THE PEOPLE and THEIR ANCESTRAL LANDS
The Khmer people who live in the southern part of Cambodia are called Khmer-Krom by Khmers who live in northern part of the country, namely Cambodia and Thailand. The word “krom” in the Khmer language literally means below, under, or south. The Khmer-Krom people are indigenous peoples since they are native to the land. Their ancestors have established themselves on this territory before the beginning of Christianity.
Most Khmers-Krom are farmers, who reside and earn living on their own ancestral land. It is estimated that there are between 4-8 million Khmers-Krom in Kampuchea-Krom today, about 1.2 million in Cambodia, and 35,000 overseas. But per the government of Vietnam official number in 2010, there are about 1.2 Khmers-Krom being accounted for only. However, in 1974, during his visit to the city of Cantho, President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam recognized that no less than 4 million Khmers-Krom in Vietnam. The discrepancy occurred due to Khmer-Krom who possessed certain last names as assigned by Vietnamese authority when this territory was under their control around the beginning of 19th century. Those last names are: Chau, Danh, Kien, Kim, Son, and Thach. But those Khmer-Krom who happen to have the same last name with Vietnamese or Chinese are not recognized as Khmer-Krom. Those last names are: Dao, Diep, Hang, Hua, Huynh, Khuu, Khu, Lam, Ly, Lieu, Lu, Luu, Mai, Ngo, Quach, Tang, Tram, Tran, Truong, etc…
Historically, Kampuchea-Krom had been part of the Khmer Empire until the French Navy attacked and captured the “port” of Prey Nokor (called Saigon by Vietnamese) in 1859, and eventually colonized the whole Kampuchea-Krom a couple years after. Kampuchea-Krom was then named Cochinchina with a new status of French Colony while other 4 states – Laos, Tonkin, An-Nam, and Cambodia became French Protectorates. Cochinchina had 6 original provinces which covered the land from Toul-ta-Mok (Vietnamese: Thu Dau Mot) to Point of Tuk-Khmau (Vietnamese: Camau), covering approximately 64,000 km2. Yet, 90 years later, on June 4, 1949, the French National Assembly decided to cede Cochinchina to the Government of South Vietnam, instead of to Cambodia through the political manipulation of the so-called free Vietnam versus Ho Chi Minh, President of the Communist North Vietnam, with the hope that the “free Vietnam” would stay as a French ally in the French Union. The Khmer-Krom were left out in that collusive transaction. No Khmer-Krom representative was included in the 64-member Cochinchina’s Territorial Assembly which consisted of 16 French nationals and 48 Vietnamese.
THE CULTURE AND LANGUAGE:
The Khmer-Krom people have identical culture, custom, tradition, and language to Khmers living in Cambodia and Thailand. They celebrate the same New Year – April 13, and many other traditional and social events just like other Khmers. Most of these events are done in their Buddhist temple. No exceptions are done for those living abroad either.
The Khmer-Krom people speak, read, and write Khmer that is used as the official language in Cambodia. They may use, however, some dialectal or colloquial expressions that differ from those of Khmers from other regions. Regional pronunciation of certain words may sometimes be found in their daily conversations.
Ninety-eight percent of Khmer-Krom people follow and practice Theravada Buddhism, which is similar to the practice of Buddhism in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. Most of their “men” become Buddhist monks before going to earn a living, and getting married. There are around 600 Buddhist pagodas throughout Kampuchea-Krom with more than ten thousand monks at the present time. Khmers-Krom are known as being kind, gentle-hearted, peaceful, tolerant, compassionate, non-aggressive, considerate, and merciful people.
During the French colonial administration in Indochina, the Vietnamese were privileged to move into Cochinchina from other states for work. But after 1945 when Ho Chi Minh seized power in the north and installed a Communist regime in Hanoi, millions of supposedly non-Communist Vietnamese were allowed to move to South Vietnam under the Unites States and international auspices. This renowned exodus of illegal population transfer was done by political reason rather than socio-economic factors. The Khmer-Krom people who were once the native people of the land now suffered a severe setback by becoming marginalized in their own land.
The French and Bao Dai governments violated the Khmer-Krom people’s rights by not consulting or getting consent from them before ceding their ancestral lands to Vietnam. This irresponsible and shameless act of France caused civil unrest and upheaval, causing hatred, and killing between Khmer and Viet. Loss of lives occurred in every armed conflict. The Khmer-Krom were always the victims due to being small in number, and the “biased attitudes” of French colonial authority. Hundreds of Khmer-Krom leaders were systematically slaughtered, executed, kidnapped, or imprisoned. The same practice continued on until today.
THE KHMER-KROM TODAY
Mistreatment and human rights abuses have become a daily menu for Khmers-Krom. Even though no criminal acts have been committed by them, but the government of Vietnam always considers the struggle for the possession of indigenous peoples status and rights as set forth by the “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” as a crime against their “national unity” policy. For this reason, the Khmer-Krom people have become targets of accusation, intimidation, prosecution, poisoning and/or assassination. Presently, the Khmer-Krom people live in constant fear of Vietnamese authority. Every move of the Khmer-Krom people is seen by Vietnamese authority as a threat to Vietnam’s national security, subject to be suppressed and eliminated.
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