Toun Neons Phnong village in Koh Neak, was abandoned in 1966, when he was 13-years old. His village went into hiding in the forest to escape the Khmer Rouge, as they heard there was going to be a war, and bombings. They destroyed their homes, land, and rice fields, to make it look as though nobody lived in the village… covering their tracks, the moved into the forest to live in secret and hide.
In 1970 when Toun was 17-years old, the village returned, believing it was safe, as the Khmer Rouge had fought Lon Nol and won. Instead the civil war waged, and they were relocated by the khmer rouge to another village to work. They did not return to their village, till the UN arrived in 1991, Before he says the village only had 30 houses in a circle formation for protection against large animals, which no longer exist. Elephants were once a key part of Phnong culture, and there were many elephants in the village, till the khmer rouge took them all away. Now there are no elephants. .
Toun was a Khmer rouge soldier till 1979 by choice. He says, at first he believed in the Khmer Rouge ideology, but later saw people being evicted from cities and killed. After witnessing this, he no longer believed in the Khmer Rouge. He wanted to help, but knew he would be killed if he tried. People were scared since a vast number of people were arrested and taken away, to never be seen again. He once witnessed 30 people arrested and killed at once. During this time, he and his family were afraid after his brother was killed. Also a member of the khmer rouge, his brothers car broke down so he had to walk through the forest to the next village, when he arrived in the village they thought he was an escapee and killed him.
During this time Phnong culture suffered greatly and was lost, as they were not allowed to perform traditional ceremonies, or use traditional healing when sick. As well as village chief, Toun is also a traditional healer, curing sick people in the village. Collecting natural plants from the nearby forest and making traditional medicines, as well as performing ceremonies such as “exorcisms”, when there is a bad spirit inside someone making them sick.
Phnong villagers now call on Toun for traditional healing ceremonies, ceremonies which were not permitted during their time under the Khmer Rouge...