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Khmer book review ‘Phum Direchhan’ (Evil Village)

Review by Say Tola / Khmer Times Share:

“Phum Direchhan” was written between 1964 and 1965 by Deuk Keam and Deak Om, and published in 1971. The book depicts the “April 18 event” of 1925, in which a group of farmers rose up against brutal French colonial administrators.

The book led Khmer people to look back at their history and the brutal actions of the French administrators at the provincial level, who tortured and abused Khmer farmers. A particularly bad incident occurred in Krang Leav village, Kampong Chhnang province. At that time, farmers were poor and couldn’t afford to pay the taxes demanded by the French.

Some people who didn’t have money for tax decided to flee and live in the forest. The author also discusses the role of local people who helped the French collect taxes, like commune leaders and the police. It seems that they didn’t really understand the condition of their impoverished fellow Khmers.

Looking to increase tax revenue, a French administrator named Bardez ordered people who didn’t pay to be shackled in leg-irons. They would not be freed unless their family found the money to pay the tax.

The book depicts two courageous men who hatch a plot to kill Bardez, a man who consistently abused and tortured local people who couldn’t pay their taxes. Some 20 people eventually joined the plot. When Bardez came to collect tax again, he, his translator and one security guard were killed in retaliation for their cruelty.

The guard was killed when he was about to obey an order to shoot two girls. Unknown gunmen on a roof top killed him. Seeing this, a large group of protesters rose up and killed Bardez as he was trying to escape. The translator was also killed.

The group who killed the French administrator in Kompong Chhnang wanted to continue their rebellion, but they failed due to a lack of weapons and were arrested by the military.

At the end of the story, the king shows his regret over the killing of a French administrator by renaming the village from Krang Leav to Phum Direchhan (Evil Village).

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