You are here
Home > Cambodia > Kampot
A- A+ Print

CAMBODIA

Kampot

Pavie was very happy with his new posting. He wrote to his sister: "I am leaving Long Xuyen and going to Kampot. I am very happy; it is a post where savings can be made. I will be the only European in the area, which is 50 kilometres from the border with Cochinchina and inside Cambodia. I will tell you about my new home when I am there. It is an important post, a great favour that has been extended to me, and I am very content."

The kingdom of Cambodia only has 400 kilometres of coastline. Under King Ang-Duong (1847-1860), Kampot became a large port which declined in importance after 1870. Indeed the capital was moved to Phnom Penh in 1866 and a new commercial route was established with Saigon.

When Pavie arrived in 1876, he discovered a "coast edged with marshland, covered with mangrove forests that are advancing and encroaching upon the beach and which for half a league constitute the banks of the small river, which flows for barely 15 or 16 kilometres. Next come paddy-fields with their belts of sugar palms; scattered Malay huts in the fields, the abandoned grounds of a Catholic mission; then Kampot around 2 miles from the sea on the right bank, with opposite it the Annamite village of Trei-Cach and 1800 metres further on, that of Kompong-Bay which are, so to speak, part of it." The small port was populated by Annamites, Chinese, Malayans, Cambodians and Chams. Pavie set up home in a hut one hour from the sea. His house, "behind the market, is isolated on indistinct terrain between a small stream and the Buddhist temple." He was the only European, and "political correspondent" of the French representative in Cambodia. He received a cordial welcome, but also carefully studied: "…I was greeted on the bank by several chiefs and an interpreter who conducted me to my hut seeming above all preoccupied with determining my character, my attitude and what I would do first."

By nature extremely shy, it took visits from the monks in the neighbouring pagoda to bring Pavie out of his solitude. Through contact with the pagoda superior, Pavie was able to learn the language and discover the Khmer civilisation: "My amazement at a civilisation otherwise despised, at least to which I had not paid the attention that it deserved, aroused in me an imperative need to know this people, whose colossal past was now veiled in shadow." He also began to explore the region surrounding Kampot. "What I learned I noted on a map, a comparison of which with the geographic documents then available contributed in no small measure to my growing resolve to do as much as I could to go and seek out the truth about the country, and I hoped that no-one would think of undertaking the study of which I dreamed before I had the opportunity." Around Kampot, Pavie discovered "other peoples", which he initially described as "savages". "In a canton to the west of the province there was still a tribe that had remained separate from the civilised population in a strikingly semi-barbarous state." Amongst locals who invited him to go hunting, fishing and to celebrations, and neglecting "no opportunity to make [his] stay agreeable", three years passed by. These years spent in Kampot were a genuine schooling for Pavie, who, by living among the Cambodians, progressively abandoned his preconceptions.