The funeral of renowned Cambodian scholar Keng Vannsak, who passed away on Dec 18, was held Tuesday on the outskirts of Paris. Cambodian literature authority Khing Hoc Dy, who was one of Keng Vannsak’s students in the 1960s, wrote a funeral oration on his late teacher’s life and contribution to Cambodian culture and society. The following, from Khing Hoc Dy’s oration was read at the funeral:
My deepest respect to you, ladies and gentlemen, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends who have come to attend [this funeral] today.
All of us would like to express our sympathy to the deceased’s family. Professor Keng Vannsak passed away on Thursday, December 18, leaving behind grieving family members, relatives, friends.
On behalf of the deceased’s old students, friends and myself, I would like to present the biography and some activities of Professor Keng Vannsak, who contributed to the Cambodian community and the Cambodian nation in the arts, culture and research on Khmer civilization in Cambodia and in France.
He was born on Sept 19, 1925, in Kompong Boeng village, Kompong Leng district, Kompong Chhnang province. His father was Keng Siphan and his mother Cheas Hon. After obtaining a second-level baccalaureate in philosophy in 1946, he went to continue his studies in France. While studying, he worked as a Khmer-language teaching assistant at the Ecole Nationale des Langues orientales vivantes [or national school of modern Eastern languages] in Paris during the school year 1947 to 1948 and 1951 to 1952. And during that same period, he taught Khmer language at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, during the school year 1948 to1950. He graduated with [a degree equivalent to a masters] in philosophy at the Faculty of Literature and Human Sciences in Paris in 1951. His wife, Suzanne Colleville, passed away in 2003 and he married Mrs Sivorn on Saturday, 26 May 2008.
After inventing the Khmer-script keyboard for typewriter in 1952, he returned to Cambodia and held the position of professor at Sisowath High School in Phnom Penh from 1952 to 1958.
He was a leader of the “Democratic Party” during the 1955 general election following the 1954 treaty of Geneva. He was openly against the throne [as the country’s political system], and especially and directly opposed Samdech Norodom Sihanouk, founder of the Sangkum Reastr Niyum party.
After the failure of the Democratic Party, the government arrested and imprisoned Mr Keng Vannsak from September 13 to October 10 1955. After his release from prison, he published poems he had written while he was in jail. Those poems had a very strong influence on Khmer writers at the time. In 1958, he was appointed director of the commission charged with editing a Khmer literature manual for high schools. From 1958 to 1962, he served as the dean of the Faculty of Literature and Human Sciences and the director of the National Institute of Pedagogy [1958 to 1960]. He also taught Khmer literature, culture and civilization at the Faculty of Literature and Human Sciences and at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh until 1968. In mid-1968, the government stopped him from teaching and ordered [government] agents to watch his house, accusing him of inciting students to take action against the government at the time.
Moreover, the authorities searched his house and found books of Karl Marx and Mao Tse-Tung and magazines from China…in his personal library, which prompted the Ministry of [National] Security to arrest and detain him at the Royal Police Academy with Sou Nem and Phuong Ton, accusing them of being communists and of inciting students and people to oppose the Royal Government of the Sangkum Reastr Niyum party.
After the 1970 political event waged by General Lon Nol, Cambodia became the Khmer Republic, and the new government rehabilitated him [Keng Vannsak], established the Khmer-Mon Institute, and appointed him as its head with the goal of promoting Khmer-Mon culture in order to make Khmer citizens proud of being Khmer and reunite all Khmer around this cultural inheritance serving as a weapon capable of opposing Vietnamese communist imperialism.
Keng Vannsak wrote a thesis submitted to the Sorbonne university [in Paris] in 1971 entitled “Recherche d’un fond culturel Khmer [research on Khmer cultural inventory].
Professor Keng Vannsak is a rare intellectual who had a long-term, universal vision and concept of our Khmer culture and civilization. He influenced Khmer literature teachers for generations in Cambodia. He later was appointed deputy representative of Cambodia’s permanent delegation to Unesco [UN Educational, Scientific and Educational Organization] in Paris in 1971, and held the position of charge d’affaires of the Khmer Republic in France from October 1974 to April 1975.
He lived in Montmorency on the outskirts of Paris until he died. He wrote two plays, poems and studies….
This great teacher had a far-reaching influence on Khmer-language students and teachers across the country.
Mrs Sivorn, family members and relatives: We, his old-time students, friends and I would like to offer you our condolence and wish the soul of Professor Keng Vannsak to remain at peace. We all would like to pay our respect to Keng Vannsak for the very last time.