Today was a special day. I witnessed history as a participant in the procession preceding the royal king’s cremation (that’s King Norodom Sihanouk, Hero King, King Father of Independence, Territorial Integrity and Khmer Solidarity to you).
Along with tens of thousands of others from all over the country, I sat along one of the main roads in 30 degree heat, wearing the mourning colors of white and black, watching an endless procession of gilded floats, monks, military, government officials and other important people as the king’s body was made available to the public one last time before, following Buddhist tradition, it is cremated on Monday (Feb. 4).
Since October 2012 when he died of a heart attack, his body had been kept at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh so that mourners could pay their respects. Today, as the body was paraded around, accompanied by his widow and son, Cambodians, both old and young, sat on the sidewalks quietly weeping, their hands held up in prayer as they said their final goodbyes. Many clutched framed photographs of him as a show of affection and reverence.
According to people I have spoken to and things I have read, he was so revered and loved because he was instrumental in gaining Cambodia’s independence from France, investing in and developing the health and education sectors as well as being for the people. Despite some regrettable involvement with the Khmer Rouge, the people still hold him in the highest esteem.
Such an elaborate farewell is new to the country and represents a turning point in the nation’s future. In a nation so rife with corruption in the upper echelons, the King Sihanouk leaves big shoes to fill. Let’s hope the people get the kind of honest political figures they deserve.