Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

28) Noodles, Salt, Soya Sauce, and Vinegar

There is no prohibition regarding the productions of noodles, salt, soya sauce, and vinegar. Along the coastlines from Chen-po to Pakang, people produce salt by using sea water. People also mine for salt and other mineral in mountainous areas. The Cambodians do not know how to make vinegar, but they like to use sour substances in their cooking. The source of this sour substance could be found in a tree called Kampheng (Tamarind). People use both tamarind’s leaves and fruits to substitute for vinegar in their cooking.

The Cambodians do not know how to make noodles, for there are no wheats—the essential ingredients for making noodles. Neither can they produce yeast. In order to make alcoholic beverages, people would mix honey with water and then put a particular kind of tree leaves in it to get the fermented liquid which could be turned into a beverage.

29) Silkworms and the Mulberry Trees
People in Cambodia do not cultivate mulberry trees or silkworms. Most women don’t know how to knit or make parchments. Though they know how to weave, their cloth weaving is done without using any wheel or loom. First, they twisted cottons into threads by hands and tie one end of the threads around their waist. Then they use bamboo sticks to tie the other end of the threads and start weaving from there.

Recently, the Siamese have come to Cambodia, and they brought along silkworms and mulberry trees to be cultivated. There are no hemps. Only kro-chao plants are grown here. The Siamese are skillful at sewing and embroidery; hence, local people always bring their damaged clothes to them for mending.

30) Utensils
In general, most Cambodian homes have no dining tables nor metallic pots and pans. For cooking, people use clay pots. Stoves are made by putting 3 stones in a triangular shape, while ladles are fashioned from coconut shells. People use plates imported from China to put rice on them while using cones specially made from large tree leaves to hold soup and broth. For spoons, they also use tree leaves. After each use, the leaves are discarded. The foods which people offer to gods or deities are also placed on tree leaves.

People eat with their bare hands; hence, they usually place a silver bowl water container nearby to wet their fingers so that the rice wouldn’t stick onto them. As for wine, they use bronze cup. For those who could not afford to have silver or bronze utensils, they would use clay potteries. Court officials usually use silver or gold water containers. On the occasion of national festivities, gold utensils are being use in a very special way. Decorative mats imported from Meng-jiv, China, are very popular for household uses. Sometimes, people use dried tiger’s, leopard’s, or stag’s skins as mats.

Recently, low dining tables have been introduced for household uses. People sleep on mats made of bamboo weaving. However, some people begin using beds imported from China. People use a piece of cloth to cover their foods to keep flies and other insects away. In the palace, they use silk or embroidery clothes which traders brought as gifts to the monarch. The Cambodians do not use mills to hash rice. They use mortars and pestles.

31) Carriages
To make a carriage, people must first find a pole with a perfect curve in the middle. On each end of the pole, gold or silver was embossed along with intricate carving. At about two feet from each end of the pole, a metal hinge is bolded into the wood to form a hook where a hammock-like carriage seat is attached to it. The rider would sit in that hammock, whereas two people are needed to carry it around. Along with the carriage, there is also a sort of portable tent which made from embroidered colorful clothes. Four people would carry that tent next to the carriage in order to provide shade for the person riding in the carriage. For long distance travel, people would ride on ox cart, on elephant, or horseback. Ox carts in this country look similar to those being used in neighboring states. However, people ride on elephants or horses without any saddle.

32) Boats
Large boats are made by putting planks of hardwood together. Cambodian boat builders do not use saw. They use axes and drills to cut and chisel logs into planks which wasted a lot of wood. Whenever they need to cut a piece of wood, they would drill holes through it. They also cut woods to build the house in the same fashion. Nails are being used to build boats. One type of boat called sinna is fashioned with a roof that is made by placing tree leaves called Leng in between small planks of beetlenut trunks. To keep water from seeping into the boats, tree resins mixed with fish fats and mortars were used to fill in the crevices between the wooden planks.

For small boats or dug-out canoes, large trees must be felled in order to build them. Once the logs are cut and chiseled into shapes, they would be heated with fires to make the woods soft so that the middle sections of the canoes could be stretched out and enlarged. This kind of boat is called Koy-lang which could ferry quite a number of people.

33) The Provinces
Cambodia has more than 90 provinces. Among them are: Cheng-pu, Chhanam, Pakang, Mung-leang, Poch-shi, Phov-muoy, Tihoung, Paklutpor, Naika-khang, Poch-shili, etc. There are many other provinces whose names I didn’t remember. Each province has a fortress, and a governor is appointed to rule over its populace.

34) The Villages
Every Cambodian village usually has a temple or a religious monument. Each village has a village chief called Bouy-si to oversee the daily affairs. Along major roadways, one would frequently find rest houses called Sinpak (Pteah Samnak) built next to them. Lately, because of war with Siam, some villages had been razed to the ground.

35) Gallbladders’ Collection
Some time ago, when the 8th month arrived, a group of people would go about in the middle of the night to kidnap and cut off gallbladders from people who were out and about at night. It is said that the gallbladders are collected as suzerainty to be sent to the king of Champa.

For those unfortunate souls who dared venturing out at night, they would be met with ropes tying around their heads and a knife stab under their right armpits where their gallbladders would be removed. Once enough gallbladders were collected, they would be sent off to Champa. On one occasion, a gallbladder belonging to a Chinese person was collected, and the addition of his gallbladder into the mixture caused spoilages to other gallbladders which rendered them useless. Ever since that incidence, no other Chinese gallbladders were ever taken again.

Afterward, the task of gallbladder’s collection was left with appointed officials who were stationed near the northern gate on the edge of the city.
(Excerpt from the Cambodian Royal Chronicle; To be Continued) 

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