Tracking the Origins of Cambodian Sign Language
PHNOM PENH - In a dim room at the Deaf Community Center in Phnom Penh, I watch as Chamroeun, a deaf Cambodian and staff member at Deaf Development Programme, narrates the history of Cambodia. As history unfolded before my eyes, I couldn’t help but think about its implications for deaf people.
In front of a slide of the various incarnations of the Cambodian flag, Chamroeun spun through the centuries, crouching and raising his arms into an archer’s pose, becoming a soldier in battle during the Angkor empire. He then straightened, bending his arms into a regal pose to become a king atop an elephant, umbrella carriers at his side. He acted out the battles with Siam, the fall of the Angkor Empire, the arrival of the French, and then independence from France. As we entered modernity, Chamroeun became Lon Nol, the U.S.-backed Prime Minister deposed in 1975, then King Sihanouk in exile in China, and finally, a Khmer Rouge solider. His epic performance concludes with an reenactment of the 1979 Vietnamese invasion.