Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

6) The People

According to the habits of the barbarians, they usually like to live in outlaying places away from islands or river areas where there are plenty of waters. Their skins are dark and ugly. This is true for the Cambodians. However, for the women folks who live in palaces or prosperous houses which shelter them from sunlight, they all have fair and smooth skins. In general, both men and women do not wear shirts. They wrap themselves with a piece of cloth called sampot (Indonesian: sarong, Indian: sari) around their waists. Their upper bodies were left naked, and they walk about barefoot—even for those who are concubines of the king.

The king has five wives, one primary wife (the Queen) and four secondary wives who represent the four cardinal points. Beside the five wives, I heard people say that the king also has about 4 or 5 thousand concubines (servants?) who are grouped into different ranks. These female servants are not allowed to go outside the palace compound. Every time I go to visit the palace, I usually see the king and Queen holding court audience by sitting in golden chairs on a raised stage (dais) in a great hall. As for court officials, they are all seated around the stage in designated areas according to their ranks. I had once seen a beautiful young lady being offered to become the king’s concubine. I learned that people who had pretty daughters usually bring them to the attention of the king to gain the king’s favor. There are female servants called Tang Kelang (Sreungkia) walking all about the palace. These female servants numbered about one to two hundreds. They are allowed to have husbands and families. All of these female servants have their foreheads shaved just like the canal’s lock operators in northern China. They also had their sideburns painted with henna. This is how we identify the Tang Kelangs. Only these Tang Kelang women are allowed to have access to the palace. Other servants are not permitted to go inside the palace.

Most women folks wear their hair in knots. But they do not use hairpins or decorate their hair. Neither do they use make-up. On their wrists and fingers, they wear gold bracelets and rings. On the other hand, the Tang Kelangs and their spouses who work in the palace compound always wear perfumes made from aromatic woods and deer glands. Most people here worship Buddha.

In this country, there are some pretty women (transvestites?) walking around the marketplace. They form a group of about 10 people and frequently try to seduce the Chinese in exchange for valuables. It is a bad behavior!

7) Childbirth (Postpartum Practice)
In this country, women who have just delivered babies would immediately put a tightly-rolled cooked rice, mixed with salt, in their uteruses for 24 hours in order to ward off diseases and keep their vagina muscles strong just as they were virgins. When I first heard of the story, I had my doubt, for it is sort of ridiculous for married women who already had children to worry about such natural process of nature’s course. However, at the house where I was staying, a woman has given birth to a baby, which gave me the opportunity to corroborate the story. One day after giving birth, I saw her carrying her newborn baby to bathe in the river—an extraordinary scene which I have never seen before.

Through the rumor mills, I heard that Cambodian women are sexually very active. They would seek sexual intercourse with their husbands again after having babies for just one or two days. If their husbands could not fulfill their desires, they would abandon them like the Bouy Chengs (Chinese slang?). Also, if the husbands were to be away for more than 10 days, they would hear such complaints from their wives: “I’m not a corpse; I can’t sleep alone.” However, I also heard that lots and lots of women are very faithful. Cambodian women appear to grow old faster than their aging process due to the fact that they married young and had children very early in life. A 20 or 30-year old Cambodian women look almost like a 40 or 50-year old Chinese women.
(Excerpt from the Cambodian Royal Chronicle, To be continued)

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