Saturday, January 15, 2011

Khmer History

Funan Empire: 68-550

The Funanese Empire rose to eminence from its affluent and powerful home city of Oc Eo (in nowadays Vietnam), known in the Roman Empire as Kattigara, meaning the Renowned City. Contacts with the distant Roman Empire are evidenced by the fact that Roman coins have been found at archeological sites dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. However, most of the foreign trade of the Funan Empire was carried on much closer to home with India, especially the Bengal area of India. Trade with India commenced well before 500 BCE (before the widespread use of Sanskrit as a language in India). With the Indian trade came the Indianization of the culture of Funan and the religion of Hinduism. Funan and its succeeding societies which occupied this section of Southeast Asia would remain Hindu in religion for about 900 years. Some cultural features would last much longer. To this day the modern Cambodians eat with spoons and their fingers in the Indian manner rather than chopsticks like many other Chinese-influenced cultures of Asia.

The empire reached its greatest extent under the rule of Fan Shih-man in the early 3rd century, extending as far south as Malaysia and as far west as Burma. The Funanese established a strong system of mercantilism and commercial monopolies that would become a pattern for empires in the region. Exports from the Funan Empire were largely forest products and precious metals—including gold elephants, ivory, rhinoceros horn, kingfisher feathers, wild spices like cardamom, lacquer hides and aromatic wood. Fan Shih-man expanded the fleet and improved the Funanese bureaucracy, creating a quasi-feudal pattern that left local customs and identities largely intact, particularly in the empire's farther reaches.

Chenla: 550-802

The Khmers, vassals of Funan had reached the Mekong River from the northern Menam River via the Mun River Valley. Chenla, their first independent state developed out of Funanese influence.

Ancient Chinese records mention two kings, Shrutavarman and Shreshthavarman who ruled at the capital Shreshthapura located in modern day southern Laos. The immense influence on the identity of Cambodia to come was wrought by the Khmer Kingdom of Bhavapura, in the modern day Cambodian city of Kompong Thom. Its legacy was its most important sovereign, Ishanavarman who completely conquered the kingdom of Funan during 612-628. He chose his new capital at the Sambor Prei Kuk, naming it Ishanapura.

After the death of Jayavarman I in 681, turmoil came upon the kingdom and at the start of the 8th century, the kingdom broke up into many principalities. Pushkaraksha, the ruler of Shambhupura announced himself as king of the entire Kambuja. Chinese chronicles proclaim that in the 8th century, Chenla was split into land Chenla and water Chenla. During this time, Shambhuvarman son of Pushkaraksha controlled most of water Chenla until the 8th century which the Malayans and Javanese dominated over many Khmer principalities.

Khmer Empire: 802-1431

The golden age of Khmer civilization, however, was the period from the 9th to the 13th centuries, when the kingdom of Kambuja, which gave Kampuchea, or Cambodia, its name, ruled large territories from its capital in the region of Angkor in western Cambodia.

Legend has it that in 802 CE, Jayavarman II, king of the Khmers, first came to the Kuhlen hills, the future site of Angkor Wat.[5] Later, under Jayavarman VII (1181–ca. 1218), Khmer or Kambuja reached its zenith of political power and cultural creativity. Jayavarman VII gained power and territory in a series of successful wars. Khmer conquests were almost unstoppable as they raided home cities of powerful seafaring Chams. However, territorial expansion stopped after a defeat by Dai Viet. The battle also witnessed Suryavarman II's death. Following Jayavarman VII's death, Kambuja experienced a gradual decline. Important factors were the aggressiveness of neighboring peoples (especially the Thai, or Siamese), chronic interdynastic strife, and the gradual deterioration of the complex irrigation system that had ensured rice surpluses. The Angkorian monarchy survived until 1431, when the Thai captured Angkor Thom and the Cambodian king fled to the southern part of the country.

Dark Ages: 1618-1863

The fifteenth to the 19th centuries were a period of continued decline and territorial loss. Cambodia enjoyed a brief period of prosperity during the 16th century because its kings, who built their capitals in the region southeast of the Tonle Sap along the Mekong River, promoted trade with other parts of Asia. This was the period when Spanish and Portuguese adventurers and missionaries first visited the country. However, the Thai conquest of the new capital at Lovek in 1594 marked a downturn in the country's fortunes and Cambodia. Becoming a pawn in power struggles between its two increasingly powerful neighbors, Siam and Vietnam. Cambodia remained a protectorate of Siam. Vietnam's settlement of the Mekong Delta led to its annexation of that area at the end of the 17th century. Vietnam employed a strategy similar to those of North American pilgrims and pioneers: settle and claim. Such foreign encroachments continued through the first half of the 19th century. A successful invasion by Vietnam further limited Thai protectorship in Cambodia and established the kingdom under full Vietnamese suzerainty.

French colonial period: 1863-1953

In 1863, King Norodom signed an agreement with the French to establish a protectorate over his kingdom. The state gradually came under French colonial domination.

During World War II, the Japanese allowed the French government (based at Vichy) that collaborated with the republican opponents and attempted to negotiate acceptable terms for independence from the French.

Cambodia's situation at the end of the war was chaotic. The Free French, under General Charles de Gaulle, were determined to recover Indochina, though they offered Cambodia and the other Inchochinese protectorates a carefully circumscribed measure of self-government. Convinced that they had a "civilizing mission", they envisioned Indochina's participation in a French Union of former colonies that shared the common experience of French culture.

Sihanouk's "royal crusade for independence" resulted in grudging French acquiescence to his demands for a transfer of sovereignty. A partial agreement was struck in October 1953. Sihanouk then declared that independence had been achieved and returned in triumph to Phnom Penh.