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Khmer

Khmer

ETHNONYMS: Cambodian, Kampuchean, Khmae


Orientation

Identification. The term "Khmer" designates the dominant ethnic population (and the language) of Cambodia. The term "Cambodian" is also used for inhabitants of the country, including some non-Khmer ethnic groups. Khmer often refer to their nation as srok khmae, the country of the Khmer, and to themselves as "Khmae" (Khmer). The English designation "Cambodia" (or French "Cambodge") are Westernized transliterations of Kambuja, a Sanskrit name used by some ancient kingdoms in this region. From 1975 to early 1989 the country was called Kampuchea but was subsequently renamed Cambodia.

Location. Cambodia is situated between approximately 10° and 15° N and 102° and 108° E. The country's interior is largely a lowland plain, rising to low mountains in the southwest and northwest, and high plateaus in the northeast. Running roughly north to south are two major waterways: the Mekong river in the eastern part of the country, and the Tonle Sap, a huge lake and river in the west, the two rivers converging at the capital city of Phnom Penh. Many smaller rivers and streams crosscut the lowlands. The climate is mainly hot and humid, with a rainy season from about June to November.

Demography. Population figures are only approximations, given the absence of any census since 1962. In 1992 Cambodia had about 8.5 million people, with estimates of population increase ranging from about 1.5 to 3.0 percent per year. The current population is much smaller than it might otherwise have been because of tremendous mortality under conditions of warfare, revolution, and famine between 1969 and 1980. The death rate was particularly high during the Democratic Kampuchean regime between 1975 and 1979, with estimates ranging from one to two million deaths from illness, starvation, or execution. At the time, men had a higher mortality rate than women, thus creating a skewed sex ratio in which females constitute 60-80 percent of the adult population in some communities. Other ethnic groups in Cambodia are Vietnamese, Chinese, the Muslim Cham (also called the Khmer Islam, although their language and religion are distinct from those of the Khmer), and various highland "tribal" groups collectively known as the Khmer Loeu ("upland Khmer," although their languages and cultures differ from those of the lowland Khmer). All of these minorities comprised about 15 percent of the total population in the early 1970s, but many fled or died during the subsequent turmoil and they are now estimated to be about 10 percent of the total population.


Linguistic Affiliation. Khmer belongs to the Mon-Khmer Family that some linguists place within a larger Austroasiatic Language Stock. It is related to the languages of the Mon people in Burma and to a number of other Mon-Khmer-speaking groups in various parts of mainland Southeast Asia and India. Khmer is nontonal and largely disyllabic, and has a special vocabulary to speak to and about royalty and Buddhist monks. The Khmer script is derived from an ancient south Indian writing system.


History and Cultural Relations

The prehistoric origins of the Khmer are not clear. After the first century a.d., complex polities emerged in this region. Ancient Khmer civilization reached a peak during the Angkor period (a.d. 802-1432), when the famous Angkor Wat and other monumental structures were built, and Khmer kings ruled an irrigation-based empire extending beyond the boundaries of present-day Cambodia. Khmer power subsequently declined, and the kingdom was subject to periodic encroachments by the neighboring Thai and Vietnamese. In 1864 Cambodia became a protectorate under French colonial rule, and in 1887 Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were designated the Union of French Indochina. After World War II (during which the country was occupied by the Japanese), Cambodia was granted independence from France, in 1953. Until 1970 the country was a constitutional monarchy with a figurehead king and real political power vested in a prime minister, assembly, and ministries. The major political leader during this time was Norodom Sihanouk (who again became head of state in 1991). In 1970 a military coup by Lon Nol overthrew Sihanouk, abolished the monarchy, and established the Khmer Republic. In the early 1970s the country was in turmoil with internal problems, repercussions from the war in Vietnam that precipitated U.S. bombing of Cambodia, and civil war between the government and Communist revolutionaries commonly known as the Khmer Rouge. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge triumphed and renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea (DK). Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the communistic DK regime attempted to restructure Cambodian society and culture radically: it evacuated people from urban centers into rural areas; reorganized the population into communes and work teams with collectivized ownership, production, and distribution; suppressed Buddhism; and imposed harsh living conditions and discipline that led to many deaths from lack of food, exhausting work loads, illness, and executions. In late 1978 the Vietnamese entered Kampuchea to combat DK incursions into Vietnam, and by early 1979 they drove the Khmer Rouge out of the country. The Vietnamese installed a new government, named the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), with Khmer officials and Vietnamese advisers and occupying troops. The Vietnamese advisers and soldiers gradually withdrew, and the country was renamed the State of Cambodia (SOC) in 1989, although it retained officials from the PRK. The PRK/SOC government was opposed by so-called resistance forces composed of three factions: a Sihanouk group; supporters of a former prime minister named Son Sann; and die-hard Khmer Rouge who had fled to the northwest region bordering on Thailand. In late 1991 the contending groups negotiated a political settlement that called for a temporary governing council composed of representatives from the current government and resistance groups, with United Nations peacekeeping forces and teams to supervise eventual open elections. At this time it was not yet clear what the precise nature of the new government would be, though Sihanouk was again recognized as head of state.

Settlements

Village size ranges from a few hundred to over a thousand people. Rural settlements are of three basic types: houses may be strung out in a linear fashion along a roadway or stream, arranged in a relatively compact cluster, or dispersed among rice fields. Among the houses are trees, shrubs, and kitchen gardens, with rice paddies around or alongside the settlement. A community may have its own Buddhist temple compound (wat ), and possibly a school.

The traditional Khmer-style house is gable-roofed, rectangular, and raised on piles, with access by stairs or ladder. Depending on a family's means, a house may have thatch or wooden walls, a thatch or tile roof, bamboo or wooden floors, and wood or concrete pilings. During the DK period, however, most of the population had to live in small thatch houses built directly on the ground, and many people continue to have such homes because they cannot afford to build houses in the traditional style. The interior of poorer homes is basically an open space with cloth, thatch, or wooden partitions; and there are minimal furnishings apart from wooden platforms used for sitting and sleeping. More prosperous homes have several rooms and more furniture. Kitchens are often partitioned off, although some households cook beside or beneath the house. City dwellers may live in Western-style houses or apartments.


Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Cambodia has a predominantly agricultural economy. Most Khmer are rural peasants with smallholdings who grow wet rice for subsistence and sometimes for sale. River-bank dwellers, however, often emphasize fruit and vegetable production (chamkar ). Mechanized agriculture is very rare, and cultivation is carried out with relatively simple implements: a metal-tipped wooden plow pulled by draft animals, a hoe, and hand-held sickles. Irrigation systems are not widespread, and most cultivation depends on rainfall. Villagers obtain additional food from trees and kitchen gardens that produce a variety of herbs, vegetables, and fruits (e.g., basil, pepper, beans, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, mangoes, bananas, coconuts, sugar palms, etc.), and from fishing with poles, scoops, or traps in flooded rice paddies or local waterways. (There are also fishing villages along large rivers and Lake Tonle Sap, though the inhabitants may be non-Khmer.) It should also be noted that villagers are part of a larger market economy requiring money to buy various necessities. They therefore commonly engage in various side pursuits (e.g., temporary menial labor in the city, making palm sugar for sale) to earn cash. Cambodia's main exports are rubber (grown on formerly French plantations), beans, kapok, tobacco, and timber. The most common domestic animals are cattle, water buffalo, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, and cats.

Industrial Arts. Most villagers can do basic carpentry and make certain items such as thatch, baskets, and mats. There are also partor full-time artisans who engage in home production of various goods (e.g., cotton or silk scarves and sarongs, silver objects, pottery, bronzeware, etc.). Industrial manufacturing and processing of goods are very limited.

Trade. Except for the DK period when money and trade were abolished, there have long been peddlers, shops, and markets in both the countryside and urban centers. The PRK government initially advocated a semisocialist economy, but the SOC has openly espoused a capitalist market system. Prior to 1975 commerce was primarily in the hands of Chinese or Sino-Khmer; at present, there are still Chinese merchants but more Khmer may be moving into trade. Khmer villagers sell surplus produce or vend other items to one another, to itinerant merchants, or in local or urban markets.

Division of Labor. While there is some gender division of labor, a number of tasks may be done by either sex. The current shortage of males in the adult population means that women must sometimes undertake activities that were customarily performed by men. Men plow fields, collect sugarpalm liquid, do carpentry, and purchase or sell cattle and chickens. Women sow and transplant rice and have primary responsibility for such domestic activities as cooking, laundry, and child care, although men can also do these if necessary. Women control household finances and handle the sale or purchase of rice, pigs, produce, and other goods.

Land Tenure. Prior to 1975 most Khmer peasants owned small amounts of land for cultivation; landlessness and absentee landlordism were not widespread but did exist in some regions. During the DK regime, communal ownership replaced private property. In the PRK, after an initial period of partial collectivization, land was redistributed to individuals and private property was formally reinstated in 1989. Land, like other property, is owned by both males and females.


Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. There are no organized kin groups beyond the family, but an individual recognizes a kindred or circle of relatives (bong p'on ) by blood and marriage on both paternal and maternal sides of the family. Ideally there should be affection and mutual aid among kin; discord between relatives is thought to be punished by ancestral spirits. There is usually considerable interaction among kin, but an individual may have close ties with certain relatives and not others. Descent is bilateral.

Kinship Terminology. Formal terms of reference for cousins are Eskimo, but terms of address are Hawaiian. Kin terms denote relative age in Ego's generation and distinguish among parents' siblings according to age relative to one's parents. Kin terms are often used to address nonkin of the same or lower social status.


Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages are predominantly monogamous. Before 1975 polygyny was legal but not common; it was forbidden by the DK regime and remains so under the present-day government. With the current shortage of males, however, there are reports that some men have multiple if informal "wives." A young man may initiate a marriage proposal by asking his parents to send a go-between to negotiate with a young woman's parents; the woman and her parents may then accept or reject the proposal. In other cases, parents themselves arrange marriages for their children. The groom's family customarily gives a monetary gift to the bride's parents to help defray wedding expenses borne by her family. There are no rules of community endogamy or exogamy, and cousin marriage is permitted. A married couple may live in its own household, with either the wife's or husband's family, or possibly with other relatives. Residence with the wife's family, especially in the early years of marriage, is common but not a strict rule. Choice of residence depends on circumstances, and a couple may shift residence over time as situations change. Divorce can be initiated by either husband or wife on various grounds. Each person takes back whatever individual property was brought to the marriage, while any common property is divided.

Domestic Unit. Households may be either a nuclear family of parents and unmarried children, or some sort of extended family. The latter is commonly a three-generational unit composed of parents, a married child and his or her spouse and children, but extended families can include various other kin. Because of the high mortality rate during the DK period, during which many families were decimated, present-day households may consist of varying combinations of relatives; there has also been an increase in the number of single-parent families (with usually a widow). Members of a household commonly share work, resources, and produce.

Inheritance. Inheritance is bilateral, and transmission of property occurs either at the time a child marries or when parents die. Parents ideally try to give each child some sort of equitable inheritance (whether land, money, or goods), but in practice some children may get more than others because of individual needs or parental favoritism.

Socialization. Children have various caretakers in addition to parents: elder siblings, grandparents, and other older relatives. Child rearing is generally permissive. Children are instructed primarily by word and by example, and physical punishment was rare in pre-1975 village life. Youngsters are, however, expected to display proper behavior and learn essential skills as they grow older.


Sociopolitical Organization

In 1992 the State of Cambodia was headed by a president/head of state, a prime minister, a council of ministers, and an elected national assembly.

Social Organization. Pre-1975 Cambodia was hierarchical, although some social mobility was possible. Several socioeconomic strata were differentiated on the basis of relative wealth and prestige: an elite of Khmer aristocrats and high-ranking officials; a middle stratum of urban people in commerce, professions, and white-collar occupations (many of whom were Chinese or Vietnamese) ; and a bottom layer of peasants and workers. Theravada Buddhist monks constituted a separate social category and received enormous respect. Within a village some families were more prosperous than others, but economic differences were not great. Individuals were given differential prestige and authority based on age, religiosity, or personal qualities. The DK regime attempted to level social classes and create an egalitarian society by making virtually everyone live like peasants, but a new social hierarchy emerged with the DK cadre at the top. After 1979 Cambodia experienced several years of generalized poverty, but recent economic revival is stimulating the reemergence of socioeconomic differentiation.

Political Organization. Cambodia is comprised of eighteen provinces (khayt ) that are further divided into smaller administrative units of districts (srok ), subdistricts (khum ), and finally towns and villages (phum ). Each province, district, subdistrict, and village has its own administrative personnel who oversee matters concerning the territorial unit and are responsible to the next higher level of government.

Social Control. At the community level, social control is maintained through socialization from childhood into norms of proper conduct and through use of informal sanctions such as gossip or ostracism. Individuals seek to avoid the "embarrassment" or "shame" of improper behavior, as well as to earn religious merit by following the major Buddhist rules of conduct (do not lie, steal, drink alcoholic beverages, fornicate, or kill living creatures). Certain kinds of misbehavior are thought to bring punishment from supernatural beings, usually in the form of illness. Although police and law courts exist, many people avoid using them except when absolutely necessary.

Conflict. Within the community, open confrontation between individuals is rare because cultural norms discourage aggressive anger and conflict. On the larger societal level, governments since the time of the ancient kingdoms have maintained military forces to deal with internal unrest and conflict with other polities. Cambodia has experienced several decades of warfare since the late 1960s: repercussions from the war in Vietnam, civil war between government troops and Khmer Rouge Communist rebels in the early 1970s, conflict between DK and Vietnam in the late 1970s, and continued fighting through the 1980s between the government and "resistance forces" consisting mainly of Khmer Rouge.


Religion and Expressive Culture

Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion of Cambodia, but Khmer religion actually combines Buddhism, animistic beliefs and practices, and elements from Hinduism and Chinese culture into a distinctive blend.

Religious Beliefs. Theravada was the official state religion from about the fifteenth century. Buddhism and other religions were crushed during the DK period. Buddhist temples were destroyed or desecrated, monks were killed or forced to leave the holy order, and Buddhist observances were forbidden. After 1979 Theravada gradually revived, and it was once again officially recognized by the state in 1989. Relatively few Khmer are Christian. The Cham (Khmer Islam) minority group is Muslim, while the Khmer Loeu or upland tribal peoples traditionally had their own distinctive religions.

A variety of supernatural entities populates the universe. These include spirits in the natural environment or certain localities, guardian spirits of houses and animals, ancestral spirits, demon-like beings, ghosts, and others. Some spirits are generally benign and can be helpful if propitiated, but others can cause sickness if they are displeased by lack of respect or by improper behavior.

Religious Practitioners. Each Buddhist temple has resident monks who follow special rules of behavior, conduct religious observances, and are accorded respect as exemplars of the virtuous life. A man can become a monk for a temporary period of time, and prior to 1975 many Khmer males did so at some point in their lives. Some men remain monks permanently. The practice continues, but there are now fewer temples and monks than before 1975. In addition to monks, the achar is a sort of lay priest who leads the congregation at temple ceremonies and presides over domestic life-cycle rituals. Other religious specialists deal more with the realm of spirits and magical practices: kru, who have special skills such as curing sickness or making protective amulets; mediums (rup arak ), who communicate with spirits; and sorcerers (tmop ), who can cause illness or death.

Ceremonies. There are many annual Buddhist ceremonies, the most important of which are the New Year celebration in April, the Pchum ceremony honoring the dead in September, and Katun festivals to contribute money and goods to the temple and monks. Life-cycle ceremonies marking births, marriages, and deaths are conducted at home. Weddings are particularly festive occasions. There are also rituals connected with healing, propitiation of supernatural spirits, agriculture, and other activities, as well as national observances such as boat races at the Water Festival in Phnom Penh.

Arts. Music and dance are important elements of Khmer culture that occur in ordinary village life as well as in formal performances in the city. Traditional instruments include drums, xylophones, and stringed and woodwind instruments, although popular music incorporates Western instruments. There are classical, folk, and social dances, traditional and popular songs, and theater. Literature includes folktales, legends, poetry, religious texts, and dramas. Artistry is also expressed in architecture, sculpture, painting, textiles, metalware, or even the decorations on a rice sickle.

Medicine. Illness may be explained and treated according to Western biomedicine, and/or attributed to other causes such as emotional distress or supernatural spirits. Treatment for the latter can include folk medicines, Chinese procedures such as moxibustion, and rituals conducted by kru healers. Traditional and biomedical procedures may be combined to cure illness.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are one of the two most important life-cycle ceremonies. Cremation is customary and is carried out, along with attendant rituals, as soon as possible after death. Pieces of bone that remain after cremation are put in an urn kept at home or placed in a special structure at the Buddhist temple. According to Buddhist doctrine an individual goes through successive reincarnations, and one's position in the next life will be determined by meritorious and virtuous conduct in this life. Only exceptional persons similar to Buddha might achieve nirvana and release from the cycle of reincarnations.

See also Cham

Bibliography

Chandler, David C. (1983). A History of Cambodia. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press.


Ebihara, May (1968). Svay: A Khmer Village in Cambodia. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms.


Ebihara, May (1984). "Revolution and Reformulation in Kampuchean Village Culture." In The Cambodian Agony, edited by David Ablin and Marlowe Hood. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe.


Vickery, Michael (1986). Kampuchea: Politics, Economics, and Society. London: Frances Pinter; Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

MAY EBIHARA

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Khmer

Khmer

PRONUNCIATION: kuh-MARE

ALTERNATE NAMES: Cambodians

LOCATION: Cambodia

POPULATION: about 9 million Khmer

LANGUAGE: Cambodian

RELIGION: Theravada Buddhism; Islam; Roman Catholicism; traditional beliefs; Taoism

1 INTRODUCTION

For much of the twentieth century, Cambodia has been largely unknown to most of the world except as the home of Angkor Wat (an elaborate three-story temple built in the twelfth century), one of the wonders of the world. Not until the Vietnam War (195475) did Cambodia come to the world's attention.

Cambodians are called Khmer. Their language, culture, and appearance reflect many centuries of influence from India, China, Malaysia, and Europe. Cambodia was once the heart of a great empire that stretched over much of Southeast Asia. In the late 1800s, the French colonized (invaded and occupied) Cambodia. In 1953, Cambodia gained independence from the French. For the next decade and a half, King Norodom Sihanouk tried to keep his country out of the war that was spreading in neighboring Vietnam. He was unsuccessful and was overthrown in 1970. General Lon Nol allowed the United States to fight the Vietnam War from Cambodia. As the war continued, corruption, bombing, economic disruption, and the displacement of over half the population destroyed much of Cambodia. This made it easier for the Communist rebels to overthrow the government in 1975.

The Communists, or Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians), attempted to remake Cambodian society. They evacuated the cities, turned everyone into laborers, and dissolved banks, airlines, the postal service, and other institutions. They closed schools and hospitals and tore down temples and churches. In three and a half years of Khmer Rouge rule, at least one million Cambodians died from execution, starvation, torture, and disease.

In December 1978, Vietnam invaded and chased the Khmer Rouge to the Thai border. For the next decade the country was ruled by a government installed by the Vietnamese. Resistance armies, including the Khmer Rouge, attempted to take over the country. In 1993, the United Nations helped achieve reconciliation between resistance groups and the government and held elections. Cambodians are now experiencing more peace, security, and prosperity than most have since at least 1970.

2 LOCATION

Cambodia is a small country, about the size of the state of Oregon. Three-quarters of Cambodia lies in a flat basin that forms the center of the country, surrounded by plateaus and mountains.

Approximately 90 percent of the Cambodian population are ethnic Khmer. Another 5 percent of the population are Chinese-Cambodians. There is also a significant Vietnamese minority. Hill people, called "Khmer Loeu," also live in Cambodia. These are scattered tribes who live in remote plateaus and mountainous areas. There are also Cham, the descendants of a once-great empire that dominated central Vietnam. The Cham speak their own language and practice Islam.

A significant number of Khmer live in southern Vietnam and Thailand. Cambodians also live in more than twenty countries throughout the world.

3 LANGUAGE

The official language of the State of Cambodia is Cambodian. It is probable that as long as two thousand years ago the inhabitants of Cambodia were speaking a language related to the Cambodian language spoken today by the Khmer. The Cambodian script looks quite exotic to Westerners and is based on an ancient Brahmi script from South India.

Cambodian has borrowed extensively from the administrative, military, and literary vocabulary of Sanskrit (the ancient language of India and of Hinduism). Theravada Buddhism brought additional Pali (an Indic language) words. In addition, Cambodians have borrowed words from Thai, French, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Today, English words are becoming more common.

4 FOLKLORE

The first hero of Cambodia was Kaundinya, who is also the legendary first Cambodian. Cambodians trace their origin to the marriage of a handsome prince who traveled with a magical bow to Cambodia. When a dragon princess rowed out to meet him, he shot an arrow at her boat. Frightened, she agreed to marry him. In exchange for the clothes he gave the naked princess, her father drank up the water that covered the land that became Cambodia.

5 RELIGION

Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhist. Theravada Buddhism is one of the two main Buddhist sects and is practiced also in Thailand and Laos. Khmer Buddhists believe in karma and reincarnationthat is, they believe that today's actions will affect their lives in the future, either in this or future lives. The Buddhist religion allows Cambodians a way to gain merit so they may be reborn to a better life. They gain merit by good acts and religious deeds that include acting properly, celebrating holy days, and taking food to the monks at the temple.

Most Cambodians also believe in spirits who must be fed, made happy, and informed of family events. Thus, every wedding includes a ceremony to notify family spirits that a new member is joining the family.

Cambodian Cham are Muslim, many Vietnamese are Roman Catholic, the hill tribes are primarily traditionalist, and the Chinese Cambodians are Taoist or Buddhist.

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

The most important festivals in Cambodia are Buddhist. Among them are the celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha; the monks' entry into and exit from the rainy season retreat; the Festival of the Dead; and offerings to the monks, called Kathin.

One of the most important holidays of the Cambodian year is New Year. It is celebrated at the beginning of the lunar year, usually in April. This is the time when most Cambodians begin preparing their rice fields for planting and begin sowing their rice seedbeds. The New Year celebration lasts several days, and includes religious ceremonies, dancing, music, and games.

The Festival of the Dead, or Prachum Ben, occurs in the fall. During the fortnight (two weeks) of celebration, offerings are made to the ancestors in the hope that they will protect their descendants.

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

The birth of a child is a wonderful and dangerous time for Cambodian families: They welcome the arrival of a new member of the family, but they also worry about spirits who are especially threatening to pregnant women, women in childbirth, and newborn babies. Women, and often their husbands, especially in rural areas, observe a number of rules to protect their family from these spirits.

For many Cambodian children, parents continue to exert almost complete control over them until they are married. Even then, the influence of their parents is heavy. Children are expected to show great respect to their parents and elders. They are severely punished for any disrespect or misbehavior. Children become full adults when they have jobs and their own households, spouses, and children. Even then, they are expected to follow the advice of their elders.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

When Cambodians meet, they greet each other with the sampeah. Joining their palms together, their fingers pointing up or slightly tilted toward the other person, they bring their hands up to their chest or forehead. The higher the status of the person they are greeting, the higher their hands go. They may also bow their head as they greet with the sampeah.

Cambodians place great importance on hierarchy and proper behavior. Women must respect men, children must respect their elders, and everyone must respect their superiors. This includes anyone with higher status, greater wealth, or a more important job. Inferiors greet their superiors with greater respect, a deeper bow, or greater stoop when passing by or when offering food. Visitors, both familiar and strange, are treated to the best the household has to offer.

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

Most rural Cambodians live in small villages of two hundred or three hundred people. Houses are built on stilts to keep them above the floods of the rainy season. Poorer Cambodians live in single-room dwellings with thatched roofs and walls. Newer houses may have sheet metal roofs. The kitchen is attached to the side of the house.

Platforms under the house provide space for sitting and napping. Both humans and animals benefit from the shade during the hot season, and the protection from the rain during the rainy season. In the dry season, Cambodians work, visit, eat, and sleep under the house during the daytime, and retreat to their houses in the cool and darkness of the evening.

In the cities, Cambodians live in houses ranging from apartments to villas. Wealthier Cambodians live in two-and three-story houses and apartments with electricity and running water. Less-affluent Cambodians live in smaller apartments, often with many family members to a room. In the cities there are also homeless people, living on the sidewalks.

10 FAMILY LIFE

The husband is the head of the family and its public spokesperson. He is responsible for providing the family's shelter and food. The Cambodian wife controls her family's finances. In the countryside, her duties include caring for children, home, and garden, as well as transplanting, harvesting, and winnowing the rice. In the city, she may work outside of the home. The Khmer wife is also considered the ethical and religious heart of her family.

Cambodian families typically have about five children. Most men marry between nineteen and twenty-five years of age. Women marry at a slightly younger age. A young man commonly asks his parents' permission and assistance in obtaining a wife. It is still common for many young couples to spend the first year of marriage in the home of the woman's parents. After the parents are assured of their son-in-law's stability, or after the birth of the first child, the young couple moves into their own house.

11 CLOTHING

Many Cambodians continue to wear traditional clothing. Women wear a sampot and men a sarong. Both are wraparound cotton or silk skirts that fall to the knee. Khmer women wear a white blouse or shirt with the sampot. Men go bare-chested or wear a light-colored shirt. The quintessential Cambodian piece of clothing is a krama, a long slender scarf. Most commonly worn around the neck, the krama is also worn as a head turban or scarf, a skirt, blouse, purse, or baby sling.

Many Cambodians today prefer to wear Western trousers and shirts, particularly in urban areas. Children go barefoot, while their parents wear rubber thongs or sandals.

During the Khmer Rouge years (197578), people were forced to wear dark clothes and were punished or killed for wearing colors or jewelry. In the years following the Vietnamese takeover in 1978, the people were too poor to buy what they wanted. Since reconciliation was achieved in 1993, Cambodians have delighted in the return of a prospering economy and brightly colored and printed fabric and clothing in the marketplaces. Still, poverty is widespread, and most Cambodians can purchase only imported, second-hand clothing.

12 FOOD

Rice is the most important Cambodian food. Eaten at virtually every meal, it forms the basis of most Khmer dishes. Fish is almost as important and is eaten fresh, dried, or salted. Vegetables are also a vital part of the diet. Cambodians grow onions, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes in their gardens. Many homes are also surrounded by coconut and banana trees and other plants. A favorite treat is the durian fruit, horrid-smelling but delicious in taste. Other fruits include mangoes, papayas, jackfruit, and palm fruit.

The most traditional of Cambodian foods is prahok, fermented fish that is used as a thick sauce condiment with other dishes. Betel nut is another favorite. It is a seed that is wrapped in leaves and chewed for its mild narcotic effect.

13 EDUCATION

Traditionally, education was provided primarily to boys at temple schools. They were taught religion and the religious language of Pali by Buddhist monks. After independence and before the 1970s, elementary and secondary schooling was expanded enormously for both boys and girls throughout the country.

In the 1970s, traditional and Western-style education came to a virtual standstill. Schools were destroyed, and teachers and students were severely punished or killed. After the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1978, Cambodia had to begin again to build a system of education.

Today, most children begin school at age seven or eight and receive some schooling for at least several years. Parents want their children to become educated. However, families can barely afford the cost of schooling. It is also difficult for families to survive without their children at home to help with household chores. The literacy rate for adults is about 65 percent (80 percent for men, and 50 percent for women).

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE

During the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1978, Cambodians were not allowed to sing or dance on pain of death. It was a loss that hurt them deeply. Cambodians say that to dance and to listen to their music are among life's sweetest pleasures. Traditional instruments include guitars, xylophones, violins, gongs, and drums. Traditional dance has been the pride of Cambodians for a thousand years. Cambodian plays include both dance and music. They tell ancient stories of Hindu gods and heroes, folk tales about beautiful and wealthy royalty, greedy merchants, and noble youth; as well as comic stories that delight everyone.

Cambodian literature dates back to the seventh century. Traditional texts were memorized and performed by professional storytellers who traveled from place to place. Cambodian literature also includes tales of the Buddha's lives, verses that contain advice for daily life called chbap, and folk tales.

Traditional Cambodian literature is being overshadowed today by modern radio and movies, and especially by television and videos. Most Cambodian youth would rather watch a martial arts video from Hong Kong than listen to a storyteller relate ancient stories.

15 EMPLOYMENT

Most Cambodians are rice farmers who also grow vegetables and fruit in family gardens. Others cultivate cash crops. Most Cambodian farmers also raise domestic animals, most commonly water buffalo or oxen, which are used for plowing the fields. In the cities, Cambodians hold all the jobs seen in most cities of the worldgovernment officials, construction workers, taxi cab drivers, waiters, maids, and retailers. Many Cambodians are also soldiers.

As the economy improves, colorful plastic utensils and long-lasting metal tools are replacing the wooden handicrafts Cambodians have practiced for centuries. A village that has long made earthenware pots now sells them for pennies to tourists.

16 SPORTS

The most popular spectator and participant sports are soccer and volleyball. Other sports include boxing, basketball, and bicycle races. A few Cambodians in urban areas also play tennis and swim. Canoe racing is enjoyed as well.

17 RECREATION

Children have a wide variety of family responsibilities and chores. Boys and girls both help with younger children, the care of animals, and a wide variety of other duties. Children usually turn these necessary activities into play and games. In addition, they enjoy swimming and running. A popular village game is played with rubber thongs. The boys draw a line in the dirt, then stand back and throw their sandals at the line. The boy who gets the closest is the winner. Girls and smaller children play a similar game with rubber bands. The winner wears her captured bands around her wrist. Girls also play hopscotch.

Movies, television, and videos are extremely popular in both the urban and rural areas. Karaoke is popular and can be found in the fanciest clubs in the capital of Phnom Penh to the humblest village. Cambodians also enjoy kite flying. In the villages, local festivals remain the most common and popular leisure activity. Eating, listening to music by local or traveling bands, playing videos and other games, drinking, and dancing fill the hours.

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

The greatest handiwork of Cambodians was crafted during the Angkorean Period, from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries. Cambodian architects designed, and Cambodian slaves built, a number of temples and palaces in the Angkor region. Included in these is a priceless jewel of artistic work, the temple mausoleum of Angkor Wat.

Traditional crafts include carvings in stone and wood, jewelry making, and gold-and-silver working. Artists often copy ancient religious designsstatues of the Buddha, Hindu gods, scenes from the Ramayana (an ancient Hindu epic), and designs from the ancient temples of Angkor. Silk weaving is another craft practiced by many Cambodians.

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

During the Khmer Rouge regime (197578), human and civil rights in Cambodia were nonexistent. The inadequate food, cruelty, and horrors of those years had dreadful consequences on Cambodians, both physically and mentally.

In the late 1990s, as the government of the State of Cambodia increases its power relative to other parties, civil and human rights have decreased. With a limited ability to speak of their nation's problems, many Cambodians regret the loss of openness, maintain little hope for elections, and concentrate on survival. At the same time, although enormous economic, political, and social problems continue, Cambodians are experiencing more peace than they have for decades. For that, they say they are grateful.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chandler, David P. A History of Cambodia. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1983.

Ebihara, M. M., C. A. Mortland, and J. Ledger-wood. Cambodian Culture since 1975. Home-land and Exile. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Edmonds, I. G. The Khmers of Cambodia. The Story of a Mysterious People. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1970.

Ross, Russell R. Cambodia. A Country Study. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.

WEBSITES

Royal Embassy of Cambodia, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.embassy.org/cambodia/, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Cambodia. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/kh/gen.html, 1998.

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Khmer

Khmer / kəˈme(ə)r; kme(ə)r/ • n. 1. an ancient kingdom in Southeast Asia that reached the peak of its power in the 11th century, when it ruled the entire Mekong River valley from the capital at Angkor. It was destroyed by Thai conquests in the 12th and 14th centuries. 2. a native or inhabitant of the ancient Khmer kingdom. 3. a native or inhabitant of Cambodia. 4. the Mon-Khmer language that is the official language of Cambodia. Also called Cambodian. • adj. of, relating to, or denoting the Khmers or their language.

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Khmer

Khmer Language of c.85% of the inhabitants of Cambodia. It belongs to a group of the Mon-Khmer languages. A Khmer empire existed from the 9th to the 15th centuries ad. Cambodia was renamed the Khmer Republic in 1970. When the Republic fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, the country was renamed Kampuchea; the name Cambodia was restored in 1989.

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Khmer

Khmer an ancient kingdom in SE Asia which reached the peak of its power in the 11th century, when it ruled over the entire Mekong valley from the capital at Angkor. It was destroyed by Siamese conquests in the 12th and 14th centuries.

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Khmer

Khmeraffair, affaire, air, Altair, Althusser, Anvers, Apollinaire, Astaire, aware, Ayer, Ayr, bare, bear, bêche-de-mer, beware, billionaire, Blair, blare, Bonaire, cafetière, care, chair, chargé d'affaires, chemin de fer, Cher, Clair, Claire, Clare, commissionaire, compare, concessionaire, cordon sanitaire, couvert, Daguerre, dare, debonair, declare, derrière, despair, doctrinaire, éclair, e'er, elsewhere, ensnare, ere, extraordinaire, Eyre, fair, fare, fayre, Finisterre, flair, flare, Folies-Bergère, forbear, forswear, foursquare, glair, glare, hair, hare, heir, Herr, impair, jardinière, Khmer, Kildare, La Bruyère, lair, laissez-faire, legionnaire, luminaire, mal de mer, mare, mayor, meunière, mid-air, millionaire, misère, Mon-Khmer, multimillionaire, ne'er, Niger, nom de guerre, outstare, outwear, pair, pare, parterre, pear, père, pied-à-terre, Pierre, plein-air, prayer, questionnaire, rare, ready-to-wear, rivière, Rosslare, Santander, savoir faire, scare, secretaire, share, snare, solitaire, Soufrière, spare, square, stair, stare, surface-to-air, swear, Tailleferre, tare, tear, their, there, they're, vin ordinaire, Voltaire, ware, wear, Weston-super-Mare, where, yeah

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Khmer

Khmer

PRONUNCIATION: kuh-MER
ALTERNATE NAMES: Cambodians
LOCATION: Cambodia
POPULATION: About 8 million
LANGUAGE: Cambodian
RELIGION: Theravada Buddhism; Islam; Roman Catholicism; traditional beliefs; Taoism

INTRODUCTION

For much of the past century, the State of Cambodia has been largely unknown to most of the world except as the home of Angkor Wat, one of the wonders of the world. Not until the Vietnam War did Cambodia come to the world's attention, when its strategic location to the west of Vietnam, where it shared a border hundreds of miles long, brought it unwanted involvement in the War.

Cambodians are called Khmer and their language, culture, and appearance reflect many centuries of Hindu influence from India, Chinese from China, and other groups from prehistoric Cambodia, Malaysia, and Europe.

Cambodians value tradition, as revealed in a common proverb that states, "Don't choose a straight path and don't reject a winding one. Choose the path your ancestors followed." Cambodians eat rice and fish, raise pigs and water buffalo, and live in stilt houses, as have their ancestors for millennia. It is also probable that present-day Cambodian practices, such as wearing tattoos for protection, chewing betel, and games played at the New Year, have been part of daily life for centuries, perhaps for thousands of years. Some beliefs, such as believing in water spirits, associating ancestor spirits with the lunar calendar, and natural phenomena like rocks and soil, may be thousands of years old.

Cambodians are quick to note that their nation was once the heart of a great empire that stretched over much of Southeast Asia. In the late 1800s the French colonized Cambodia in an effort to protect its holdings in Vietnam, which it considered potentially more lucrative than Cambodia. France was also interested in having Cambodia serve as a buffer between France's possessions and Thailand, also interested in the resources of Cambodia.

In 1953 Cambodia gained independence with King Norodom Sihanouk as head of state. For the next decade and a half, Sihanouk tried to keep his country neutral and out of the war that was spreading in neighboring Vietnam. He was unsuccessful and was overthrown in 1970. Cambodia has been ruled by four governments since 1953, each having gained power by overthrowing the previous one until the 1993 election, supervised by the United Nations. The first government was run by General Lon Nol, who allowed the United States to fight the Vietnam War from Cambodia. As the war continued, corruption, bombing, economic disruption, and the displacement of over half the population from their homes destroyed much of Cambodia and facilitated the overthrow of the country in 1975 by Communist rebels.

The Communists or "Khmer Rouge" attempted to remake society. Intent on a Maoist "cultural revolution," they evacuated the cities, turned everyone into laborers, dissolved banks, the postal service, the airlines, and other institutions. They closed schools and hospitals and tore down temples and churches. In three and a half years of Khmer Rouge rule, at least one million Cambodians died from execution, starvation, torture, and disease, and the numbers are still being revised upward as new gravesites are uncovered with the help of satellite mapping.

In December 1978, Vietnam invaded and chased the Khmer Rouge to the Thai border. For the next decade the country was ruled by a government installed by the Vietnamese. Resistance armies including the Khmer Rouge—one led by Sihanouk and another led by non-Communists—attempted to take over the country. In 1993 the United Nations oversaw reconciliation between resistance groups and the government and held elections. Cambodians are now experiencing more peace, security, and prosperity than most have since at least 1970.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

The population of Cambodia in 2008 was approximately 8 million people, although the continued war between government troops and the Khmer Rouge make a complete census of the country impossible.

Approximately 90% of the Cambodian population is ethnic Khmer. Another 5% of the population is Chinese-Cambodians.

There is also a significant Vietnamese minority, although observers differ on the number. This is because virtually all birth records were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era and, in the post-KR years, ethnic Vietnamese have been reluctant to come forward and identify themselves. Most Vietnamese live in the capital of Phnom Penh or near the border with Vietnam. They are still subject to considerable discrimination, particularly during Cambodian election campaigns, when politicians seem all too willing to play the "racist card."

Hill people, called "Khmer Loeu" by other Cambodians, also live in Cambodia. These are scattered tribes who live in remote plateaus and mountainous areas on the Western, northern, and eastern periphery of Cambodia. There are also Cham, the descendants of a once-great empire that dominated from central Vietnam. The Cham speak their own language and practice Islam. Most are fishermen or rice farmers.

Cambodia is a small country, about the size of Oregon, hugged between the two larger, more populous countries of Vietnam and Thailand. Physically, three-quarters of Cambodia lie in a flat basin that forms the center of the country, surrounded by plateaus and mountains.

This central plain is Cambodia's "rice bowl." The rice bowl has fed Cambodians for millennia, for it is home to rice fields in the flooded areas and vegetables and fruit in the drier areas.

Cambodia is a monsoon country with two seasons. The monsoons from the southwest bring the rainy season from May to October. During the wet season, there are torrential downpours almost every day. The rest of the time is generally cloudy and humid.

From November to April, the monsoons come from the opposite direction, the northeast, bringing sunshine and little rain. The weather is dry and hot, with the heat increasing into April making the coming of the rainy season a welcome event.

During the rainy season, Cambodia is home to a truly amazing phenomenon. Tonle Sap Lake is a long narrow lake located in west central Cambodia connected to the Mekong River by the Tonle Sap River. During the rainy season, the Mekong swells with flood waters as it travels over 4,023 km (2,500 mi) from its source in China. The surplus water is pushed up the Tonle Sap River, reversing its normal southward rush to the sea and pushing it back into the Tonle Sap Lake. However, this pattern has been disrupted by changes to the Mekong as the upper riparian nations –especially China–construct dams in keeping with their economic development plans. The Cambodian government and environmental groups are beginning to express concern. Fish from the lake provide Cambodians with a quarter of their protein.

Cambodia's population of wild animals includes spotted leopards, tiger, black panthers, bears, boar, and many species of monkeys. These animals frequent the forests, which are avoided by most Cambodians. Snakes abound. Three of the world's most dangerous—the cobra, king cobra, and banded krait—also live in Cambodia but are rarer. Numerous species of birds also reside in Cambodia. These include peacocks, wild duck, and pheasant. A land of water, Cambodia is also home to fish-eating birds, such as cormorants, egrets, and pelicans.

Between 500,000 and 700,000 Khmer live in southern Vietnam, where most continue to speak their language and practice Cambodian Buddhism. Most are rice farmers, as were their ancestors when southern Vietnam was part of the large Khmer kingdom. Another quarter-to half-million live in Thailand just across the border from west and northwest Cambodia.

In addition, Cambodian migrants now live in more than 20 countries throughout the world. This diaspora of the Khmer people began before the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975 as Cambodians fled to Vietnam and Thailand. Most fled in 1979, after the Vietnamese chased the Khmer Rouge from power. Approximately 150,000 Cambodians have been resettled in the United States. In contrast to the Vietnamese and Laotian diasporas, which are hampered by political tensions born in the Cold War, many overseas Cambodians are involved in Cambodia's recovery and development, and some have returned to work in the country. This is due in part to policies by the United Nations and Western donors to try to use overseas Khmer as consultants and project managers whenever possible.

LANGUAGE

The official language of the State of Cambodia is Cambodian. It is probable that 2,000 years ago the inhabitants of Cambodia were speaking a language related to the modern Cambodian language that the Khmer speak. Pockets of people speaking languages related to Cambodian exist all over Southeast Asia and probably represent an older linguistic and cultural tradition that was eventually pushed into the highlands by invading lowlanders.

Cambodian has borrowed extensively from the administrative, military, and literary vocabulary of Sanskrit. Theravada Buddhism brought additional Pali words. In addition, Cambodians have borrowed words from Thai, French, Chinese, and Vietnamese. English words are becoming more common.

The Cambodian language is atonal in contrast to both Vietnamese and Thai. Cambodian also has a number of disyllabic words, adding prefixes and infixes to modify the basic syllable.

The Cambodian script is quite exotic looking to Westerners and is based on an ancient Brahmi script from South India. The earliest evidence of this script comes from the 2nd or 3rd century. The widespread destruction of books and other documents during the Khmer Rouge period created a great deficit in available Cambodian literature, but international projects to return materials in Khmer that had been held overseas have helped to address this deficit.

FOLKLORE

The first hero of Cambodia was Kaundinya, who is also the legendary first Cambodian. Cambodians trace their origin to the marriage of a handsome prince who traveled to Cambodia with a magical bow. When a dragon princess rowed out to meet him, he shot an arrow at her boat. Frightened, she agreed to marry him. In exchange for the clothes he gave the naked princess, her father drank up the water that covered the land that became Cambodia.

It has been more difficult for Cambodians to admire present-day leaders, especially for any length of period. Undoubtedly the most important and most revered Cambodian in recent times has been Norodom Sihanouk. Appointed King by the French in the 1940s, he later became Prince so that he could continue to act as a political rather than a monarchical leader. In 1970 he was deposed and continued until 1993 as a leader around whom opposition groups of various persuasions collected. After the United Nations-sponsored elections, he returned to Cambodia as its figurehead leader. Especially honored by older peasants, Sihanouk continues to be a pivotal figure in his country.

RELIGION

Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists. Theravada Buddhism is one of the two main Buddhist sects and is practiced also in Thailand and Laos. Cambodians are so Buddhist that they often say, "To be Cambodian is to be Buddhist." Khmer Buddhists believe in karma and reincarnation. They believe that the acts they do today will affect their lives in the future, either in this or future lives. The Buddhist religion allows Cambodians a way to gain merit so they may be reborn to a better life. They gain merit by a myriad of good acts and religious deeds, which include acting properly, celebrating holy days, and taking food to the monks at the temple. No one can earn as much merit as a man who becomes a monk, whose merit accrues to him and his relatives, primarily his parents. Both Buddhism and some Hindu influences, which continue to be seen in Cambodia, originated in India and were brought into Cambodia at the beginning of the Christian era.

Most Cambodians also follow the traditional practices of their forefathers, which have probably been practiced in Cambodia for millennia. Most believe in a wide pantheon of spirits. These spirits must be fed, placated, and informed of family events; thus, every wedding includes a ceremony to notify family spirits that a new member is joining the family.

Cambodian Cham are Muslims, many Vietnamese are Roman Catholic, the hill tribes are primarily traditionalists, and the Chinese Cambodians are Taoist or Buddhists.

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

All holidays in Cambodia are both religious and secular events. The most important festivals are Buddhist festivals. Among them are the celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha, the monks' entry into and exit from the rainy season retreat; the Festival of the Dead; and offerings to the monks, called Kathin.

One of the most important holidays of the Cambodian year is New Year, which is celebrated at the beginning of the lunar month, usually in April. This is the time when most Cambodians begin preparing their rice fields for planting and sowing their rice seedbeds. The New Year celebration lasts several days and is an extremely joyous time. There are religious ceremonies, dancing, music, and games.

The Festival of the Dead, or Prachum Ben, occurs in the fall. During the fortnight of celebration, offerings are made to the ancestors in the hope they will protect their descendants.

RITES OF PASSAGE

The birth of a child is a wonderful and dangerous time for Cambodian families. While they welcome the coming of a new member of the family, they worry about spirits who are especially threatening to pregnant women, women in childbirth, and newborn babies. Women, and often their husbands, especially in rural areas, observe a number of rules to protect their family. After the birth, the woman drinks a special concoction of herbs, water, and alcohol to help her regain her physical equilibrium, while bracelets and anklets blessed by the monks or healers are placed on their babies.

Toddlers are nursed until two to four years of age and are treated with considerable lenience. At about four, children are expected to feed, bathe, and control themselves, and shortly thereafter to care for their younger siblings.

For many Cambodian children, parents continue to exert almost complete control over them until they are married. Even then, the influence of their parents is heavy. Children are expected to show great respect to their parents and elders and are severely punished for any lapse. While the Khmer Rouge loosened the traditional control of parents over their children, and modernization in urban areas continues to threaten traditional respect and obedience toward parents, most Cambodians continue to observe traditional family behavior. Children become full adults when they have jobs and their own households, spouses, and children. Even then, they are expected to follow the advice of their elders.

Most Cambodians are cremated at death and their ashes are put in a repository, or stupa, at the local Buddhist temple. If initially buried, the body is exhumed after several years, and the bones are taken to a stupa. In addition to having a funeral, Cambodians celebrate anniversary ceremonies after the death of a family member.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

When Cambodians meet, they greet each other with the sampeah: joining their palms together, their fingers pointing up or slightly tilted toward the other person, they bring their hands up to their chest or forehead. The higher the status of the person they are greeting, the higher their hands go. They may also bow their head as they sampeah.

Cambodians place great importance on hierarchy and proper behavior. Women must respect men, children must respect their elders, and everyone must respect their superiors, which includes anyone with higher status, greater wealth, or a more important job. Inferiors greet their superiors with greater respect, a deeper bow, or greater stoop when offering food or passing by. Cambodians thus tend to be more reserved before those they consider their superiors, or with strangers. Visitors, both familiar and strange, are treated to the best the household has to offer.

Few young people date. Virginity remains highly valued for brides, although premarital sex is becoming more accepted in urban areas, especially among young professional Cambodians. Girls and boys have the opportunity to talk and flirt only on special occasions, surrounded by relatives and neighbors.

Most men marry between 19 and 25 years of age; women are slightly younger, usually between 16 and 22. Most young people continue to court as did their parents. It remains much more common for a young man to ask his parents' permission and assistance in obtaining a wife than to do so on his own. His parents, or a matchmaker, approach the young woman's family to see if they are interested in a match. If the response is positive, the families negotiate the terms and time of the marriage.

After an exchange of gifts, the young couple marry. It is still common for many young couples to spend the first year of marriage in the home of the woman's parents. After the parents are assured of their son-in-law's stability, or after the birth of the first child, the young couple commonly moves into a new house built for them by their families.

LIVING CONDITIONS

Health care in the country has been devastated by the events of the past decades. Unable to obtain health care during the second half of the 1970s, the inadequate food, cruelty, and horrors of those years has had dreadful consequences on Cambodians, both physically and mentally. One legacy from this period is the high level of personal violence seen in Cambodia, which runs the gamut from spousal relations to politics. The subsequent isolation of Cambodia from much of the international community and the embargo against most imports and aid meant that Cambodians went another decade without even reaching minimum standards of modern health care.

International health assistance has improved services to many people, but much of this aid has been cut back in recent years. Cambodians continue to patronize local healers and spiritual leaders for most health needs. Modern medicine is expensive, with patients having to pay before being seen for services and medicines supposedly offered without fee.

While Cambodians long for the amenities of modern culture, with which they are becoming increasingly familiar through television and periodic visits or work trips to the larger cities, most cannot afford these items. The most important and frequently seen consumer items are imported from Vietnam, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries and are generally inexpensive. Most Cambodians own few objects they have not made themselves, while a tiny percentage of the urban population enjoy luxuries, including expensive villas, furnishings, cars, servants, clothing, and liquors.

Most rural Cambodians live in small villages of 200 or 300 people. Their houses are typically aligned along a river, stream, canal, or road. Houses are built on stilts to keep them above the floods of the rainy season. Poorer Cambodians live in single-room dwellings with thatched roofs and walls. With additional money, Cambodians add wooden walls, another room or two, windows, and tile roofs. Newer houses may have sheet metal roofs. The kitchen is attached to the side of the house.

Furniture is simple. Beds are woven plastic or thatch mats, rolled up and stored leaning against the wall or up in the rafters during the day. There may be a small desk, a chair or two, and a storage cabinet. Most families have little furniture, instead sporting baskets, water jugs, kitchen utensils, and a book or two. An altar to the spirits and ancestors, also high on the wall, may have a small glass of alcohol or water, a dish of fruit or sticky rice, a candle, and incense sticks.

Much living occurs under the house, where platforms provide sitting and siesta space. Both humans and animals benefit from the shade during the hot season and protection from the rain during the rainy season. Cambodians work, visit, eat, and sleep under the house during the daytime and retreat to their houses in the cool and darkness of the evening.

In the cities, Cambodians live in houses ranging from villas to a rag on the sidewalk. Wealthier Cambodians live in two-and three-story houses and apartments with electricity and running water. Less affluent Cambodians live in smaller apartments, often with many family members to a room.

The vast majority of Cambodians have never ridden in an airplane, car, bus, or motorized boat. Most, however, have paddled a boat. Many consider themselves lucky if their family owns a bicycle, and the dream of most youth and adults is to be able to purchase a motorbike. It is not unusual in the cities to see a whole family out for a ride, all on one motorbike: the father driving, a child sandwiched between him and his wife behind him, another on the handlebars, another in his wife's arms, and yet another in his lap. Everywhere in Cambodia, however, the commonest form of transport continues to be by foot.

FAMILY LIFE

The husband is the head of the family and its public spokesperson. He is responsible for providing the family's shelter and food. In the countryside, his duties include plowing and harrowing the rice field, threshing rice, caring for animals and household tools, and working at additional jobs if necessary to support the family. In the city, he generally works outside the house.

The Cambodian wife controls her family's purse strings, handling money and determining income and expenditures. In the countryside, her duties include caring for children and home, transplanting, harvesting and winnowing the rice, and caring for the garden. In the city, she may work out of the home, most commonly as a tradesperson. The Khmer wife is also considered the ethical and religious heart of her family. Cambodians say as she acts, so do her children.

Cambodian families have traditionally been smaller than Chinese or Vietnamese families, with the ideal of most being to have about five children. Cambodians value children and rely on them for assistance with supporting the family when they are young and their parents when they are old. Women especially, however, appreciate birth control information and contraceptive technology, if only to better control the timing of their family's growth.

Like the first Cambodian, Kaundinya, in much of Cambodia a young man is expected to gain the approval of his future parents-in-law by living and working with them before or after his marriage to their daughter. The traditional wedding is long and elaborate; Cambodians complain that expenses now cause weddings to be much shorter, cut from three to one or one-and-a-half days. The ceremony, which includes a blessing by the local healer, monks, family elders, and neighbors, is followed by a banquet as elegant as the family can afford.

In the past, both divorce and multiple wives were the luxury of rich people. Now, however, divorce is more common. It continues to be easier for men than women, and, since the relative number of women is higher than men, men are able not only to abandon a wife, they may have multiple wives.

The primary economic, cooperative, and emotional unit is a husband, wife, and their children. The nuclear family is surrounded by the personal kindred of the husband and wife, which extends back two or three generations. Beyond that are the nek ta, or family spirits, who continue to watch over their descendants. Cambodians form close relationships also with neighbors and hold monks and healers in high regard.

Few Cambodian children have pets; instead, animals, like people, have jobs. Domesticated animals, such as water buffalo, oxen, pigs, and fowl, are used to support the family, and children are thus discouraged from treating them as pets. Even cats and dogs have jobs: dogs to guard the home, cats to kill the rats. Only a few of the wealthier people in the cities view animals as pets.

CLOTHING

Many Cambodians continue to wear traditional clothing. Women wear a sampot and men a sarong. Both are wrap-around cotton or silk skirts that fall to the knee. With the sampot Khmer women wear a white blouse or shirt, while men go bare-chested or wear a light-colored shirt over their sarong.

Many Cambodians, especially men, prefer to wear Western trousers and shirts, usually short-sleeved. Women also, especially in urban areas, are shifting to Western-style dresses, trousers, and tops.

The quintessential Cambodian piece of clothing is a krama, a long slender scarf worn in a multitude of ways. Krama is most commonly worn around the neck, but also as a head turban or scarf, a skirt, blouse, purse, or baby sling. The everyday krama is usually checkered, but fancier ones may be made of silk and come in a variety of colors and styles. Nearly every Cambodian owns a krama and many Western visitors as well.

Since the terrible Khmer Rouge years, when people were forced to wear dark clothes and were punished or killed for wearing colors or jewelry, and the years following, when they were too poor to buy what they wanted, Cambodians have delighted in the return of a prospering economy and brightly-colored and printed fabric and clothing in the marketplaces. Still, poverty is widespread, and most Cambodians can purchase only imported second-hand clothing.

Most Cambodian children wear Western-style clothing: their best shorts or skirts and shirts for school, old ones for home and work. Children go barefoot, while their parents wear rubber thongs or sandals.

FOOD

Rice is the most important Cambodian food. Eaten at virtually every meal, it forms the basis of most Khmer dishes. Cambodians distinguish rice by species, taste, area, and growing season.

Fish is almost as important and is eaten fresh, dried, and salted. Cambodians fish for lake chub, carp, eels, and numerous other species. The Tonle Sap itself is one of the richest freshwater fisheries in the world. Fish abound in these waters and can be easily taken, especially when the waters begin to recede, and the fish are left literally high and dry. When the Tonle Sap River again begins to flow to the sea, tens of thousands of fishermen rush to the Lake. With dams and traps, they capture the millions of fish caught in the area of decreasing water. As noted above, however, recent changes to the lake threaten this important source of food and livelihood for Cambodia.

Vegetables are a vital part of the Cambodian diet. Cambodians grow a number of crops in their gardens, including onions, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes. Many homes are also surrounded by coconut and banana trees and numerous other plants. An especially loved treat is the durien fruit, horrid-smelling but delicious in taste. Other fruits include mangoes, papayas, jack fruit, and palm fruit. The sugar palm also yields syrup, which is used in cooking.

A typical traditional meal that continues to be part of Cambodians' main diet is a bowl of steamed rice eaten with a sauce containing bits of fish, fowl or meat, eggs, vegetables, and spices, such as onions, chilies, garlic, mint, ginger, or lemon grass. On special occasions Cambodians eat fried rice, noodles, Vietnamese pou soup, chicken curry, barbecued shrimp, duck eggs served with the almost-hatched ducklings still inside, roasted sunflower seeds, and rice cakes containing beans or banana. Tea is served by everyone who can afford it, although soft drinks and beer are becoming more common, especially in urban areas.

The most traditional of Cambodian foods is prahok, fermented fish, which is used as a thick sauce condiment with other dishes. Betel nut is another favorite, a seed that is wrapped in leaves and chewed for its mild narcotic effect. Chewers, primarily older women, are obvious from the dark red juice they spit, which stains their gums and teeth.

Cambodians usually eat an early meal of left-over rice, cakes, or fruit either at home or in the field. The big meal of the day is lunch around midday, followed by supper at twilight.

Cambodians eat together, usually with the family seated in a circle on the floor of their house. Each has a bowl of rice, and all take bites of food from several dishes sitting in the middle of the group. When eating on the job, away from the house, or under the house, Cambodians may eat sitting in a squatting position, their feet flat on the ground, their knees bent sharply, and their bottoms hanging almost to the ground. Whether squatting or sitting on the ground, the men cross-legged or, like the women, with their legs folding back to one side, Cambodians can sit for hours in positions that are uncomfortable for Westerners after just a few minutes.

Most Cambodians eat with two basic eating utensils, a spoon and a fork. Others, however, including some urban Cambodians, Chinese Cambodians, and Vietnamese living in Cambodia, use chopsticks. Many urban Khmer use spoons and forks at home, and chopsticks at restaurants and at Vietnamese soup shops on the street.

Cambodians seldom fail to share a bit of their meal with the spirits, putting a small amount of food, fruit, or liquid in a receptacle before the indoor altar or outdoor spirit house.

EDUCATION

Traditionally, education was provided primarily to boys at temple schools. There they were taught religion and the religious language of Pali by Buddhist monks. After independence and before the 1970s, Cambodia developed an educational system built on the French model. Elementary and secondary schooling was expanded enormously for both boys and girls throughout the country. Colleges and technical schools were built in large numbers and attendance increased from a mere handful to over 9,000. Most boys and some girls learned to read and write a little Khmer.

During the war of the early 1970s and Khmer Rouge rule, traditional and Western-style education came to a virtual standstill. Schools were destroyed, and those who had been teachers or students and those caught attempting to teach or learn religious or Western knowledge were severely punished or killed. Cambodia had to begin again to build a system of education.

Most children begin school at age seven or eight and receive some schooling for at least several years. While parents want their children to become educated, seeing education as the path to better employment and freedom from poverty, families can ill afford to pay their children's school fees, books, or clothing, or to free their children from household chores.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

During the Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s, Cambodians were not allowed to sing or dance on pain of death. It was a loss that hurt them deeply, for Cambodians say that to dance and to listen to Cambodian music is one of life's sweetest pleasures. Most Cambodians sing, and traditional orchestras, with their various kinds of guitars, xylophones, violins, gongs, and drums, are greatly appreciated.

Traditional dance has been the pride of Cambodians for a thousand years. Children undergo years of training in order to execute the intricate moves of court and classical dance. Their costumes are elaborate and expensive, so tightly fitted that the dancers must be dressed, even sewn into their outfits of silk and velvet. Their hand gestures and body movements mirror those seen on buildings of Angkor built over 800 years ago.

In the villages, troupes of costumed young men and women perform various folk dances. Everywhere throughout the country on special occasions, Cambodians dance the traditional circle dance, moving slowly several steps forward, then back, all the time twirling their arms and hands in the air.

Cambodian plays, which include both dance and music, tell ancient stories of Hindu gods and heroes, folktales about beautiful and wealthy royalty, greedy merchants, and noble youth, and comic stories that delight everyone.

Cambodian literature begins with inscriptions from the 7th century and continues through the classical work of the 16 and 17th centuries. Traditional texts were memorized by professional storytellers, who traveled from place to place performing. Many of these oral traditions were written down in the mid-20th century and used as textbooks in classrooms. Cambodian literature also includes tales of the Buddha's lives, verses that contain advice for daily life called chbap, and folktales.

Traditional Cambodian literature is being overshadowed by modern radio and movies, and especially by television and videos. From city-dwellers to inhabitants of the more remote villages, most Cambodian youth would rather watch a martial arts video from Hong Kong than listen to a storyteller relate ancient stories.

Cambodian pride in ancient heritage has resulted in sharp tension with neighbors in recent years. A remark by a Thai soap opera actress impugning the origins of Ankor Wat resulted in anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh that ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Thai embassy and led the Thai government to evacuate Thai citizens from the city. Cambodia and Thailand have also taken a dispute over ownership of an ancient temple to an international court.

WORK

Most Cambodians are rice farmers who also grow vegetables and fruit in family gardens around the house. Others cultivate cash crops, either on a small scale or on large plantations. Most Cambodian farmers also raise domestic animals, most commonly water buffalo or oxen, which are used to plow the fields, pigs, ducks, and chickens.

Cambodians spend much of the slack season from cultivating rice in crafting items they will use to support their family in the coming seasons: stringing fish nets, twisting vines into string or rope, and making pots for carrying water or cooking.

As the economy improves, however, more Cambodians are buying plastic or metal tools and utensils in the marketplace rather than making them for themselves from the vines and wood around them. Thus, colorful plastic utensils and enduring metal tools are replacing the handicrafts Cambodians have practiced for centuries. A village that has "since long ago" made earthenware pots is now selling them for pennies to tourists because, as the people say, Cambodians can buy modern pots imported from Thailand and Vietnam cheaper in the market.

In the cities, Cambodians hold all the jobs seen in most cities of the world: government officials, construction workers, taxi cab drivers, waiters and maids, retailers. However, in contrast to some Southeast Asian countries, there are few Cambodian financiers. This is because the financial sector had been dominated by ethnic Chinese prior to 1975. Many Cambodians are soldiers, many coming from former resistance armies. Demobilization of the armed forces only began in earnest in the late 1990s and reintegrating soldiers into Cambodian society has proved to be a complex undertaking. This has been made more difficult by political struggles between Cambodian politicians, all of whom are reluctant to give up the forces that had been pledged to them during the decades of civil war.

SPORTS

In Cambodian villages, children spend a few years of their lives in school. The rest of their time is spent helping their families make a living. Even the smallest children help their parents fish, cook, gather firewood, and do a variety of chores. Both boys and girls help with younger children, and it is not uncommon to see boys carrying a baby sister for hours at a time.

Children are often responsible for caring for the animals. Boys herd the water buffalo and oxen when they are not being used for plowing, and girls feed the pigs and chickens. Boys climb up sugar palm or coconut trees seeking syrup or coconuts. In some parts of the country they hunt for rats, lizards, snakes, small fish, and crabs to supplement the family diet.

Children usually turn these subsistence activities into play and games. In addition, they enjoy swimming and running. A popular village game is played with rubber thongs. The boys draw a line in the dirt, then stand back and throw their sandals at the line. The boy who gets the closest is the winner. Girls and smaller children play a similar game with rubber bands, and the winner wears his captured bands around his wrist. Girls also play hopscotch.

The most popular spectator and participant sport is soccer. Volleyball is also a favorite and both are seen frequently in rural and urban Cambodia. Other sports include boxing, basketball, and bicycle races. A few Cambodians in urban areas also play tennis and swim. Kite-flying and canoe-racing, although not as popular as before the Khmer Rouge period, remain desirable activities, and communities not yet able to afford either look forward to the day when they can.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

Movies, television, and videos are extremely popular in both the urban and rural areas, although they are more accessible in the cities where people have more money and there are numerous theaters. Televisions are becoming more common in the villages, most battery-operated since electricity in rural areas is nonexistent or rare. Villagers carry their batteries to a recharging store with a generator and pick them up again in the early evening so the family may watch television together at night.

Also popular are videos, which circulate from family to family. Village cafes and bars charge patrons to watch videos. These draw large crowds, many including children standing outside and into the roadway hoping to catch a glimpse of martial arts films made in Hong Kong, Singapore, and other neighboring countries.

Karaoke is popular and can be found in the fanciest clubs in the capital of Phnom Penh to the humblest village. For the price of a beer, Cambodians, usually men, sing along to the music and lyrics printed on the video and played over the television set.

In the villages, local festivals remain the most common and popular leisure activity. Eating, music by local or traveling bands, videos, games, drinking, and dancing fill the hours.

Government officials estimated that by 1967 almost every Cambodian home had a transistor radio. This vastly increased the contact Cambodians had with their government and their sense of being one nation. The Khmer Rouge destroyed virtually all of these radios, and it has taken some time for Cambodia to regain the communication network it had prior to the 1970s. This process was given a boost by the United Nations in the early 1990s as the UN relied upon radio to communicate with the population in the lead-up to the 1993 election. As of 2008 television and radio link most Cambodians to their government, popular culture, and imported entertainment.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

The greatest handiwork of Cambodians was crafted during the Angkorean Period, from the 9th to the 14th centuries, when Cambodian rule spread from Vietnam to Burma. During those centuries, Cambodian architects designed and Cambodian slaves built a number of temples and palaces in the Angkor region of northwest Cambodia. Included in these is what most consider to be the grandest of all, a priceless jewel of artistic work, the temple mausoleum of Angkor Wat.

Traditional crafts include carvings in stone and wood, jewelry-making, and gold-and-silver working. Artists often copy ancient religious designs: statues of the Buddha, Hindu gods, scenes from the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu epic, and designs from the ancient temples of Angkor. Silk weaving is another craft practiced by many Cambodians, who weave gorgeous and colorful fabric for sampot and karma, which are sold in the marketplace to both Cambodians and tourists.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Members of a hierarchical Buddhist society, Cambodians have always viewed their lot in life as the consequence of activities in previous lives. Thus, Cambodians have traditionally accepted their position in life with more equanimity than non-Buddhists.

During the Khmer Rouge regime, human and civil rights in Cambodia were nonexistent. Most nations consider the Democratic Kampuchean government to have been one of the cruelest of modern times. With the end of the Khmer Rouge as a political force and efforts by the United Nations to bring the remaining KR to a war crimes tribunal, Cambodians have found themselves reliving some of the Khmer Rouge era days—at least psychologically—as the trials go forward.

Most Cambodians view politicians as venal and rapacious and often take a resigned approach to corruption. The dominant party, which dates back to the Vietnamese occupation of the 1980s, has managed to regain almost total control. This is due not only to the party's own authoritarian practices but also to the weaknesses of other parties. Although human and civil rights are still under siege in Cambodia, the legacy of the United Nations period is still seen in terms of human rights advocacy groups, the press, and the overall non-governmental sector, all of which compare favorably to some other states in the region. Apart from these issues, however, Cambodians are experiencing more peace than they have for decades and value that highly. In 2003 a public opinion survey showed that a majority of Cambodians associate peace with the concept of democracy, rather than electoral politics.

GENDER ISSUES

There are two distinct problems involving gender issues in Cambodia. First, despite the influence of Western donors and the fact that decades of war have made Cambodia a female-majority country, in comparison to neighboring countries, Cambodian women have not achieved high positions in government, commerce, or education. This implies a lack of social mobility in the country as a whole. Secondly, although both domestic violence and human trafficking are illegal, Cambodia suffers from high levels of both problems. Rape is more common than in other Southeast Asian countries. Although trafficking of women has been a serious problem since the 1990s, many accounts of this problem do not reflect that fact that more ethnic Vietnamese women in Cambodia are forced into prostitution than ethnic Khmer.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chandler, David P. A History of Cambodia. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.

Coates, Karen J. Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005.

Ebihara, M. M. Svay. "A Khmer Village in Cambodia." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1968.

Ebihara, M. M., C. A. Mortland, and J. Ledgerwood. Cambodian Culture since 1975. Homeland and Exile. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Edmonds, I. G. The Khmers of Cambodia. The Story of a Mysterious People. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1970.

Mortland, Carol A. "Khmer," In Refugees in America in the 1990s. A Reference Handbook. D. W. Haines, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Ollier, Leakthina Chau-Pech and Tim Winter, eds. Expressions of Cambodia: The Politics of Tradition, Identity, and Change. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Ross, Russell R. Cambodia. A Country Study. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.

Vecchia, Stefano. Khmer: History and Treasures of an Ancient Civilization. Vercelli, Italy: White Star, 2007.

—revised by C. Dalpino

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