Inter-Ethni-Cities: Cham Images of Chinese New Year

It’s Chinese new year. Right now and right here in Phnom Penh, today. It was also back then and back there, in that 60’s little town of Sala Lekh Pram, 60 kms away from Phnom Penh, miles into Kompong Chhnang province, a bouncy urbish square of land, flowing by the national road, holding on to the lake. The market is still around, sleepy when the sun is acting up, awake when coffee hasn’t been served yet to a weird assortment of moviegoers and dark-brew-sippers in that even quirkier western like saloon – sorry meant coffee-shop – screening the most illogical – and shall I add deliciously immoral? – selection of pirate VCDs. That market summarizes quite the intricacies of that idiosyncratic center of the world that Sala Lekh Pram can be to some. Sort of. In many sorts. Continue reading

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The Little DIY Photographer Guide: The Making Of Cambodia 80’s Images

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Digging and sampling Saeth Umar's photographic collection.

Digging and sampling Saeth Umar’s photographic collection.

“Because I am too old now, that’s why. This is exhausting. All that travel, all that work. So I am done, that’s it”. A pout face on me. That of a disappointed spoiled child. The partner in crime of photo swaps and techniques on a straw is retiring. Who am I going to nerd around from now on??? Filters shining through, exposures blurring people in precising ghosts out, Cecil B DeMille grand schemes for the next wedding set… The conversation has barely started, I turned around for a minute and this is it: Saeth Umar, quite the DYI uncle of all images has run his course, and leaves his photographer job to potential younglings. “I’ll miss it that’s for sure” concludes his little impulsive laugh. The laugh of a boy of 60+ year old who never stopped being amazed and amused by what started as quite a challenging job: making images in a no-more-images land. Continue reading

Family Sagas Season I Episode III: Ong San & A Lost (American?) Brother

Up to this day, still attractive I am sure. Sitting, still tall I can tell. ”Haven’t seen you in a while”. The smile also the same. ”It’s been some time. You don’t come much to the mosque anymore, where have you been?”. The voice has aged a bit, but it still holds on to the air. It still hangs in. Just like when Ong San was a ‘Bilal’ holding on the call for prayer, just when I was an anthropology undergrad, hanging out at the mosque. Me hours in, listening. Him hours out, chanting more than a mere call: for the ‘Bilal’ – named after the first muezzin of Islam – has a voice performing a much more important function among Chams – and more specifically the ‘followers the Imam San’ – than in other places. The photography goes from my hand to his: a double, enlarged. A smile, quite large. ”Oh… I forgot you framed that one”. Lost for a minute: ”It sure was back in the days!” bursts the laugh, deep, from the bottom of the lungs, if only laughs could be prayers… Continue reading

Family Sagas Season I Episode II: Kai Team in Singapore

Kai Team, on a trip to Singapore, circa 50's-60's.

Kai Team, on a trip to Singapore, circa 50’s-60’s.

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.

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Old Cambodian Mosques: Potentials for Another Architecture of the Future?

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To line up this new year with some visual enthusiasm and inspiration, I have decided to dig into my ”To digitalize” box. It’s a big fluffy one (for dust does fluff after a while of not forcing it to get out, take a stroll outside). Just as I opened the box, some good ol’ shots of good ol’ mosques came up. Mosques from Cambodia, often left on the side of the prayers, left to fluffy dust and collapsing sands. Continue reading

Family Sagas Season I Episode I: Ly Mah & Aesah

Ly Mah & Aesah, 1968.

Ly Mah & Aesah, 1968.

A tall woman. A pendant made out of gold, or at least a golden shade, applied later, applied for better. Finger waves. A touch of rouge. A certain elegance in the way the hand uncertainly hangs on the body. And just pure elegance holding on to the whole pose, holding together the whole picture, holding together the two young ladies. Meet Ly Mah in her seventeen. Meet her as an introduction to a series of family sagas I have long been willing to share.

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Mei Bi & Me: Re-writing Ethnography, Bringing the Ethnographer Back In

Recently I had to bring a little bit more of my very own self into the ethnography, through a seminar on Writing Ethnography and its genres, and the auto-ethnography model of Zora Hurston ‘’Mules and Men’’. I took up the challenge by revisiting an old piece from the Clichés Chams column that I was, back then, writing for the online news media Kaset. The article was all about Mei Bi, a character completely real, gone complete legend over Cham-landia. At the time, and within the journalistic frame, it would have been irrelevant and out of place to bring my own experience in the foreground of the story. But as the tale unfolds, as I was following up all through the years – all through the roads – all through the legends – the life of Mei Bi, it became more and more personal. Until the end revealed to be nothing else but a close up on this entirely personal quest, without me even knowing about it… Continue reading

Chams Clichés (7) – The prayer rooms at Pochentong airport

Read the Pdf: English | French

The stress of last-minute preparations is palpable. Suitcases and passengers get all piled up with precipitation in a Toyota Camry heading towards Pochentong airport. Ahmat leaves Kilometre 9 in a bad mood: he did tell the women not to be long as he wanted to pray one last time before departing… “Once there [at the airport], there is nowhere to pray. When we depart for Hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca], there are so many other Muslims that we all end up praying in the car park, but now, today, it’s different, what am I supposed to do now, pray alone on my own?!!” Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 4: Closing notes

An intro first? Here. | Also: Day 1 & Day 2 & Day3.

The final day of opening and reading. Two notebooks today, and here I am: done. The last notebook is of a different kind, a different genre, a different stock: a notebook of ‘‘déplacements’’. A notebook title that can not be translated, or if it was, it would be translated into an hybrid notion of movement, travel, and displacement. Out of place. Because the field was the place: doing fieldwork out the field was going away, going around, going out. A notebook not from the usual fieldwork, not from the home-work, but from the ‘’around’’ fields, from the travels, from the roads, from the journeys[1]. That last notebook calls for a different opening, at a different time, a separate moment, along with the lost-yet-not-so-lost notes excavated on day 2: notes that were not only displaced, but made of displacements to start with. So indeed, if that notebook is left aside for a later reunion, then that’s it: I am done. I guess this calls for a little stepping back in and out of the notebooks and see what can maybe, perhaps, eventually, be taken away from the alignment of the notebooks wide opened on a table, after years of dusty closure (yes, closure…), and from the lines coming out of that sight. Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 3: When all we need is Love & Memory

An intro first? Here. | Also: Day 1 & Day 2.

 In a very beautiful text entitled in all simplicity – and then again all beauty – ‘’Par coeur’’[1] (‘’by heart’’), Charles Malamoud talks about the inseparability of love and memory in the vedic concept of Smara. From poetry to classical foundational texts, from theatre to the actual learning process, ‘’what is present in Love, is the memory and the consequence of its destruction, and therefore its absence. Its own body denied, it is nothing but the very flame that consumed it’’ (299)[2]. I thought about that text today and how much I remembered loving it, back when it was assigned in my université days. Of course. I had to remember and love it. Again. The multiple references to flames, fires, combustions, burnings, made me also look back to yesterday’s reflections on Mysore Narasimhachar Srinivas’ ‘’Remembered Village’’[3], and the loss of his field notes in a fire. The ethnography was finally forged in the burning memory of Srinivas. From the ashes of his notebooks. Reading my own notebook today (the third one), with ‘’Par Coeur’’ on the side, I thought about just that: love and memory, and the love and memory that the notebooks are made of. Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 2: Filling / Feeling the Gaps?

An intro first? Here. | Day 1: There.

A weird thing happened this morning as I opened the second notebook (a certain ‘’Cahier Cham Vc. Juillet 2006. Les Déplacements’’). 30 pages in, the notebook goes… blank. Nothing. Pages and pages of giddy grid paper. Fears from the loss of the fetish, abyssal confrontation with the never-to-be-scientific proof – and self. Exhilarated relief from the liberation of the moment zero, and then somewhere in between, filling the gaps or not… I will go for the overused cliché: that is still the question… Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries Day 1: Ordering the Disorder.

An intro first? Here.

Finally opened… The first notebook even read cover to cover… Well, what a trip… In time, in space and in my former me-self’s own expectations / hopes / interpretations of what ethnography should have been. There is so much in the 228 pages I read today, so much stuff all around, in all kinds of directions, that I am not even sure where to start. But an interesting thing though: what I see in those lines is my constant search, at the time, for order. There was a thing going around, like a virus, probably contagious: that a good ethnography would require an index, categories, color codes, key words… And sometimes, I think that it is probably right: given the amount of ‘stuffs’ that I had collected, ordering that mess in time could only have only been productive. But I didn’t. I did try to put a system together, that I don’t have the codes for it anymore. And the system doesn’t do much if it stays just that: a system. You need to apply it systematically, as in a batch, in order for it to work, to make sense. I didn’t get to that. So now I have a system and no translation. So, today, I am going to attempt one. To gather the pieces, and try deciphering it. Continue reading

The Notebooks’ Diaries: an Intro?

It has been years… Just saying it and thinking about the number, the length, the time gone by, makes me feel dizzy… Recently I have been told more and more that it is ok, that time doesn’t matter, that I gained experience on the way… Maybe. But most of the time, if I spend more than 30 seconds thinking about this long dragging on, I feel those butterflies in my stomach[1]. And that’s what those notebooks represent: not so much the time spent ‘’in the field’’ (for there are other scattered-around notes on the field and from the field, for there are other fields that I have not much notes for), but the time spent in between. The time spent out of the ‘’official’’ field (for I never actually left), out of the official ‘’village’’, out of the ‘’anthropology’’, out of the ‘’academia’’. Continue reading

Inseperable Genres: Of a Few Stories & Many Gender Possibilities

Act 3, Scene 3.

‘’You know he is not really a man in fact…’’. Ong-Always-Cranky (for he is always cranky) says. There has been a silence before that. Not a usual thing with Ong-Always-Cranky. The silence followed the departure of the couple from the hill, as they left the little ascetic community covered up by the forest and the stupas of the former Cambodian royal capital of Udong. The couple had been living here for a week or so. That’s what they did, in life. Going from one hill to another, one monastery to another, one retreat refuge to another, mapping all the country’s unworldly world, together, hand in hand. Continue reading

Chams Clichés (6) – Yiey Yah, High Priestess of Possession ceremonies

Read the Pdf: English | French

March 2006, Phum Phal (Kandal, Cambodia). Yiey Yah, possessed by Neang Champa So. © Emiko Stock.

March 2006, Phum Phal (Kandal, Cambodia).Yiey Yah, possessed by Neang Champa So. © Emiko Stock.

With all her delicate care, Yiey Yah places a narrow candle on her bay si with her long thin hands. The offering is made of a young banana tree trunk section and decorated with bright colours. It is now in its final shape following a long morning of preparations for the upcoming ceremony. The small-frame woman straightens her krama on her silver hair and hurries between the houses while cautiously carrying the precious gift to be placed as soon as possible in the specially built shelter. In the fading coolness of dawn, she grumbles, “We are getting late this morning. At this rate, we are going to have to leave the offerings in the paddy field in the middle of the night!” The graceful 80-year-old grandmother regularly performs in possession ceremonies, which are intended to express gratitude for the recovery of a sick person. Continue reading

Chams Clichés (5) – A Franco-Cham Romance from Cambodia

Read the Pdf: English | French

Cambodia, circa 1960’s-70’s, Gabrielle Pianette, known as "Mei Bi" 
© Mousar family.

Cambodia, circa 1960’s-70’s, Gabrielle Pianette, known as “Mei Bi” 
© Mousar family.

‘’Once upon a time, there was a young and beautiful lady, scared and breathless, running by the Mekong bank in Kampong Cham. She was a French woman, trying to escape the Japanese invader on her heels. She was tracked, alone and without her parents, remembered as prosperous rubber planters. The sad heroine found herself facing the river, with no way out. All hope seemed lost… when suddenly, a Cham fisherman, young and handsome, appeared. Driving the light craft towards the bank, he saved her from the enemy. Carried away by the smooth rhythm of water and love, the young couple berthed alongside the other bay, in the village of Phum Trea. There, they got married, had many children and lived happily ever after.” Continue reading

Chams Clichés (4) – Rowing… Cham Style…

Read the Pdf: English | French

‘’Fête des eaux à Phnom Penh. Pirogues malaises et cambodgiennes’’ in Extrême Asie, Revue Indochinoise Illustrée, No 5, Mai 1926.

‘’Fête des eaux à Phnom Penh. Pirogues malaises et cambodgiennes’’ in Extrême Asie, Revue Indochinoise Illustrée, No 5, Mai 1926.

The sun is already high in the sky and the craft is on the water. Like so many others on the eve of the Water Festival, a long dragonboat is almost set to leave for Phnom Penh. This is the last chance training. To cheer his team, a jolly man in the middle of the boat is delivering a continuous array of songs and gags, dirty jokes and wordplays, far from his customary austerity. He is the bilal of the village, the one who calls the faithful Muslims to the daily prayer. Continue reading

Back to the ‘multi-ethnic’ infinity and beyond: Girlfriends & Shopping

The picture is as simple as it gets. An absolute statement that minimalism is understated. When a single studio portrait can unpack so much. An invitation to question ethnic borders and limits. In a previous post it was all about Phnom Penh. Now let’s go along the river to Sala Lekh Pram, sit for a minute and see that indeed cosmopolitanism was never strictly a capital thing.

Moeun at a Sala Lekh Pram Photo Studio - 1962

Moeun at a Sala Lekh Pram Photo Studio – 1962

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Chams Clichés (3) – Mawlid Celebrations: Sweet Treats for the Dead & the Living

Read the Pdf: English | French

Udong, September 2007 ©Emiko Stock - Traditional Mawlid cakes made by Imam San are being put up on the flashy Kah Lasai as celebration displays.

Udong, September 2007 ©Emiko Stock – Traditional Mawlid cakes made by Imam San are being put up on the flashy Kah Lasai as celebration displays.

In some Cham villages in Cambodia, the air has seemed milder for several days with the sweet-scented promise of delicacies to come. A pleasant smell of frying escapes from homes between Udong and Battambang. It announces the post-harvest season, the time for a treat for the palates. The cakes especially prepared for Mawlid celebrations will soon be ready so the saints can be celebrated. In Arabic, Mawlid traditionally refers to the celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad. Continue reading

About The King Father… (also about Khmer Islam…)

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: Continue reading

Clichés Chams (2): The ‘’Ta Arabs’’ from India

Read the Pdf: English | French

Broad-shouldered and imposing, sporting a large smile, a long white beard and a mysterious foreign je-ne-sais-quoi… Now aged 75, Gullar Mirsan is the guard of the Toul Tompong mosque in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The area is often referred to as the “Arab neighborhood” by the Khmer and the Cham. He looks like the “Ta Arab” – “Arab grandfathers” – who once used to live in that neighborhood now called differently. However, there is no trace of a community originating from the Middle-East. Talking with Gullar Mirsan and a few others sheds some light on this mystery. One then quickly realizes that in Cambodia, just like in Europe, Islam tends to be associated in popular imagination with the “ethnic group” from the Arabic peninsula, whereas its historical roots can actually be found in the former British colonial empire in India and its Muslim population. Continue reading

To the ‘multi-ethnic’ infinity and beyond: let’s start with ‘Bad Frenchmen’

How about a read today? I was thinking… Gregor Muller ‘’Colonial Cambodia’s ‘Bad Frenchmen’‘’ [*], which would very well go with a ‘let’s-talk-ethnicity-lamp’ and with the subtitle: how did those insightful lines got exactly where I wasn’t expecting them? Continue reading

Clichés Chams (1): Saeth Mith’s Glorious Ancestors

Read the Pdf: English | French

Saeth Mith only has one good arm, but he starts busying himself when the call to prayer is heard in his village of Chrok Romirt, Kampong Chhnang. He begins by reciting the sacred first verse of the Koran before putting on his head his “kopeah”, the Muslim cap. “I got interested in religion only as I grew older. When he was alive, my father never even saw me pray as I used to prefer playing football!”, he says with a laugh as he walks swiftly towards the mosque. Continue reading

Backing Up: The Clichés Chams Chronicles

ChamCliche_EngIt was five years ago almost day to day… A team of inspired journalists from Cambodia (a fix of foreigners and Cambodians) launched the very first online news magazine on / in the country: Kaset. And then, they invited me to come on board, with a monthly column on Chams… The Clichés Chams.

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Is Grand-Pa going to Mecca?!

It’s been a while since this little ‘’Cham’’ ‘’Visual Anthropology’’ blog hasn’t been much ‘’Cham’’ and ‘’Visual’’ and that old pictures haven’t been showing up on the screen to chit-chat with the present. Way time to get back on track friends! So hop in for a little pilgrimage… Continue reading

The Prince, The Borderline Temple & The Khmer-Islam Pilgrims

This past week has been quite important for Cambodia and Thailand. Of course both calendars highlighted a long holiday of celebrations to kick off the new year. But some Thais and Cambodians were getting busy a the very same time, arguing their case in front of The Hague International Court of Justice. The ‘final’ discussions over the long disputed case of 11th century Preah Vihear temple and moreover its surrounding area, are supposed to be coming to an end… a solution for the borderline between the two neighbours. Well, if you are a regular of this blog, you know that if I mention this… there must be some Chams behind the scene somewhere… And indeed, there are! This little forgotten archive I recently found while doing a little ‘new year cleaning’ just cried out to be on stage today. Continue reading

A wedding today… Others, 40 years ago.

Today I was invited to the wedding of Tiya, whom I have known for a decade and grown found of over the years. She also happens to be the grand daughter of Mouh Som and Ong Leb, who have been watching over me along the way, both as teachers and substitute grand-parents. Tiya and Adam’s wedding is also the last one of a series I recently attended and filmed, simply entitled ‘3 Weddings’, and that will soon be uploaded in the video section of this blog. Before those come in, I thought about a couple of old wedding pictures I had, that would perfectly match the mood of the day in complete continuity. Continue reading

Translating & Excavating: ‘’Muslim Communities in Cambodia : an overview’’

This week’ post emerges from the oldies department… Here comes the English translation of an article that was published in 2010, and written in 2006: « Les communautés musulmanes du Cambodge: un aperçu », (~ ‘’Muslim Communities in Cambodia : an overview’’). It was originally a chapter of an edited book (Atlas des minorités musulmanes en Asie ~ Atlas of Muslim minorities in Southern and Eastern Asia, Michel Gilquin ed., Bangkok, IRASEC / Paris CNRS) published in French, which aimed to provide the general public with an overview of the various Muslim minorities inhabiting ‘non-Muslim nations’ in Asia. Continue reading

Exposing The Under-Exposed: family portraits on a mosque’ walls

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There are many – many – things I remember from any ceremony I attended in O’Russei village, a.k.a one of my offices, a.k.a one of my fieldwork centres. The Eid El Fitr in autumn 2007 was no exception, and I have transcribed a few – very few – notes from it here. On that particular day though there was something beside the ritual itself that I remembered: an exhibition of simple family pictures on the walls of the village mosque.  Continue reading

In with the new, out with the old…

It is definitely about time to say good-bye to Du-Fin-Fond-Du-Grenier, the blog I started as a  doctorate candidate, centuries ago. And the blog – just like the academic plan – has  been getting dusty for years…  So now seems to be the right time for a spring cleaning, to start over. When closing a blog can be the opportunity to find pleasure to write again in an other one. A different one. A more personal one. A one that will stand here, whether academia is in the corner or not, but certainly joy in the corner: images and the words. Continue reading

The East West Center Cham Exhibition in Hawai’i

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This gallery contains 44 photos.

In 2009-2010 I was offered a beautiful opportunity by the East West Center Arts Program (Honolulu, Hawai’i): contribute to the curation of an exhibition on Cham culture in Cambodia and Vietnam (thought this last part was provided by friend and fellow researcher … Continue reading

Inside a Cham Eid el Fitr

After the annual “doubt” moment, searching for a hiding moon, the word spread out on September 11: Ramadan would start on 13.09.07 this year, as it could be heard on TV and radio all through Cambodia in the Mufti Sos Kamry message.The occasion on this first eve for families in Chrok Romirt (Kompong Chhnang province) to light homes with candles. The opportunity for kids to run around, deliberating on the most beautiful illuminations. A few hours later, in the middle of the night, families would wake up for a last meal with the call from the mosque. A habit for a number of villagers whom, as blacksmiths, are used to nocturnal activities.

©emikostock

©emikostock

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Bits & Bites: Imam San’s Mawlid

The Mawlid, or annual celebration of the anniversary of the respected ‘saint’ Imam San, was performed by his followers on Monday 3rd September 2007, on the top of Udong Mount – a former khmer capital – where the Imam San founded his community by the 19th century.

©emikostock

©emikostock

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A la poursuite de l’inscription chame – Episode II

* First, you may want to check out Episode I.

So here I am, in Siem Reap… to work, as I’ll be giving a short talk on “Cambodian society” in situ, just minutes from now. But well, who said work and pleasure can’t be mixed??? I still have one more hour before the plane takes off, back to Phnom Penh. What the hell could I be doing in Siem Reap? Ideas? Well, one may come to mind… I take a look at my big fake luxury watch and run straight to the EFEO (Ecole Francaise D’Extreme Orient). I meet there with Christophe Pottier, an archaeologist, who is naturally much more speed than I am, even without the flight-hurry-schedule. And that’s a good thing because he goes straight to the point when I ask: ‘’ever heard of this mythical Cham inscription in Angkor Wat Chams so often talk about?’’

©emikostock

The Famous “Inscription Chame” itself… Nowadays located in the Conservation d’Angkor.

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A la poursuite de l’inscription chame – Episode I

Always enjoyed to see how history is played… Chams have all kind of myths to justify their ancestrality in Cambodia. One illustration of this ‘anteriority to khmers’ in the country is the idea that Chams would be the ones who indeed built Angkor Wat. Proof : the inscription in cham which is supposed to be found on the temple walls. Except… I never found it. Maybe it didn’t even exist I thought. So I forgot about it. But recently the EFEO (Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient) in Paris contacts a few people and luckily I am in the list: “we have a problem Phnom Penh”, “It is a weird, weird inscription found on the Angkor site not really readable since it is in cham from cambodia”. “Emiko, you are going to like it!”… and did I liked it… MIRACLE !!!! Here comes the inscription that I have always been hearing so much from, and that I have been so much searching for : the mythical cham inscription from Angkor Wat. So, today, I went to one of my ‘offices’: a village where elders are often able to read the script and complete the very light transcription I am able to make on my own… It was amazing (yet not so surprising) to see the enthusiasm of everyone after the Friday prayer: it was as heavy as the air around us. It was a real event and the discutions were endless. “This is too big, we have to work on it again, more… And this year, 2425 buddhist era (=1881), what does this mean since Angkor is … much more older ???”. Want to know more ? Follow me next week as I will be in Siem Reap for another episode of ”A la poursuite de l’inscription chame”!

To be continued… Episode II

Phnom Penh, February 11, 2013, Emiko Stock.

* Originally very informally shared with a couple of friends over my personal FB page, 08/08/09.

Those little field-notes are reminiscences of the past blogs and shares. While they are not proud of their flaws, I thought they shouldn’t be punished for it. Hopefully you will forgive them to be just as they come, just as they will remain.