chapter  6
12 Pages

Political livelihoods in the northeast borderlands of Cambodia

Legacy of the past, territorial incorporation, and confrontation
WithFrédéric Bourdier

It has been said and resaid that the Southeast Asian borderlands stimulate the creation of new identities and alternative management of natural resources. But the spatial proximity between Vietnam and Cambodia, characterized by episodic geopolitical tensions in the borderland region of the Southeast Asian Massif has not yet been investigated in this regard. Ratanakiri province is our chosen case study. Ratanakiri is the ancestral home of eight ethnic minorities, traditionally practicing swidden agriculture and relying on forest products for their livelihoods. Some have a matrilineal clan system (Jarai, Tampuan, and Kachoh’) while the others (Brao, Kreung, Lun, Kaveth, and Bunong) have a cognatic descent system. All follow matrilocal residential rules. The Jarai (the second most numerous group after the Tampuan) live in the border heartland close to Vietnam and they maintain relationships with their Vietnamese counterparts. Particular attention will be given to the social fabric of their management of the borderlands and their livelihood approaches, which nevertheless share common patterns with the other ethnic groups. The anthropology of frontiers begins, in the historical context of the area, with an anthropology of political negotiation and contest. Major changes occur after the mid-20th century. National borders become zones wherein negotiations of internal/international relations take place, mostly for access to and control over natural resources. Under these circumstances, borderlands are also those areas liable to be extended across borderlines. This chapter proposes an approach towards grasping “political livelihoods” in these relatively unknown borderlands, and this analysis may also be of relevance to other borderland contexts.