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Culture and Tradition of Cambodia

The Royal Ballet of Cambodia

Throughout Cambodia's long history, religion has been a major source of cultural inspiration. Over nearly two millennia, Cambodians have developed a unique Khmer belief from the syncreticism of indigenous animistic beliefs and the Indian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Indian culture and civilization, including its languages and arts reached mainland Southeast Asia around the 1st century AD. It is generally believed that seafaring merchants brought Indian customs and culture to ports along the Gulf of Thailand and the Pacific en route to trade with China. The Kingdom of Funan was most probably the first Khmer state to benefit from this influx of Indian ideas.

Khmer sculpture is essentially religious art. It employs certain gestures and expressions which surpass purely aesthetic concerns, imbuing the figures with an aura of spirituality. Much of the sophistication of early Khmer culture was inspired by Indian models, but absorbed in an independent local manner.

Architecture and housing

The Angkorian architects and sculptors created temples that mapped the cosmic world in stone. Khmer decorations drew inspiration from religion, and mythical creatures from Hinduism and Buddhism were carved on walls. Temples were built in accordance to the rule of ancient Khmer architecture that dictated that a basic temple layout include a central shrine, a courtyard, an enclosing wall, and a moat. Khmer motifs use many creatures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology, like the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, use motifs such as the garuda, a mythical bird in Hinduism.

In modern rural Cambodia, the nuclear family typically lives in a rectangular house that may vary in size from four by six meters to six by ten meters. It is constructed of a wooden frame with gabled thatch roof and walls of woven bamboo. Khmer houses are typically raised as much as three meters on stilts for protection from annual floods, wild animal, cobra and poisonous insect. Two ladders or wooden staircases provide access to the house. The steep thatch roof overhanging the house walls protects the interior from rain. Typically a house contains three rooms separated by partitions of woven bamboo. The front room serves as a living room used to receive visitors, the next room is the parents' bedroom, and the third is for unmarried daughters. Sons sleep anywhere they can find space. Family members and neighbors work together to build the house, and a house-raising ceremony is held upon its completion. The houses of poorer persons may contain only a single large room. Food is prepared in a separate kitchen located near the house but usually behind it. Toilet facilities consist of simple pits in the ground, located away from the house, that are covered up when filled. Any livestock is kept below the house.

Ways of life

Birth and death rituals

The birth of a child is a happy event for the family. According to traditional beliefs, however, confinement and childbirth expose the family, and especially the mother and the child to harm from the spirit world. A woman who dies in childbirth—crosses the river (chhlong tonle) in Khmer is believed to become an evil spirit. In traditional Khmer society, a pregnant woman respects a number of food taboos and avoids certain situations. These traditions remain in practice in rural Cambodia, but they have become weakened in urban areas.

Death is not viewed with the great outpouring of grief common to Western society; it is viewed as the end of one life and as the beginning of another life that one hopes will be better. Buddhist Khmer usually are cremated, and their ashes are deposited in a stupa in the temple compound and the most of ashes will put in the river or lake. A corpse is washed, dressed, and placed in a coffin, which may be decorated with flowers and with a photograph of the deceased. White pennant-shaped flags, called "white crocodile flags," outside a house indicate that someone in that household has died. A funeral procession consisting of an achar, Buddhist monks, members of the family, and other mourners accompanies the coffin to the crematorium. The spouse and the children show mourning by shaving their heads and by wearing white clothing. Relics such as teeth or pieces of bone are prized by the survivors, and they are often worn on gold chains as amulets.

Healers: People still believed healer in Cambodia, when people broken leg, arm or when they sick they still used healer in the village as well as the herbal medicine still popular in the country. If the child is always ill, his or her parents can go to the temple and ask the monk to change the name of child and some healers can give a child with a medicine pendant necklace to scare the evil away from a child. 

Coin and Cup massage: Most people in Cambodia still used traditional way when they feel illness; usually they used to rub their body with tiger bum and coin or cup, that we called coin and cup massage. After massage they feel better, these practices are going on and on to adult and children.

Childhood and adolescence

A Cambodian child may be nursed until two to four years of age. Up to the age of three or four, the child is given considerable physical affection and freedom. Children around five years of age also may be expected to help look after younger siblings. Children's games emphasize socialization or skill rather than winning and losing.

Most children begin school when they are seven or eight. By the time they reach this age, they are familiar with the society's norms of politeness, obedience, and respect toward their elders and toward Buddhist monks. The father at this time begins his permanent retreat into a relatively remote, authoritarian role. By age ten, a girl is expected to help her mother in basic household tasks; a boy knows how to care for the family's livestock and can do farm work under the supervision of older males. Adolescent children usually play with members of the same sex. During his teens, a boy may become a temple servant and go on to serve a time as a novice monk, which is a great honor for the parents.

Courtship, marriage, and divorce

In Cambodia, premarital sex is deplored. The choice of a spouse is a complex one for the young male, and it may involve not only his parents and his friends, as well as those of the young woman, but also a matchmaker and a Haora. In theory, a girl may veto the spouse her parents have chosen. Courtship patterns differ between rural and urban Khmer; romantic love is a notion that exists to a much greater extent in larger cities. A man usually marries between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five, a girl between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. After a spouse has been selected, each family investigates the other to make sure its child is marrying into a good family. In rural areas, there is a form of bride-service; that is, the young man may take a vow to serve his prospective father-in-law for a period of time.

The traditional wedding is a long and colorful affair. Formerly it lasted three days, but in the 1980s it more commonly lasted a day and a half. Buddhist priests offer a short sermon and recite prayers of blessing. Parts of the ceremony involve ritual hair cutting, tying cotton threads soaked in holy water around the bride's and groom's wrists, and passing a candle around a circle of happily married and respected couples to bless the union. After the wedding, a banquet is held. Newlyweds traditionally move in with the wife's parents and may live with them up to a year, until they can build a new house nearby.

Divorce is legal and relatively easy to obtain, but not common. Divorced persons are viewed with some disapproval. Each spouse retains whatever property he or she brought into the marriage, and jointly-acquired property is divided equally. Divorced persons may remarry, but the woman must wait ten months. Custody of minor children is usually given to the mother, and both parents continue to have an obligation to contribute financially toward the rearing and education of the child. The divorced male doesn't have a waiting period before he can re-marry.

Social organization

Khmer culture is very hierarchical. The greater a person's age, the greater the level of respect that must be granted to them. Cambodians are addressed with a hierarchical title corresponding to their seniority before the name. When a married couple becomes too old to support themselves, they may invite the youngest child's family to move in and to take over running the household. At this stage in their lives, they enjoy a position of high status.

Legally, the husband is the head of the Khmer family, but the wife has considerable authority, especially in family economics. The husband is responsible for providing shelter and food for his family; the wife is generally in charge of the family budget, and she serves as the major ethical and religious model for the children, especially the daughters. Both husbands and wives are responsible for domestic economic tasks.

Customs

In Khmer culture a person's head is believed to contain the person's soul--therefore making it taboo to touch or point one's feet at it. It is also considered to be extremely disrespectful to use the feet to point out a person, or to sit or sleep with the soles of the feet pointing at a person, as the feet are the lowest part of the body and are considered to be impure.

When greeting people or to show respect in Cambodia people do the "sampeah" gesture, identical to the Indian namaste and Thai wai.

Customary Cambodian teachings are laid out in verse form in long works from the 14th to 18th centuries collectively called Chhbap ("rules" or "codes"). These were traditionally learned by rote. Works such as the Chhbap Pros ("Boy's Code"), Chhbap Srey ("Girl's Code") and Chhbap Peak Chas ("Code of Ancient Words") gave such advice as: a person that does not wake up before sunrise is lazy; a child must tell parents or elders where they go and what time they will return home; always close doors gently, otherwise a bad temper will be assumed; sit in a chair with the legs straight down and not crossed (crossing the legs is a mark of an impolite person); and always let the other person do more talking.

In Cambodia it is not polite to make eye contact with someone who is older or someone who is considered a superior.

Clothing

Clothing in Cambodia is one of the most important aspects of the culture. Cambodian fashion differs according to ethnic group and social class. Khmer people traditionally wear a checkered scarf called a Krama. The "krama" is what distinctly separates the Khmer from their neighbors the Thai, the Vietnamese, and the Laotians. The scarf is used for many purposes including for style, protection from the sun, an aid (for the feet) when climbing trees, a hammock for infants, a towel, or as a "sarong". A "krama" can also be easily shaped into a small child's doll for play. Under the Khmer Rouge, krama of various patterns were part of standard clothing.

The long-popular traditional garment known as the Sampot, is an Indian-influenced costume which Cambodians have worn since the Funan era. Historically, Khmer clothing has changed depending on the time period and religion. From the Funan era to the Angkor Era, there was a strong Hindu influence in Cambodian fashion which favored wearing Sampots over the lower body and oftentimes nothing from the waist up except jewelry including bracelets and collars such as the Sarong Kor, a symbol of Hinduism.

As Buddhism began to replace Hinduism, Khmer people started wearing the blouse, shirt and trousers of Khmer style. Khmer people, both common and royal, stopped wearing the Hindu-style collars and began to adopt beautiful decorated shawls such as Sbai instead. This new clothing style was popular in the Udong period.

In fact, a Khmer lady habitually chooses the right colour for her Sampot or blouse, both to please herself and to follow the costume of good luck.

Some Cambodians still wear a religious style of clothing. Some Khmer men and women wear a Buddha pendant on a necklace. There are different pendants for different uses; some are meant for protection from evil spirits, some are meant to bring good luck.

Cuisine

Khmer cuisine is similar to that of its Southeast Asian neighbors. It shares many similarities with Thai cuisine, Vietnamese cuisine and Teochew cuisine. Cambodian cuisine also uses fish sauce in soups, stir-fried cuisine, and as dippings. The Chinese influence can be noted in the common chha (Stir frying) and in the use of many variations of rice noodles. A particular popular dish of ultimately Chinese origin is "pork broth rice noodle soup", similar to phở, called kuy tieu. Indian influenced dishes include many types of curry known as kari that call for dried spices such as star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel as well as local ingredients like lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots and galangal that give dishes a distinctive Cambodian flavor. Banh Chaew, the Khmer version of the Vietnamese Bánh xèo, is also a popular dish.

Khmer cuisine is noted for the use of prahok, a type of fermented fish paste, in many dishes as a distinctive flavoring. When prahok is not used, it is likely to be kapǐ instead, a kind of fermented shrimp paste. Coconut milk is the main ingredient of many Khmer curries and desserts. Cambodians prefer either jasmine rice or sticky (glutinous) rice. The latter is used more in dessert dishes with fruits such as durian while jasmine rice is eaten with meals. Almost every meal is eaten with a bowl of rice. Typically, Cambodians eat their meals with at least three or four separate dishes. Each individual dish will usually be one of either sweet, sour, salty or bitter. Chili is usually left up to the individual to add themselves. In this way Cambodians ensure that they get a bit of every flavor to satisfy their palates.

Regional Cambodian cuisine offers some unique dishes influenced by the traditions of local ethnic groups. In Kampot and Kep, known for its Kampot Pepper Crab or Kdam Chha Mrich Kchei in Khmer. This dish is prepared with a local crab fried with the green pepper from area pepper fields. Kula people, an ethnic group of Pailin Province, originated Mee Kola, a vegetarian rice stick noodle dish. In southeastern Cambodia, the influence of Vietnamese cuisine are strong, evidenced by Bánh tráng which is ubiquitous in southeastern Cambodia but virtually unknown elsewhere. The region between Siem Reap and Kampong Thom, an area with many Chinese Cambodians, displays Khmer versions of many Chinese dishes.

Music

Especially in the 60s and 70s, the 'big two' duet of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea had been a large hit in the country. However after their deaths, new music stars have tried to bring back the music. Cambodian music has undergone heavy Westernization.

The Cambodian pinpeat ensemble is traditionally heard on feast days in the pagodas. It is also a court ensemble used to accompany classical dance for ritual occasions or theatrical events. The pinpeat is primarily made up of percussion instruments: the roneat ek (lead xylophone), roneat thung (low bamboo xylophone), kong vong touch and kong vong thom (small and large sets of tuned gongs), sampho (two-sided drum), skor thom (two large drums), and sralai (quadruple-reed instrument).

Dance

Cambodian Dance can be divided into three main categories: classical dance, folk dances, and vernacular dances.

Princess Bopha Devi is noted as one of the most popular dancers in the country.

Khmer classical dance is a form of Cambodian dance originally performed only for royalty. The dances have many elements in common with Thai classical dance. During the mid-20th century, it was introduced to the public where it now remains a celebrated icon of Khmer culture, often being performed during public events, holidays, and for tourists visiting Cambodia. This classical Dance is famous for its using of hands and feet to express emotion which known as there are 4,000 different gestures in this type of dance. Provided as repeating a golden age in 1960s, Khmer Classical Dance which know as The Royal Ballet of Cambodia after select as UNESCO's Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, has lead one of its dance to be a outstanding dance of all for culture and society.

Apsara Dance, a khmer dance that has survived since the Angkor Era, has been singled out to attract foreign tourists and to make the richness of khmer culture known to the world. Apsara Dance was promoted by Princess Norodom Buppha Devi before the Khmer Rouge times and recently has received an award as one of the main symbols of Cambodia.

Khmer folk dances, which are performed for audiences, are fast-paced. The movements and gestures are not as stylized as Khmer classical dance. Folk dancers wear clothes of the people they are portraying such as Chams, hill tribes, farmers, and peasants. The folk dance music is played by a mahori orchestra.

Cambodian vernacular dances (or social dances) are those danced at social gatherings. Such dances include Romvong, Rom Kbach, Rom Saravan, and Lam Leav. Some of these dances have much influence from the traditional dances of Laos. But Rom Kbach, for example, take heavily from the classical dance of the royal court. Other social dances from around the world have had an impact on Cambodian social culture include the Cha-cha, Bolero, and the Madison.

Literature

A testimony of the antiquity of the Khmer language are the multitude of epigraphic inscriptions on stone. The first written proof that has allowed the history of the Khmer Kingdom to be reconstructed are those inscriptions. These writings on columns, stelae and walls throw light on the royal lineages, religious edicts, territorial conquests and internal organization of the kingdom.

Following the stone inscriptions, some of the oldest Khmer documents are translations and commentaries of the Pali Buddhist texts of the Tripitaka. They were written by the monks on palmyra palm leaves and kept in various monasteries throughout the country.

The classical tragic love story of Tum Teav

The Reamker ("Rama's Fame") is the Cambodian version of the Ramayana, the famous Indian epic. The Reamker is composed in rhymed verses and is staged in sections that are adapted to dance movements interpreted by Khmer artists. The Reamker is the most ubiquitous form of traditional Cambodian theatre.

Tum Teav, which has been compared to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, is probably the most well-known indigenous story, based on a poem first written by a Khmer monk named Sam. A tragic love story set during the Lovek era, it has been told throughout Cambodia since at least the middle of the 19th century.

Shadow Theatre

Lkhaon Nang Sbek (shadow theatre) is closely related to the Nang Yai of Thailand, Wayang of Malaysia and Indonesia like the islands of Java and Bali, thus implying that Nang Sbek may have an Indonesian or Malaysian origin many centuries ago. Nang Sbek is also a dying art form and may disappear because of the decline in popularity due to the introduction of modern entertainment. Before the spread of modern entertainment such as movies, videos and television the Khmer enjoyed and watched shadow theatre apart from the other sources of entertainment available during that time. There are three kinds of shadow theatre in Cambodia:

    Nang Sbek Thom is an art that involves mime, song, music as well as dance and narration to the accompaniment of the Pinpeat orchestra. It most often features the Reamker.

    Nang Sbek Toch also called Nang Kalun and sometimes called Ayang (small shadow theatre) uses smaller puppets and a wide range of stories.

    Sbek Paor (coloured puppet theatre) uses coloured leather puppets.

Film

Cinema in Cambodia began in the 1950s; King Norodom Sihanouk himself was an avid film enthusiast. Many films were being screened in theaters throughout the country by the 1960s, which are regarded as the "golden age". After a decline during the Khmer Rouge regime, competition from video and television has meant that the Cambodian film industry is relatively weak today.

Sports

Cambodia has increasingly become involved in sports over the last 30 years. Football is popular as are martial arts, including bokator, pradal serey (Khmer kick boxing), and Khmer traditional wrestling.

Bokator is an ancient Khmer martial art said to be the predecessor of all Southeast Asian kickboxing styles. Depicted in the bas relief at Angkor Wat, bokator was the close quarter combat system used by the ancient Angkor army. Unlike kickboxing, which is a sport fighting art, bokator was a soldier’s art, designed to be used on the battlefield. When fighting, bokator practitioners still wear the uniforms of ancient Khmer armies. A kroma (scarf) is folded around their waist and blue and red silk cords are tied around the combatant's head and biceps.

Young Cambodian boxers

Pradal serey, or traditional Khmer kickboxing, is a popular sport in Cambodia. Victory is by knockout or by judge's decision. Styles of boxing have been practiced in Southeast Asia since ancient times. In the Angkor era, both armed and unarmed martial arts were practiced by the Khmers. Evidence shows that a style resembling pradal serey existed around the 9th century. There have been heated debates between nations about the true origins of Southeast Asian kickboxing.

Khmer traditional wrestling is yet another popular Cambodian sport. A wrestling match consists of three rounds, which may be won by forcing an opponent to his back. Traditional matches are held during the Khmer New Year and other Cambodian holidays.

The Cambodian Football Federation is the governing body of football in Cambodia, controlling the Cambodian national football team. It was founded in 1933, and has been a member of FIFA since 1953, and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) since 1957.

Phnom Pehn National Olympic Stadium is the national stadium, with a capacity of 50,000 in Phnom Penh.

 

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