Elephant Valley Project

After holding meetings in Kratie Province, I traveled north east to Mondul Kiri Province for a meeting and some fun! My friend Amanda met me on Thursday evening and we stayed in these cute bungalows with a beautiful view overlooking the hills of Mondul Kiri. We woke up early on Friday to travel to the Elephant Valley Project, a program that was developed to rehabilitate overworked elephants in the area. The indigenous group of Mondul Kiri, the Bunong peoples, still use elephants as work animals on their farms and in the forest. The project gives them an opportunity to rehabilitate their elephants for some time while receiving a stipend to assist in the handling of their elephant while at the project. In other instances, the elephants are bought outright and caretakers are hired. Traditionally, each elephant has a mahout (a Hindi word for the person who works with the elephant; Cambodia has incorporated many Hindi traditions over the past many centuries… living in a society with such an ancient history is really hard to fully comprehend as an American, but that is for another discussion). At the project, the mahouts are responsible for following their elephant through the jungle during the day, and bringing them back to a grazing area to be chained on a 10-20 meter run at night, so that the elephants do not raid the local farmers crops.

Once arriving at the project we walked through some thickly settled jungle to find where the elephants slept. The mahouts undid their bindings and the elephants were free to roam, with a few approaching us as they explored. These elphants are somewhat “domesticated” as they had all been previously owned and used for labor, but their size is still formidable (although small compared to the great African elephants). After mingling for some time the elephants roamed towards the dense jungle in search of food. For the rest of the morning we followed them through the jungle, watching them in their natural habitat.

Mahout with large knife- in case we come across any other jungle animals!

After an exhausting morning session in the jungle heat and humidity (in addition to the increased altitude) we trekked back to the lodge. Although we missed out on more elephant time, which would have included getting to wash them 😦 we got the unique opportunity to accompany the staff to a local Bunong wedding. The project cook was marrying a Bunong woman and the wedding was being held in a nearby village. In my experience, if you are able to attend a wedding or a funeral in another culture do so, as it is almost always guaranteed to be fascinating. While the ceremony portion of the day was attended only by the community elders and close family, we were invited for the afternoon feasting. The many intriguing traditions that I observed are hard to explain, so hopefully the pictures and descriptions I give will allow you to see and understand at least as much as I may have gathered from the day! The one thing I will note is that I was really surprised at how open and friendly all of the villagers were, especially in having their photos taken. I feel that this may have been a very unique experience, specifically in being able to take pictures of the elders (thanks to all of the rice wine they had been drinking all day).

Bunong elder- the scarf he is wearing is a traditional print that is commonly seen in the northeastern provinces of Cambodia

Bunong Bride

Wedding guest- I am interested in the markings on his forehead

Throughout the afternoon the bride conducted a ceremony, blessing all of the guests at the wedding. For each person she would dip her finger into a bowl of ox blood, place it on the side of a ceremonial clay bowl, spit on it, and touch it to the guest's forehead. She would then repeat the procedure, but dipping her finger in a second bowl of blood.

Elder with clay jug of rice wine- they drink it from a long bamboo straw

Men sitting around jug of rice wine

The ox head was strategically placed by the wine as there were many traditions and ceremonies going on surrounding drinking

Cooking- on the right you can see a cauldron of blood soup

Bunong Woman

Bunong Man

Young boy and child


Women and baby

Baby pigs-- I unfortunately have to say that four baby pigs slightly older than these ones were sacrificed later in the day

Chicken Coop

Bunong Boy


Bunong Elder- you can see that he has a cigarette in his mouth. The people in this area grow their own tobacco.

Young girl- the best dressed guest at the wedding!

Young girl

Bunong Elder

Nap Time

Home with Banana Fields- It is hard to see in the picture, but where the banana field is located, and all around the village, there are large craters in the earth. Can you guess what these are from? The US bombing the Cambodia/Vietnam border during the Vietnam War- this was devastating to the villages throughout the region.

Young girl eating watermelon

Girl wearing skirt and shawl

Bride performing blessing ceremony

Traditional Metal Drum


Baby after blessing ceremony

Woman playing drum

Elder with gold bracelets around her leg

Bunong Woman


One response

  1. Either Cambodians are really good looking or you’re taking some amazing photographs. (I think both.) Beautiful!!

    September 13, 2011 at 11:37 pm

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