restricted access 6. Abolishment and Reproduction
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160 6 Abolishment and Reproduction Did the Communist Party of Kampuchea implement specific policies to destroy the traditional family structure of Cambodia? This, as Kalyanee Mam asks, remains a central question and one that has tremendous bearing on our examination of the social organization of production in Democratic Kampuchea. Prior to the Khmer Rouge coming to power, the extended family was the center of economic and cultural life, as families worked together as a unit, responsible for both household production and consumption.1 Marriages were arranged—but importantly, this signified a more inclusive union of more than just the bride and the groom: marriages constituted the coming together of families. It was customary for mothers and elder women in the village to play key roles in arranging marriages; it was common also that an elderly religious man (achar) be consulted to determine both the compatibility of the potential couple as well as the timing of the wedding. Within Khmer society, matrilocal marital residence was customary. Young married couples would frequently stay with or near the bride’s mother; the groom—often from a neighboring village—would continue to work his family’s land as well as his wife’s land. Spatially, this arrangement served both social and economic functions. On the one hand, the newly married couple would be able to provide for the woman’s parents in their old age. The grandparents could also help raise the children. On the other hand, this arrangement helped in the provision of labor.2 The nuclear family, despite the proximity of extended family members , was typically the basic unit of economic production and consumption in Khmer society. Husbands were often viewed as retaining authority over wives and children, although women were not without their own Abolishment and Reproduction  •  161 rights and privileges. Both women and men, for example, could inherit land and hold title, and both women and men contributed to agricultural and other income-generating activities. Gendered divisions of labor were (and remain) apparent, however, as men would typically plow the fields, transport goods, and maintain localized irrigation schemes, while women would prepare seed rice, sow and transplant seedlings, and harvest the crops. Women were also responsible primarily for the cultivation of vegetable gardens and the raising of livestock.3 Gender relationships, traditional or otherwise, in Cambodia should not be considered as fixed systems.4 Indeed, a diversity of social relationships and experiences is reflected throughout the country. Religious differences , notably between the Buddhist Khmer and the Muslim Cham, account for much of the variation; so too do geographical and historical factors enter into the equation. Attitudes and expectations toward gender, for example, are manifested differently in urban areas than in the countryside ; likewise, those areas influenced more or less by French colonial practices exhibit differences with respect to proper behavior.5 Under the Khmer Rouge, traditional family life was altered, although scholars disagree over both the scale and the scope of transformation and, given the type of change, the underlying motivation. Ratana Huy, for example, contends that the CPK instilled a revolutionary ideology and “showed disapproval for the conventional marriage, regarding it as imperialist , feudalist, and capitalist.” May Ebihara agrees, affirming that “in its attempt to control various aspects of life and to transfer authority and loyalty from local foci to the central state, Democratic Kampuchea undermined the solidarity of what was perhaps the most important grass-roots social unit: the family.” Also in agreement are Patrick Heuveline and Bunnak Poch, who state that the Khmer Rouge’s “attempt to radically transform Cambodian society included a frontal attack on the family, which it saw as the core institution of social reproduction.”6 Arguably, the practice of “forced marriages” has been held as prima facie evidence of the CPK’s attempt to radically disrupt traditional family life. And under the Khmer Rouge, marriages were indeed arranged, and such arrangements were generally made in consideration of class position. Thus, “base” people were permitted only to marry other “base” people, 162  •  From Rice Fields to Killing Fields “new” people permitted only to marry “new” people. According to Huy, “Marriages were arranged between members of the same social class because new couples were thought to have the same level of class anger.”7 It is also accurate that many couples “met” their partner only on the day of the wedding and that weddings were frequently conducted en masse.8 Finally, many survivors testify that following their arranged marriages, they were quickly separated (possibly after...


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