The Land Before Time is a film released in 1988. It "stars" animated dinosaurs. There were no humans on the planet at the time of the dinosaurs. Yet there are places today where life is still so much like it was back in prehistoric times that they might also be called lands before time.
Cambodia has many such places for many reasons but there is one particular reason for it. Between 1975 and 1979 it was ruled by the Khmer Rouge. Their devastation of the country and its people is often cited as being responsible for returning Cambodia to the Stone Age.
It was in Cambodia that I first worked with the Pnong. (They also live in Vietnam where they are called Mnong.) They live mainly in Mondolkiri Province in the northeast. This is a very rural and sparsely populated area. The provincial capital, Sen Monorom, is still a small town today and has been connected to the outside world by a graded, paved road for only a few years. (The road north to Ratanakiri Province is just now being graded and paved. Travel on this road is currently still impossible for most of the year.)
The Pnong here are largely subsistence farmers — principally of rice. It was during a rice harvesting season that I first visited Pnong villages in the area. Not surprisingly every able-bodied person is involved no matter how old or young they are. This photo was one of many I took of young children carrying rice from the fields to their house for storage. Apart from the T-shirt she is wearing this same photo could have been taken hundreds — even thousands — of years ago. She would not have known the sense in which she was representing a land before time. She would also not have known that she lives in the part of Cambodia where Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, amassed the following he would need to return much of Cambodia to a land before time.
The Pnong are featured in our documentary, Indigenous Peoples of Southeast Asia.If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting independent, advertising-free journalism by buying us a coffee to help us cover the cost of hosting our web site. Please click on the link or scan the QR code. Thanks!