Monash University

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A contextual study into the weddings and births under the Khmer Rouge: the ritual revolution

posted on 2017-02-09, 00:00 authored by LeVine, Peg
This was a contextual investigation into the Khmer Rouge weddings, which included pregnancy and birth histories from the Democratic Kampuchea era. Between 1998 and 2005, this author followed some Cambodian men and women to former wedding and birth sites from the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979), while filming their return. The study was comprised of 192 Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge and never left the country; this researcher wanted to track histories of a non-refugee population as a way of controlling better for testimonial-based narratives. Most of the respondents had not been to their wedding, work, and birth sites in over 30 years, thus making material ripe for review of history. Collective experiences were mapped across place and time, and patterns of Khmer Rouge breakdown of traditional practices and spirit-protective activities were recorded. Analysis reveals a relationship between the organised group weddings and the Khmer Rouge agenda to create a pure communist state. This author uncovered a pattern wherein post 1977, couples in certain regions were given prescriptions for sex at the time of their wedding; huts were created for sexual activity often with surveillance; collectives were formally arranged around the wed cohort, and the next cohort of married women were brought in to oversee the offspring of those who birthed -- until such time that they, too, became pregnant. This unexpected pattern requires more targeted research for further exploration. In addition to the breakdown of courtship practices, culturally-normed adolescent and adulthood development was vastly disrupted. This study uncovered a type of spirit-based anxiety related to the breakdown of protective rituals, which continues to interfere with some respondents ' sense of safety and predictable future. In particular, some respondents' identification of Angkar (the Khmer Rouge organisation) contained metaphysical interpretations and perceptions; in a spirit-based culture, this has strong ramifications for people's continued fear and apprehension. Evidence from this research is useful for those constructing psychosocial interventions for Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge.


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Department, School or Centre

Asian Languages and Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts