Alain Darnis-Gravelle is the grandson of Charles Gravelle, the one-time president of Cambodia’s Société de Protection de l’Enfance au Cambodge.
Alain, who is retired, lives in the Haute-Savoie region of France, from where he runs a charity in Cambodia named after his grandfather: the Association Charles Gravelle.
The charity, which is run with French priest François Ponchaud, supplies food and medical care to children in far-flung areas such as Preah Vihear.
Alain is himself part-métis, a “quadroon” as he puts it, as his grandfather married and had children with a Cambodian dancer in the king’s ballet, Ratt Poss.
Charles Gravelle had 10 children, all of them métis, most of whom ended up in France after independence.
But that was too late for some members of Alain’s family.
Alain’s uncle, Thierry, died in 1948 after serving for the Royal Cambodian Army on the border with Vietnam.
Alain says Thierry was deliberately sought out by the anti-colonial Viet Minh because of his half-white heritage, cutting him to pieces and ditching him in the Mekong.
“They didn’t kill him; he was massacred.”
According to Alain, his father, who settled in France, was conflicted about his métis status, even though his name as the son of a prominent French colonist often helped him back in the colonial days.
“He would tell me that being a métis means you don’t belong to any community”, says Alain.