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Ancient cultures slipping away

Men Has, 82, and Doung Nhech, 78, from two separate Chorng villages, are husband and wife. They fell in love and married after both of their previous partners died.
Men Has, 82, and Doung Nhech, 78, from two separate Chorng villages, are husband and wife. They fell in love and married after both of their previous partners died. Charlotte Pert

Ancient cultures slipping away

In the first of a new series on the country’s smallest and most endangered minorities, Charlotte Pert photographed the Chorng.

The Chorng ethnic minority is one of the groups that fall under the umbrella identity of the Khmer Daeum — literally “original Khmers”. There are records of their presence in Cambodia as far back as the 13th century. According to folklore, the people fled from troubled neighbouring lowlands to trade in forest resources. Today, some 300 families inhabit three communes of Thmor Baing district in Koh Kong province, near the Areng Valley. In recent weeks, Chorng representatives have been part of a campaign to halt the construction of a large-scale hydropower dam, the reservoir of which is expected to affect their ancestral homelands. Their daily lives are dependent on the forest, where they gather natural resources like rattan, wood, fruit and vegetables, and where they believe spirits reside. When in the forest, villagers speak the Chorng dialect, which dates back to ancient times, as they believe speaking Khmer would anger the spirits.

There are few speakers of Chorng language left.
There are few speakers of Chorng language left. Charlotte Pert
This couple said they have not had any marital problems since they wed, because they love each other.
This couple said they have not had any marital problems since they wed, because they love each other. Charlotte Pert
A family gathers outside their home. Un Koi, 69, second right, is grandfather to five children.
A family gathers outside their home. Un Koi, 69, second right, is grandfather to five children. Charlotte Pert
Ben Savee, 42, has six children. Her husband has participated in protests against the planned dam.
Ben Savee, 42, has six children. Her husband has participated in protests against the planned dam. Charlotte Pert
Chorng people usually wear their traditional black clothes on special occasions.
Chorng people usually wear their traditional black clothes on special occasions. Charlotte Pert
A series of ancient burial jars found in the Cardamom mountains has led researchers to examine the history of the Chorng.
A series of ancient burial jars found in the Cardamom mountains has led researchers to examine the history of the Chorng. Charlotte Pert

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