Area: Southeast Asia
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Lisa Arensen, The School for Field Studies Center for Environmental Research in Conservation and Development, Cambodia (organizer, presenter, discussant)
Sakada Sokhoeun, Siem Reap Provincial Department of Environment, Cambodia (presenter)
Leah Zani, University of California, Irvine, United States (presenter)
Darcie D'Angelo, College of Holy Cross, United States (presenter)
Natalie Condon, The School for Field Studies Center for Environmental Research in Conservation and Development, Cambodia (presenter)
Samraksa Seang, The School for Field Studies Center for Environmental Research in Conservation and Development, Cambodia (presenter)
Krisa Uk, AAS, UK (chair)
In the post-conflict nations of Cambodia and Laos, globalizing forces of economic development and efforts at recovery often occur simultaneously. This session on these two nations in the contemporary moment blends film, photograph, and narrative in a multimedia montage of the varied physical, ecological and social forces at play in these rapidly changing Southeast Asian contexts. Anthropologist Leah Zani will examine development and ongoing violence in daily life in Laos. Her case study investigates parallel accounts of economic progress and ghostly violence at the Sepon Gold Mine. Khmer archaeologist Sakada Sokhoeun will present a narrated photographic essay of the roads on Kulen mountain in northern Cambodia to highlight these critical conduits of goods, people, and vehicles to Cambodia’s most sacred site. Visual anthropologist Darcie DeAngelo’s presentation is a multiscreen exhibition with three videos that shift the point of view from human to animal, juxtaposing moments from Cambodian minefields. The montage illuminates how religion, agriculture, and minefields are more ecologically entangled than we imagine. Anthropologist Lisa Arensen’s article explores the enduring role of the village midwife in the increasingly medicalized context of birth on Kulen Mountain. She will demonstrate that amidst medical pluralism, women continue to engage with midwives to reduce their cosmological and metaphysical vulnerability. Two junior scholars, Seang Samraksa and Natalie Condon will co-present a paper exploring shifting notions of gendered courtship in Cambodia. Their work illustrates how various generations of village youth have embodied iterations of masculinities and femininities under fluctuating conditions of conflict, mobility, and development.
One Road and Three Towers: A Photographic Essay of Technology, Power and Access on Kulen Mountain
Phnom Kulen, a sandstone massif in northern Cambodia, has had a single access road for centuries. Roads symbolize the many phases of modernization to which mountain residents and their environment have been subjected. As times and political fortunes change the control and uses of the road have shifted as well. Mountain residents used to carry market goods on their backs up and down the road first built in 1933. In the 1990s, mountain residents carried religious pilgrims up and down a footpath on litters in exchange for currency. In 1998, the road was rebuilt and subsequently guarded by military personnel. For the past two decades, increasing numbers of domestic and international visitors have used this road to visit archaeological and sacred sites atop the mountain. A new highway connecting the plateau with the lowlands on both sides is currently under construction. This essay documents the many phases of Kulen’s roads: from pilgrimage and trade routes to conduits for an increasingly globalized tourist industry in the 2000s. Buying goods from the mountain once involved traders physically traveling up to the villages and seeing what was seasonally available. This process has been revolutionized by the introduction of the smartphone. Three cellphone towers have been erected in the past decade, bringing a level of connectivity mountain residents have never known. A collection of historical and contemporary images have been assembled to illustrate these critical conduits of goods, people, and vehicles from the lowlands to Cambodia’s most sacred mountain.
Ghost Mine: Resurrection at the Sepon Gold Mine, Laos
How can we study rapid development and ongoing violence, side by side as they occur in daily life in postwar Laos, without collapsing one into the other in our scholarship? Drawing on Lao poetic parallelism, I develop a method and theory for understanding postwar revival and ongoing war violence as paired, layering phenomena. As a case study of this approach, I examine the industrial town of Sepon, site of Laos’ first gold mine (the centerpiece of the state’s economic plan) and one of the most war-contaminated zones in the country. Drawing on ghost stories gathered during fieldwork, I investigate parallel accounts of economic progress and ghostly violence at the Sepon Gold Mine. Workers at the mine are unearthing gold, copper, archaeological artifacts, live explosives, and ghosts which possess mine workers. The gold mine is also a ghost mine: a place where one unearths ghosts or becomes a ghost oneself. The gold mine/ghost mine parallel brings to the fore the ambiguity of the present revival as, simultaneously, a resurrection of things buried. Analyzing these contrasting experiences about the gold mine, and in theoretical conversation with Derrida, I develop a hauntology, or an ontology of military waste as haunting. I close my presentation with a fieldpoem, inspired by Lao poetic parallelism, that I wrote as part of my fieldwork in Laos.
Peace, Karma, Food: Montage as ethnography in a Cambodian minefield
Millions of landmines lie buried in Cambodia. In the minefield, potential violence infuses stable ground and human steps with risk. A walker can never tell whither or whether an explosive will detonate. When the ground has been rendered unstable, human desires for development are clarified. Animals represent certain desires for food, karma, and peace. To attend to ecological entanglements even in anthropocentric institutions, Peace, Karma, Food is a multiscreen exhibition with three videos that shift the point of view from human to animal for animal-human relationships related to important aspects of human life: farming, faith, and violence. The title refers to the human uses of the animals projected. The project plays at the boundary between anthropology and art, juxtaposing moments from Cambodian minefields. We see a cow in the small farm of a man who lives in a heavily landmine-contaminated village. We watch a bird being released for good karma. We follow a landmine detection rat detect explosives. The montage illuminates how religion, agriculture, and minefields are more ecologically entangled than we imagine. A reading will accompany this montage to further layer it. The reading discusses montage as a methodological framework for ethnography. While in the field, montage allowed unexpected relationships to emerge. The paper draws from juxtapositions of multiple fieldwork materials from visuals, narratives, and sensorial sources (such as audio and touch). I focus on exemplary moments of montage from the field in the reading, allowing the senses to bridge across these juxtapositions, revealing unnoticed parallels and exciting connections.
To a Woman Born: Enduring Relations between Mothers and Midwives on Kulen Mountain in Northern Cambodia
Before Cambodia’s descent into conflict, midwives played a crucial role in women's cosmological, physical and emotional well-being. In the 1990s, birth was medicalized by the state. Traditional midwives are now forbidden to deliver infants at home and women are expected to give birth in state-run clinics. In this increasingly globalized biomedical context around birth, what role does the midwife still have in the life of an expectant mother? Understanding maternity in the Cambodian context requires attention to the metaphysical and the cosmological. Pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period are not only biophysical states in a traditional Khmer perspective but also a period when a woman and her body are particularly vulnerable to the spirit world. Midwives traditionally broke the taboos on touching the blood of childbirth in order to aid women and their infants, creating a particular kind of relatedness. This paper explores the shifting yet enduring significance of midwives in the lives of mothers on Kulen Mountain. I demonstrate that customary post-birth practices such as the consumption of botanical medicine, steaming and roasting persist amongst mothers on the plateau, despite opposition from clinic personnel. Mountain midwives are vital repositories of Khmer traditional medical knowledge and continue to play ritual roles in post-partum ceremonies. Amidst the medical pluralism that characterizes the search for physical wellbeing in contemporary Cambodia, expectant women continue to engage with midwives on Kulen mountain to reduce their vulnerability during pregnancy and after birth.
‘She Got a Stick and Hit Me and That Was When I Fell in Love:’ Fluidity and Change in Gendered Courtship Practices on Kulen Mountain
This paper explores generational shifts in the courtship practices of village residents living in Preah Jayavarman Norodom Phnom Kulen National Park in Northern Cambodia. We investigate the historical transitions from parentally-arranged marriages among the elder generations on the mountain, to Khmer Rouge-arranged marriages, to hurried and quiet forest weddings during the second civil war, and finally the contemporary era of digital courtship via smartphones and social media use by youth on the mountain. We also incorporate narratives of rapidly shifting notions of gendered courtship. Our discussion explores how generations of youth on the mountain have embodied new and repeated iterations of masculinities and femininities era by era, while co-creating courtship practices via their relationships to fluctuations in conflict, mobility, and development. By showcasing these stories of courtship across generations, we examine new and old rituals of relatedness generated by flexible and quickly changing embodiments of gender on Kulen
This panel is on Tuesday - Session 01 - Room 4
Go to Room 4