A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The History of Cambodian -Portuguese Relations

20th December, 2008
Written by Khmerization

I wrote the article below out of friendship. A Portuguese blogger, Francisco Castelo Branco, who has recently found my blog Khmerization by chance has asked me to write something about Cambodia in his blog so that the Portuguese people can learn something about Cambodia. Here is his message to me: “Can you make a text about Cambodja and your people to my blog? for people here in Portugal known more about Cambodja...I think it was interesting to maintain this Portugal- Cambodja contact (sic)”. As a goodwill gesture, I’ve have done a quick research of the Portuguese-Cambodian relations and come up with a short article below. Through this short article, I hope that the Portuguese people can learn of the historical Cambodian-Portuguese relations which dated back to about 600 years ago. Here it is:
1. Introduction

The Khmer people were among the first in Southeast Asia to adopt religious ideas and political institutions from India and to establish centralised kingdoms covering comprehensive large territories. The earliest known kingdom in the area, Funan, flourished from around the first to the sixth century A.D. It was succeeded by Chenla, which controlled large areas of modern Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. The golden age of Khmer civilisation, was the time from the 9th to 13th century, when the kingdom of Kambuja, which gave the name Kampuchea, or Cambodia, which according to sources, derived from the Portuguese name of Cambodja, had governed large territories from its capital in the region of Angkor in western Cambodia.

The Portuguese were the first recorded Europeans to do Christian missionary works in Cambodia. They arrived in Cambodia as early as in the 15th century and were very active in the Cambodian affairs.

2. The Prominence of Portuguese People in Cambodian Society

The Cambodian-Portuguese connections dated back the mid 1400s when Portuguese traders and missionaries first set foots in Cambodia. But it was in the 19th century that the Portuguese have played a very significant role in the Cambodian society. Many descendants of Portuguese traders and missionaries took many leading roles in the shaping of the Cambodian affairs.

The Diaz and the Moneiro played an important part in the Cambodian society of the 19th century. Constantine Monteiro, on a mission to Singapore in 1850, wrote an article on Cambodia titled “notes to accompany map of Cambodia” which was published in the journal of the “Indian Archipelago and Eastern India” in 1851. Another Portuguese wrote “Lettre sur le Cambodge” which was translated into the “Revue Maritime et Coloniale” in June 1865. Another Portuguese, Col de Monteiro (1839-1908) had become King Norodom’s secretary and the Kralahom or the minister of the navy. His father, Bernardos Ros de Monteiro, who was later became one of the major mandarins of king Norodom, had accompanied Father Bouillevauv when he visited Angkor Wat in 1850 in which he described Angkor Wat as “is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world.” Col de Monteiro’s grandfather had come to Cambodia on a missionary works in the early nineteenth century and decided to settle in Cambodia permanently and played an important part in Cambodian politics at the time.

The De Monteiro descendants have played very prominent roles in Cambodian politics up until the mid 1950s. Some of their descendants have served as ministers during Prince Sihanouk’s rule. Today, many of the De Monteiro Cambodian descendants have spread across the continents. Some are still living in Cambodia and some have settled in some western countries, especially in Australia where some of the De Monteiros have settled after escaping war-torn Cambodia in the 1970s and 1980s.

3. The Portuguese Influence?

The Khmer people called their country Kampuchea, a word which derived from the Pali word of Kambuja. But the word Cambodge in French and Cambodia in English was said to be derived from the Portuguese word of Cambodja. This rationale might have some merits and truth in it since the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Cambodia in the mid 1400s. The Portuguese word of Cambodja was certainly derived from the Khmer word Kampuja but it was certainly the Portuguese word of Cambodja that has introduced the name of Kambuja to the vocabularies of the European languages as they were the first Europeans to have arrived in Cambodia.

Another Portuguese influence in Cambodian language was the name of the Cambodian currency, the Riel. There are suggestions that the Cambodian unit of currency, the "Riel", is probably derived from the Portuguese unit of currency "Real" that was in use between A.D.1430-1911.

4. The Cambodian-Portuguese Earliest Connections

When the Thai kingdom of Ayudhya sacked Angkor in 1431, the Spanish and Portuguese, who had recently become active in the region, also played a part in these wars until resentment of their power led to the massacre of the Spanish garrison at Phnom Penh in 1599.

The first known Portuguese missionary to have come to preach in Cambodia was Gaspar de Cruze, who came to Longvek, the Cambodian royal capital, in 1556 in an attempt to convert Cambodians to Christianity. He leaves a year later disappointedly unable to convert any Cambodians, whom he blames for believing in superstitions and loyalty to Buddhism. During that period, many Portuguese came as traders and missionaries and were met with fierce resistance from the local Chinese merchants and the devout Cambodian Buddhists. Many of them were massacred.

To protect these traders from local attacks, in 1580 Portugal and Spain sent reinforcements of Spanish soldiers of fortune and Dominicans from Manila, the Philippines, to protect Portuguese in Cambodia. Many Portuguese traders and missionaries are in the Khmer royal court of Longvek during this period.

Another Portuguese, who perhaps played the most important parts in the Cambodian affairs at the time was Diego Belloso (Diogo Veloso), an adventurer, who came to Longvek in 1585. He later married a relative of the King.

At the same time as other Iberian adventurers were trying their luck in Cambodia, a few missionaries had gone there as early as the 1550s, but Buddhist opposition had always forced them to leave again. This changed in the 1580s, when an ongoing struggle between Siam and Cambodia turned against the Cambodians. As the Siamese king, Naresuen, advanced on Longvek (Cambodia's capital for much of the 16th century), the feeble Cambodian king, Settha, became desperate. Using Diogo Veloso, a Portuguese as his envoy, soldier of fortune, Settha pleaded for aid, first from the Portuguese at Malacca, then from the Spaniards at Manila. A Spanish force was sent from Manila in 1594 but it arrived too late; the Spaniards found that Cambodia had fallen to the Siamese, Veloso was a prisoner in Siam, and King Settha was a refugee in Laos. The Spanish leader, Blaz Ruiz, was captured and placed on a prison ship headed for Siam. Unwilling to give up so easily, Ruiz managed to hijack the ship and take it back to Manila. Meanwhile the equally resourceful Veloso gained favour with Naresuen, the Siamese king, and got himself placed in command of a ship carrying the Siamese ambassador to Manila.

The adventure became even more bizarre once Veloso and Ruiz were united in Manila. Forgetting that he was now officially a diplomat of Siam, Veloso claimed that he represented Cambodia's ex-king and signed a highly irregular treaty. This document allowed Spanish troops, merchants, and missionaries to travel freely in Cambodia, and promised that the king and queen would become Christians in return for military aid. Then Veloso and Ruiz led a raid on Siamese-occupied Phnom Penh. Deciding at first to return to Manila after this affair, they later changed their minds, jumped ship in a Vietnamese port, and marched overland from Vietnam to Laos, where they discovered that Settha and his eldest son had died. The adventurers returned to Cambodia in 1597 with Settha's second son in tow; fearing another Spanish invasion, the terrified Cambodians allowed them to crown the prince as King Barom Reachea II.

In 1595 Diego Belloso managed to convince Dasmarinas, the Governor of the Philippines, to send military expedition to protect King Settha's throne and at the same time established the de facto Spanish rule over the Khmer court. Three ships with 130 soldiers were sent.

The Hispano-Portuguese expedition sent from the Philippines arrived in Phnom Penh in 1596, but the King, Ream the second or Chau Ponhea Nou (1596 – 1597), had already fled the court at Srei Santhor and Reama Chong Prei was installed. Belloso and Ruiz, who comes with the expedition, along with 38 men travelled to Srei Santhor and attacked the palace at night. They killed King Reama and fought their way back to their ships at Phnom Penh.

On April 12, 1596, Portuguese Belloso and Spaniard Ruiz’s men attacked and ruthlessly killed many Chinese traders in Phnom Penh. They also burnt houses in the Chinese quarter of Phnom Penh.

In May 1596, Veloso (Belloso), Ruiz and some 40 of their men made a surprise attack on the Khmer court at Srei Santhor, killing the King, burning his palace and blowing up a powder magazine. They then returned to their ships in Phnom Penh and fled.

In May 1597, Veloso and Ruiz, fled Cambodia after killing a Khmer King Reama Chong Prei the previous year. They reappeared in Cambodia with the son of King Settha, Chau Ponhea Ton (Barom Reachea II), who took the throne at Srei Santhor.

In 1599, the Spaniards and the Malays (the Chams, the Cambodian Muslims) in Phnom Penh clashed, in which Veloso and Ruiz were killed. At the time, the two Portuguese and the Spaniard adventurers were at Srei Santhor for discussion with the King as violent incident occurred in Phnom Penh between Spaniards and Malays (the Chams). Against the King’s advice for them to hide and wait for the violence to calm down, the two adventurers rushed to Phnom Penh to help their compatriots and were both killed by the Chams.

The Cambodian-Portuguese connections have been the longest of any European peoples. Britain, the greatest empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, only had contacts with Cambodia in the early 17th century. Peter Floris, who arrived in Phnom Penh through the Mekong River in July 1612, appeared to be the first British to reach Phnom Penh and Cambodia. Even the Dutch who had established themselves in Batavia (Indonesia) much earlier had only made contacts with Cambodia in the mid-1600s, when the manager of the Dutch factory, Pierre de Regemortes, arrived in Oudong, the Cambodia royal court, in September, 1643 to protest to the Cambodian king against the violence and damages suffered by his company. Irritated by his insolence, the Royal Guard killed him and 36 of his followers, while some 50 others were thrown into prison.

The French, the colonial power of Cambodia for 90 years, arrived in Cambodia much later than the Portuguese. Bastian de Bouillon, according to the English documents, appeared to be the first Frenchman to arrive in Cambodia when he docked at the Cambodian port in 1653. He arrived from Batavia (Indonesia) with two junks laden with cloth worth 30,000 reals.

The French people only returned back to Cambodia some two hundred years later, to colonise it in the mid 1800s. France signed a treaty with the then Prince Norodom on 11th August 1863 to establish a Protectorate over Cambodia which France maintained a colonial rule for 90 years until Cambodia gained independence on 9th November, 1953.
5. The Present Cambodian-Portuguese Connections

It is hard to know to what extent Portugal and the Portuguese people have played a part in the Cambodian society of today. But there must be some Portuguese people who have come to do volunteer works in Cambodia. I am sure that there must be some Portuguese people who have set up businesses and charity organisations in Cambodia. At the time of writing this article I was unable to find any evidence of significant Portuguese involvements in the Cambodian society. However, I hope that Portuguese people and their government can play a leading role in the Cambodian society as what their ancestors have done from the 15th to the early 2oth century.

1. http://books.google.com/books?id=h6SOvP6FLskC&pg=PA75&lpg=PA75&dq=col+de+monteiro&source=web&ots=6qugoEOgJY&sig=5N7QB-FA_upK0aVLeN-vswzbR-0&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result
2. http://books.google.com/books?id=CMTBAB-D2soC&pg=PA250&lpg=PA250&dq=ros+de+monteiro&source=bl&ots=Qrz3t100Jl&sig=6W8isricEsySybNREl2L5YawH4w&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result#PPA250,M1
3. http://www.globeaware.org/Content/trips/cambodia/cambodiahistory.php
4. http://www.geocities.com/khmerchronology/1400.htm
5. http://www.guidetothailand.com/thailand-history/cambodia.php
6. Miltom E. Osborne, The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia


Unknown said...

Thanks for your time and dedication.
Keep up you good work.

Warmest regards,

--Perom Uch, Silicon Valley, Northern CA, USA.

Khmerization said...

Borng Perom,
Great to hear from you and thanks for your nice words. You too have done great job for the Khmer community the U.S. Happy new year.

Anonymous said...

My dad is a descendent of the Portuguese-Cambodian