Sihamoni, King Norodom

▪ 2006

      In 2005 Norodom Sihamoni completed his first full year as king of Cambodia. In October 2004 he had succeeded his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, who abdicated because of poor health—and, some speculated, because doing so would ensure that he could influence Cambodia's official nine-member Throne Council to select his choice of a successor. The 52-year-old Sihamoni, the elder of Sihanouk's two sons with his last queen, Monineath, had spent much of his life outside Cambodia. Although Sihamoni was reportedly reluctant to become king, he accepted the role of monarch after a unanimous vote of approval by the Throne Council.

      Sihamoni was born in Phnom Penh, French Cambodia, on May 14, 1953. From an early age he showed an aptitude for the arts. When he was 9, he went to study in Czechoslovakia, and at the age of 14, he starred in The Little Prince, a film made by his father. After Sihanouk was deposed in a 1970 coup, Sihamoni remained in Prague, where he attended the National Conservatory and the Academy of Music Arts, concentrating on dance, music, and theatre. In 1975 he joined his father in North Korea and began film school there. He followed his parents and returned to Cambodia during the totalitarian regime (1975–79) of Pol Pot, and after 1976 resided with them under house arrest in the palace. Several of Sihamoni's half-brothers and half-sisters, living elsewhere, died during this period.

      After the fall of Pol Pot, the family was evacuated to China, where Sihamoni served as his father's secretary for two years. In 1981 he moved to Paris, where he became a professor of classical dance and formed his own dance troupe, called Ballet Deva. He choreographed some of the troupe's performances and also made two films with a dance focus. In 1992 he was named permanent representative of Cambodia to the United Nations. In 1993, the year his father was recrowned king, Sihamoni became Cambodia's permanent representative to UNESCO, a position he held until 2004.

      Sihamoni's selection as king over one of his higher-profile siblings or uncles probably represented Sihanouk's desire for someone neutral and politically untainted to succeed him. Most observers expected that it would be hard for Sihamoni to live up to the reputation of his charismatic and politically savvy father. Sihamoni's initial months as monarch, however, showed him to be a dignified king, humble toward his office and eager to reach out to the Cambodian population. In addition to formal trips abroad, Sihamoni made a series of visits in 2005 to rural Cambodian villages and towns, where he met and talked with residents. He also made known his desire to improve the state of education and health care in Cambodia and to help revive the cultural life of the country.

John A. Marston

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Universalium. 2010.

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