Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Young Khmers learn the craft of oral history



Young Khmers learn the craft of oral history

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Alberto Pérez Pereiro instructs the Transmissions 2015 participants. Kimberley McCosker

Young Khmers learn the craft of oral history

A group of young Cambodians spent this week in workshops learning about interviewing, ethics and the value of historical research. Now they’ve got a daunting task ahead of them: to interview those closest to them, on camera, about their experiences during the Khmer Rouge.

Called Transmissions 2015 and organised by the Bophana Centre and Center for Khmer Studies, the project is part of the eight-month-long Acts of Memory program that began in April, commemorating the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. 

Krisna Uk, executive director of the Center for Khmer Studies, explained that this particular project had come about after Oscar-nominated filmmaker Rithy Panh expressed an interest in organising a future film around intergenerational dialogue.

“He’s going to film the interviews and do something with them, although I’m not sure he knows exactly what yet,” said Uk.

It was only on the first day of the workshops that participants discovered that as well as learning the skills of an interviewer, they were expected to take part in the story themselves by interviewing their family.

For some, it was a daunting prospect.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

“The older generation don’t really want to speak about history and about politics, they just teach their children to earn a living, get on with your work,” said 25-year-old Ry Sangha, a monk and student of international relations.   

“The person I’m going to interview, I don’t know what level they’re affected by this period so it’s maybe hard and will hurt their feelings.”

Workshop leader Alberto Pérez Pereiro said there were many ethical questions that the participants had to be aware of before beginning their conversations. 

“They will be talking to people that have undergone tr­­emendous hardship and suffering.

Many survivors have strong feelings of guilt because of things they did in order to survive,” he said.

“It’s important to treat this information responsibly and make sure the person doesn’t feel he or she is being judged.”

Some workshop participants said that they didn’t anticipate that the conversation would be particularly painful.

Soeung Samnang, 29, an English lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said that his parents generally spoke about the 1970s without it prompting strong emotional reactions.

“I think it is because no one close in the family got murdered,” he said.

Samnang explained that, in a strange twist of fate, the regime had been unintentionally kind to his parents when it transpired that their forced marriage was the same match family elders had been planning for them before the regime.

Samnang said that, while the workshop had shed considerable light on the reasons why it may be important to conduct oral history documentation, he still had reservations about the subject more generally.

“There are so many other things in Cambodia beside the Khmer Rouge and everyone who’s coming to Cambodia is focusing attention on the Khmer Rouge. It makes Cambodia look bad.”  

Pérez Pereiro said that the sessions would be relevant to participants in a broad range of endeavours.  

“The whole experience has been great,” he said.

“I’ve spent years conducting interviews in Cambodia and it’s very satisfying to be able to now be teaching these skills and sharing my experiences with aspiring Cambodian researchers.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia to make auto-rickshaws

    Locally-assembled electric auto-rickshaws could hit the Cambodian market as soon as early in May after the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) gave the greenlight to an investment project at the weekend. According to a CDC press release, it will issue a final registration