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The Khmer Lands of Vietnam

Environment, Cosmology and Sovereignty

Philip Taylor

Publication Year: 2014

The indigenous people of Southern Vietnam, known as the Khmer Krom, occupy territory over which Vietnam and Cambodia have competing claims. Regarded with ambivalence and suspicion by nationalists in both countries, these in-between people have their own claims on the place where they live and a unique perspective on history and sovereignty in their heavily contested homelands. To cope with wars, environmental re-engineering and nation-building, the Khmer Krom have selectively engaged with the outside world in addition to drawing upon local resources and self-help networks. This groundbreaking book reveals the sophisticated ecological repertoire deployed by the Khmer Krom to deal with a complex river delta, and charts their diverse adaptations to a changing environment. In addition, it provides an ethnographically grounded exposition of Khmer mythic thought that shows how the Khmer Krom position themselves within a landscape imbued with life-sustaining potential, magical sovereign power and cosmological significance. Offering a new environmental history of the Mekong River delta, this book is the first to explore Southern Vietnam through the eyes of its indigenous Khmer residents.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Half Title, Full Title, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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p. v-v

List of Maps and Figures

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p. vi-vi

List of Plates

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

A large and geographically extensive Khmer population inhabits the southernmost reaches of the territory under Vietnamese administration. I became aware of its importance during a journey undertaken in 1999 around the coastline of the Mekong delta. The journey was not easy for it ran v very much against the grain of existing transport linkages. To circumnavigate the delta required multiple ferry...

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pp. 1-30

This vision of cosmic origins and endings was relayed to me by a Khmer Buddhist monk living on a stranded sea dune in the delta of the Mekong River. It was revealed to him during a meditation retreat, an activity that commonly takes place in January. At that time, the annual floods have abated, the land is beginning to dry out, and the weather is at its coolest. On one level, the vision ...

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Chapter 1: Coastal Dune Belt: Monastic Sovereignty in the Forested Archipelago

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pp. 31-67

A significant proportion of Khmer people in Vietnam lives in a broad arc along the south-eastern coast of the Mekong Delta, within an area known to geographers as the coastal complex (Nguyen Huu Chiem 1995). This arc of predominantly Khmer settlement sweeps south from the mouth of the Mekong River in present-day Tra Vinh...

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Chapter 2: Coastal River-Dune Complex: A Narrative Confederation

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pp. 68-101

The coastal dune belt extends south of the Bassac River into the present-day provinces of Soc Trang [Khleang] and Bac Lieu [Plieu]. Discussion of this region so far has focused on its northern half, cen- tred in Preah Trapeang, or Tra Vinh. However, the Khmer-populated coastal area south of the Bassac possesses unique characteristics that...

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Chapter 3: Freshwater Rivers: Displacement and Refuge along the Rivers of the Central Delta

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pp. 102-127

Midway between the Vietnam–Cambodia border and the South China Sea, and extending to the north and the south of the Bassac River, is a distinct Khmer culture area, which I call the freshwater river zone. Settlement patterns, livelihoods, communications, and religious practices of the Khmers of this region bear the imprint of its most prominent natural feature, a multitude of small freshwater...

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Chapter 4: Saltwater Rivers: Sovereign Nature and Tidal History in a Khmer River Basin

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pp. 128-161

South of the Bassac River a tongue of alluvial clay has been sculpted by oceanic currents into a flat tapered peninsula. The Ca Mau Penin- sula comprises the lowest land in the Mekong Delta. Most of it is only barely above sea level.1 The peninsula has the highest precipitation levels in the Mekong Delta, receiving on average more than two metres of rain per year. Its rainy season is also the longest, lasting...

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Chapter 5: Flooded Mountains: Encircled by Water, Divided by Nations

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pp. 162-190

The most westerly of the Khmer-settled regions in Kampuchea Krom lies to the south of where the Bassac River crosses the modern Cambodia–Vietnam border. It is made up of around 64 Khmer villages within a province that Khmer people call Moat Chrouk and the Vietnamese An Giang. Situated within the Mekong River’s high floodplain, this is one of the most challenging sites for human...

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Chapter 6: Oceanside Mountains: Nature and Subsidence Between Swamp and Sea

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pp. 191-218

Once there lived a beautiful princess, called Neang Pu, who was abducted from her palace by the King of the Bats and imprisoned in a deep mountain cave. Her distraught father, the Khmer king, offered as a reward his kingdom and his daughter’s hand to whoever rescued her....

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Chapter 7: The Northeast Uplands: Primitive Modernity in the Forest Metropole

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pp. 219-251

Kampuchea Krom’s largest sub-region, the northeast uplands, lies beyond the Mekong Delta proper. Arising at the northern limits of the Mekong’s floodplain it stretches northeast through Rhuom Daumrei (Tay Ninh Province) and Prey Nokor (modern day Ho Chi Minh City) to the southern foothills of the Annamite Cordillera.1 From the sea cliffs of O Cap in modern Vung Tau Province, it ...

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pp. 252-271

The term Khmer Krom (Khmers of Kampuchea Krom) defines the predicament of a people whom the nations of Cambodia and Viet- nam each claims as its own. Meaning Khmers of Lower Cambodia, this Khmer-language ethnonym expresses a Khmer nationalist per- spective on a population and territory said to have been separated from Cambodia during the process of French decolonisation and...


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pp. 272-290


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pp. 291-298


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pp. 299-316

ASAA Series

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pp. 317-318

E-ISBN-13: 9789971698034
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971697785

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 3 maps, 4 figures, 33 images
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: New