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War and peace: the story behind Rajana’s bombshell jewellery

A Rajana artisan at work. Photo: Antonia Taylor/OxfamAUS

By Antonia Taylor, manager, Fremantle Oxfam Shop

It’s hard to believe that an object of beauty could be derived from a horrifying, yet all too abundant marker of war. But Rajana Association of Cambodia is taking this paradox to the world through their iconic jewellery made from recycled brass bombshells.

Rajana's 'doves of peace' earrings, sold through Oxfam Shop.
Rajana’s ‘doves of peace’ earrings, sold through Oxfam Shop.

Away from the hustle and bustle of the busy Russian Market area of Phnom Penh, the flagship Rajana store has a purposely rustic feel that I love. Originally set up by a UK charity soon after Cambodia gained peace in 1990s, Rajana is now a local association run by a team of dedicated Cambodian staff. In contrast to many of the savvy boutiques popping up all over the country, this store has retained a distinctive village feel that I always admired on frequent gift shopping sprees during the three years I lived in this vibrant city.

Now that I proudly sell the bombshell jewellery as manager of the Fremantle Oxfam store, I returned to Cambodia with fresh eyes to rediscover the fascinating story behind these products our customers love so much.

“We are happy to transform old bombshells into a statement of the peace we have discovered since the fall of the Khmer Rouge,” says Rajana — a statement which is perfectly illustrated in the popular peace dove designs Oxfam Shop is currently selling.

Make peace, not war

Visitors to Rajana are invited to see the bombshell jewellery being produced above the store. The workshop was very quiet the morning I visited, as many of the artisans work from home. The highly skilled jewellers, all of whom are men from poor rural backgrounds, learned jewellery making with the support of Rajana, and are earn a good living from their craft.

The raw material. Photo: Antonia Taylor/OxfamAUS
The raw material. Photo: Antonia Taylor/OxfamAUS

In full tourist mode, I started eagerly snapping pictures of the few scraps of bombshell I saw lying around the work space, thinking that was it. But then I was guided to a cupboard that was literally packed full of the horror of spent bomb casts. To be confronted by such a stark reminder of a war I had read, heard and thought about so many times sent shivers down my spine. The impact of this conflict, and the lesser documented result of American bombs that literally rained down on Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War, was laid bare right before my eyes.

Who'd think war shrapnel would make such amazing jewellery? Photo: Antonia Taylor/OxfamAUS
Who’d think war shrapnel would make such amazing jewellery? Photo: Antonia Taylor/OxfamAUS

Rajana sources the bombshells in partnership with an organisation that works throughout Cambodia training locals to safely remove landmines that are still prevalent today. Despite the sad familiarity of stories about this conflict, it was only when the ugliness of this raw material was tangibly in front of me, that I truly grasped the story behind this jewellery.

The fairest kind of trade

There are very few products in the world that have quite such a story to tell. This jewellery embodies how fair trade production goes above and beyond standard manufacturing on so many levels: from empowering the rural poor to recycling materials, to utilising traditional artisan skills and – what this product does best – raising awareness about global issues. Rajana currently has an application in with the Asian Fair Trade Organisation to become one of only five producers in Cambodia to be Fair Trade accredited. I wish them well on their fair trade journey and look forward to retelling their incredible story to customers in the Oxfam Shop.

Antonia in Cambodia
Antonia in Cambodia

Find out more

Check out Oxfam Shop’s website for bombshell jewellery and much, much more!

Learn more about our work in Cambodia