When people say Cambodian culture is very close to water, many thoughts come to our mind. Probably the first one is its hydrography. Infinite rivers and streams flow through a territory crossed from North to South by the emblematic Mekong and host of the largest lake in Southeast Asia, the Tonlé Sap. This lake has the peculiarity to increase fivefold its size every year while communicating with the Mekong by a reversible river, delivering life and fortune in a fruitful conversation which nurtures a magnificent biodiversity.
Ponds, channels and brooks irrigate uncountable rice fields. Nets, traps and fish farms fill the markets with fish. Farming and fishing are the financial engine of a country where the socio-cultural importance of water sets the rhythm of life.
In every village, corner and person in Cambodia there is a special link to water. Sometimes it is related to the fear of its scarcity or excess and, others, to the joy it brings to their main celebrations: Khmer New Year, when people dance asking for rain and splash each other throwing water buckets, balloons and shooting with water guns, or Bon Om Touk, when the most expected event is the boat race through the Tonlé Sap, for which villages and districts prepare their ships the whole year.
Water has been engraved in the country since its origins, when King Naga drank the waters from the ocean which surrounded Kok Thlok, the holy island of one tree, to award this territory to his daughter Princess Soma for her marriage with Hindu Prince Preah Tong. With this myth Cambodia was born.
It was also the sophisticated management of this vital element what turned the capital of Angkor empire in one of the biggest cities in the world of its times. Each king contributed to the creation of a water channelization and storage elaborated system, whose finality is still debated between the religious and practical.
And in its legends we find the most intimate secret of the link between Cambodians and water. They tell how King Bird’s son saved his life when he deciphered the enigma of the three happiest moments in the life of the people from this country: the morning, when they wash their faces, the afternoon, when they refresh their chest with water, and the night, when they clean their legs and feet before sleeping. Water, water, water.
This is why we got involved in our project, ARTWATERENESS, because in Cambodia we found a perfect place to land Through Waters’ initiative. This proposal was born to celebrate water, to enhance its link with culture and the significance of worshipping this element, with the hope that loving it, we won’t try to destroy it. This is the reason why we have traveled by bicycle across Cambodia carrying our photo exhibition, to share views on water radiating from all around the world and to capture those emerging here, from these villages and people.
Now this adventure is coming to its end. We have learnt so much that, as if water it was, we feel it drops from our hands, escaping when we try to apprehend it. We only hope that we have been able to collect at least a part of it in this blog and in our memories. It has been a pleasure and a honour to share it with you, thank you very much for coming with us.
But life is cycles. This one ends here, another one will start in another country, in another city, in the same way or finding a different shape; it will keep on flowing, making us all reflect on this vital element, which will water our creations to give us the chance to share them once again.
We will be awaken and, as in the “Fight for the rain”, where water lacks, where desert is growing, we will croak loud: croak, croak, op, op, ap, ap … let it rain… and let water follow its cycle, let it connect all living beings forever and ever…
Berta de la Dehesa Amo y María Peñalosa Méndez