VI-3. “Historical Formation of Cardamom Production Sites in Western Cambodia” (FY29 FY2017)

  • Project Leader : Ishibashi Hiroyuki (Waseda University, Advanced Research Center for Hunan Sciences)

Outline of Research

This research will trace the historical formation of cardamom production sites from the 19th to mid-20th century in the Cardamom Mountains of western Cambodia near the Thai border. The study of the French ethno-botanist Marie A. Martin interpreted the formation of cardamom production sites based on the assumptions of a historical view created by French colonists, combined with essentialism. This research attempts to rethink the interpretation, taking into account the political transition in Cambodia from before to after the colonial period and how people started to live in frontiers.


The Cardamom Mountains in western Cambodia near the Thai border are known as production sites for cardamom, which has been used as a trade product. The mountains are inhabited by ethnic minorities who belong to the Mon-Khmer Pearic group. They used to pay cardamom as a tribute to Cambodian and Siamese royalty from at least the 19th century.

A French ethno-botanist Marie A. Martin interpreted the formation of the cardamom production sites based on a historical view produced by French colonists combined with essentialism, emphasizing that cardamom production sites began in the 13th century, and that pioneers who settled there came from the Angkor area before their migration.

To rethink this interpretation, this research considers the historical context of the polity of Cambodia shift from a traditional kingship to a French colony, and finally to modern state. The research also considers the ground context of where people lived after they settled in the cardamom production sites. Specifically, the research attempts to understand how the production sites were formed, how they were expanded, through the transplantation of cardamom, and how an institution for cardamom production was established. The research will focus on oral stories of early settlers and the relations with public administrations and local leaders.

Previous studies of Cambodia have mainly been geographically specific, with one set of studies focusing on the Central Plains inhabited by the ethnic majority Khmer, and the other set focusing on forested areas inhabited by highland ethnic minorities. Moreover, the relationship between forested areas and the plains in Cambodia has generally been simplified as one of “center vs. periphery” and reduced to terms of political opposition.

This research focuses on forested areas in the borderland of Cambodia, but also takes into account previous studies that focused on the Central Plains of Cambodia. This approach is expected to provide a more integral understanding of histories and areas in Cambodia that considers the interactions between people who lived in different locations. The location of the mountains nearby the Thai border also provides a possibility to understand the wider historical relationship among areas not only in Cambodia, but also in Thailand and other areas in Southeast Asia.


Cardamom flower bloom in forest in dry season (February, 2010)

Cardamom fruit get ripe and harvested in rainy season (July, 2010)