Nat Geo Explorer: 1971 US BOMBING

On March 18, 1969, the US began its 4-year long carpet bombing campaign in Cambodia. Cambodia secretly suffered from US secret bombing campaign, which paved the way for the Khmer Rouge, gaining more support. Almost 3-million tons of bombs were dropped on Cambodia, internally displacing a large percentage of the rural population, and killing an estimated 500,000. Many of the displaced people fled Cambodia, to the safety of neighboring Vietnam.

The bombing campaign targeted the northeast region on Cambodia, sharing borders with Vietnam. This region was heavily populated by indigenous groups such as the Phnong, resulting in many indigenous Phnong villages evacuating their lands, fleeing to Vietnam in 1971, unable to return till 1986.

 

PROS SOKHA

Pros Sokha (b.1963, Indigenous Phnong) was 8-years-old when her family fled the village to avoid the US bombings, one of which landed on her families home, almost killing them. She remembers bombs being dropped every 15-days, and feeling scared whilst looking for a place to escape. Abandoning their elephants, they traveled and transported their belongs by foot, and using their neighbors elephant, walking across the border to Vietnam.

From 1971-1986 her family lived in Vietnam as refugees, being supported by aid, and working as farmers. There were no indigenous schools, and she attended a khmer school in Vietnam. They moved back to their village in 1986, where things changed. Before they lived with Phnongs, but after the war they started mixing with khmer people, as khmer people started buying land, and moving to the village. Before houses were far apart and on the ground opposed to khmer stilt houses, now these ground house are no longer used, and only used for tourists to visit. 

In Vietnam many Phnongs were exposed to Christian aid, converting them to Christianity, and abandoning their indigenous beliefs. Pros Sokha and her family remained Phnong, and still practice their customs in the village, despite the majority of the once Phnong village, now being Christian. The Phnong believe in animal sacrifice, and is a part of their preyer ceremony when someone becomes sick, or bad things occur. Her daughter became pregnant before marriage, therefore the family were obliged to sacrifice animals- a pig and a chicken- whilst preying to an elephant, which are still regarded as sacred animals in Phnong culture, despite dwindling numbers after the war. before each home owned an elephant, which were used for work, transport, and preyer. Now after the Khmer Rouge there are only a few left, as they were either left behind, or killed during the regime...

Following Phnong tradition, as Pros Sokhas daughter became pregnant before marriage, her family performed a traditional sacrifice ceremony, to appease the spirits.