The most peaceful place on Earth

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Kavoori, A. (2016)  Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, 18(2), pp. 116–118. Available at:

This piece is a short autoethnographic description of the author – an adopted Cambodian child who grew up in Southern America – coming back to a memorial place and remembering the violence of the Khmer Rouge during the war. 

His way to understand the past, this very painful history, is through place, and more specifically through the trees. Indeed, the way the trees are positioned, the marks their trunks and roots contain of the past and the history they tell lead him through an emotional journey; as he repeats many times “the trees tell the story”. Here, there is the tree of killing, where the atrocities and shocks can be seen on the irregular bent trunk. Here is the tree of sound, keeping in the noises of the past. Here an evil tree, here a line of shallow pits, there fruit trees, contrasting in their smoothness the history they encompass. He reads and feels and hears the history of Cambodia in these trees. But, curiously, there is also a tree that holds a memorial and that tree seems not to belong there. It does not correspond to Cambodian history, culture, identity. In fact, it is solely here for the visitors, to make the place “consumable”. 

Through this piece and the ethnographer’s reflections, we can explore the question of what a memorial is, what the place it contains means and where it stands in relationship to peace. I find the conclusion Kavoori comes to fascinating and challenging. Indeed, after going passed his initial frustration about that tree that stands in memory – but against the local culture – he recognises the Cambodian attempt to own their history and violent past into a construction of their future. By reshaping past places into memorials, the new shapes seem to format and manifest what the future is expected to be. This is an understanding of place and owning of violence that I find truly fascinating to understand memorials on a wider scale.

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