A year ago Norodom Sihanouk, the King Father, the Father of the Nation, posthumous Preah Borom Ratanak Kaudh, went away. There is a sentence in the Rig Veda that I found profoundly beautiful and appropriate, three months later, when he was cremated:
”Flames, may your arms softly embrace this corpse
May it become radiant and pure while it is taken away
To the ancestors, for there is no pain and no death there”
I found it particularly relevant to the King, his life, his death. A sort of metaphor one may say. And by the way I started this note you may understand that yes, I indeed loved the man. Despite all his deeds, all that he did and did not, and despite all his shadows. Or maybe because of. Sihanouk embodies a complexity, a fluidity, a certain elusiveness that often melts and fades much of Cambodia when you look at it. Or probably more likely, when you don’t.
The unsteadiness is never something easy to understand, to grasp, to articulate even. Sometimes it may be better to just let it melt and fade. Explanations may or may not come. Translations may or may not interpret. So… I am struggling. To say the least. In and out of Cambodia. With the King Father’s elusiveness, with Cambodia’s complexity, with Chams’ fluidity. And with all of those together. And apart.
Today or all days, a concise, to the point, clear, neat briefing on Sihanouk and the Chams, Sihanouk with the Chams, the Chams against Sihanouk, may have been in order. You wish. I wish! Instead this is it: one of the many pictures of what’s left of the souvenirs of the Sangkum. One of the many few of what’s left of Sihanouk and the ‘Khmer Islam’.
November 24, 1965. The new extension of the Preah Reach Samphear high school is inaugurated in Kampot. The Prince is there. The crowd is there. Invited, suggested, encouraged. Strongly. But there. And the Chams are there. No, in this region? Wait. Probably the Jveas. No, at that Sangkum time? Wait. Probably the Khmer Islam. See. Here we go again. Fluidity, complexity, elusiveness. Got to love them somehow! I know Norodom Sihanouk sure did.
Ithaca, NY, October 14, 2013, Emiko Stock.