Most tourists visiting Cambodia only seek to visit the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. The Cambodian, or Khmer people are capitalizing on this booming tourist industry, but they are also disseminating a more complex Khmer identity through other sites and festivals. This identity simultaneously hearkens back to the affluence of the Angkor Period in Khmer history and looks forward to the modernization of the country. After the reign of the Khmer Rouge, from 1975-1979, which led to what is now called the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Khmer people needed to create a new, hopeful, peaceful identity for their nation. The new Khmer identity is still being created and strengthened today. This thesis is about performance and its intersection with identity. It argues that the Khmer are using performance—both onstage and offstage—as a means towards identity formation. The contemporary performance of Khmer identity is serving to increase nationalism as well as raise interest and funding for Cambodia from foreign tourists. This thesis looks closely at three sites of Khmer performance: a Khmer performance enacted onstage entitled Sokacha, the Pioneer Day celebrations of the Khmer-Mormon community in Phnom Penh, and the yearly Water Festival. Each of these performance sites demonstrates the dual performance occurring—a performance to reify Khmer identity to Khmer people from around the world, and a performance of Khmer identity packaged for foreigners to purchase. Performance on stage has been altered, choosing only elements of traditional Khmer performance that emphasize the new identity. But the Khmer are using other venues, like festivals and celebrations, to perform identity. In adopting only elements of Khmer history that fit the hopeful trajectory of the new Khmer identity, the Khmer are creating and performing a new identity, both onstage and offstage, to fit the present and future Cambodia. Two identities of Cambodia are being performed: one aimed at Khmer to instill national pride, and one performed for the tourists that help fund that effort.
College and Department
Fine Arts and Communications; Theatre and Media Arts
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Stock, Marel Angela, "Puppets, Pioneers, and Sport: The Onstage and Offstage Performance of Khmer Identity" (2009). All Theses and Dissertations. 1851.
Khmer, theatre, theater, drama, dance-drama, identity, Reamker, performance, Cambodia, Cambodian, Mormon, shadow puppetry, Sbek Thom, Apsara, Water Festival, Bohn Om Touk, Pioneer Day, Cambodian Cultural Village, folk dance, tourism