 2007 Soltis documentaries.

Photo numbers 12 and 13 from the “Khmer Story” (1989-2003) John Vink series that he took in 1989 demonstrate the early linkages that would become a later increasing common scholarly and political concern in Cambodia. In the wake of the destruction of the Khmer Rouge, the international Islamic community in particular was mobilized to assist with the rebuilding of mosques and founding of new schools to provide assistance to the Islamic community in Cambodia. Thus photo 12 depicts “Khmers Chams during the Friday Prayer at the Mosque rebuilt with Saudi Arabian funding (Phnom Penh, Cambodia 02/06/1989) and photo 13 depicts “Khmers Chams counting donation money after the Friday Prayer (Phnom Penh, Cambodia 02/06/1989). However, it light of the later concerns of “Arabic” or “radical Islamic” influence, it is notable that in the 1989 photographs, while a minority of the mosque attendees are wearing Cham traditional dress, there are a noticeable majority of the attendees who are donning Malay (rather than Arabic, Persian, Indian or Afghani etc.) styles of clothing (VIN_IF_001930. John Vink collection. [Khmer Story]. 1989-2003). Hence, the photos of Vink demonstrate a linkage to the central concerns of Agnes Defeos documentaries on the Cham community that were produced nearly twenty years later.

Although Anges DeFeo’s 2006 and 2007 Soltis documentaries are held in the Bophana collections, they are actually more related to the concept of “rediscovering the roots” of the Cham population in Cambodia, by visiting the Cham population in the Cham homelands of Panduranga (Ninh Thuận and Bình Thuận provinces) in Vietnam. It is important to note that DeFeo’s previous focus had been on the origins of a potential revival of Islamic radicalism in Cambodia, which she completed as a Memoire de DEA (Master’s Thesis) at EPHE IV, Sorbonne in Paris, France in 2004. Her initial study did present deeply researched sections on Cham history and Cham culture in Vietnam, yet, due to the nature of the intellectual shift, the viewer really does get a sense that DeFeo herself was going through a process of “rediscovering” Cham roots. Hence, even though in the 2007 documentary “The Last Kingdom of the Goddess” DeFeo gives phenomenally revealing information regarding the practices surrounding the worship of the Cham goddess Po Ina Nagar, who is seen as responsible for the introduction of rice agriculture, the art of weaving, and to have had a knowledge of epigraphy (ADF_VI_002180. Agnes DeFeo. “Le dernier Royaume de la déesse” [The last Kingdom of the Goddess]. Soltis Productions. 2007). However, it relies a bit too heavily on the discussion of Indic influence, particularly on the topic of the Po Rome tower, which is now generally understood to exhibit critical markers of Malay artistic influence as well, and does not quite compare in importance to the research revealed in DeFeo’s first documentary: A Strange Islam, which she completed in 2006 (ADF_VI_001614. Agnes DeFeo. (“Un Islam Insolite” [A Strange Islam]. Soltis Productions. 2006).

A Strange Islam is important for researchers simply because it represents its own intellectual time capsule as a view of scholarly engagement with Southeast Asia. The Cham have recently experienced an increase in scholarly attention. Sadly, this curiosity is not due to the process of ongoing reconciliation in Cambodia, but rather due to, as DeFeo’s master’s indicated, a growing journalistic, scholarly and political interest in the discussion of the Cham community and their relationship to discussions of so-called “radical Islam.” Although scholarly interventions have attempted to dispense with the myth of a uniform “radical Islam,” one still sees the after-shocks in the geo-political discussion in DeFeo’s work. A Strange Islam actually aims to investigate the Cham-Bani community of Vietnam, which is still frequently viewed as syncretic, despite the fact that anthropological studies have revealed that large sections of the Cham-Bani community openly reject the idea that they are Muslim. While this may be confusing for students, researchers and journalists, since Cham-Bani practices in Vietnam are so clearly Islamic influenced, it stems from the internal communal identification of Cham who are of Shafi’i-Sunni leanings as “Cham Islam,” and hence that the Cham Bani are not “Cham Islam.” Thus, even though DeFeo’s documentary was released at a time when international researchers had not quite caught up with these trends in the Cham community, which are likely at least 40 years old, the documentary is critical for beginning to understand the discourse on syncretism and also offers a number of interviews with intellectuals from the Bani community, particularly the polyglot Nguyễn Văn Tỷ. His own views on the Bani path are crucial to understand, as according to Nguyễn Văn Tỷ, it was the god-king Po Rome who mixed the Indic influenced religion of the Cham Balamon (Ahier) with the Islamic influenced religion of the Cham Bani (Awal). Scholarly re-examinations of this history of religion have since determined that rather than “Syncretic Islam” the Cham Bani actually represent a crucial half to “the Cham religion” in Vietnam.

While DeFeo’s 2006 documentary is an invaluable resource for students, it contains a number of interesting observations that need to be qualified. For example, when describing the Bani prayers, DeFeo notes that it is “only the Acar” that pray. However, this is not quite accurate as there are a complex series of classes of priests: the Po Gru, the Madhin, the Imam, the Katip, and the Acar, as well as even younger assistants to the Acar who have not yet advanced to Bani priesthood, all of whom are involved in Bani prayers. Furthermore, there is the idea that in the Bani community “no one goes to Al’ Mec,” whereas, subsequent evidence forces scholars to qualify this statement to “very few” or “virtually no” Bani’s participate in the Haj. There are also portrayals of the Ahier that are clearly inaccurate, such as the idea that the “three major temples” are the Po Nagar temple of Nha Trang (Aia Trang), the Po Rome temple, and the Po Klong Garai temple, when in reality there are a host of important temples for the Cham of Vietnam (both Ahier and Awal), and the “most important” for each family is dependent on their bloodline. Nevertheless, there are quite revealing details presented in DeFeo’s documentary as well.

In the 2006 documentary, DeFeo explains several practices that are unique to the Bani tradition that are not frequently explored in other sources. For example, DeFeo explains that the purpose of the lighting of the sacred badien candles during the ceremonies that take place in the Bani temple (sang mâgik) during the month of Ramâwan (the Cham pronunciation of Ramadan) is to prevent bad spirits from entering the sacred meals that are consumed by the priests at the end of the ceremonies. Furthermore, it is through this documentary that one may gain an introduction to a comparison between the Bani community and the so-called Cham Sot (pure Cham) of Cambodia, also known as the “Bani of Cambodia,” or more popularly: the Kaum Imam San (Imam San group). For example, even though in Vietnam female space is predominantly outside the temple (sang mâgik), older females sit inside during prayer and younger females standardly enter during prayer. Meanwhile, in DeFeo’s portrayal of the Bani in Cambodia, females do not enter the mosque at all. Additionally, while the style of prayer is influenced by Indic Brahamanistic prayer in the Bani community in Vietnam (which DeFeo’s also compares to Tibetan prayer), the Bani community in Cambodia bows in an Islamic style. Furthermore, while red is the color worn by Bani priests and the color of the earrings of elder women in Vietnam, only white is allowed in the Bani mosque in Cambodia. Moreover, the adat regulations of no alcohol, no ingestion of pork and lizards, which may be modified through an invitation to an Ahier home (allowing the ingestion of pork), occasional social and ritualistic consumption of beer and even hard liquor (alak) amongst the Bani of Vietnam, are much closer to hadith amongst the Bani of Cambodia as they observe more strict regulations regarding: no alcohol, no pork, no stealing and no adultery (amongst the Bani of Vietnam these would still be considered as already covered under the collection of regulations covered by Cham adat or “Adat Cam,” rather than hadith).

Regardless of the shortcomings in certain details of DeFeo’s documentaries, the two pieces side by side represent excellent material for study, inside and outside of the classroom. It is unfortunate then, that the second documentary does not have the wide range of language options that the first does (Vietnamese, French or Khmer, with French and English subtitles). The documentary also offers new grounds for scholarly inquiries, noting that the “dzikir” of the Kaum Imam San group has a melody unlike that of any other that DeFeo’s team was familiar with, that the kind of Arabic used to write the Friday prayer was an ‘old’ form and that the ancestral offerings (mbeng muk kei) made by the Kaum Imam San/Cambodian Bani are accompanied by offering trees adapted influenced by local Khmer Buddhist practice. Finally, the discourse of A Strange Islam offers the perfect link to a United Nations Development Program release, in Khmer, on Islam in Cambodia just one year later (UND_VI_002279. Show 44: Organic Rice Production and Cham Concerns. UNDP: Khmer language with English Subtitles. Release: March 23-24, 2008).

Unfortunately, the UNDP program uses “Cham” and “Khmer Islam” – a term linked to the nationalization of Islamic organizations in the 1960s and 1970s – very nearly interchangeably, making it difficult, at times, to distinguish if the program is really about “Cham concerns” or about the concerns of the Cambodian state regarding their Islamic community. Nevertheless, the program does take a “populist approach” by gathering a wide range of opinions on Islam and the Cham, which may make good course material for students, but in no way represents reliable academic information. The piece also offers the opinion that “minorities mostly live in the country or in mountainous areas” demonstrating a long standing linkage between the assumption of being rural and minority status. There is in fact little beyond a collection of popular opinions in the program until a spokesperson from the Islamic community appears. Then, the program takes a visit to Sas, a village of 860 Cham Muslims, which is predominantly an agricultural community that ‘recently’ converted their football field to a school. The problem with the school, which was constructed on the football field due to a lack of public land, is directly related to land rights problems. According to the program, each family was given between .5 and 1 hectares of land “after the war” (one presumes in 1993), basically allowing for subsistence farming, but not for-profit farming. This problem of land rights was compounded through long standing land loan policies, which resulted in a situation, summarized by one local official where “some people have 100s [of hectares]…others have none!” Nevertheless, the spokesperson insists that there is no discrimination against the Islamic community as the Kingdom of Cambodia has freedom of religion. The spokesperson furthermore emphasizes that there are no issues related to freedom of religion and urban factory workers, since factory work hours do not conflict with traditional prayer hours.

The discourse on religion and religious freedom then changes the program toward a relatively simplistic historical discussion of the history of the Islamic community, which presents the view that Cambodian Chams followed Hinduism and Brahmanism in the past and only converted to Islam in the tenth century. Regardless of the un-nuanced understanding of history, repeated almost directly from the pages of turn-of-the-century French colonial administrator and scholar of Cham studies, Etienne Aymonier, the program does continue to provide a relatively accurate, but truncated history of the Cham and Malay Islamic community in Khmer territory; noting that today 99% are “new Muslims” (meaning predominantly Shafi’ite-Sunnis with the added presence of a number of other sects) and only about 30,000 are “old Muslims” (really an exonym used to refer to the Kaum Imam San/Cambodia Bani community). The “old Muslims” according to this presentation were given a tract of land by the “Oknha Knou” (also: Oknha Khnour in Khmer and from the Cham: Po Ginuer) and seven ranks of Kourpoan (dignity) during the King Ang Duong’s reign in the nineteenth century. Then, during Sihanouk’s reign, according to the program, Sihanouk proclaimed “Khmer Islam” to avoid racism in Cambodia during the period of the Republic (UND_VI_002279. Show 44: Organic Rice Production and Cham Concerns. UNDP: Khmer language with English Subtitles. Release: March 23-24, 2008).

Although it certainly may have been Sihanouk’s intention to declare “Khmer Islam” in order to avoid racism, this move, was, unfortunately, one step toward the move of the attempt to remove Islamic minorities and the Cham ethnicity from Cambodia entirely. With this in mind, one does not wonder why, during the closing of the segment there is an invocation of the discourse of “real Islam,” generally used to wash out practices that might be so-called “Israelyaat” in the Muslim world. Notably, as the representative continues to invoke the discourse of “religious freedom” it is noted that “the Cambodian government doesn’t restrict foreign support” and reportedly provides some financial support for Islamic communities. This said, there is a certain pensive and critical reaction that one could sense amongst both the Khmer, Cham and Malay Islamic populations of Cambodia to the potential influence of “new” forms of Islam that pervades throughout primary sources and scholarly literature.

In another UN Development collection program available at the archives (#104) the issue of the veil or hijab is symbolically raised in order to enter a discourse about the nature of “Cambodia’s Muslims.” Interviewees in this program note that they are “now allowed to wear the veil” which suggests that there was a relatively recent change in Cambodian policy in terms of public wearing of the veil in schools – but there are many different kinds of veils in Cambodia. One notes, the presence of the “new black full hijab” which many Cham and Malay Muslims record as “not existing before in Khmer Islam” – there is only one interviewee in the program who really discusses the full hijab – remarking that her husband had asked her to wear it. The program host notes that “Khmer Islam follows the middle path” and the selected Imam to “represent Islamic leadership” is not supportive of the donning of the full hijab. The program states that in many countries – the four branches of Sunni Islam lead to conflict – but Cambodia guarantees religious free and there is “no conflict” in Cambodia. Muslims in Cambodia according to this program make up to 5% or 450,000 to 500,000 people (UND_VI_0022345. Show 104: Foreign Debt and the Veil: United Nations Development Collection: Khmer language with English Subtitles. Release: 2008). This said there is actually little contemporary audio visual material in the Bophana archives regarding the contemporary Cham population of Cambodia. The sole exception to this would be a 2010 documentary: The Graveyards of the Cham (Ngoun Dalen and Lok Sokheng. The Graveyards of the Cham. DC-CAM. 2010).

The Graveyards of the Cham is a quite short documentary that reveals the heart-wrenching story of the Cham community of Kol Pol village. During the Khmer Rouge regime, the village experienced an extremely high death rate, totaling up to 1,000 dead. Today, the unchecked erosion caused by the nearby Mekong led to the destruction of much of the old village of Kol Pol, causing the community to relocate to a new Kol Pol village nearby. However, their ancestral graves, more than half of which are graves from the Khmer Rouge period were destroyed when the island that the village rests upon continued to erode, causing great distress to the villagers (DMC_VI_003002. Ngoun Dalen and Lok Sokheng. “The Graveyards of the Cham.” Department of Media and Communications. DC-CAM. 2010).

The ongoing process of reconciliation, land rights, the freedom of religion and the consciousness of national historical memory are amongst the central issues the much of the Cham community and the Islamic community both face in Cambodia today. Furthermore, they are directly related to national and international discourses that affect the nation’s future. Through an example exploration of the Bophana Audio-visual archives this short article has attempted to reveal some of the benefits of the archival collections as they include phenomenal black and white photographic, classic news reals and Khmer cinema, rare folk musical collection and valuable contemporary public, educational and scholarly releases. This review of the archival materials has demonstrated some of the shortcomings of the archives that are, as with any archive, an incomplete picture of history as they stand alone. However, the Bophana center has moved beyond these standard shortcomings with wider special programs, including film screenings partnered with DC-CAM and hours (M-F 8 – 12 noon and 2 – 6pm; Saturday 2 – 6 pm) that make it possible to visit the Bophana center during hours that other libraries and archives in Phnom Penh are generally closed. With this in mind all scholars, teachers and students are encouraged to learn more about the Bophana center through visiting their website:

William B. Noseworthy
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Senior Research Fellow, Center for Khmer Studies – Cambodia

Image: “Masjid Jama Ammar Bin Yasin” (also known as “KM 9 mosque”), located in Chrang Chamreh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photograph by Author (November 2013).

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