Cambodia: A Unique Culture of Color and Light

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Due to the geographical position and to the peculiar social changes experienced by the Khmers in the last 1500 years, the culture of Cambodia is the effect of a series of factors that influenced directly the development and changes in the daily Khmer life. In general, this refers to a cluster of specific beliefs and customs which grew in time, being profoundly marked by the Angkorian culture and the neighboring cultures of the Thai and the Vietnamese.

The Khmers were faced with incredibly rich cultures, such as the Chinese, the French, and the Indians, which lead to various borrowings: religious forms, new languages and dialects, arts and crafts, and many traditions and holidays. On the other hand, local geography influenced these borrowings to such a degree that today one can rarely see a set of beliefs or traditions in Cambodia that hasn’t been influenced by local structures.

Monks getting food offer from villagers

Complex Traditions of a Distinctive Culture

Most of Cambodian traditions are related to their agricultural way of life and to a circular calendar. As such, just like many other cultures, they have grown customs for specific moments of the year. Cambodians are open to syncretism, but up to a point. Trying to impose a new lifestyle in rural communities may prove both risky and futile. Modern changes created a certain discrepancy between urban and rural life, visible even during a one-week trip.

With the predominant religion being Theravada Buddhism (accounting for more than 90% of the total population), holidays are highly influenced by faith. New Year’s Eve, the birth of a child, their joyful and vivid weddings, resembling Malaysian weddings, everything is related to faith and to the general belief that men are a part of nature. This is the main reason why Cambodians don’t assign dramatic features to death as Western societies do. The cultural ensemble is rather a combination of hope and anticipation of a better life. travel

Arts and Lifestyle

The arts and literature of Cambodia should be regarded as a direct consequence of the specific development of the country. In this case in particular, it encompasses a rich written culture and various crafts which evolved to the point where they earned a distinct identity. You can easily find silversmiths in Cambodia, as well as stone carvers, and painters. Pottery making and painting is still widely developed, even if globalization tends to affect it, as it does to other traditional crafts.

In Cambodia, during a representation of a shadow theatre (Nang sbek) the story is said using a combination of dance, rhythmic poetry, songs, and miming, and the scene is merely a projection, instead of a “real” representation. Dance is very important throughout the country. Folk dances like Trot, Sneak Toseay, or Robam Kom Araek are fascinating and styles vary from one place to another.

In order to understand lifestyle, you need to spend more time in Cambodia than you may initially think. In general, there’s a notable gap between urban and rural life. Patriarchal traditions coexist with local beliefs, and people are generally friendly and have a positive nature, which is mainly rooted in religion.
Apsaras-Angkor 2008

Highlights

  • In Cambodia, the head is the pure part, whereas feet are seen as dirty. Anything related to head implies respect and anything done with the feet suggests contempt.
  • Mourning includes white clothes.
  • Some boys serve for a short time as temple servants while in adolescence. This is seen as an honor for them and their families.
  • Theravada Buddhist monks wear saffron robes and often walk in procession early in the morning.