Friday, May 13, 2011

Essay on Cambodia

Angkor or Nokor or Nagara (in Sanskrit) means city. However, the Cambodians use these terms to mean country or kingdom as well. For instance, if one spoke of Nokor Khmer, he or she would refer to the Khmer kingdom. Thus, the term Angkor, in this context, would be used interchangeably between city and kingdom.
Upon their arrival in Cambodia, the Indian warriors or Javanese Brahmins began the process of transforming the primitive world of the Funanese/Cambodians into a civilized culture--one that had the sound and rigor of an organized society. We did not know how the indigenous people reacted to the arrival of these conquerors, but based on what they left behind, they appeared to have formed a very successful society which was built around absolute monarchy and the adherence to Hinduism.
The achievements of these early Cambodians could be found at an ancient city of Angkor which is presently located in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. Though many infrastructures, namely the domains of mankind, had not survived to the present day (because they were built of wooden materials), the religious monuments, which were splendidly built of stones, had indicated a well-organized society with superb civilization. Based on the scattering religious monuments at Angkor, it appeared that this ancient Cambodian City was at least as large as the United States Capital, Washington, D.C. From the various religious monuments and the inscriptions and carvings left on their walls, we learned that the Cambodians who lived during this period (roughly from the 1st to the 14th century) were followers of Hinduism. They were ruled by absolute monarchs and appeared to have formed a federation of kingdoms under the leadership of a universal sovereign who (from the 9th-14th century) used Angkor as the central seat of government.
As far as population was concerned, after the arrivals of those early Javanese Brahmins and their companion settlers, other ethnic groups such as the Mons and the Khams (Khemaras or Khmers), who appeared to have lived in the territories north of Cambodia or Funan, began to make contact and commingled with the Funanese at roughly around the 8th century. Also, many Chinese (most of them sailors) appeared to have made Cambodia their home as well once they made contacts with the indigenous people after their exploration ships docked at Cambodian ports. Perhaps the clearest evidences of the Chinese immigrants living in Cambodia were a report made by a Chinese envoy named Chou Ta-Kuan who visited Cambodia at the end of the 13th century.


Little is known about how early Cambodian society was organized before the arrivals of Indian/Javanese traders/settlers. However, from archaeological and historical evidences, it appeared that early Cambodians led a rather simple life, or “subsistent lifestyle”--as some historians would have put it. Their society was largely built based on the dictates of nature rather than the dictates of mankind. In this context, early Cambodians were probably hunters and gatherers whose rhythms of life followed the rhythms of nature. Because hunting and gathering of foodstuffs tends to require collective efforts in order to ensure success and to maximize the outputs, this phenomenon would certainly lead to the formation of a society which was based on the premise of collectivism.
In terms of territorial administration, early Cambodians appeared to structure their territorial administration somewhat based on a federation system. They called their kingdom or country phaendey and the territories of which they ruled or put under the sphere of their influence sroks. Phaendey or kingdom referred to the overall territories, which a certain monarch had conquered or persuaded to submit to his or her rule whereas the sroks or nokors referred to the territories (in some cases kingdoms) that were subjugated into the larger sphere of influence. Please notice that the Cambodians nowadays used the term srok interchangeably to mean district or county as well. However, the term srok or nokor here mean territories or kingdoms populated by distinct ethnic groups of people and ruled by chieftains or lesser monarchs. For example, sroks or nokors Cham, Leav (Laos), Siem (Siam), et cetera, would mean the territories or kingdoms of Champa, Laos, and Siam, respectively.
Traditionally, the Cambodians used mountains or bodies of water to mark the borders of their kingdom. Because early Cambodia, as a kingdom, depended largely on the ability of her monarchs to muster and extend their overall controls or influences over various semi-autonomous territories which were populated by different ethnic groups of people, the Cambodians have never had a fixed and firm demarcation of their territorial borders. The present boundary was only drawn in the 19th century by French colonizers who ruled over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia roughly from the 1860’s to the 1950’s. Thus, throughout much of Cambodian early history, we found that the kingdom of Cambodia sometimes stretched over vast areas under the rules of certain monarchs who were able to assert their influences over distant territories while other times the country was moderate in size.

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