Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

13) New Year’s Celebration

The Cambodians choose the 10th month of the Chinese calendar, which they called katek (Kadek) as their first month. In front of the palace, people build a large pavilion which could hold more than a thousand people inside. The pavilion is decorated with wreathes and flowers. In front of the pavilion about 200 hatthas (one hattha is about one and a half feet), another pavilion, about 200 hattha tall, was built in the adjacent field. At night, several fireworks were lit up to celebrate the New Year. In the tall pavilion, the King was seated to observe the firework displays which were about 100 li’s away but people can see and hear them clearly. The fireworks sound like artillery gun salutes which could be heard all over the city.

Court officials and their relatives are all holding candles, beetle leaves and nuts bouquets, and other celebratory wreathes. It looks like a very expensive undertaking. The King has also invited foreign dignitaries to attend the New Year celebration. The ceremony lasted for a fortnight.

In each month, there was always a ceremony or celebration of some sorts. For example, in the 4th month, people celebrate bos chhoung (a game in which a group of young men and women using scarves tying into a ball to through at each other. Notice: This game is still being played nowadays during New Year celebration). In the 9th month, people hold Ab Lak (a form of parade procession in front of the palace). In the 5th month, people hold royal bathing and a mock boat racing (rowing boat on land). During boat rowing ceremony, the King would watch it from the terrace of a pavilion. In the 7th month, during which rice harvesting begin, people would hold ceremonial burning of rice mount. The rices are brought through the southern gate of the city and piled up in designated places to be burned as worshiping gestures to Buddha. There are a lot of women riding in ox carts or on elephant’s backs to attend the ceremony. As for the King, he does not attend this ceremony. In the 8th month, people celebrate Ai-lam (dancing ceremony). The best Ai-lam’s (Chhai Yam?) dancers and musicians are invited to perform in the palace every day. Beside the celebrations mentioned above, there are also animal sporting shows such as pigs fighting, elephants wrestling, etc. During these animals sporting shows, one could see the King and some invited foreign dignitaries in attendance. The animal sporting shows lasted for 10 days. There are also ceremonial activities in other months which I failed to write down. Like China, Cambodia also has astrologers who could predict natural phenomena such as solar and lunar eclipses. If there were a solstice, one month would be counted twice in the yearly cycle. Each night is divided into 5 watches. And each week consists of 7 days which was known as a cycle.

The Cambodians do not use family names. Neither had they recorded their birthdates. In general, people use the name of the day in which they were born as their name. According to the Zodiac prediction, there are also certain days that were considered good or safe for traveling to certain cardinal directions. The women folks could also tell or select days for conducting daily rituals. Like Chinese, the Cambodians use animals to represent each of the 12 Zodiac years. However, they call those years in different names. For example, the year of the horse is called: poksay, the year of the rooster: lak, the year of the pig: chek-lu, the year of the ox: ku, etc.

14) Judicial Procedures
Although disputes between people could be common and sometimes trivial, they are worth noticing.
Disputes between people are usually presented before the King for adjudication. Upon outcomes of the verdict, the guilty party is fined with payment in gold according to the severity of his or her conviction. If the guilty person refused to comply with the sentence or committed serious crime, he or she would be buried in a ditch covered with dirt and stones. No capital punishment is carried out.

For lesser crimes, the convicts would be punished by having their fingers, toes or noses cut off. There are no laws regarding adultery and gambling. If a man is caught sleeping with someone’s wife, he would be punished by having his foot squeezed between two wooden planks called kneab. As for his accomplices, if there were any, they would not be punished. Those who swindled others would also be charged of their crimes. If a dead body were found within the city’s premise, people would just tied up the corpse and dragged it away from the city to be left in a desolate field without having autopsy done. If a thief is caught, he would be imprisoned and interrogated about the crimes. However, there is one ridiculous thing about the matter. Namely, if a person is accused of being a thief and he or she denied the charge, the suspect would be made to dip his or her hand in boiling oil. If the suspect is guilty, his or her hand would be burned. However, if the suspect is not guilty, his or her hand would not be affected by the ordeal. On the other hand, if two people were accusing each other of committing malice and no one could come up with convincing evidence that the other party is guilty, both persons would be ordered to sit in the small cells of an edifice. Each person involved in the dispute was made to sit inside a separate cell for several days or until someone shows the sign of illness which would be an indication of guilt. It is believed that if the person is innocent, the confinement in the small cell would not affect his or her health. This form of conflict resolution is called divine justice. There are 12 small stone edifices in front of the palace built specifically for such purpose.
(Excerpt from the Cambodian Royal Chronicle; To be continued)

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