Saturday, October 30, 2010


You don’t see a lot of cattle on the streets of Phnom Penh. Like most aspiring metropolises, the city prefers not to have too much livestock wandering its streets. One exception though, which you may spot on occasion, are the wandering ox-carts laden with pottery. These amazing contraptions can look almost like they have just jumped out of a 17th century peasant tableau or something. They often travel a couple of hundred kilometers or more before reaching the capital.
At the same time, you don’t have to go too far out of the city before you start seeing plenty of bovine creatures. Cattle in their various forms are hugely important to rural people. Strangely enough, as a country which has been influenced by Indian culture in many ways, there is no real dairy industry as such. The various types of cows, water buffalo and oxen which are seen are kept primarily as a work animal, as a way of increasing capital or as a source of meat. Just across the Japanese Bridge on Chrouy Changva are a number of abattoirs where farmers bring their cattle. As most Cambodians are Buddhist, and therefore forbidden from killing, the job of slaughtering them generally goes to Chams. Chams are a now mainly Muslim people who have lived in Cambodia for a long time, mainly near rivers. They once had their own kingdom called Champa which was located around where the middle part of Vietnam is now. It was eventually defeated after a series of wars with the Khmers in the 12th century and its population later dispersed to various places around South East Asia.
There are wild types of cattle found in the forests and remote areas of the country. The dead Guar shown above was once quite common, but has become increasingly rare. The Kouprey, Cambodia’s national animal, is almost mythical in its rarity, and skeptical experts have recently questioned whether it ever existed. There have been expeditions by various groups to find one, but the last sighting was apparently in the 1940s. It seems increasingly unlikely, but perhaps a few remain wandering the wild edges of the kingdom.
The top picture shows the typical sort of ox-cart laden with pottery that you see wandering the streets. next is a picture of cows near the runway at Pochentong airport in 1974, when the airport was under near constant bombardment. The third picture down is a farmer in 1952. The second picture from the bottom is a Guar that was killed by some hill-tribe members early in the 20th century. The final picture is of the elusive Kouprey.