Love and Dread in Cambodia: Weddings, Births and Ritual Harm under the Khmer Rouge

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By Peg LeVine

For a decade, the author followed Cambodian men and women to former wedding and birth sites from the Khmer Rouge period (1975-79), filming their return to these locations. In the process she uncovered evidence of the way severe dislocation, induced starvation and other murderous activities paved the way for reconstructed communes. Group marriages, along with prescriptions for sex, pregnancies and births, were a central feature of the remaking of Cambodian society and contributed to the dissolution of the country's ritual practices. This"ritualcide"caused a mass loss of spirit-protective places, objects, and arbitrators, and had a traumatic impact on Khmer society. Group marriages did, however, give spouses a reprieve from further dislocation.

Approaching the process as an ethno-psychologist, LeVine argues that suffering was intensified by ritual tampering on the part of the Khmer Rouge. Such disruptions did not end in 1979, however, since Euro-American perspectives on trauma and reconciliation have also failed to accept spirit respect as a normative feature.

"This fine-grained, empathetic and persuasive study revisits hundreds of the innumerable weddings arranged by the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) for Cambodian citizens in the so-called Khmer Rouge period (1975-79). The couples, many of whom remain together, lament the joylessness of their weddings and the absence of customary rituals as they revisit the bitter experience of those horrific times" - David Chandler


Peg LEVINE is a Senior Research Fellow/Clinical Psychologist at Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Victoria, Australia. As a sculptor, LeVine generated ceramic, wax and bronze figures to illustrate the aftermath embedded in the survivors' descriptions.


Publication Year: 2010
260 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-472-2, Paperback

NUS Press