Enchanting modernity: development and indigeneity among protestant Bunong in the Cambodian highlands


CALL: 2011

DOMAIN: ID - Humanities and Social Sciences

FIRST NAME: Catherine





KEYWORDS: Christianity, development, indigenous people, morality, change, South East Asia

START: 2012-02-01

END: 2014-01-31


Submitted Abstract

Embrace “modernity”, be a good “Christian” and stay true to one’s “indigenous culture”, these are all notions that nobody had heard about in the Cambodian highlands some forty years ago but that have become subjects of discussion in the meantime. This anthropological research is located among the Bunong (ethno-linguistically Mnong) living in North-eastern Mondolkiri province, on the confines of Vietnam, and is looking at their ways of handling current changes brought about in a context of development. These borderland inhabitants had been facing important shifts in their way of life since the beginning of the 20th century, from the colonial “pacification” to the Indochinese conflicts. The study is focusing on the Protestant inhabitants from Bu-Sra locality that has been re-created in the 1980’s after long years of hostilities, bringing together people of different religions and with different experiences of the recent past. Indeed, during Vietnam War, missionaries had been preaching about “new life in Christ” in the area, with parts of the population coming to state their renunciation of “old” animist practices. Nevertheless today, with the Bunong confronted with serious land problems, NGO representatives teach them about their rights as traditional “indigenous people”. In order to grasp the dilemmas resulting from this complex historico-political situation, we will explore how the multiple aspects of change, from Christian teachings over discourses on “progress” to politically motivated claims of cultural “authenticity”, are interacting on the ground.The main part of the data has been drawn from ethnographical fieldwork, obtained through participant observation and interviews. I have spent fifteen months in Bu-Sra commune attempting to get a closer understanding of people’s daily life before going into the above-mentioned issue. The ambition for my fourth PhD year is to mould this multilayered information, through translation, data crossing and further analysis, into a final thesis.

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