The Minority of Cambodian in Cochinchina
News from Cambodia
The vietnamisation of Cochinchina during colonial period and Cambodia nowadays
(The Minority of Cambodian in Cochinchina)
(Unofficial translation from french by Khemara Jati)
Extract of the Conference given by L. Malleret on « The Minority of Cambodian in Cochinchina” published in the Bulletin of the Société des Etudes Indochinoises, volume XXI 1st half of year 1946.
« It is happened to me, by crossing the provinces of Cochinchina, some times by walk, on horseback, in cart or in sampan, to accept the frank hospitality of the Cambodian pagodae. One in a hurried to bring me some coconuts to quench my thirst, whereas I offered in return incenses or a package of tea. In the rest hall of the hosts, a mat is widened and, when the air is pure and light, I do not know any feeling more serene than that to extend over the sieves of bamboo of these houses on pilotis, whereas the monks dressing in saffron pass silently in the classes and although a roguish wind murmurs in the high bundles of coconut palms.
« But often, I arrived at the time when the pagoda’s school loudly of the rustle of the young children and it drives me quite naturally to evoke here the problem of the education which settles under a grave aspect, for the Cambodian minority of Cochinchina. This forms a homogeneous group, by her language, her religion, her customs, her tradition. Attached to protect her manners, she feels reluctant to send her children to the French-annamite school and has only very rarely of French-Khmer schools.
« We tried up to here to solve the difficulty by favoring the development of the traditional education in the pagodae’s schools. These are three types. Some are independent and, therefore, escape completely of our control. We counted 95 in 1944, gathering 1 038 pupils. Others are subsidized. There was 20 at the beginning of 1945, with 571 pupils. Finally, for fifteen years, we attempted to multiply the number of the pagoda's schools called “renewed”, where the education is given by monks, who followed a training of perfection, in Phnom Penh, at Tra-vinh or at Soc-trang and that we try hard to advise as much as allowing the right of glance that we can appropriate on establishments of almost exclusively religious. The number of the schools of this type started from 37 in 1930, to 90 in 1936, and to 209 in 1944, among which we counted 1 093 girls, up to here traditionally pushed away from the education profit. In the same time, the number of official French-Khmer schools did not exceed 19 with only 30 teachers.
« Here, there is a problem which draws attention. Whatever the care which we brought to the training of the monk-teachers, the creation of the pagoda's schools, even though “renewed”, is only a means of fortune, which would not know how to replace an education of normal type for two cycles : the one elementary, where the vehicle of the education can remain into the Cambodian, the other one additional with initiation into the French's knowledge. But we collide with the difficult question to recruit the teachers and all the begun efforts, for the school penetration, in the Cambodian countries, are paralyzed by this numeric and qualitative lack of staff. Then I shall still move here a wish in favor of Cambodians of Cochinchina. It is because the number of the elementary and primary French-Khmer's schools is quickly greater. So as to form people provided with basic school-leaving qualification, capable, some to become auxiliary teachers, the others to receive a first contingent of pupils-teachers, in teachers-training colleges, in which it will be necessary to avoid, if we certainly intend to break down the policy of primary education with discount, which was followed in Indochina, since the economic crisis of 1929-1933.
« This problem affects not only in the obligation to grant to the Cambodian children of Cochinchina the primary academic standard of which they entitled. It contains also the serious question of an elite's recruitment. In the Cambodian minority of the Low-Mekong, as well as in the whole of Cambodia, the fact to be observed is that this society is totally deprived really of ruling class except the clergy. In the old Khmer kingdom, it is often Annamites who supply the contingent of the civil servants of the administration or who occupy the liberal occupations, and this situation, the Cambodians of whom are the first ones in alarming, without much reacting, seems having very long previous history. It is remarkable, indeed, that the decline of this country coincided with the time when Moslem invasions occurred in India. From the moment when Cambodia was deprived of the frame brought by brahmanes, it seems that its decay began. There are some reasons indeed which causing the dried up of an elite's recruitment that happended at the same effects, in the former Fou-nan, when the Siameses opposed recently to the Cambodian nation's recovery, by massacring ruling classes or by taking them in captivity during their raids.
« What ever how it may, the urgent work, the necessary work, is to grant to the Cambodian minority of Cochinchina the means to protect her personality, while creating for her, schools and especially by breaking from the congrue's portion way which is consisting to pay to Cambodian municipal teachers derisory salaries, as it was the case in Cochinchina, in 1943, when the teachers recruited in a difficult moment, received for the price of their professional activity, included reparations, twenty one piastre a month.
« The problem of the school penetration, in this minority, is not the only one who deserves to require our willingness, but it is of a major importance, because all the others derive from the ignorance where the Cambodian farmer found of her rights. Very attached to her land, she is not armed to defend her patrimony, and often becomes the victim of incredible despoliations. Her monks who are her natural guardians and who maintained them in the way of a magnificent high moral remain strictly attached to the tradition and without cares on the obligations and the rigors of the modern existence. The “ achars”, respected old men whom one seek advices in difficult occasions, are, them either, no other than of very nice people attached to the non-written custom, and divested of resources, in front of the merciless necessities of a social organization, where the good faith of the weak is exposed to hard assaults.
« The contact of two populations, the one active and enterprising, the other apathetic person and the traditionalist, consumes daily abuses, which our country would not know how to cover with their indifference, and seems raising of federal arbitrage mission which is devolved to the responsible in Indochina. I know a conglomeration of Long-xuyen province, where the fusion of the Cambodian village with an annamite village, decision made without precaution by the authority, result to the complete dispossession of her municipal lands from the first one (Cambodian village) for the benefit of the second (village annamite) which was poor, in the way that the school of this one (village annamite) became prosperous, whereas the school of the other one (Cambodian village) vegetates henceforth for lacking of resources. I shall also quote, a Cambodian hamlet of the province of Rach-gia, located far from roads and canals, one day the inhabitants of that place knew, by me, with bewilderment, that they were not any more owners of their lands where they are born. Their house having been incorporated into the Public domain, because having no regular title or not having been informed about the direction of the demarcation's operations, they had not appeared in front of the cadastral commissions.
« It is necessary to wonder if, in front of what they consider as arbitrary measures, the Cambodians abandon, sometimes en masse, certain villages, to flee the injustice and the despoliation. Creditors, annamites or Chinese, make illiterate Khmer farmers sign leonine acts which succeed, in brief term, in the total dispossession of the debtor. The evil had become so obvious and the wear very usual of similar expropriations that the French administration had to become alarming of it. In 1937, the visa of the recording was declared compulsory for the tickets of debts, with joint signature of the debtor and the creditor. At Tra-vinh, it seemed even necessary to require their presence during the registration of the mortgages on land registers.« It would be wished, in another respect, that those were widened or strengthened some measures taken on the eve of the war by the French authority notably who prescribed that, in the mixed villages, the Khmer element is represented by a number of notables, proportional to her importance, or still, the one who established an auxiliary officer of marriage certificate, in the villages where Cambodian are in majority. But these measures could become completely effective, only if the appointed notables be part of it, under certain conditions and according to the numeric importance of the minority, among the most considerable of municipal council members.
« It is important also that the Cambodian element has the place from where she comes in the body of the elected members, whatever level they are established. We had proposed, about twenty years back, that the autonomous cantons, recovering directly from the superior authority, were organized, there where the minority appear in trainings enough compact to justify this measure. But we can conceive also that the name of leaders of Khmer cantons is compulsory declared, in the regions where the ethnic group is dominating, with cantons sub-commanders, there where it does not in the majority. Anyway, it is necessary that the Cambodians recover from civil servants or from councilors whom speaking their language and that, in the administrative competitions, certain number of places is reserved for the candidates for the public services, with temporarily, the special conditions. It seems indispensable that the Cambodian language is officially authorized, in the staff editorial of the requests or the administrative correspondence. Finally, we can only wish the development of the office of the Cambodian cases, which had been created on the eve of the war, with the cabinet of the Governor.
« More and more Cambodians became a certain important in Cochinchina in term of numbers. Far from being in recession, their number increases in every census. In 1888, they were 150 000 on 1 600 000 inhabitants. In 1925, they had become 300 000. On the eve of the war, we counted approximately 350 000, on a global population of less than 5 million inhabitants. Remarkable fact, their relations with the Chinese are excellent, and numerous Sino-Cambodian half-bloods who adopt gladly the customs of the mother which is rarely for the case of the half-bloods sino-annamites. The Khmers of Cochinchina maintain generally with Annamites the relations divested of sympathy. They (Annamites) call them with condescension, «Tho », which means the « people of the land », but they make contempt for contempt, by treating the others (Annamites) of «Yun », from the sanskrit « Yuvana », which means « Barbarian of the North ». It is certain that these hostilities, based on incompatibilities of customs, language, religion and also, on all the bitterness of old dispossessions, have the effect of maintaining a state of latent friction, harmful to the social peace, and which requires the control of an arbitrator.
« In this case, Cochinchina appears par excellence, as a federal land, where pathetic France in weak and generous to loyal subjects, has to make prevail solutions of justice and to restore the balance which tends to destroy in the world, coarse selection of the strongest. It is up to her to award to the Cambodian minority of the Low-Mekong, a political status which again was never defined clearly, to protect her rights by administrative measures, to maintain her cultural originality, to protect especially her real-estate fortune, patrimony which diminishes a little by little every day, by the effect of incredible abuses. I add that our country would not know how to lose interest either, of the moral condition of these populations. The Cambodian minority of Cochinchina traditionally leaned on the Buddhism of the South, whereas Annam adopted the Buddhism of the North. It belongs to France, old Christian and liberal nation, to become for the Southeast Asia a Buddhist metropolis like by Africa a Moslem metropolis. It is not any more the secret, that Japan had tried to organize in its profit, the sects of the Buddhism in Indochina, and that Siam pursued for a long time in Cambodia, the same purposes, for reasons of territorial expansion. The Cambodian monks of Cochinchina are placed in the brilliance of the Phnom Penh Buddhist Institute, also having ties with Laos, institute of federal chatered, the development of which is desirable and the importance would not know how to be underestimated. »
Published by Khemara Jati