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Cambodia Social Norms Essay


Alternative Names

Kampuchean, Khmer


Identification. The name "Cambodia" derives from the French Cambodge, which comes from the Khmer word Kâmpuchea, meaning "born of Kambu." During the socialist regimes of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) (1975–1979) and the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) (1979–1989), the country was known internationally as Kampuchea, but more recent governments have returned to using Cambodia, and the official name in English is now the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Khmer as a noun or adjective can refer to the Cambodian language, people, or culture and thus suggests an ethnic and linguistic identity more than a political entity. From 1970 to 1975, the country was known as the Khmer Republic (KR).

Location and Geography. Cambodia lies between Thailand and Vietnam in mainland southeast Asia, with a smaller stretch of the northern border adjoining Laos. The most central region culturally and economically is the lowland flood plain of the Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake. The Sap River meets the Mekong at Phnom Penh, where the river soon divides again into the Bassac and the Mekong, which flow through southern Vietnam to the South China Sea. Although Cambodia also has a coastline on the Gulf of Thailand, the coast is separated from the central flood plain by mountains; only since the 1950s have railroads and roads provided ready access to the coastal port towns.

The economy is dominated by wet rice agriculture. The iconic image of the countryside is one of rice paddies among which are scattered sugar palms. Until recently, much of the area outside the flood plains was forested.

The ancient capital of the Khmer Empire was at Angkor, close to present-day Siem Reap. In the fifteenth century, the capital was moved to the area of the intersection of the Sap and Mekong rivers, near present-day Phnom Penh, perhaps to enhance trade. The most densely populated areas now are along the rivers in the provinces near Phnom Penh.

Demography. According to a 1998 census, the population is 11.42 million. There are no reliable statistics for ethnic populations, although the Khmer population is certainly the largest. A 1993 demographic study estimated that Khmer represented 88.7 percent of the population; Vietnamese, 5.2 percent; Cham, 2.5 percent; Chinese, 1 percent; and others (Thai, Lao, and smaller minority groups in the north and northeast), 2.6 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. The dominant Khmer language belongs to the Austroasiatic language family and is related to Vietnamese, Mon, and a number of other Asian languages. Khmer writing, derived from Indian systems, may have begun as early as the third century C.E. ; the first dated inscriptions in Khmer are from the seventh century C.E. While Khmer is closer to Vietnamese than to Thai, a shared literate tradition related to a common religion and centuries of cultural contact has resulted in much vocabulary being shared with Thai. As in Thailand, Laos, and Burma, the language of Theravada Buddhist scriptures, Pali, often is studied by young men during temporary periods as monks and is an important influence on literary Khmer.

A scarcity of written materials resulting from the colonial dominance of French and later periods of political turmoil had left the educated population highly dependent on second languages, and in urban areas there is a great desire to learn English and French. Despite the efforts of France to promote the continued use of French as a second language, it is


probably giving way to English. Vietnamese, Chinese, and Cham, who are often bilingual, freely use their own languages, and Vietnamese and Chinese newspapers are published in Phnom Penh.

Symbolism. The most important cultural symbol is the ancient Khmer temple Angkor Wat, along with the ancient Khmer Empire and its monumental antiquities. Pictures and bas-relief carvings of the four-faced tower of the Bayon at Angkor Thom and of âpsâras (celestial dancing girls) are ubiquitous in homes and public buildings. Since independence, every flag except the one used by the United Nations when it administered the country in 1993 has featured the image of Angkor Wat. Classical dance, also an important national symbol, consciously tries in costume and gesture to recreate Angkorean bas-reliefs.

The institution of kingship, which was reestablished in 1993, is an important national symbol, especially in rural areas, where devotion to the king never died out during the socialist period. It is not clear to what extent the symbolism of kingship can be separated from its current embodiment in Norodom Sihanouk.

In the 1980s, the government promoted the memory of the atrocities of 1975–1979 DK period, also known as the Pol Pot regime, including holidays to commemorate bitterness (20 May) and national liberation (7 January). However, the DK atrocities symbolize Cambodian identity much less for its people than they do for foreigners. Nevertheless, many Cambodians express a sense that their culture has been lost or is in danger, and this cultural vulnerability stands as a kind of national symbol.

National identity sometimes is mobilized around the idea of hostility to Vietnam. This derives in part from the ways in which national identity was defined by resistance groups during the PRK period, when there was a strong Vietnamese military and cultural presence.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The roots of the nation lie in the systematization of wet rice agriculture and the gradual development of a more extensive political organization that climaxed in the Khmer Empire in the period 802–1431. The Khmer Empire was not a nation in the modern sense and varied in size from king to king. However, at different times the empire ruled large parts of what is now Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The population of the empire included Siamese and probably other Austroasiatic peoples who gradually assimilated to the Khmer. Khmer culture and language were clearly dominant during that period, and the Khmer population extended well beyond the current boundaries.

The rise of Siam (now Thailand) as an empire and nation and the gradual expansion of Vietnam drastically decreased Khmer territory and led to a period when Cambodia was dominated by those kingdoms. It is generally accepted that if Cambodia had not been colonized by France, it would have been swallowed by its neighbors.

National Identity. True national identity was created during the French colonial presence. The French fixed boundaries, systematized government and ecclesiastical bureaucracies, promoted the empire as a national symbol, encouraged an increasingly elaborate ceremonial role for the king, and introduced secular education.

Ethnic Relations. There are significant populations of ethnic Khmer in Thailand and Vietnam. The Khmer in Thailand are well integrated into the Thai state, with few significant links to Cambodia. The Khmer in southern Vietnam, called Khmer Kraom, have historically had much stronger ties to Cambodia proper, and several important Cambodian political leaders have been Khmer Kraom. There continues to be migration of Khmer Kraom to Cambodia, including young men who come as Buddhist monks; many Khmer Kraom have a strong sense of identity with the nation. Their role in Cambodia is complex in that while they are glorified as a symbol of lost territory, they are sometimes distrusted as being Vietnamese.

Large numbers of the Cambodian refugees who fled to camps in Thailand during the DK period and the early PRK period resettled in the United States, France, Australia, and New Zealand. The largest ethnic minority population is Vietnamese, whose numbers range between 500,000 and a million. However, those numbers are hotly contested for political reasons. Tension between ethnic Khmer and Vietnamese is strong. Scholars disagree about whether this hostility has a long history or is a recent political construction. State-sponsored killing and forced expulsion of Vietnamese occurred during the KR and the DK periods. Since the 1991 Paris Agreements, there have been two well-publicized massacres of Vietnamese villagers and numerous smaller incidents of violence against Vietnamese, mostly attributable to Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Other new political parties employ strong anti-Vietnamese rhetoric. Vietnamese influence in Cambodia dates at least to the seventeenth century. A significant Vietnamese population in Phnom Penh predated French colonialism; however, the pattern of migration increased when the French brought Vietnamese to Cambodia as administrators, plantation workers, and urban laborers. As rice farmers, Vietnamese have often been in direct economic competition with Khmer. There are also large fishing communities of Vietnamese, and in urban areas, Vietnamese engage in a number of small trades, including construction work, another area where they compete with ethnic Khmer.

The Cham, a predominantly Muslim people, began migrating to Cambodia in the fifteenth century from the South China Sea coast as that area came under Vietnamese political domination. Their population is between 240,000 and 300,000. Many Cham live in riverfront communities and engage in fishing, small business, and raising and slaughtering of livestock (an occupation avoided by Khmer Buddhists for religious reasons). Cham suffering during the DK period was especially severe, when resistance to Khmer Rouge communal discipline led to brutal pogroms. In recent years the Cham have cultivated links to Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Arabic countries.

A recent estimate of the Chinese population is 100,000, although because of the numbers of Chinese who have historically lived in Cambodia, the numbers of persons with some Chinese blood, and Chinese cultural influence, the impact is much greater. There has traditionally been much more

A family attempts to net fish in their backyard after a flood. Next to rice, fish is the most important staple in Cambodia.

intermarriage between Khmer and Chinese than between Khmer and Vietnamese, and ethnic relations are considered much better, although there has been periodic discrimination. There has been a Chinese presence since the time of Angkor, but immigration increased dramatically during the colonial period. Chinese are particularly associated with urban areas; before 1970, there were more Chinese and Vietnamese than Khmer in Phnom Penh.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Phnom Penh, the capital and the only major city, is relatively small, but rapidly increasing in population. At the time of the 1998 census, it was 997,986. A lack of political and economic integration with rural Cambodia and peasant resentment of the urban population probably influenced the decision of the DK government in 1975 to evacuate the entire urban population to the countryside. Since 1979, Phnom Penh has experienced only a gradual rebuilding. Architecturally, the city is a mixture of pre-1975 French colonial, Chinese, and modernist styles alongside the simple socialist styles of the 1980s, garish new buildings, and shanty towns.

The Royal Palace compound and the nearby National Museum lie on Phnom Penh's park-lined central riverfront and form a prominent cultural focal point of the country and city. Norodom Boulevard, lined with embassies, government buildings, and villas, runs between Independence Monument and the Wat Phnom temple. Several key markets, Buddhist temples, and luxury hotels serve as major landmarks. City streets are full of people, evoking a sense of social flux with no clear boundaries. Communication is easy and natural.

Provincial capitals have compounds of government buildings, large central markets in pre-1975 modern buildings, and several Buddhist temples. At the district and subdistrict levels, there are more modest temples, makeshift markets, and simple school buildings. Distinctions between public and private buildings tend to be free-flowing.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The staples are rice and fish. Traditionally, a home meal is served on a mat on the floor or with the diners seated together on a raised bamboo platform. Meals are eaten in shifts according to status, with adult males and guests eating first and food preparers last. Breakfast typically consists of rice porridge or rice noodles. Lunch and dinner may be a combination of a spiced broth with fish or meat and vegetables, fish, fresh vegetables eaten with a fish-based paste, and stir-fried vegetables with chopped meat. A strong-smelling fermented fish paste called prâhok is the quintessential flavoring of Khmer food. Fruit is savored, and its display is considered a mark of abundance. It often is given as a gift. Teuk tnaot, a liquid tapped from sugar palms and drunk in various degrees of fermentation, generally is not taken with meals.

The tradition of Khmer cuisine in restaurants is undeveloped, and restaurants typically serve what is regarded as Chinese food. There are no food taboos, although devout Buddhists refrain from alcohol. Monks also cannot eat after noon and are enjoined to eat whatever they are given without making special requests.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. During festivals, elaborate and painstakingly seasoned dishes are prepared, such as curries, spiced fish sauces, complex stir fries, and a variety of sweets. At a temple festival, each family brings dishes that are ritually presented to the monks. After the monks have eaten, the remaining food is eaten by the lay community.

Basic Economy. The basis of the economy continues to be rice agriculture, and much of the population farms at a subsistence level, linked by a relatively undeveloped market system for rice, fruits, and vegetables, and using the riel for currency. Rice farmers are vulnerable to market fluctuations and to drought and insect infestation. State-owned rubber plantations dating back to the colonial period have remained a peripheral part of the economy.

Land Tenure and Property. Radical attempts to communalize property during the DK period and more modest attempts to encourage collective agriculture under PRK met with strong cultural resistance. Cambodians have a strong sense of personal property shared within the domestic unit. Constitutionally, the PRK recognized only three kinds of economic organization: state, cooperative, and family. Only after 1989, with the conscious shift to a market economy, did corporate enterprises and foreign investment become legal.

Commercial Activities. Cambodian artisans are known for silk and cotton weaving, silver work, silver and gold jewelry, and basketry. Handmade pottery is sold from oxcarts that travel from city to city. Straw mats made by hand at local workshops are available in markets; they also are made for personal use. In rural areas, plows, machetes,

A young Cambodian monk burning incense. Monkhood offers a means to education for boys in Cambodia.

looms, fish traps, and winnowing trays are often made for personal use, although imported factory-made products now are used more often.

Tourism is an important part of the economy, but it was hindered by fear of political unrest during most of the 1990s. It increased dramatically in 1999 and 2000.

Major Industries. Industry is undeveloped. State-owned sawmills, soap and cigarette factories, and small workshops for the construction of aluminum products, together with larger state-owned textile and rubber tire factories, have been privatized, and new breweries and cement factories have opened. After 1994, foreign-owned garment factories began to appear, employing mostly female laborers at extremely low wages. The economic role of those factories has expanded rapidly.

Trade. The government lacks effective controls over cross-border trade. In the 1980s, resistance groups near the Thai border financed their activities by trading in gems and timber. Illegal timber exports to Thailand and Vietnam are uncontrolled, and the country is rapidly becoming deforested. Illegal sales of rice to Thailand and Vietnam are also considerable and in 1998 resulted in domestic shortfalls. Besides rice and wood products, Cambodia exports fish products, cement, brewery products, and handicrafts to nearby Asian countries. The garment industry is linked to markets in the United States and the European Union.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Ideas about status and the display of wealth have changed dramatically since 1991. Under socialism, the state promoted an ideology of egalitarianism, and personal wealth was not easily detected. Since 1991, extremely wealthy individuals have emerged among high-ranking government officials and well-placed businesspersons in a country where the population remains very poor. Cambodians have traditionally cultivated the practice of exaggerated respect for a small class of civil servants and other "big men," perhaps defined in terms more by influence than by wealth. There is great sensitivity to degrees of relative wealth, especially in decisions about marriage partners. A relative status hierarchy figures conspicuously in personal relations.

Symbols of Social Stratification. There is a general assumption that degrees of wealth can and should be publicly known. In the absence of banks, wealth was traditionally worn on the person as jewelry, which still is an important marker of status. Folk categorization distinguishes between the poor family's house of bamboo and thatch, the more economically secure family's traditional wood house on stilts, and the richer family's house of stone or cement. In Phnom Penh, the wealthiest families live in villas as opposed to apartments or wood houses. More contemporary markers involve cars and consumer goods.

Political Life

Government. The 1993 constitution established a constitutional monarchy devoted to the principles of liberal democracy. The national government consists of a 120-member National Assembly, a Council of Ministers, and a Constitutional Council. In 1999, the Assembly voted to create a Senate. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the government was still in transition from the one-party system of the 1980s to a liberal democracy. Although 1993 United Nations-sponsored elections instituted a multiparty system at the national level, and multiparty elections determined the membership of the National Assembly and the choice of prime ministers in 1993 and 1998, there have not been local multiparty elections. While provincial governorships and ministerial positions were decided by negotiations between the major parties after the national elections, officials at the district level and below were usually persons who had been in office since the socialist 1980s. Local elections were tentatively scheduled for early 2002.

Leadership and Political Officials. The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is an outgrowth of the People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea (PRPK), which through the 1980s served as the single party, providing discipline and leadership for the socialist state. It is not clear to what extent the transition to a multiparty democracy has taken place.

Social Problems and Control. There is much dis-trust of the police and judicial systems, which are believed to be corrupt. Traffic disputes and claims to property often are negotiated outside the legal system. Common criminals are dealt with brutally, and there is a widespread assumption that persons with wealth and political power are effectively outside the law. There have been many cases of violence against opposition politicians and journalists.

Military Activity. The military continues to dominate the national budget despite the collapse of the Khmer Rouge insurgency. In 1997, defense and security represented 53.9 percent of government expenditures. Fighting on the streets of Phnom Penh at the time of a 1996 coup is remembered with resentment. Individual soldiers often break the law with impunity. The military is not a particularly cohesive social force and has not threatened to seize power.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

While a basic government framework to address the needs of widows, orphans, veterans, and those handicapped by war has been in place since the PRK period, those programs have been plagued by a lack of funds. International organizations (IOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) played an important role in the emergency reconstruction of the country in 1979–1982, providing food and helping to rebuild the agricultural infrastructure. The issue of aid was complicated in the 1980s by an international embargo. Some aid organizations chose to provide relief to Cambodians on the Thai border; other organizations were restricted from working in the provinces. A small number of international NGOs continued to offer assistance in health care, rehabilitation for mine victims, food relief, and agricultural training and assistance. After the beginnings of a negotiated political settlement

A Cambodian boy pulls a forty-four gallon drum full of water on his cart, a trip he makes eight to ten times a day.

at the end of the 1980s, rapidly increasing numbers of NGOs and IOs have played a role in the country.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Local NGOs usually are funded by IOs, donor countries, or international NGOs. In 1999, there were over two hundred local NGOs, all but two formed since 1992. Given a traditional absence of associations outside the state and religious institutions, NGOs represent a significant development. Some have focused on rural development, welfare, education, and women's issues. Perhaps the NGOs with the greatest immediate impact have been local human rights organizations, which have established extensive grassroots networks to document human rights abuses.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In most spheres, there is some flexibility in gender roles. Most tasks performed by men occasionally are performed by women, and vice versa. Traditionally among villagers, men fished, plowed, threshed rice, made and repaired tools, and cared for cattle. Women transplanted seedlings; did washing, mending, and housecleaning; performed most of the child care; and did the everyday shopping. Women are traditionally responsible for a family's money and engage in small-scale marketing.

In the DK period, communal work further broke down gender barriers, and in the post-DK period, when conscription created a shortage of men in civilian life, women were forced to do more hard physical labor. This gender imbalance meant that a small number of women played important roles in civil service and politics. The numbers of women in civil service and politics decreased somewhat in the 1990s, but new foreign-owned textile factories employ almost exclusively women laborers. Only men can enter the monkhood. While women assume ascetic lifestyles and take up residence in temples, they are considered part of the lay population.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Bilateral kinship and a strong tendency toward matrilocality leave women in a position of relative strength. The fact that women control family finances may not be regarded as a sign of superiority but represents real power in practical terms. However, women have much less access than men to the highest positions of political and economic power.

Traditional codes of behavior for women are more elaborate and strict than those for men. Their role is often marked symbolically as inferior. While traditional art and contemporary media images of women show them as active agents, they often are depicted as physically vulnerable to men. Domestic violence against women at the village level is widespread, and those women have little legal recourse.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage traditionally is arranged by the parents of the bride and groom or by someone acting as their representative. Ideally, the groom originates the courtship process by asking his parents to approach the parents of a woman to whom he is attracted. Neither the groom nor the bride is forced to take a marriage partner, although parents may have considerable influence in choosing a partner. Considerations of the benefits to the two families often figure more prominently in the choice of a marriage partner than does romantic love. It is not unusual for decisions about marriage to be made before a couple has had much contact. Specialists in reading horoscopes typically are consulted about the appropriateness of a wedding, although their advice is not always followed. The groom pays bride-wealth to the family of the bride; this money sometimes is used to buy jewelry or clothing for the bride or defray the cost of the wedding.

Although polygyny was legal before 1989, true polygyny, sanctioned by ceremony and both wives living in the same house, was rarely practiced outside of royalty in modern times. However, a mistress is referred to as a second wife, and even though bigamy was prohibited by the 1993 constitution, the practice of keeping a second or third wife does not carry a social stigma. There is strong social pressure to marry and for those who marry to have children. Divorce is a socially recognized option, although there is social pressure against it and some reluctance to grant it.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is classically a nuclear family consisting of parents and children; however, there is much flexibility in allowing other arrangements. Residence after marriage is ideally neolocal but often, for practical reasons, with the parents of one of the spouses. The preference is for matrilocality, although this is not a rigid rule. Aged parents often live with their adult children. Major family decisions are shared by the husband and wife.

Inheritance. An inheritance is ideally divided equally among children without regard to gender or age order, although the child who supported the parents in their old age may be favored and a child no longer living in the village may receive less property.

Kin Groups. Kin groups larger than the family have no socially prescribed role, although they can be a source of emotional bonds and personal alliance.


Infant Care. Infant care is characterized by almost constant attention to the child, who is rarely left alone. The child is carefully observed to determine the character it is believed to already possess; it is considered from birth an active agent and its wishes, such as who should hold it, are observed and respected.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are socialized early to respect the authority of parents and older siblings. There is a strong cultural value of "study," but little sense of study as oriented toward a specific goal or profession. Schools in Cambodia emphasize the copying of texts and memorization. Since the DK period, education has been plagued by the poor condition of buildings, lack of books and trained teachers, and the inability of the government to pay teachers. Boys sometimes enter the monkhood as an alternative to state education.

Higher Education. Tertiary education has only gradually been re-instituted since 1979 and is still on unsteady foundations. Over the course of the 1980s, different universities were reopened: The Faculty of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Dentistry in 1979, teacher training schools in 1980, a technical school in 1981, an Institute of Economics in 1984, and the Agricultural Institute in 1985. The University of Phnom Penh was not reopened until 1988. Tertiary education has been very dependent on foreign aid, foreign faculty, and overseas training of students.


Khmer has a complex system of pronouns and terms of address that distinguishes between people of formal rank, people with whom the speaker is in everyday interaction (further distinguished by relative age), and those with whom one assumes a marked informality, including people of clear inferior status and those with whom the speaker shares a long-standing familiar equality. Those addressing monks or royalty are expected to use even more complex linguistic systems, which, in addition to special pronouns and terms of address, include special

A woman registers to vote in Phnom Penh. Despite this right, women wield little political power.

vocabulary for sleeping, eating, walking, and, in the case of royalty, for body parts. Relative rank is also distinguished by the order by which traditional greetings, palms together raised in supplication, are made, the degree of the hands' elevation, and the consideration of whether this greeting or a Western handshake is used. A major part of etiquette involves knowing these systems and how to negotiate their ambiguities; the systems were partially abandoned during the socialist periods, but since 1991 have been revived with new emphasis.

There is a much stronger taboo against public touching between men and women than in Western countries, but same-sex touching is more accepted than, for example, in the United States. Conventional wisdom holds that the head is the highest part of the body and the feet the lowest, and it is rude to touch another adult's head, just as it is rude to point one's foot at another person. However, a certain kind of intimacy among equals is characterized by the breaking of the norm, with friendly cuffs to the other person's head.


Religious Beliefs. Theravada Buddhism spread in the later years of the Khmer Empire and is traditionally considered the religion of ethnic Khmer. Animist practices and what are called Brahmanistic practices are also part of the culture and are deeply intermingled with the everyday practice of Buddhism. They are not considered separate religions but part of the spectrum of choices for dealing with moral, physical, and spiritual needs. Buddhism is a national tradition, with a bureaucracy and a written tradition. Brahmanist and spirit practices are more localized and are passed on from person to person rather than as a formal institution.

All religious traditions were weakened by the banning of religious observances by the DK and by the religious policies of PRK, which restricted religion and emphasized a Buddhism consistent with socialist modernity. Since restrictions were lifted in 1989, religion has enjoyed a revival. Christian converts returned from refugee camps and foreign countries, and Christianity has established a strong foothold among ethnic Khmers. A number of other religious movements draw on the appeal of powerful traditional cultural icons and funding by overseas Khmer.

Religious Practitioners. Theravada Buddhist monks can be seen in saffron robes walking in procession in the early mornings, when they go from door to door asking for food. A lay specialist, the

These two Buddha factory workers are representative of the female-dominated industrial work force in Cambodia.

achar, also plays an important role as the person who leads public chanting and an expert in the formulas for different rituals.

Outside the formal sphere of Buddhism there are other practitioners. The krou (or krou khmaer ) specializes in traditional medicine and magic, including the making of amulets, and negotiating with certain kinds of spirits; the thmuap is a kind of krou specializing in black magic. The roup or roup arâkk is a spirit medium through whom special knowledge can be obtained.

Rituals and Holy Places. The Buddhist temple complex, or vott, is central to community life, as is the calendar of Buddhist holidays, which is linked to the seasons and the agricultural cycle. Monks must reside in a single temple for the length of the rainy season, and ceremonies mark the beginning and end of the retreat. The period around the end of the rainy season, after rice has been transplanted but before the harvest takes place, includes two major holidays: Pchum Ben (a two-week period of rituals in honor of the spirits of the dead) and Kâthin (a day for processions and the ceremonial presentation of monks' robes). The day of the Buddha's birth and enlightenment (May) and the day of the Buddha's last sermon (February) are also important holidays. The beginning of the Buddhist lunar calendar occurs in April and has both religious and secular aspects.

Death and the Afterlife. Cambodian Buddhists believe in reincarnation, although this may include temporary periods in realms resembling heaven or hell. The dead usually are cremated after an elaborate procession. Ceremonies in memory of the dead are held on the seventh and hundredth days after death.

Medicine and Health Care

Western and Chinese medicine and health care coexist with traditional Cambodian practices that partly derive from Ayurvedic tradition, under the guidance of krou khmaer. Western medicine enjoys great prestige, but there is a lack of professionals. Widespread use of imported western drugs, including intravenous serums and other injections, involves the role of semi-skilled professionals. Even when the medicine is "western," its practice is deeply shaped by Khmer folk categorizations of the nature of illness and the properties of medicine.

Secular Celebrations

In Phnom Penh the most popular secular holiday is the Water Festival, 21–23 November, with its colorful longboat races and the nighttime display of illuminated boats. Spirit practices also associated with the boat races mean that the holiday is not completely secular.

Independence Day (9 November) and the King's Birthday (31 October) have in recent years involved large government-sponsored celebrations. However these holidays, and other smaller ones, like Constitution Day, the Day of the Royal Plowing Ceremony, and the Victory Day over Genocidal Crime, do not have the widespread cultural resonance of more religious celebrations such as New Year's, Pchum Ben, and Kathin.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Since 1979, there has been a governmental effort to restore aspects of traditional culture destroyed during the DK period. Most state and international funding has gone toward the restoration of Angkorean antiquities, but there also has been support for classical dance and for recording traditional music and setting up workshops for making traditional instruments. In recent years, there has been NGO support for preserving and developing marketing strategies for traditional weavers. Some musicians, singers, and theater groups earn money by performing at village festivals and weddings. The most successful perform on radio and television and market their work on cassette tapes. Overseas Cambodian musical groups and video producers also sell their work in Cambodia.

Literature. There is a long tradition of the use of writing, with important religious texts, royal chronicles, and epic poetry, but modern literature is undeveloped. Oral traditions are strong: domestic storytelling and a genre of narrative singing to a banjolike instrument play important cultural roles.

Virtually no literature was produced during the DK period, and many writers were killed or fled. Literature in the 1980s had a socialist orientation. Since 1991, there has been greater freedom to publish pre-1975 literature but little money to publish new books. Small newspapers have flourished, and some satirical writing has appeared. Pre-1975 authors living overseas and younger writers have published Khmer books in their countries of resettlement.

Graphic Arts. While much work in graphic arts is produced, it often is seen as mere artisanship and has received little attention. Some art is produced for tourists and the decoration of homes and offices. Since the early 1990s, the most important project for painters has been the restoration of murals in Buddhist temples. Graphic art is rarely seen as the individual expression of the artist.

Performance Arts. Classical dance and music, originally associated with the court, enjoy great prestige, although live performances by the national companies are not frequent. Less professional musicians, singers, and theater artists keep alive local traditions. Virtually every village has musicians who play at weddings. A pop tradition has revived since the end of socialism.

While filmmaking was revived in the 1980s, the output remains small and the budgets are low. Television is dominated by films and soap operas from Thailand and Hong Kong, dubbed into Khmer.


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Also read article about Cambodia from Wikipedia

" Burundi Cameroon

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. There is also French influence as well.


The Golden age of Cambodia was between the 9th and 14th century, during the Angkor period, during which it was a powerful and prosperous empire that flourished and dominated almost all of inland Southeast Asia. However, Angkor would eventually collapse after much in-fighting between royalty and constant warring with its increasingly powerful neighbors, notably Siam and Dai Viet. Many temples from this period however, like Bayon and Angkor Wat still remain today, scattered throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam as a reminder of the grandeur of Khmer arts and culture. Cambodia's unparalleled achievements in art, architectures, music, and dance during this period have had a great influence on many neighboring kingdoms, namely Thailand and Laos. The effect of Angkorian culture can still be seen today in those countries, as they share many close characteristics with current-day Cambodia.

Architecture and housing[edit]

Main article: Architecture of Cambodia

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. The architecture of Cambodia developed in stages under the Khmer empire from the 9th to the 15th century, preserved in many buildings of the Angkor temple. The remains of secular architecture from this time are rare, as only religious buildings were made of stone. The architecture of the Angkor period used specific structural features and styles, which are one of the main methods used to date the temples, along with inscriptions.

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. 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. Chinese and Vietnamese houses in Cambodian towns and villages are typically built directly on the ground and have earthen, cement, or tile floors, depending upon the economic status of the owner. Urban housing and commercial buildings may be of brick, masonry, or wood.[2]


Main article: Religion in Cambodia

Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist with 80% of the population being Theravada Buddhist, 1% Christian and the majority of the remaining population follow Islam, atheism, or animism.

Buddhism has existed in Cambodia since at least the 5th century CE. Theravada Buddhism has been the Cambodian state religion since the 13th century CE (excepting the Khmer Rouge period), and is currently estimated to be the faith of 90% of the population.[3]

Islam is the religion of a majority of the Cham (also called Khmer Islam) and Malay minorities in Cambodia. According to Po Dharma, there were 150,000 to 200,000 Muslims in Cambodia as late as 1975. Persecution under the Khmer Rouge eroded their numbers, however, and by the late 1980s they probably had not regained their former strength. All of the Cham Muslims are Sunnis of the Shafi'i school. Po Dharma divides the Muslim Cham in Cambodia into a traditionalist branch and an orthodox branch.

Christianity was introduced into Cambodia by Roman Catholic missionaries in 1660. However, it made little headway at first, particularly among Buddhists. In 1972 there were probably about 20,000 Christians in Cambodia, most of whom were Roman Catholics. According to Vatican statistics, in 1953, members of the Roman Catholic Church in Cambodia numbered 120,000, making it, at that time, the second largest religion in the country. In April 1970, just before repatriation, estimates indicate that about 50,000 Catholics were Vietnamese. Many of the Catholics remaining in Cambodia in 1972 were Europeans—chiefly French. American Protestant missionary activity increased in Cambodia, especially among some of the hill tribes and among the Cham, after the establishment of the Khmer Republic. The 1962 census, which reported 2,000 Protestants in Cambodia, remains the most recent statistic for the group. Observers reported that in 1980 there were more registered Khmer Christians among the refugees in camps in Thailand than in all of Cambodia before 1970. Kiernan notes that, until June 1980, five weekly Protestant services were held in Phnom Penh by a Khmer pastor, but that they had been reduced to a single weekly service after police harassment.[2] There are around 21,300 Catholics in Cambodia which represents only 0.15% of the total population. There are no dioceses, but there are three territorial jurisdictions - one Apostolic Vicariate and two Apostolic Prefectures.

Highland tribal groups, most with their own local religious systems, probably number fewer than 100,000 persons. The Khmer Loeu have been loosely described as animists, but most tribal groups have their own pantheon of local spirits. In general they see their world filled with various invisible spirits (often called yang), some benevolent, others malevolent. They associate spirits with rice, soil, water, fire, stones, paths, and so forth. Sorcerers or specialists in each village contact these spirits and prescribe ways to appease them. In times of crisis or change, animal sacrifices may be made to placate the anger of the spirits. Illness is often believed to be caused by evil spirits or sorcerers. Some tribes have special medicine men or shamans who treat the sick. In addition to belief in spirits, villagers believe in taboos on many objects or practices. Among the Khmer Loeu, the Rhade and Jarai groups have a well-developed hierarchy of spirits with a supreme ruler at its head.[2]

Ways of life[edit]

Birth and death rituals[edit]

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.[clarification needed] 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.[4]

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. 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.[4]

Childhood and adolescence[edit]

Main article: Childhood and adolescence in Cambodia

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.[4]

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.[4]

In precommunist days, parents exerted complete authority over their children until the children were married, and the parents continued to maintain some control well into the marriage. Age difference is strictly recognized with polite vocabulary and special generational terms for "you".[4]

Courtship, marriage, and divorce[edit]

Main article: Courtship, marriage, and divorce in Cambodia

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 (a Khmer "fortuneteller" versed in Indian astrology). In theory, a girl may veto the spouse her parents have chosen for her. Courtship patterns differ between rural and urban Khmer; marriage as a culmination of 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. By tradition, the youngest daughter and her spouse are expected to live with and care for her ageing parents and their land.

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.[4] The majority of married Cambodian couples do not obtain legal marriage documents. Marriage is seen more as a social institution, regulated by societal pressures, expectations and norms, than a legal matter. This practice continues today. All that is necessary for a couple to be considered married by the community is to have a ceremony, after which a party is often held for family, friends and well-wishers to celebrate. This is how the overwhelming majority of Cambodian couples marry. Whether these traditional marriages are considered legal contracts by the government and courts is unclear. Therefore, when a couple separate, they likewise need not obtain divorce documents.

Divorce is legal and relatively easy to obtain, but not common.[4] 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.[4] The divorced male doesn't have a waiting period before he can remarry.[5]

The consequences of the social upheaval caused by the Cambodian Civil War is still being felt. At present there is variation in tradition from province to province. In Siem Reap, it is widely understood, for example, that the man takes the first-born child upon separation. Men who leave their families typically do not support their other children, especially when they leave one woman for another woman. The new woman and her family will not accept children from a previous relationship. This is also an important source of the 70% or so of non orphans living in fake orphanages around cities in Cambodia which are tourist focal points.[citation needed]

Social organization[edit]

Main article: Social organization in Cambodia

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.[4]

The individual Khmer is surrounded by a small inner circle of family and friends who constitute his or her closest associates, those he would approach first for help. The nuclear family, consisting of a husband and a wife and their unmarried children, is the most important kin group. Within this unit are the strongest emotional ties, the assurance of aid in the event of trouble, economic cooperation in labor, sharing of produce and income, and contribution as a unit to ceremonial obligations. In rural communities, neighbors—who are often also kin—may be important, too. Fictive child-parent, sibling, and close friend relationships Cambodia transcend kinship boundaries and serve to strengthen interpersonal and interfamily ties. Beyond this close circle are more distant relatives and casual friends. In rural Cambodia, the strongest ties a Khmer may develop—besides those to the nuclear family and to close friends—are those to other members of the local community. A strong feeling of pride—for the village, for the district, and province—usually characterizes Cambodian community life.[6]

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.[6]


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").[7] 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.


Main article: Cambodian 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 (Cambodians) 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.

Otherwise, in the notable class people in Cambodia, especially the royal caste, have adapted a well known dress as well as expensive fashion style.Sampot is still well recognized among the royalty. Most royalty prefer Sampot Phamuong, a new version of sampot adapted by Thai people in the 17th century. Since the Udong period, most royalty have retained their dressing habits. Female royalty created the most attractive fashion. The lady always wears a traditional cape called sbai or rabai kanorng, which is draped over the left shoulder, leaving the right shoulder bare. Rarely was the cape worn over the right shoulder. The sbai or rabai kanorng would have been sumptuously fashioned in the old days in threads of genuine gold or silver. The cape in the old days would have hung down to the hem of the Sampot.

Dancers wear a collar known as Sarong Kor around their necks. Importantly, they wear a unique skirt called Sampot sara-bhap (lamé), made from silk inter-woven with gold or silver threads, forming elaborate and intricate designs that shimmer as the dancers move. This is held in place with a bejewelled belt. A multitude of jewellery is also worn by the female dancers. These include earrings, several pairs of bangles, a garland of flowers in the form of a bracelet, bracelets, anklets and an armlet that is worn on the right. Several body chains cross over the body like a sash. A circular or diamond shaped pendant is worn around the neck.

There are several different types of mokot worn by female royalty. The typical mokots that are worn are much similar to those of male royalty. Some crowns are just like tiaras where at the back of the mokot hair is let loose, cascading down the back. Other mokots have a few accessories such as ear pieces that would sit above the ear and help hold the mokot in place while a comb at the back is just an added accessory. Flowers are also worn on the mokot in the same style, but the hanging garlands of flowers are worn on the left and the bouquet is worn on the right. The best example of these royal clothes is illustrated by Khmer classical dance costumes, which are an adaptation of the beautiful royalty costume.


Main article: Cambodian 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 (Khmer: ឆារ, 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 (Khmer: គុយទាវ). Indian influenced dishes include many types of curry known as kari (Khmer: ការី) 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.[8]Banh Chaew (Khmer: នំបាញ់ឆែវ), the Khmer version of the Vietnamese Bánh xèo, is also a popular dish.

Khmer cuisine is noted for the use of prahok (ប្រហុក), a type of fermentedfish paste, in many dishes as a distinctive flavoring. When prahok is not used, it is likely to be kapǐ (កាពិ) 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 (Khmer: ក្តាមឆាម្រេចខ្ជី) in Khmer. This dish is prepared with a local crab fried with the black pepper from area pepper fields. Kula people, an ethnic group of Pailin Province, originated Mee Kola (Khmer: មីកុឡា), 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.

Arts and literature[edit]

Visual arts[edit]

Main articles: Visual arts of Cambodia and Khmer sculpture

The history of visual arts in Cambodia stretches back centuries to ancient crafts; Khmer art reached its peak during the Angkor period. Traditional Cambodian arts and crafts include textiles, non-textile weaving, silversmithing, stone carving, lacquerware, ceramics, watmurals, and kite-making. Beginning in the mid-20th century, a tradition of modern art began in Cambodia, though in the later 20th century both traditional and modern arts declined for several reasons, including the killing of artists by the Khmer Rouge. The country has experienced a recent artistic revival due to increased support from governments, NGOs, and foreign tourists.


Main article: Music of Cambodia

Especially in the 60s and 70s, the 'big two' duet of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea 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).


Main article: Dance of Cambodia

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

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 also known as The Royal Ballet of Cambodia after select as UNESCO's Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, has led one of its dance to be an outstanding dance of all for culture and society. Reamker, a khmer version of Indian, Ramayana had influenced strongly to Khmer classical dance. It involved in khmer gesture, movement and story line.The dance that divided from Reamker Dance known as Robam Sovann Macha and Robam Moni Mekala. In Facts, all of Dance reminded the audience of celestial dance which is an angel or Apsara in Sansrit mythology in goal of bringing the good luck and success to the viewer. The Classical dance is create by the heart of high art as the performer is decorated with themselves with a branches of jewellry.

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 influenced Cambodian social culture including the Cha-cha, Bolero, and the Madison.


Main article: Literature of Cambodia

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 PaliBuddhist texts of the Tripitaka. They were written by the monks on palmyra palm leaves and kept in various monasteries throughout the country.

The Reamker (Khmer: រាមកេរ្តិ៍, "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.

Cambodia had a rich and varied traditional oral literature. There are many legends, tales and songs of very ancient origin that were not put into writing until the arrival of the Europeans. One of the most representative of these tales was the story of Vorvong and Sorvong (Vorvong and Saurivong), a long story about two Khmer princes that was first put into writing by Auguste Pavie. This French civil servant claimed that he had obtained the story from old Uncle Nip in Somrontong District. This story was put into writing in Battambang.[9] In 2006 the Vorvong and Sorvong story was enacted in dance form by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.[10]

Tum Teav, which has been compared[by whom?] 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. The story has been portrayed in many forms including oral, historical, literary, theatre, and film adaptions. Tum Teav also has played a role in Cambodia's education, appearing as a topic for the 12th-grade Khmer language examination several times. Although a translation into French had already been made by Étienne Aymonier in 1880, Tum Teav was popularized abroad when writer George Chigas translated the 1915 literary version by the venerable Buddhist monk Preah Botumthera Som or Padumatthera Som, known also as Som, one of the best writers in the Khmer language.[11]

Some talented members of Khmer royalty such as King Ang Duong (1841–1860) and King Thommaracha II (1629–1634) have produced lasting works of literature as well. King Thomaracha wrote a highly esteemed poem for younger Cambodians. The prolific King Ang Duong is most famous for his novel Kakey, inspired from a Jataka tale about an unfaithful woman. While not written as a work of instruction, Kakey is often used as an example to teach young Khmer girls about the importance of fidelity.

Shadow Theatre[edit]

Nang Sbek (shadow theatre) (or Lakhaon Nang Sbek; Khmer) is closely related to the Nang Yai of Thailand, Wayang and Indonesia like the islands of Java and Bali, thus implying that Nang Sbek may have an Indonesian 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.


Main article: Cinema in Cambodia

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.


Main article: Sport in Cambodia

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[by whom?] to be the predecessor of all Southeast Asian kickboxing styles. Depicted in the bas relief at Angkor Wat,[dubious– discuss] 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.

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.[citation needed] 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.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Angkor Wat, the most famous Cambodian heritage site.
Cambodian girls on a bicycle
Pre-wedding photographs of Cambodian couple at Angkor Wat
Bride and groom at a Cambodian wedding
A Khmer women wearing a Krama
Amok, a popular Cambodian dish
The tale of Vorvong & Sorvong illustration, a Khmer 19th century drawing.
The classical tragic love story of Tum Teav
Nang Sbek Thom figure plate.
  1. ^The Influence of Indian Culture on Khmer superstructure
  2. ^ abcFederal Research Division. Russell R. Ross, ed. "Housing". Cambodia: A Country Study. Research completed December 1987. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^"CIA World Factbook - Cambodia". Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  4. ^ abcdefghiFederal Research Division. Russell R. Ross, ed. "Families". Cambodia: A Country Study. Research completed December 1987. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.[1]
  5. ^Lay, V., (n.d.) Cambodian law on marriage and family
  6. ^ abFederal Research Division. Russell R. Ross, ed. "Household and Family Structure". Cambodia: A Country Study. Research completed December 1987. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^Ledgerwoord, Judy. "Cambodian Literature". Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  8. ^Profile of Cambodian Cooking and Culture
  9. ^Auguste Pavie, Contes populaires du Cambodge, du Laos et du Siam. Paris: Leroux, 1903.
  10. ^Les Nuits d’Angkor
  11. ^Documentation Center of Cambodia - Tum Teav: A Translation and Analysis of a Cambodian Literary Classic

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