Norodom Sihamoni

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Norodom Sihamoni
King Norodom Sihamoni (2019).jpg
King Sihamoni in 2019
King of Cambodia
Reign14 October 2004 – present
Coronation29 October 2004
PredecessorNorodom Sihanouk
Prime MinisterHun Sen
Born (1953-05-14) 14 May 1953 (age 68)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, French Indochina
HouseNorodom
FatherNorodom Sihanouk
MotherNorodom Monineath
ReligionTheravada Buddhism
SignatureNorodom Sihamoni's signature
Alma materAcademy of Performing Arts in Prague
WebsiteOfficial website

Norodom Sihamoni (Khmer: នរោត្តម សីហមុនី; born 14 May 1953) is the King of Cambodia. He became King on 14 October 2004, a week after the abdication of his father, Norodom Sihanouk.[1] He is the eldest son of King Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath and was Cambodia's ambassador to UNESCO, prior to his selection by a nine-member throne council to become the next king. Before ascending to the throne, Sihamoni was educated in Czechoslovakia and was best known for his work as a cultural ambassador in Europe and as a classical dance instructor.

Early life[edit]

Prince Sihamoni with his half-sister Norodom Buppha Devi receiving a bouquet of flowers from US Senator Mike Mansfield in 1969.

Name and family[edit]

Sihamoni was born on Thursday, 14 May 1953, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.[2] His given name "Sihamoni" comprises two morphemes from his parents' given names "Sihanouk" and "Monineath". At the time of his birth and that of his younger brother, his mother Monique Izzi, a Khmer citizen of French, Corsican and Khmer ancestry, had been one of King Norodom Sihanouk's consorts after being a constant companion since the day they met in 1951, when she won first prize in a national beauty contest.[3]

The queen was granted the title of Neak Moneang and the name of Monineath at the time of her marriage to King Norodom Sihanouk in 1952. Furthermore, Queen Monineath is a step-granddaughter of the late Prince Norodom Duongchak of Cambodia, and the daughter of Pomme Peang and of her second husband, Jean-François Izzi, a Corsican banker.[4]

Sihamoni has 14 half-brothers and half-sisters by his father; his only full sibling, a younger brother, Samdech Norodom Narindrapong, was born in 1954 and died in 2003.

Education and life abroad[edit]

The then Prince Sihamoni first began his education in 1959, where he attended Norodom School, followed by Descartes School in Phnom Penh, developing a keen interest in the arts early on in his life.[2][5]

In 1962 the young Sihamoni was sent to Prague, in the former Czechoslovakia, by his father to study abroad. During the 1970 Cambodian coup d'état by Lon Nol, Sihamoni remained in Czechoslovakia. There, he completed his elementary and secondary education and was regarded as an able student, getting high marks. He also further developed his interest in the performing arts, undertaking courses in this field at the National Prague Conservatory, excelling at the top of his class. Furthermore, he attained great fluency in Czech.[2] A movie directed by Vladimir Sís was shot about the prince in Prague in 1967, under the name "The Other Little Prince (Jiný malý princ).[6]

Between 1971 and 1975, Sihamoni completed his higher education in classical dance and music at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, culminating with the attainment of a Master's degree for which he did a thesis titled "The Conception and Administration of Artistic Schools in Cambodia." After graduation in 1975 he left Prague and began to study filmmaking in North Korea.[2]

Then Prince Sihamoni with Samdech Bour Kry during his time as a monk

Return to Cambodia[edit]

However, in 1976, Sihamoni was forced to come back to Cambodia after having been deceived by the Khmer Rouge.[7] Immediately, the ruling Khmer Rouge regime headed by Pol Pot turned against the monarchy, and put the royal family including Sihamoni, his brother Prince Norodom Narindrapong, his mother Queen Norodom Monineath, his father King Norodom Sihanouk under house arrest in the Royal Palace during much of the period of Democratic Kampuchea. The consequent Cambodian genocide saw several members of the wider royal family killed. With the 1979 Vietnamese Invasion, which ousted the Khmer Rouge, the family was airlifted to China and Sihamoni subsequently worked as a secretary for his father.[8][9][10]

Career[edit]

In 1981 Sihamoni moved to France to teach ballet as a professor of classical dance and artistic pedagogy, a position which he held for almost two decades, and was also later president of the Khmer Dance Association there. He lived in France for nearly 20 years and continued his pursuit in the arts, including establishing 'Ballet Deva', an original dance troupe.[8][2] During this time, he undertook monkhood under the auspices of Bour Kry, who would later become a supreme patriarch of Cambodia.[11]

The year 1993 saw the prince being appointed Cambodia's permanent representative to UNESCO in Paris, a role he held right until he became King in 2004. In this role he became known for his hard work and devotion to Cambodian culture. He had previously refused an appointment as Cambodia's ambassador to France.[12][8]

Reign[edit]

A public portrait of King Sihamoni in Phnom Penh

Accession and coronation[edit]

On 14 October 2004 Sihamoni was selected by a special nine-member council, part of a selection process that was quickly put in place after the surprise abdication of King Norodom Sihanouk a week before. Prince Sihamoni's selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh (the new king's half-brother), both members of the privy council. King Sihanouk backed the decision as well.[13][14][15] He was inaugurated and formally appointed as King on 29 October 2004 in a coronation ceremony centered at the royal residence in the capital.[16][17] In his first speech as monarch, he pledged to be a king of the people who will be a “faithful and loyal servant” of the nation[18] and that he shall “never live apart from the beloved people."[19]

King Sihamoni and his parents, King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, specifically requested that the ceremonies not be lavish because they did not wish the impoverished country to spend too much money on the event. On 29 October 2014, there were celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of his coronation.[20][21]

Privy advisory council[edit]

On 12 December 2008, Sihamoni selected twenty-six members of the Cambodian royal family to his advisory court, among them his half-brother and former Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh as chief advisor and president of the council. Other choices included Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Princess Norodom Marie (estranged wife of Prince Ranariddh) and Prince Sisowath Thomico.[22][23] The King's half-sister and Cambodia's former Ambassador to Malaysia, Princess Norodom Arunrasmy[24] and uncle, Prince Norodom Sirivudh are also duly appointed members.[25]

Monarchical style[edit]

King Norodom Sihamoni meeting with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak at the Royal Palace in 2009.
The King is pictured visiting a school in Sihanoukville in 2007.

The reign of Sihamoni has been characterized as having a focus on the wellbeing of the Khmer people and culture. The King has been described by some as a humble monarch whom regularly connects with his people[26][27] as well as an individual engaging in numerous significant and noteworthy philanthropic efforts throughout his reign. For example, in 2010, in the aftermath of the tragic stampede at Koh Pich in the capital that saw hundreds killed and injured, he reached out to the victims and their families, donating money to every household who had lost a family member in the incident, as well as financially supporting those who were injured.[28] [29] [30] Another example was in 2016, where he donated the $6.5 million proceeds that was gained from the selling of the royal residence in Koh Kong to the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital founded by Beat Richner, which was the largest donation ever made in the hospital's history.[31] Furthermore in 2018, upon learning about the situation of people affected by flooding in the provinces, he contributed essential goods to over 500 Cambodian families.[32] At times, he has even assisted his fellow citizens first-hand during adverse events, such as venturing out into flooded areas and handing out goods to victims directly.[33] Additionally, Sihamoni has authorized royal grants for ponds, roads,[34] schools,[35] orphanages,[36] struggling communities,[37] religious institutions,[38] people affected by a disability,[39] rehabilitation centres,[40] and sponsoring student's trips[41] among others.

The King rarely gets involved in the Cambodian political space, in conformance with his position as constitutional monarch and is considered 'above politics'.[42][43] At times when there are politically contentious periods, he has attempted to play a mediating role between parties, including calling for national unity and reconciliation.[44][45][46] Some Cambodian opposition figures, however, have called for him to be more directly involved in the political issues of the country, like his predecessor, King-father Norodom Sihanouk was, though Sihamoni since the outset of his reign has pledged and adhered to a consistently apolitical stance.[47][48] In February 2018, Cambodia's National Assembly passed new Lèse-majesté legislation making it an offence to insult the king.[49]

Sihamoni also remains an ardent advocate for Cambodian arts and culture.[50] For instance, in 2011, he attended the completion ceremony pertaining to restoration works at the Baphuon historical temple in Angkor[51] and has been praised for his "essential role in the international community in favour of historical and archeological research", with specificity to Cambodia.[52] In 2017, he presided over the opening of acclaimed Cambodian-based film,[53] First They Killed My Father, directed by Oscar-Winning actress Angelina Jolie, documenting the experiences of Loung Ung, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge.[54] In late 2021, he championed Cambodia's bid for the proposed inclusion of Koh Ker, an ancient Khmer archaeological site, alongside Bokator, one of the kingdom’s oldest martial arts on the UNESCO Intangible cultural heritage and World Heritage Site lists. [55] [56]

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, King Sihamoni, alongside Queen Mother Norodom Monineath has donated well over $1 million to the Royal Government of Cambodia's efforts to address the situation in Cambodia, inspiring a concerted public campaign across the country.[57][58] Moreover, the King has made contributions in the provision of essential supplies, including donations of food, water and face masks to Cambodians severely impacted by COVID-19.[59]

Overseas visits[edit]

King Norodom Sihamoni met with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe during the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito, Tokyo, 22 October 2019.

In the international arena, his first official foreign trip as King was to China in 2004, where he met with President Hu Jintao, indicative of a strong friendship long established from the days of his father between China and the Cambodian royal family.[60][61] In 2015, he attended the United Nations COP21 summit, and gave an impassioned speech highlighting the impact of the climate crisis on Cambodia and urging international efforts on this front to be expedited.[62][63] He represented Cambodia in the 2019 UNESCO’s Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC) in Beijing aimed at fostering regional cooperation.[64] Other notable trips include to Japan, where he was the first Cambodian sovereign since the monarchical restoration of the 1990s to visit,[65] his "second homeland" of the Czech Republic where he spent his childhood,[66] and France, Cambodia's former colonial power.[67]

Public image[edit]

Leading national leaders across the political spectrum recognize the King as a unifying force in Cambodian society. Prime Minister Hun Sen gave praise to Sihamoni for his pivotal contribution in "promoting national prestige, expanding rule of law and promoting economic development".[68] Similarly, Leader of the Opposition Sam Rainsy, shares this sentiment, expressing admiration for his majesty as someone who can bring people together in the national interest.[69]

Reflecting after a royal audience with the King in 2013, then International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, expressed how she was profoundly touched by his "thoughtfulness and compassion" and how he is "a monarch who cares deeply about the welfare of his people."[70] Scholar Milton Osborne, widely regarded as "one of the world's leading authorities on Southeast Asian" history and politics, commends him as a "dedicated servant of his people" that is "cultured and disciplined."[71] [72]

On the occasion of his 68th birthday, ASEAN described King Sihamoni as a monarch who is “cherished and well respected by the people of Cambodia” and as someone who exemplifies “dignified and humbled leadership”, characterized by his frequent engagements with the populace through local visitations.[73][74]

King Sihamoni's birthday on 14 May in conjunction with his coronation day on 29 October are both annual public holidays in Cambodia[75] and in 2019, a special commemorative 15,000 riel was issued in his honour, celebrating the 15th year anniversary of his tenure as sovereign.[76] [77] His majesty is also featured on the 500, 10,000, 20,000 and 100,000 riels respectively[78] and his portrait, alongside the King-father and Queen-mother is prominent across many parts of the country, illustrative of their highly revered status.[79]

Personal life[edit]

The King is a lifelong bachelor and has no children. As Cambodia is not a hereditary monarchy, but rather an elective monarchy, his future successor will be determined by the Royal Council of the Throne, chosen from linage from one of the royal houses of Cambodia, in accordance with the country's constitution.[80][81]

Interests[edit]

Apart from his interest in the arts and culture, which is well-documented, it is reported that the king is a man of "simple taste." In his free time he enjoys the peace of meditation, reading, exercising, listening to classical music such as by the likes of Beethoven and observance to traditional Buddhist rituals. In addition, it is reported that he enjoys comedy films and likes to keep up with current events and news, balancing his personal interests with that of his busy and strict schedule as head of state.[82] His unwavering work ethic and commitment as monarch was further showcased in 2011 in which he famously declined to attend the royal wedding of then Kate Middleton and Prince William, which the British tabloids sensationally headlined as a "snub." This was quickly refuted by palace officials who informed that a declination notification was indeed advised and that no snub occurred whatsoever.[83][84]

Languages[edit]

Besides his native Khmer, Norodom Sihamoni speaks Czech fluently, the only ruling monarch in the world to do so.[85] [86]The king is also fluent in French and is a conversational speaker of English and Russian.[87]

Filmography[edit]

Then Prince Sihamoni during the 1960s and 1990s starred in a few films, mainly directed by his father, who was a prolific and accomplished film-maker. He has also been the subject of documentaries.

English title Other names Year Role Notes Ref.
The Curious History Of Cambodia's Beloved Kings N/A 2021 Subject Documentary part of a series called 'Asia's Monarchies', made by 'Real Royalty' [88]
My Village at Sunset Mon village au coucher du soleil 1992 Actor Film was the winner of the Prix Special at the Saint Petersburg Festival - Directed by Norodom Sihanouk [89][90]
The Little Prince Prachea Komar 1967 Actor Film won the Golden Apsara Award at the 1968 Phnom Penh International Film Festival - Directed by Norodom Sihanouk [91][90]
The Other Little Prince Jiný malý princ 1967 Subject Czech Documentary film - Directed by Vladimir Sís [92]

Titles and styles[edit]

Styles of
The King of Cambodia
Royal Standard of the King of Cambodia.svg
Reference styleHis Majesty
Spoken styleYour Majesty

Before he was crowned king, his royal title was: Sdech Krom Khun (Khmer: ស្តេចក្រុមឃុន), equating him to the rank of "Great Prince". As king, his title is: Preah Karuna Preah Bat Sâmdach Preah Bâromneath Norodom Sihamoni Saman Bhumichat Sasana Rakkhata Khattiya Khmeraratrat Putthintra Mohaksat Khemareacheana Samuhobhas Kampuchea Ekareacharath Bureanasanti Subheamagala Sirivibunla Khmera Sri Bireat Preah Chao Krung Kampuchea Dhibodi (in romanized Khmer); Khmer: ព្រះករុណាព្រះបាទសម្តេចព្រះបរមនាថ នរោត្តម សីហមុនី សមានភូមិជាតិសាសនា រក្ខតខត្តិយា ខេមរារដ្ឋរាស្ត្រ ពុទ្ធិន្ទ្រាធរាមមហាក្សត្រ ខេមរាជនា សមូហោភាស កម្ពុជឯករាជរដ្ឋបូរណសន្តិ សុភមង្គលា សិរីវិបុលា ខេមរាស្រីពិរាស្ត្រ ព្រះចៅក្រុងកម្ពុជាធិបតី roughly translating to: "His Merciful Excellent Majesty Protector, King Norodom Sihamoni, who unites the nation, religion, realms, and people of Khmer state, the great king who is supported by Buddha and Indra, the protector of independence, unification, and peace, the Great King of the Kingdom of Cambodia".

In 2015, he was bestowed the honorary title, Preah SriLoka Dhammika, or “Virtuous King for the Propagation of Buddhism in the World”, conferred to him at the Sixth Bhuddist Summit in the year prior.[93][94]

Ancestry[edit]

Patronages[edit]

Heritage[edit]

Cultural[edit]

Environmental[edit]

Honours[edit]

National honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]

Awards[edit]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Namesakes[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Miroslav Nožina, Jiří Šitler, and Karel Kučera. Royal Ties: King Norodom Sihamoni and the History of Czech-Cambodian Relations. Prague: Knižní klub, 2006. ISBN 978-80-86938-75-2
  • Julio A Jeldres. The Royal House of Cambodia [Second edition]. Cambodia: The Sleuk Rith Institute, 2017. ISBN 978-99-24907-85-5

External links[edit]

Norodom Sihamoni
Born: 14 May 1953
Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Cambodia
2004–present
Incumbent