Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The King's Stupa

The King's Stupa surrounded by trees and undergrowth in O'Svay village
A young and distinguished portrait of the then-Prince Sihanouk
In the overgrown garden of a small house in the village of O'Svay, close to the border with Laos and next to the mighty Mekong River, stands a monument to a time long forgotten by most. The locals call it the King's Stupa. In the early 1960s the then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk initiated a project which was called "the colonization of new lands," which aimed to develop rural aresa and reduce poverty in Cambodia's remote provinces like Stung Treng and the northeastern areas. The town of Borey O'Svay was established in the early 1960s close to the border with Laos, reflecting a concern about Lao traders and fishermen encroaching on Cambodian territory. The military were sent to clear the jungle and build an access road, fifty concrete houses, a school, a hospital, a market, a pagoda, a military camp and a sugar cane factory. On 1 January 1964, 300 families of retired military officers and soldiers mainly from Takeo, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Kandal provinces, as well as refugees from Kampuchea Krom, were offered housing, land, cattle, seed and trees to settle there. Prince Sihanouk personally inaugurated Borey O'Svay in 1967. At the time, dense forest was very close to the rice fields and homes and the villagers did not venture into the forest for fear of tigers, elephants and other wild animals. In 1970 Khmer Rouge troops took over O'Svay and in 1972, bombing raids by the United States destroyed much of the town. In 1975 families from Phnom Penh were sent to live in the area and a year later people were forced to leave the village to clear new rice fields some 40kms away. In 1979 the villagers returned and found their homes in ruins. Today five villages make up the O'Svay commune with a total population of 445 families, some 2,340 people. The King's Stupa is still there, if you can find it amongst the undergrowth, with concrete panels showing Prince Sihanouk in all his glory. And if you ask around you can still find one or two of the original inhabitants.
This narrative panel shows the Prince working the land
Another panel on the monument shows the Prince building a house
Here the Prince is stepping out forcibly across a new bridge
Another of the local inhabitants, attached to the stupa, which I spotted just in time

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