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Philip Taylor, The Khmer Lands of Vietnam – Note by Shawn McHale

Taylor_KhmerLandsOfVietnam[ndlr] A l’occasion de la sortie de la nouvelle publication de Philip Taylor, nous reproduisons une brève présentation par l’historien Shawn McHale. Publié avec l’autorisation de l’auteur.

Others have congratulated Philip Taylor on the publication of his book. I have two words: read it! This is a marvelous work. One of the oft-forgotten topics about Vietnam, or about the Mekong delta, is the role of the Khmer. Even those who have touched on the Khmer, like myself, have a tendency to homogenize them. After reading this book, you will get a far better sense of the diversity of the Khmer Krom in the delta.

To get a sense of Taylor’s accomplishment, note that this is the fruit of research that goes back to 1999 and involves visits to an astonishing 400 villages across the delta as well as in Tây Ninh province. The organizing principle of the book is the relation of Khmer to their environment. Taylor breaks down this relationship into six environmental regions in the Mekong delta and one outside of it (Tây Ninh province and environs).  Of all the books I have read on the delta, this one is the most nuanced in understanding the relationship between ethnic groups and the environment.

Analyzing the Khmer in these different environmental settings is key, because these settings are indeed so different. If the area including Trà Vinh and Sóc Trăng provinces could be considered the epicenter of the Khmer population, they are also widely found elsewhere. I remember once going to Hòn Chông (in between Rạch Giá and Hà Tiên) and being surprised to see a Khmer wat — there is a small Khmer Krom population living there, right by the sea. It is one of the strengths of this book that Taylor, having travelled all over the delta, even covers the Khmer Krom living on this coastal fringe.

I was also, however, thankful for his attention to areas where Khmer Krom are no longer found, or found in much smaller numbers. One of the virtues of this book is that Taylor, by interviewing older individuals about their experiences since 1945, is able to reconstruct, tentatively, some major changes in population. For example, there used to be substantial Khmer settlements in what Taylor labels the freshwater « central delta zone, » which includes present-day Vĩnh Long, Cần Thơ, and Hậu Giang, and spills over into two other provinces. There are still Khmer in this area, but it has also been a zone of bitter contestation in the wars against the French and Americans. It has also been a site, Taylor argues, of extensive land dispossession from which Khmer fled (because of war), but when they came back, their land was taken over by ethnic Vietnamese.

This note is getting long. As the comments above suggest, this is a book based on extensive research experience. It is also one in which Taylor weaves numerous accounts collected from Khmer Krom into the narrative, giving a richness to this book. It is not, in other words, only about Khmer Krom and their relation to the environment, but is also a work in which we find extensive voices of the Khmer Krom. As I said — this book, clearly written, is well worth the read.

Shawn McHale

Associate Professor of History

George Washington University
Washington, DC 20052 USA

Source : VSG

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[Présentation de l’éditeur]

The Khmer Lands of Vietnam: Environment, Cosmology and Sovereignty

Philip Taylor

The indigenous people of Southern Vietnam, known as the Khmer Krom, occupy territory over which Vietnam and Cambodia have competing claims. Regarded with ambivalence and suspicion by nationalists in both countries, these in-between people have their own claims on the place where they live and a unique perspective on history and sovereignty in their heavily contested homelands. To cope with wars, environmental re-engineering and nation-building, the Khmer Krom have selectively engaged with the outside world in addition to drawing upon local resources and self-help networks.

This groundbreaking book reveals the sophisticated ecological repertoire deployed by the Khmer Krom to deal with a complex river delta, and charts their diverse adaptations to a changing environment. In addition, it provides an ethnographically grounded exposition of Khmer mythic thought that shows how the Khmer Krom position themselves within a landscape imbued with life-sustaining potential, magical sovereign power and cosmological significance. Offering a new environmental history of the Mekong River delta this book is the first to explore Southern Vietnam through the eyes of its indigenous Khmer residents.

«In this meticulous, absorbing and often poignant book, Philip Taylor draws on years of fieldwork to take us among the appealing, resilient and ecologically gifted Khmer speaking minority of southern Vietnam. This is the first book in any language to treat these beleaguered men and women with the sustained, sympathetic attention that they deserve.»
– David Chandler, Monash University

Philip TAYLOR is Senior Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the Australian National University.

publication year: 2014
336 pages
ISBN: 978-9971-69-778-5  Paperback  US$32.00  S$38.00

Source : NUS