Cambodia – Norodom Sihanouk, Father-Prince, Artist-King

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Banknote of Cambodia, front, 100

Norodom Sihanouk, the artist politician, lived an extraordinary life at the center of power through much of the tumultuous 20th century.  Major events include French colonization, WW2 domination by the Japanese, reassertion of French authority following WW2, independence from France, Vietnam War, Khmer Rouge, and then, the 21st century.  He left us in 2012 at the age of 90 years old.  In Cambodia he is known as Samdech Euv, “Father Prince”

The ancient kingdom of Cambodia had become a French colony by the time Norodom Sihanouk was born, grandson to the contemporary king, in 1922.  In WW2 1941, the Japanese took control of Cambodia and, bypassing his father, installed 19 year old Norodom Sihanouk, as king, upon his grandfather’s death.  Following WW2, the French sought to reassert their colonial authority in Cambodia and much of Indochina, while Sihanouk sought independence.  Independence was achieved in 1953, and in 1955 Sihanouk abdicated the throne and formed a political party.  His father ascended to the throne.  Upon his father’s death in 1960, Norodom was appointed head of sate, which post he held until the military coup of 1970, during the Vietnam War, which ushered in the US backer Khmer republic.

The 1975 Cambodian civil war brought Pol Pot to power, Norodom back from exile, initially as a supporter. But a year later, in 1976, he resigned and was placed under house arrest until 1979.  This was the period of the infamous “killing fields”.  When the Vietnamese overthrew the Pol Pot regime in 1979, Norodom went again into exile; and, in 1981, formed a resistance party.

In 1991, peace accords were signed and in 1993 Norodom Sihanouk was reinstated as head of state and king of Cambodia, which he retained until abdication if favor of his son in 2004.

It is said that from 1966 to 2006 he produced at least 50 films, a number of which he also acted in.

 

Detail from front of Cambodian banknote.

The “naga”, the multi-headed serpent which is often the beneficent protagonist in Hindu Mythology; its mortal enemy being the “guardas”, the semidivine birdlike deity.

Nagas are multiheaded.  The even number headed naga is said to symbolize the female, physicality, mortality, temporality and the earth; whereas the odd number headed nagas represent the male, infinity, timelessness and immortality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cambodia banknote, back, 100, featuring the Wat Preah Keo in Phnom Penh

 

 

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