An elephant in my garden. Ancient Cambodia part 2.


Have you ever imagined having an elephant in your garden? Their sheer size? The fact that elephants have a delicate skin and require daily bathing? This picture was taken around 1900 in Pnomh Penh. Possibly in King Norodom’s palace. The elephant is drinking from a jar on the ground. Well, traditions are kept up in today’s Cambodia, as you can see in the following picture:


Elephant in the street. Phnomh penh. Source:

16-2b mohadeb you

Mohadeb You. c. 1900

Despite all my research, I could not find who this severe gentleman was. Probably a high-ranking member of the Cambodian court during Norodom’s reign. He wears a western (French?) decoration on his luxury garments. Notice the bare feet. And the adorned hat on the table. Thaï influence? All I have is a handwritten name: Mohadeb You. Mohadeb or Mahadev is a sanskrit name, further proof of India’s influence that far East. Mahadev or Mahadeva is one of Shiva’s names: Great God. Mahadeva may also refer to Prince Gautama, later to become known as Buddha. This particular Mohadeb? Not the faintest. Limits of the Internet. Anybody know, please comment.


In the absence of caption under the photograph but based on the place in the album, I would assume a court musician or princess in Cambodia. (Elementary, my dear Watson: see the string instrument in her hands). Once again (see previous post) her hair is cut very short. Name of the instrument? c. 1900.

Now see the picture below in today’s Cambodia: young girls rehearsing. See the hands. Left foot. And the concentration. 🙂


Source: Asiantrails


Back to 1900. A smiling princess at Norodom’s court? Notice the very delicate sarong. Short hair and bare feet.


Another unknown member of the court? More elaborate dress. She is wearing stockings and western shoes. And I couldn’t resist posting the photograph below, found when researching background! Aren’t they happy? I think it was somebody’s birthday. Wonder what their great-great-grandmother above would think. 🙂




No legend either. I guess a street in Pnom Penh. I would suspect the Royal Palace. Compare with the picture below:


Source: Tripavisor


Elephant parade in Pnom Penh. I have an old 8mm film shot by my mother in ’56. Cambodia National Day or something. I’ll post it sometime.


Elephant parade again. Magnificent tusks. See the stone lion left and the Naga, representation of the Cobra.


A market by the Tonlé Sap? (The album’s owner skipped a few legends) I can almost smell the Nuóc Mamh! (fabulous fish sauce in Vietnamese. Don’t know how it’s called in Khmer))


Fishing boats and a fisherman on the banks of the Tonlé Sap. c.1900. It has changed  a bit nowadays. See below:


Tonlé Sap. (Sorry: lost the source) 😦



No legend again! Reminded me of the Royal boats of Siam. But I did find what this is: Bon Om Touk, the boat race festival held in November in front of the Royal Palace. Bon Om Touk, or Cambodia water festival is held at the end of November (soon) to celebrate the reversal of tide of the Tonlé Sap. Four days of festivities. Not much change since the above, circa 1900, and below: (source:


Bon om touk

To be continued… Next stop in our time machine: Vietnam and the Imperial city of Hué.

There have been many visits to this post from all over the world, and Cambodia! (Don’t we all love Stats!) I’m honoured. And pleased to share these century-old photographs, part of the history of Indochina in general and Cambodia in particular. And please do comment: Who was Mohadeb You? Was that the Royal Palace? Why do the women wear their hair cut short?

A lovely week-end to all, across the world!

25 thoughts on “An elephant in my garden. Ancient Cambodia part 2.

  1. amazing photographs Brian, btw, did you sent me something in google? it did not opened, gave 404 error. 😦

    There is something about black and white photographs! it hides so many small/big defects in a scene/face! 🙂

  2. What a journey – past and present brought together in the only way that time can be frozen forever: photographs! You’re quite a thorough researcher and you also have an eye for the details. Thank you for these pieces of history and culture that don’t usually get promoted, at least not in our area.

    Enjoy a wonderful weekend, Brian! 😉

    • Thanks to you Dragos! It does take a bit-a time to put such a post together, but it’s well worth it! More to come!
      Take care my friend

  3. Yes, why did they cut their hair short is a question I would like to know answer to. Brian, I like these century old photographs, but the recent ones too. It has been too long since I saw a real elephant in person. Como te sientes? Estas mejorando con tu espalda?

    • Last time i saw elephants “in person” was in ’88! Taking my family to Kenya. The girls have since gone back! Alexandra took her newlywed husband to Thailand on their honeymoon and they had the obligatory elephant ride. He had fun but didn’t like the elephant bath! 🙂
      La espalda… No muy bien, pero conozco gente mucho peor asi que… mejor no me quejo. Voy a fisioterapia tres veces a la semana. pa’ que me torturen! Y voy a probar un nuevo procedimiento el miercoles. a ver.
      Entre-temps, ma chère Paula: bon week-end! 🙂

      • First of on behalf of Khmer people, I would like to say thank you so much and respect to u that research and interesting in our country and culture. I just know a little bit from my grandma who had born in 1920. she told me that in that period everyone liked to cut their hair to be short.
        coz 1 It was the modern hair style in that time,s we called it mode “pka t’kov”
        2 during that time we never have any shampoo, so it was really difficult to take care our hair and everyone got louse on our hair.

      • My pleasure Tevy. This photo album is a treasure I’ve had for many years. Until I decided to scan and share it. The short hair explanation is quite logical. Thank you. Do visit the other Ancient Indochina posts on this blog. See you soo.

      • Thank you again, equinoxio21,
        The Morha Dep was just he name given by the king to whom may concern in the royal palace.
        The full name was “ORK NHA MOR HA DEP (TEP)” yes, we hope to see something new from u soon. Regards,

      • Elephants are by far my favourite animal in the world. I love them. There are so many things that I can relate to them. También viví un tiempo en Asia, de ahí más recuerdos y material e inspiración para más sueños 🙂

    • My pleasure. This series of posts has had many visitors from Indochina. Glad to contribute to preserving History. Take care. (And don’t be ashamed, just read about your history. There are plenty of sources) 😉

  4. I wonder if Mohadeb You was Oknah (a high title) Tep (same as deb) Nimith Mak? Mak was the royal architect, responsible for designing many important buildings in the palace in the last years of Norodom and the first of Sisowath, and for the mural on the walls of the Silver Pagoda – but unfortunately the only real connection is the word “deb” so probably not.

    The photo you have as a possible street scene shows the north-east corner of the palace wall. The big tower was a bastion, a defensive structure – it was later demolished – and the building behind it is the Chanchhaya Pavilion (“Moonlight Pavilion”, so called because it was open-sided to allow night-time dance performances).

    These are your own photos from an album? They’re great.

    • You probably know more than I do. Bear in mind this is French spelling from earlier 20th century. So the spelling has likely changed. 🙂
      I will have to go back to the post. I remember there is a “street scene” looking like a corner of the palace. 🙂
      And yes the photos are mine. It is a photo album by a French military, a lieutenant I think, no name, who took pictures then. My brother found it in a flea market in Paris and gave it to me as a birthday present.
      The album is now wrapped in a dark cloth and stored away from the light in a closet. To preserve the pix.
      But I scanned and posted 95% to share. There are other posts you can access on the blog.
      Thanks for the visit and comment.

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