Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Forest of Struggle

Forest of Struggle: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Forest of Struggle
    Book Description:

    "With an ethnographer's acumen, Zucker shows us how the members of a community in post-conflict Cambodia have sought to rebuild their lives, a process involving complicated issues of trust, social memory, and moral order.Forest of Struggleis a must-read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of social suffering and the remaking of social worlds after prolonged conflict and genocide." -Alexander Hinton, Rutgers University"This book raises far-reaching questions of larger interest to the study of Cambodia and to anthropology in general. It is a very timely book, full of ideas and relevant to any society in the aftermath of profound upheaval." -John Marston, El Colegio de MexicoIn a village community in the highlands of Cambodia's Southwest, people struggle to rebuild their lives after nearly thirty years of war and genocide. Recovery is a tenuous process as villagers attempt to shape a future while contending with the terrible rupture of the Pol Pot era.Forest of Struggletracks the fragile progress of restoring the bonds of community in O'Thmaa and its environs, the site of a Khmer Rouge base and battlefield for nearly three decades between 1970 and 1998.Anthropologist Eve Zucker's ethnographic fieldwork (2001-2003, 2010) uncovers the experiences of the people of O'Thmaa in the early days of the revolution, when some villagers turned on each other with lethal results. She examines memories of violence and considers the means by which relatedness and moral order are re-established, comparing O'Thmaa with villages in a neighboring commune that suffered similar but not identical trauma. Zucker argues that those differing experiences shape present ways of healing and making the future. Events had a devastating effect on the social and moral order at the time and continue to impair the remaking of sociality and civil society today, impacting villagers' responses to changes in recent years.More positively, Zucker persuasively illustrates how Cambodians employ indigenous means to reconcile their painful memories of loss and devastation. This point is noteworthy given current debates on recovery surrounding the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.Forest of Struggleoffers a compelling case study that is relevant to anyone interested in post-conflict recovery, social memory, the anthropology of morality and violence, and Cambodia studies.Eve Zuckeris a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3806-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. 1-4)

    Close to the end of my fieldwork one of my neighbors, Thon, offered to take me on a tour of the sites that comprised the old village of O’Thmaa before, as he put it, “Pol Pot came and everything was destroyed.” The original village had consisted of four parts, each with its own place name and located at a distance from the other three. Each contained a group of households whose members were related to one another by birth or marriage. Unlike today, where the houses line the main road, the four parts formed a loose arc that together made...

  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 5-22)

    The calamitous events narrated in the prologue occurred in the village I call O’Thmaa in southwestern Kompong Speu Province, Cambodia, in the early 1970s, during the time of the Khmer Rouge revolution and civil war. O’Thmaa is located in a mountainous region that was known between early 1970 and late 1998 as the Forest of the Struggle (Prei Brâyut). The Khmer Rouge used these mountains as a base, both before installing their regime, Democratic Kampuchea (DK; 1975–1979), and after DK’s downfall during the civil war that followed. The Khmer Rouge were in fact following a tradition set by the...

  6. 2 The Setting: People, Place, and History
    (pp. 23-46)

    Geographically, the village of O’Thmaa nestles between the Cardamom Mountains to the west and the Elephant Mountains to the southeast. Today the region is accessible by a road built by the LWF, which began the project in 1997 to make it easier for villagers to return to the land from which they had been evacuated in 1987–1988 and also for them to sustain contact with the market town on the main highway. There was an earlier oxcart trail that fell into disuse between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s; the area had become overgrown by forest and was also...

  7. 3 Trust and Distrust
    (pp. 47-74)

    This chapter is about the concept of trust and about attempts to recover trust after radical distrust swept the village of O’Thmaa and its neighboring communities. Following a period of distrust that lasted from the civil war years through the DK period and into the 1980s and 1990s, villagers today are taking steps to rebuild trust in the moral/social order and personal trust with each other. They are contending with the residue of distrust that is the legacy of Khmer Rouge ideological policies and practices and thirty years of war while they seek to rebuild their lives together in a...

  8. 4 The Story of a Village Elder, Part 1
    (pp. 75-93)

    It was on my second visit to O’Thmaa that I met Ta Kam. I had visited the village the previous day as part of an exploratory survey of the region while still in search of a fieldsite. I found him constructing a thatched hut on the village’s northern slope. His closely cropped silver hair contrasted with the dark caramel color of his skin. His face and body were lean and angular from a lifetime of work and poverty. Together with a staff member from the local LWF office, which was hosting my visit, I decided to approach him in the...

  9. 5 The Story of a Village Elder, Part 2
    (pp. 94-113)

    Villagers say that as village chief, Ta Kam sought to display competence in his job (sna dai) with the Khmer Rouge and to “gain face” by making complaints to his superiors against people in the village.¹ Those he accused were taken away and executed. They say he did so because he was morally uneducated (ât cheah deung), meaning, as it was explained to me, that he did not know right from wrong. This moral ignorance, they say, caused him to lead the “wrong” way (in the moral sense).

    Ta Kam was certainly not the only O’Thmaa villager of his generation...

  10. 6 The Wild and the Civil, Kinship, and Commensality
    (pp. 114-132)

    As we have seen, the transformation and maintenance of the social imaginary in Cambodia is performed through its application of moral categories or qualities such as clarity, wildness, and civility to social forms of behavior. In what follows we will take a closer look at this process by focusing on the categories connoting the “wild” and the “civil” as they are expressed through relatedness and commensality; the categories are employed to make and remake sociality and the moral order and to define civil society. This chapter shows how relatedness is made within the contemporary community, as well as in the...

  11. 7 Mountains, Morals, and Memory
    (pp. 133-149)

    In recent years the relationships among landscape, memory, myth, history, and identity have been the focus of numerous studies. The classical view that landscape is an entity fixed in historical time and outside of social and cultural processes has long been overridden by new perspectives that take a less objectifying or colonizing stance, viewing landscape instead as dynamic and part of cultural processes (Hirsch and O’Hanlon 1995). Such studies show how features of the natural environment become landscape through cultural processes whereby metaphoric meanings are applied through social, historical, and political processes (Abercrombie 1998; Schama 1996; Taussig 1997). It is...

  12. 8 Bon Dalien
    (pp. 150-170)

    The village harvest festival, Bon Dalien, is traditionally organized every year sometime toward the end of the cool dry season in January or February, after the annual rice harvest has finished. Because of the two civil wars and the Pol Pot years, Bon Dalien had not been celebrated in O’Thmaa since 1970 until it was revived in 2000. In 2003, during the Khmer month of Makh (January–February), I had the opportunity to observe and participate in three Bon Dalien festivals in Prei Phnom Commune, including one in O’Thmaa and another in a commune closer to the provincial capital. Through...

  13. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 171-180)

    Let us return to the concept ofsâtisampajania(moral discernment). Hansen (2003) explains that in theGatilok, sâtisampajaniais “a moral attribute necessary to anyone who wants to live as a good person in the world” (820). Composed ofsati, meaning “mindfulness and clarity,” andsampajania, meaning “discrimination,” “attention,” or “awareness,”sâtisampajaniais “a precursor to living as a fully developed moral agent” (819). This “mature moral agency” arises from “the proper ethical orientation toward the world,” which requires “recognition of the true nature andconnectedness of self and others” (813; my emphasis). It is because of this centrality of...

    (pp. 181-188)

    Seven years after my initial fieldwork I was traveling down the familiar earthen road through Prei Phnom Commune that ends at O’Thmaa. I carried many questions with me on that journey, having had no communication with the villagers since 2003. How were people getting along, and had there been any significant changes in my absence? Had relations improved among the villagers? How were the events occurring on a national or even global scale affecting the village, if at all? What impact was the Khmer Rouge Tribunal having on villagers’ perceptions of the past, their identities today, and their relationship with...

    (pp. 189-194)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 195-210)
    (pp. 211-228)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 229-234)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-245)