Khmer Krom are indigenous people originating from Southern Vietnam. They have been in existence in this area since the inception of the first century. During this time, the territory seemed quite immense since their population was low. This created an opportunity for their expansionist neighbors to invade. “Krom” is a word that is generally used to refer to lower land. It is also used to mean “below”, which is an indication of the southern geographical location. The region covers over 67,000km2, and it is bordered by the Gulf of Thailand to the West, Cambodia to the North, Champa’s territory to the East and the South China Sea to the South (Minahan, 2002). Between the 9th and 15th centuries, the Khmer Empire was a key power in South East Asia.
Khmer-Krom people are famous for their architectural constructions. They were the ones involved in the construction of ancient Angkor Wat and other numerous monuments (Adams, 2009). Most of the constructions involved with these people had an aspect of religion in one way or another. Khmer Krom people developed some temples during their early existence. As an indication of how they respected the temples, they used high standard materials that would ensure that these temples lasted for as long as possible. Most of them are still in existence up to the current period. Despite Khmer-Krom people having a variety of architectural monuments, quite a number have not had the opportunity of being in existence up to the current period. They have been destroyed along the way through the atrocities that these people have had to encounter. Among them is war and discrimination from the government.
Apart from their architectural prowess, Khmer Krom people are recognized for their culture. All through their generation, they have been adamant on following their culture despite the many obstacles. One popular motto that they are associated with is “Nation- Religion- People”. Under this respect, they have the belief that an individual’s survival is dependent on the other (Adams, 2009). This belief has helped them move forward both in good and bad times. This is because it has helped them work in partnership in most activities or events that they have been involved with. When people work together, it means that no one in that community is left behind. They move together as one unit regardless of the circumstances being experienced. This means that the little that is available is usually shared among all the members to ensure that everyone is in a favorable position.
This aspect is reminiscent of the present day socialism, which advocates for democracy on various issues affecting the people. There is always an aspect of equality since every member of the society is regarded as an important figure regardless of the role that they play in the society. This form of governance is quite common in South Asia. It is more of an indication that the Khmer Krom people did set a precedent that the current generation is following. The governments involved in this type of governance might not agree that they derived the idea from these people, but based on the fact that it was practiced by Khmer Krom people in the early periods; it is a possibility.
In the current period, the Kmer Krom people are still in existence in Vietnam. Their population has continued to increase with time. Currently, majority of them are located along the Mekong Delta (Nhem, 2013). Others have been distributed in other parts of the country through various aspects such as assimilation. The Mekong Delta is also occupied by people from other ethnic backgrounds, who have come in the region for varied reasons.
It seems that the Vietnamese government does not recognize the history of the Khmer Krom people. These people have contributed to the history of the country in one way or another. As a result, there ought to be some recognition from the present day government for their efforts. A simple commemoration would go a long way in showing that all their efforts and hard work were not all in vain. For any human being, it is demoralizing when you do something good or of great significance, and no one seems to appreciate the effort. To the contrary, the Vietnamese government has put in a lot of effort to ensure that Khmer Krom identity is not felt at all.
Being a minority ethnic group in Vietnam, Khmer Krom people have encountered various atrocities from the government. This is based on the efforts that the government has initiated in an attempt of trying to integrate them with the majority. The government views their activities and actions as a threat since their population is increasing significantly. There is a belief that if the minorities were to be accorded the necessary privileges, they might end up forming the government in future.
The Vietnamese government has tried to use both direct and indirect mechanisms to destroy the identity of Khmer Krom people. Among the most targeted aspect has been the religion. This is because Khmer Krom people are known to uphold and respect their religious beliefs at all times. Almost 95% of Khmers-Krom practices Hinayana Buddhism (Nhem, 2013). The religion affects almost all the aspects of the people. There are various standards postulated by the religion and people always conform. It is through the religion that they can distinguish between right and wrong. Using religion to weaken the Khmer Krom people was a smart move by the government since it would have direct and lasting effects. The government had ordered that establishment of more temples should not take place. This meant that temples would not be developed in areas that had not benefited from the historical constructions. Conducting repairs on the existing temples was also prohibited. There was also a restriction on holding meetings in temples. Any donations’ to the temples were also required to go through government representatives. This action was aimed at ensuring that the temples lose their significance, and people start finding alternatives for other worship areas. However, it has not been successful so far. Khmer Krom people are true to their religion regardless of the restrains being put forward.
Another direct mechanism being used by the Vietnamese government is forcibly promoting Vietnamese language and culture among the Khmer Krom people. These people have tried to petition that the Khmer language be used in school and other public places, but the government is not buying any of this. All they want is to ensure that the language and culture become extinct. There was a time when thousands of Khmers-Krom were jailed, deported, tortured and persecuted for learning, speaking or teaching the Khmer language.
Based on the failure of the direct methods, the Vietnamese government resorted to indirect methods of trying to diffuse these people’s culture. Among the most common method is the initiation of intermarriages. The government ensured that people from other ethnic backgrounds reside in the same areas as the Khmer Krom people. As a result of intermarriages, it is expected that they might lose their identity and adopt other ways of life.
The government has also adopted the tendency of understating Khmer Krom’s population. They keep insisting that they are around 1.3 million; while in reality they are over 7 million (Nhem, 2013). This is a psychological mind game. The government would not want these people to know that they have a significant population size. It would give them the motivation when they are fighting for their rights.
On a personal level, I gained an interest in this topic on the fact that I had met a friend originating from this geographical region. She was quite adamant on her background and used to talk of how their people had been afflicted in various ways. She was very nice, and you could easily tell that she felt bad about the whole thing.
I think the Vietnamese government has acted poorly while dealing with the Khmer Krom people. Indigenous ethnic groups exist all over the world. They usually have diverse beliefs to those being upheld by the majority. However, they do not pose any threat to the government. It is just that they express themselves in a way that might be deemed different. Furthermore, the Khmer Krom people have contributed a lot to the country. They have been in existence since the first century. They have been involved in various wars aimed at protecting the country from its enemies. Their involvement as pioneers of some structures in the country is quite commendable. The government should be treating these people as heroes. Trying to forcefully integrate them with the majority citizens is not the appropriate thing to do. They ought to be commemorated and accorded the respect that they deserve. It is surprising how little is known of them in the Western world compared to other minority people groups in Vietnam.
In conclusion, Khmers- Krom are aboriginal people from Sothern Vietnam. They are rich in culture and usually try to uphold it at all times. These people are rooted in Buddhism as their religion. Most of their principles and ways of life are dictated by religion. Over the years, they have been involved in various accomplishments in the country. However, this has not helped them gain a favorable recognition. The government has always felt threatened and tries to ensure that they have control over these people in one way or another. It is safe to say that the government has violated their rights in many ways. For people that have contributed to the history of the country, this is not the right way to be treated. The government should find a way to commemorate them, and compensate for the ill-treatment.
Adams, B. (2009). On the margins: Rights abuses ofethnic Khmer in Vietnam’s Mekong delta: Vietnam. New York, NY: Human rights watch (HRW).
Minahan, J. (2002). Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: Ethnic and National Groups Around the World A-Z (Vol. 4). New york: ABC-CLIO.
Nhem, B. (2013). The Khmer Rouge: Ideology, militarism, and the revolution that consumed a generation. New york: ABC-CLIO.
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