Friday, November 9, 2012

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

8) Devirginization Ceremony

Parents who have daughters usually offer them wishes like: “May you have a hundred husbands in life.” Prosperous families that have daughters reaching the ages of between 7 to 9 years old would invite monks or priests to conduct ceremony called chhen thann (a process of girl devirginization).

The celebration of chhen thann was held annually during the 4th month of the Chinese calendar. The government would determine the day for the ceremony, and everyone must hold the celebration on that very same day. For those who have daughters to join in the celebration, they must inform public officials before hand in order to receive a candle, which has a mark on it, to light up on the night of the celebration. When the candle burns down to the marked spot, it was time to begin the chhen thann ceremony.

At about one month, or 15 days, or 10 days before the ceremony begins, each girl’s parents must secure or reserve the presence of a monk or priest to conduct the ceremony. Most of the monks or priests, from near and far, were invited to conduct the ceremony. The well-known monks or priests were always invited by influential officials and the rich to conduct the ceremony for their daughters. For poor folks, they could not select monks or priests as they wish. Public officials or rich people offer lavish gifts such as alcohol, rice, clothes, and jewelries to the monks or priests who conducted the ceremonies for their daughters. The sums of these lavish gifts were worth probably no less than 200 or 300 Taels in Chinese money. For those who are less prosperous, their gifts to the monks or priests should be at least between 30 to 40 or 10 to 20 packages. So, for those who are poor, they have to wait until their daughters reach the ages of 11 before they could afford to save enough for their celebration. Sometimes, people offer money to help those who are poor to earn merits for good deeds. Each year, a monk or priest could only accept an invitation to conduct chhen thann ceremony for only one girl. So, if a monk or priest accepted an invitation from someone, he could not accept another.

During the night of chhen thann celebration, people hosted parties all over the places. Besides family gathering, people build a ceremonial tent and decorated it with a display of clay figurines of human and animals. Those who are affluent, they display up to 10 statues. For those who are less affluent, they have at least 3 or 4. However, for those who are very poor, they do not have any statue to display—just holding the celebration. After 7 days, the ceremonial tents are dismantled. During the night of the ceremony, people use carriage chairs and parasols to carry the monks or priests accompanying by musical procession. There are two small rooms, one for the girl and the other for the monk or priest, being built specifically for the occasion. Inside the room, the monk recites ritual verses, which I did not understand. The music was played continuously. I heard people said that, when time arrived, the monk or priest would go into the girl’s room and use his finger to devirginize her. [Afterward, he dips his finger in a jug of alcoholic beverage and let everyone taste it.] Some people said that he had intercourse with the girl. But others said no. The Chinese are not allowed to witness that activity, hence, I am unable to learn the truth.

At dawn, people bring the carriage chair to take the monk back to his temple. At this point, people also bring silk clothes and other valuable gifts to offer to the monk in exchange for the girl. If they did not bring forth gifts to exchange for the girl, she would become his property and could not take a husband. When I was witnessing this activity, it was on the 6th of the 4th month in the year of Teng Iv in the Tai Tek Dynasty (1297).

Before celebrating chhen thann, daughters must stay in the same room with their parents and remain under their supervision. However, after they have gone through chhen thann, they can stay in a separate place and are free from parental supervision. In terms of marriages, although it requires a large sum of money for dowry, there are some exceptions to the rule. Sometimes, people even had sexual relationship prior to their marriages. No one regards it as a scandalous thing.

In the night of chhen thann celebration, we could sometimes see up to 10 houses in one street holding the ceremony. In the city, the numbers of celebrations were even more frequent that one could easily get lost in the hooplas.
9) Slavery
Those who were considered savages are bought, sold, and forced into slavery. People own and maintain slaves according to their ability to acquire them. Some own up to 100 slaves, while others have between 10 to 20. However, for those who are too poor, they did not have any slave.

The savages are people belonging to an ethnic minority group known as Thong (Chong?) who live in the mountainous jungles. Once they are brought out of their domains into towns, they tend to be afraid of venturing outside of the houses. When town’s folks have quarrel with one another, they sometimes call their opponent’s names such as “A-Chong” which is considered the most insulting name-calling. Young and healthy slaves are sold for about 100 Baos whereas the older ones fetch around 30 to 40 Baos.

All slaves are quartered under their masters’ homes. They would only be permitted to go upstairs when they are needed to perform household chores. Once they are upstairs, they have to kneel down and pay respect to (Sampeah) their masters first before walking about the house. If they were being punished for infractions, most slaves would sit still to receive the punishment. Slaves are permitted to maintain familial relationships only with other slaves. They are not allowed to marry people outside of their status. Sometimes, Chinese immigrants had secretly had affairs with the slaves, in which cases they would be shunned by mainstream folks. No one would interact with those Chinese immigrants anymore. On the other hand, if the female slaves had affairs with other people and get pregnant, nobody would fuss about it since their children would become additional properties for their masters. If any slave tried to run away and was caught, he or she would be marked with blue tattoo on the forehead to distinguish him or her from others. Sometime, run-away slaves, who are caught, are chained (dak kneang).
(Excerpt from the Cambodian Royal Chronicle. To be continued)

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