In a small hut on the banks of the Pursat River, Ly Mat is continuing his family trade. With his wife Son Ropith handling the bellows, the blacksmith plunges another knife into the flaming furnace.
“When I was young I learned how to do this with my father,” he says. “All my relatives make knives. It has been in the family for at least three generations.”
The heat from the furnace is strong and Ly Mat’s shirt is covered in sweat.
“It is exhausting work,” he says. “But there’s no other job we can do, so we have no choice.”
The couple buy the metal from Phnom Penh and sell the finished article wholesale to traders at the market in Pursat as well as to passing travellers. The knives cost between 15,000 and 20,000 riel. Working from 4am to midday, they make eight knives before resting in the afternoon.
Although he comes from the district of Krakor where his children still live, Ly Mat chose to establish his small smith in the village of Svay Luong, some 7km from Pursat.
“I saw that nobody around here was doing this,” he says. “I am the only person in the village who can make knives this way.”
It is not just the heat that makes the couple’s work difficult. Rising costs are also eating away at their profit margin.
“Before, the metal was only 2,500 riel for one kilogramme, but now it’s 3,500 riel,” says Son Ropith.
A sack of charcoal that used to cost 10,000 riel is now 13,000 riel. Despite this, the couple have kept the price of their knives the same. “The villagers complain about why we increase the price,” says Son Ropith. “If we increase our prices they will not buy from us.”
Ly Mat freely admits that if he had the option he would change his career and do something else. “If I had more capital I would do another job,” he says. “Raising chickens or fish is easier than my job.”
INTERPRETER: RANN REUY