I was looking at pictures that have been digitized by the French National Library and came across some interesting images of people from Cambodia that were taken by a photographer named A. Salles.


The images are very “ethnographic.” Some are taken of people’s faces, and others are profile shots. [Cambodge. Pursat. N° 22, le Balat Prom (de face).]


The brief descriptions that accompany the photographs also demonstrate an interest in blood. We learn, for instance, that the mother and father of this farmer were both Cambodian. [Cambodge. Pursat. N°27, Um, cultivateur, 43 ans, né à Leach, prov. De Pursat, père et mère cambodgiens.]


The parents of this man and woman were also all Cambodian. [Cambodge. Phnom-Penh. N°16, Tét de Phnom-Penh, père et mère cambodgiens, 19 ans. N°17, Soc de Oudong, père et mère cambodgiens, 20 ans.]

quarter siamese

This man, on the other hand, was different. His father was born in Cambodia to Siamese parents and his mother was Cambodian. So this man was half Siamese and half Cambodian, but the term for a mixed-blood person, métis, was not used to describe him.

[Cambodge. Pursat. N° 22, le Balat Prom, 51 ans, père né au Cambodge, prov. de Rolea-païr de père et mère siamois ; mère cambodgienne, née dans [la prov. de] Roléa-païr.]


The term métis was used, however, to label this man. In particular, he is described as being a Tagal-Annamite métis, or what we would today call “Filipino-Vietnamese.” [Cambodge. Phnom-Penh. N°28, métis tagal. annamite.]

tagal-annamite 2

The description of this picture provides more detail. This man was a musician at the royal court, and his father was born in Manila and his mother in Saigon. [Cambodge. Phnom-Penh. N°28, métis tagal. Annamite, musicien du Roi, né à Saïgon, 29 ans, père Tagal né à Manille, mère annamite de Saïgon.]


Historically there have been many Cambodians who have intermarried with Chinese. This man’s ancestors fit that category, as his four grandparents were apparently all Sino-Cambodians. [Cambodge. Phnom Penh. N°29, Ket, interpète à la Résidence supérieur, né à Phnom-Penh, 21 ans, les 4 grands-parents métis sino-cambodgiens.]


Then there was this man whose family background was quite complex. His paternal great-grandfather was a Chinese who married a Siamese woman. Their son, a Sino-Siamese métis, married a fellow Sino-Siamese métis woman. Their son then married a Cambodian woman, and this man here was their child.

[Cambodge. Pursat. N°21, le Juge Srey, 38 ans : arrière grand-père paternel chinois, arrière grand-mère paternel simaoise, grand-père paternel métis sino-siamois, grand-mère paternel métisse sino-siamoise, père métisse sino-siamois, mère cambogienne].

metis 2

And last but not least there was Seang. His father was a Chinese who had come from China. His maternal grandfather was Chinese and his maternal grandmother was Sino-Cambodian. Therefore (can you do the math?), he was 3/4 Chinese and 1/4 Cambodian.

[Cambodge. Pursat. N°23, Seang, bay du résident Hertrich, 16 ans, né à Takman (Phnom-Penh), père chinois de Chine, grd-père maternel chinois, grd-mère maternelle métisse sino-cambodgienne, mère 3/4 chinois, 1/4 cambodgienne.]


And when it came to his hair style, he was 100% Chinese. [Cambodge. Pursat. N°23, Seang, (profil).]

It is very interesting to see the details that were recorded about these peoples. Why was this important to record? What difference did it make? Why did blood matter?

I’m not sure when these photographs were taken, but given that Seang’s hair is in a queue, my guess would be that these photographs date from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. They were taken at a time when the idea of race was important, and when blood therefore did matter.


The concept of race emphasized difference and purity. That is why it was important to know the details about people’s blood. And this emphasis on difference and purity led to pretty tragic consequences in the twentieth century, particularly in places like Cambodia.

Now the concept of race has been discredited (at least in the academic world). So I can’t imagine someone taking pictures and recording such information. If someone did, it would be to point out the opposite concept, namely that it has been the norm throughout history for people to mix rather than to remain separate.

Indeed, these pictures demonstrate the forces of “globalization,” and the fact that when it comes to sleeping together, blood is a matter that people have never cared much about. And that’s a good thing.

[All of these photographs can be found by doing an image search for “Cambodge” at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.]