From war to wear: Cambodian man makes jewelry from the bullets of Cambodia’s war-torn past

by Hendrich Namoca
Long Leng Cambodia
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For this edition of SEAtizens, we feature Long Leng, a blacksmith who is transforming remnants of Cambodia’s war-torn past into jewelry

Cambodia has long been a country associated with the horrors of its decades-old conflicts, and many Cambodians today have strived to rise up from the ashes of war in various ways. One man has decided to use those same ashes to create real treasures.

Long Leng is a blacksmith hailing from the village of Kruos, a border town right next to Vietnam. Coming from a poor family, he learned how to make small cakes that he would sell to pay for his school fees, hustling at a very young age. Long Leng would eventually finish high school, but he did not have enough funds to enter university. Instead, he convinced his parents to send him to the capital to search for work.

At the capital Phnom Penh, Long Leng met a woman named Mary, who ran an association for impoverished youth and orphans, called Rajana. Rajana taught young people the skill of how to recycle junk to valuable works of art. Long Leng would eventually gain mastery of this particular skill.

A turning point began when Mary stepped down as president of Rajana and opened a jewelry store, hiring Long Leng as a senior craftsman. After becoming well versed in the art of jewelry as a senior craftsman, in 2016, he opened his own jewelry shop, known as Chivit Thmey, located in Siem Reap.

Chivit Thmey, aptly called ‘New Life’ in English, is a jewelry shop that specializes in using brass bullet casings to create magnificent, intricate pieces of traditional Khmer jewelry, as a way to create valuable, sellable products from the remnants of Cambodia’s war-torn past. Long Leng painstakingly converts the bullet casings into rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and other types of jewelry, selling them from $10 to $35.

“Chivit Thmey makes a number of unique pieces with traditional Khmer forms – like Angkor or the Romduol flower – but I can also work in European styles. I know most styles and can make custom pieces based on my clients’ tastes,” Long Leng shared.

Long Leng gets his bullet casings from shooting ranges to military bases around Siem Reap, as well as scraps coming from millions of bullet casings littered around Cambodia as a result of the decades of war the country has experienced. In many ways, Long Leng has made a particularly tragic point of Cambodian history into symbols of hope for the future.

“In the future, I hope to transfer my knowledge and skills to an orphanage. Once I am dead, I cannot take my skills with me! If I do not share what I know, I will regret it,” Long Leng remarked.

If you ever visit Siem Reap, you will find his products at the popular Pub Street. In addition, he has distributors in other major Cambodian cities like Phnom Penh, Battambang, and Sihanoukville. He also exports to other countries, particularly the United States and the UK.

SEA Wave magazine’s SEAtizens initiative is a series of inspiring stories of people in Southeast Asia who champion the human spirit by demonstrating courage, ingenuity, generosity, and selflessness.

Featured photo by The Phnom Penh Post

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