In a previous post which I hoped showed how little photos can make big histories, I introduced Ly Mah and her upcoming family saga. Following the daughter, Ly Mah, then pictured in her best attire to go to the movies, comes the portrait of a young, handsome, colorful man: the father, Kai Team.
Ly Mah, who took the picture down from the roof of the house, where family portraits are generally hanged, didn’t have much to say about the photograph. ”All I know is that it’s my father, that I am sure. The photograph was taken right after the French era”. From this comes a tentative dating: the protectorate ends in 1954, the war officially comes to Phnom Penh in 1975, but a few years before that in the region of Kompong Chhnang / Sala Lekh Pram where Ly Mah is from. Plus the man is young. Really young. And as we have seen in the previous post / picture, Ly Mah was 17 in 1968. My guess then is that the photograph of the young father dates back from the late fifties, for it looks like he could have had a young daughter back then, but hardly a young lady of his own.
But there is something more about this picture, a story that no carbon 14 could tell. Kai Team had his portrait taken as a souvenir from a travel in Singapore. There he is, all pressed up in his best suit, fulfilled by a journey across lands. Nothing is known about this trip. Kai Team was a trader, selling eggs in the capital, Phnom Penh, and made a lot of money. ”He was rich… Sort of…” remembers Ly Mah, using her Krama to dust off the frame. The father could have gone to Singapore for business: trading routes passing by former Malaya were nothing new to Chams, some being involved in the eagle wood perfume industry until now. He may have gone for a little fun for we know he went with some friends. He could have gone like other Chams in the 19th century, to pick up a copy of the Koran. In any case he must have had a good reason for going, as he went 3 times, remembers Ly Mah. Well then, ”With love from Singha Borei, The Lion City” probably signs the photograph…
* The first episode of this family saga: Family Sagas Season I, Episode I: Ly Mah & Aesah
Ithaca, January 20, 2015, Emiko Stock.