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CAMBODIA

The first explorations

From December 1880 to March 1881 Pavie studied the area bounded by the Gulf of Siam and the Mekong, travelling 1300 kilometres by elephant, boat, on foot and by ox-drawn cart. His descriptions of the geography, flora and fauna, as well as of the people are extremely precise. He travelled part of the road with Aymonier, visited the ruins of Angkor, but only spoke very little about them: "their memory reawakens in me the feeling of sadness left by their state of abandonment and my inability to assist in their conservation." He also met the main chiefs of the Cambodian regions, and in particular the governors of the provinces of Angkor and Battambang. He discovered a "savage" ethnic people, the Tchiong, who accompanied him on his journey. "The Cambodians call them the Sui. How did they get here? It is not easy to find out. Everything that they are able to recount of their history and that the Cambodians know of it boils down to very little. Formerly the only inhabitants of the centre of the peninsula, they lived independently, isolated from the neighbouring peoples; the Annamites themselves left them to live in peace. The main centre, where their chief resided, was Tapang, a day's march to the west. Then came the day of the Siamese invasion; except for two men in Somrong and three families in Tapang who succeeded in escaping, the tribe (around 300 people) was taken captive. The remnants of this poor, small people, after having chosen a chief, lived at first in poverty in the woods, then when they were assured that they were in no further danger, settled in Somrong and placed themselves under the protection of the Cambodian government which, confirming the appointment of the chief, gave him the title of "ochna" and reserved the right to nominate his successors […] Today they number 46 individuals of whom 22 are children.

Pavie was among the very first to describe this people whose lives he shared for several days.

When he returned from his expeditions, Pavie asked to be allowed to leave for Laos and Luang Prabang, but he had been preceded by Dr Neis. Le Myre de Vilers had noted Pavie’s qualities, but he could not confer such important exploratory missions to a simple official who had not yet sufficiently proved his worth. He gave him work that took him back to his professional field: the assessment and construction of the telegraph line from Phnom Penh to Bangkok.

In 1883, Pavie suggested himself for an exploration of Indochina and Siam to gather collections destined for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. To this end, in 1883 and 1884 he received a grant of 3000 francs. The first part of this sum was allocated to the purchase of photographic equipment and Pavie produced over 500 plates. The second half made possible the collection of materials for the natural history of these regions. In 1884 he sent 7 cases of shells, insects and reptiles to the Museum, and in 1885 a Cambodian ox and a porcupine. The Minister for Education congratulated him in particular for his "photographic work [which] seemed likely to offer considerable interest for learning about the various regions of Siam and Cambodia".