Life before Expulsion

Community History from Vietnamese Minorities in Kampong Chhnang

Ethnic Vietnamese groups have lived in Cambodia throughout contemporary history and the histories of the countries are closely intertwined. Nowadays, Vietnamese are one of the largest minority groups in Cambodia. However, the population group remains understudied and little public information about them is available. This has led to the fact that rumors and myths that are sometimes captured for political purposes circulate among Cambodian society. The national election in July 2013 saw much public debate about the place of the country’s Vietnamese minority. Any discussion needs to start with a proper differentiation, as ‘The Vietnamese’ in Cambodia are not one monolithic group, but comprise a range of sub-groups with very diverse backgrounds – long-term residents who were born in Cambodia, recent immigrants seeking economic opportunities, investors and business people, illegal migrants, and different types of border traders. (…)

With this Oral History project, Kdei Karuna seeks to explore the memoryscapes of this marginalized group – the intersection between memories and the space that surrounds them. Most of our interviewees displayed a strong spiritual connection to their perceived homeland on the riverbanks of the Tonlé Sap. Their families have inhabited these areas for several generations. History based on orally transmitted memories plays an important role in rural areas where older people are often illiterate and the main means of communication remains verbal. By collecting personal accounts and drawing from diverse viewpoints, the project contributes to a historical account that incorporates the life stories of the affected individuals beyond officiated interpretations of historical facts. This approach can awaken historical empathy and allow for a change in perspectives, an important prerequisite for social integration and reconciliation. During four field trips between November 2013 and March 2014, Kdei Karuna has conducted life story interviews with 33 respondents aged between 49 and 83. During the trips, the research team stayed in the villages for several days and took part in the communities’ everyday life. We delved into the past of our narrators, explored the stories that were passed down from their parents and grandparents and discovered what life was like before their total expulsion in 1975.




Rattanak Ly
Sereysothea Sao
Sonja Meyer


Kdei Karuna


Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit