Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

3) Grooming and Outfits

The people of Chen-la, from king to commoners, tie their hairs in knots. They use a piece of cloth to wrap around their waists and leave their upper bodies bare. If they were to go out in public they would use another piece of cloth (larger than the one they wrap around their waists) to wrap around their upper bodies. These dressing codes were observed according to one’s standing status in society. The king’s regalias (dresses) are the most beautiful. They are worth an equivalent of 3 to 4 ounces in gold.

The people of Chen-la know how to weave clothes. However, they also use clothes imported from Siam and Champa. There are also high-quality clothes which were imported from Europe for exclusive uses by the royal family. The king wears gold crown. Sometimes, the king did not wear his crown; he wears a jasmine flower garland around his head instead. The king also wears a hairpin with a large diamond on it. The jewelries that the king wears on his ankles and hands weigh at least 3 neals (about 48 ounces). The king wears ruby rings on every finger. His palms and the soles of his feet were adorned with red dye. Whenever the king comes out in public, he always carries a gold sword.

As for the general population, only the women folks could dye their palms and the soles of their feet red. The men could not dye their palms or the soles of their feet. Relatives of the monarch and high court officials could use decorative clothes of moderate quality. As for the lower ranking officials, they could only use clothes with floral decoration on the hems. For commoners, only females are allowed to use floral decorative clothes.

For Chinese immigrants who had just arrived in the country, they are allowed to wear whatever clothes they had, for they are not yet acculturated to the new customs.

4) Court Officials
This country has ministers, generals, astrologers, and many other lower ranking officials just like China. The only difference is the way their titles are called. Most of the court officials are relatives of the monarch. For others who wish to become court officials, one way to gain a position is to offer their daughters as the king’s concubines. People could recognize the ranks of court officials by looking at their carriage chairs and the parasols under which they sit during procession. Officials with the highest ranks would sit in gold-plated carriages accompanying by four parasols whose handles are gold-plated as well. The next in ranks would have two parasols, then one; and the lowest ranking officials would have only a parasol with silver-plated handle.

For court officials who ride on silver-plated carriages or have only one gold-plated parasol, they are called pa-teng or amm-teng. Those who have silver-handle parasols, they are called silatti. The parasols are made of silk clothes imported from China. Some parasols have long hems reaching almost down to the ground while others have shorter hems. All parasols are polished with shiny waxes.

5) Religions
The scholars are called Pa-keab (Pundits), Buddhist monks, Ju-ku, and the priests, Pa-shivi (Moharishi). I do not know how the Pa-keabs acquire their knowledge, for I have never seen any school or places where they conduct their studies. They dress just like ordinary people, except that they wear a piece of white thread necklace around their necks. These necklaces are worn for their entire lives. Public officials are usually selected from these Pa-keabs, for they are respected for their talents.

As for the Buddhist monks, they all have their heads shaved and dress in yellow robs leaving the right shoulder bare. They all walk barefoot. There is a Buddhist temple with tiles roof. In the middle of that temple, there is a statue of Buddha which looks like those found in India. This statue of Buddha was called Puth-lai, which was made of clay and painted yellow mixed with red and other colors. There are also other Buddha’s statuettes, which are made of bronze. In the temple, there are no bells, drums, or gongs. The Buddhist monks could eat fish, meats, vegetables, but they do not consume alcohol. The foods people offered to Buddhist monks could also be used for offering to the gods. Buddhist monks make their daily round to beg for foods from people’s homes once a day. The monks also eat only once every day.

There are various Buddhist texts (Sutras) which were written on some kind of leaves and bound together. The writing doesn’t appear to be made by brush. I do not know what kinds of writing objects were used. When a monk goes to give consultation to the king, carriage and parasols with gold or silver-plated handles were used to carry him. I have not seen any nun in the pagodas.

As for the priests called pashivi, besides dressing like ordinary people, they also have a piece of red or white cloth wrapped around their heads just like the Tartar women of Mongolia—except that they are a bit shorter. The pashivi maintain temples just like Buddhist monks, but they are smaller in sizes. The pashivi religion is not as influential as Buddhism upon the population. They worship a piece of stone (Pilas or Linga?) as that of the Neak ta. I have no knowledge of the root and how this religion is practiced. But I know that they allow nuns into their order, and their temples are allowed to have tiles roofs. The Pashivi do not accept foods offered by others, eat foods in public, or consume alcoholic beverages. I have never seen the Pashivi priests conducted sermons. As for local children who need to go to school, their parents usually send them off to be novices (kone seus loke) in the pagodas. When those children are old enough to enter monkhood, they join and become members of the sangha for a few or several years before returning to layman life. There are many more details which I was unable to learn.
(Excerpt from the Cambodian Royal Chronicle, to be continued)

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