Khmer ethnic people preserve 2,000 years of culture
An art performance expresses typical Khmer culture from Tra Vinh province (Photo: VNA)
colours of Khmer culture are part of the rich variety among the 54
nationalities who live in Vietnam, said Dang Hung, head of the Bac Lieu province’s
Union of Associations for Literature and Arts.
In recent years, provincial authorities
have carried out Government policies on ethnic affairs by reducing poverty and
improving the livelihoods of the southern Khmer and preserving the diversity of
their traditional culture.
One of the most important events of the
year is the province’s Khmer Festival of Culture, Sport and Tourism, held at Bac
Lieu from November 17-19. It attracted more than 2,000 artists and dancers from
12 southern provinces and cities.
During the festival, the distinctiveness of
the Khmer ethnic culture was on full display, having been preserved from
generation to generation for more than 2,000 years.
Srey Khmau, 21, an artist from Tra Vinh
University’s art troupe, took part in an art performance for the first time,
but not for the glory or an award. “Khmer ancient traditions and culture give
me great pride. I’m very happy that our traditional values are respected and
promoted,” she said.
Among the activities at the three-day event
were exhibitions of the culture of the Khmer community, costume shows,
performances of Khmer art troupes, culinary competitions and traditional sport
competitions from 12 southern provinces.
Besides Khmer dances, musical performances
and folk singing at pagodas and during the festival, young artists from Soc
Trang province revived the Pithi Chol mlop marriage rite, attracting many
In earlier times, Khmer girls married only
after completing a rite called Pithi Chol mlop, which means “stay in shape”.
Today, the rite is generally not performed, but young Khmer artists who want to
preserve the tradition express the significance and meaning through their
The restoration of Pithi Chol mlop rite
helps young Khmer avoid mistakes before marriage. A girl takes part in the rite when she has
her first menstrual period. It is done for girls who know little about their
body or understand why certain physical changes are occurring.
The Pithi Chol mlop period lasts from
around three months to one year, depending on each girl’s progress. The girls
are not allowed to leave their private house and meet strangers, especially
men. If there is a need to go out, they must cover their faces.
The girls learn housework skills (cooking,
weaving, and embroidery), communication skills, good behaviour, social
responsibility and how to keep their souls “beautiful”. According to ancient
Khmer customs, it is difficult for a girl to find a husband if she does not
take part in the rite.
Traditional costumes express the features
and religious beliefs of the Khmer. They are decorated with different motifs
and patterns, requiring fine tailoring skills and designs.
The costume for Khmer women is the sampet
chon kpal, a special dress made from a wide fabric wrapped around the body and
passed between the legs to make short, puffy pants.
Khmer women wear skirts decorated with
motifs of oval inlays, flowers and stripes. The dresses are worn with shorts
and a close shirt, with open neck and short sleeves.
The daily costume of women is similar to
the Vietnamese ethnic majority Kinh’s ao ba ba (a blouse worn by southerners)
and khan ran (striped scarf) on the head or shoulders.
The traditional costume of Khmer men is a
sarong, a long piece of delicately embroidered cloth. They also often wear
sarongs and black blouses.
Today, Khmer only wear traditional costumes
on special occasions, such as art performances, ceremonial rites, wedding ceremonies,
Unusual hats and masks are an indispensable
part of traditional costumes. The hats are designed in the shape of heads and
The craft requires a thorough understanding
of Khmer culture. All of the work is done by hand and requires patience,
creativity and care in every detail.
There are about 1.3 million ethnic Khmers
living in southern Vietnam, accounting for seven per cent of the region’s
population, ranking second to the Kinh (ethnic Viet).
They reside in the Mekong Delta provinces
of Tra Vinh, Soc Trang, Kien Giang, An Giang, Bac Lieu, Vinh Long, and Can Tho City.
Most Khmer are Theravadan Buddhists and
show deep respect to Buddhist monks. Pagodas are the most sacred and important
places in their spiritual life.
Thach Ri Con, 29, from Tra Vinh’s Tra Cu district,
said southern authotities had helped local people improve their incomes and
promoted their spiritual life by providing favourable conditions to preserve
their traditional culture and to practise their religion. “Our life now is much
better than in the past. We live in love and peace. We are free to preserve our
own cultural characteristics,” he said.
Through the architecture of the pagodas,
Khmer artisans have preserved the tenets of their Buddhist faith, which
inspires them to do good things.
Some Khmer pagodas were built centuries ago
and are recognised as national cultural and architectural relics. They are used
for communal activities, festivals, and folk culture training classes.
Young Khmer men must spend a period as
monks to foster knowledge and values. If they do not complete their classes,
they are not recognised as adults.
During their time in pagodas, the young men
learn Buddhism and write and speak Khmer, contributing to the preservation of
the Khmer language and traditional culture. The ashes of many Khmer are
preserved in pagodas after death.
Xiem Can Pagoda, one of the biggest and
most splendid in the south, was built in 1887. It is covered by walls with
decorative images of snake genies and eye-catching motifs. Its east gate is
painted dark yellow and red, typical colours for the Khmer.
Each year, more than 10 festivals are held,
including the three principal ones: the Ok Oom Bok (long boat race), Sen Dolta (worship
of the moon), and Chol Chnam Thmay (New Year).
To help them celebrate the November
festival of 2017, the Bac Lieu Provincial People’s Committee granted 250
million VND (11,004 USD) to upgrade traditional Khmer long boats and pentatonic
In September, following a Prime Ministerial
decision on land and employment policies for ethnic people in the Mekong Delta
region, Tra Vinh province allocated more than 36 billion VND (1.58 million USD)
to provide residential land for 1,474 poor Khmer households.
In 2022, the eighth festival will feature
the sports, culture and tourism traditions of the southern Khmer in Soc Trang.
It will be hosted every five years in one of the southern provinces. - VNA