The following post is part of a work in progress; I want to give you an insight into the project so far.
According to the UN there are six main indigenous communities in Cambodia all with their own rituals and beliefs. In February 2010 the UN completed a project , called The Access to Justice Project, documenting the customary rules of the indigenous communities to assist the government in acknowledging the traditional dispute resolution mechanisms and customary rules. The UN issued a set of 6 books, one to cover the customary rules of each indigenous community. It is hoped that the UN’s work will help reconcile local tradition with national and international norms, recognizing there will need to be compromise on both sides. The documents legitimize the practices of the indigenous communities and by releasing an official document it is hoped that these will be recognized in future government legislation.
The documents have come at a poignant time as currently several of the ingenious communities are under threat. I have chosen to look at the Jarai, an indigenous community based in Rattanakiri Province, Cambodia. I started the project in Lei Village in Ou Ya Da district. The village consists of 80 to 85 families on a 150-hector plot.
The project is currently split into two parts, the first part, which is the basis of this post is a series of portraits shot using medium format. The images are anthropological and are combined with short interviews where the individuals talked about the concerns and hopes for their culture. I chose to shoot in medium-format as I was interested to see their reaction to the camera and the use of film and see if this evoked any memories. Initially, I thought they would have some sort of understanding about what film photography was. The camera raised interest, although they knew what film was they thought that this old technology was pointless and questioned why I was not using a digital camera which they seemed more familiar with. This reaction should not have surprised me as like many developments in Cambodia there seems to be a leap, for example the land line telephone was skipped in most parts as the country emerged from the terror of the Khmer Rouge and technology returned the land line was almost pointless in rural areas so the cheap and accessible mobile was the logical option. This relationship with development is similar in many areas of technology in Cambodia and the developing world and therefore not surprising that it also relates to the camera.
The second part of the project can be found here. The community is concerned by mining activity, which is currently 4 to 5 kilometers away. The Government has given permission to a Vietnamese mining company called Fanang to carry out a 2-year geotechnical survey to assess the viability for the mining of Iron ore. The community say that they have been informed that if a mining project is viable then the company will start to mine in the area and that they will have to give up there land, they say there is currently no offer of compensation. The community often visits the current mining exploration site and the gallery shows the group on one of their visits to the area.
7-4-10. Row Chom Yeah is 52 years old. He is the village chief.
He was elected by the community in January 1996 to represent them. His role includes meeting with NGO’s and going to Government workshops. His job as the village chief only pays $10 a month, which is funded by the Government. He is also a farmer. He farms for cashew nuts and taps rubber trees. In the rainy season he plants rice, this is the most important crop for the community. The Jarai speak a different language and they believe in spirit worship, not Buddha. The centre of the community is the meeting house and after its construction they slaughtered a buffalo to pay thanks to the spirits, during this sacrificial period no one can enter the village.
Before TV and video the culture was safe from outside influence from other cultures. In celebrations they used to use traditional music but this is dieing, now they use CD music for celebrations and only perform traditional music for a small part of the celebration.
He has 8 children two of whom are married. He lost his arm in a gun fight in 1979 against the Khmer Rouge. He believes the future for the culture is strong, Many NGO’s come to them and tell them “please you must preserve your culture”. The village now has a new road and such development helps but does not effect the culture.
7-4-10. Rom Mam Nang is 35 years old. He works as an Environmental Committee Member for the village, this role is voluntary and he works on protecting the forest from illegal loggers and protecting the land. He is a farmer of cashew nuts and rice. There are 8 people in his family including his father-in-law, wife and their children. He is happy with his culture, and feels that it is important to respect the spirits. If someone is sick the spirit makes them well again, but he recognises the difference between the type of sickness that requires a doctor and the sickness that requires a sacrifice to appease the spirits.
7-4-10. Glan Yun is 52 years old. He has 5 children and 2 grandchildren. He is a rice farmer, and a bean farmer in the dry season. When he was young he wore traditional clothing but now the clothing is influenced by many other cultures, those influences are coming in and now he believes the culture is dying. He is worried that now the clothes have gone that the sacrificial ceremonies will end too. The external influence of TV, VCD and radio are changing things. The young people still stay and work in the village but if there are jobs in larger towns they must leave to work. He is worried they will not know anyone and that they should not go alone, he must take them there and help them get established.
8-4-10. Karlan Dout aged 32. He is a Farmer and border control Police Officer. He says:
“When outsiders from the town come to the Jarai Village they look down on us. When someone from any culture comes from the outside to the village looking to have intercourse with the women they don’t understand the correct channels to go through, they must respect the traditional channels otherwise we will report them to the police. We are indigenous people but we go to Khmer school and then we have to teach our children our own culture. We learn many things but people still look down on us. Our children need education in English and Khmer to be able to communicate with the outside world. For indigenous people our earnings are very low so how can we educate our children and better our community? Before we had police if there was a problem in the community we would have a village meeting, the community would decide the payment, maybe a buffalo or a cow, but we don’t really do this anymore.”
8-4-10. Seav Tull is 70 years old. He is a farmer and is still working, but at his age he is slowing down. He has four children. He has lived in the village all of his life. When he was young everyone wore traditional clothing and they never saw foreigners. He fears that soon all the forest will be gone and they will lose their land. He believes despite the changes around them the fundamentals of the Jarai culture will not change. He says:
“The Jarai are farmers and this is all we know and without knowledge to do any thing else but farm we are in trouble, for without land what can we do?”, he continues:
“The people in this village believe in the land spirit and the forest spirit. When we lose the land we lose the spirits, the spirits are important to our culture.”
8-4-10. Galan Nell aged 30. He is a Farmer with 4 children. He hopes that the future will bring better schooling and he wants his children to have better jobs than he has had. If the land s lost to the “Company” they cannot farm and worries that his children will not be able to gain better knowledge, if the land goes they have nothing. He has many children, he and his wife need them to support them in the future, but without land he cannot feed them.
9-4-10. Seav Hun works with the community environment service. He is a farmer and also is responsible for patrolling the forest and monitoring the mining activity in the area.