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Mon - Khmer Ethnic Group




Other names are Cur, Cul, Cu, Tho, Vietnamese with Mien ancestors, Khmer K'rom.

They are the ethnic group that has the largest population among all the Mon- Khmer speaking ethnic groups. The Khmer speak a language belonging to the Mon-Khmer language group.
Before the 17th century, the Khmer and their culture dominated the Mekong delta. The Khmer are wet-rice cultivators who use the plough. In their near-perfect and efficient agricultural tool set, there are unique tools that are well suited to the geography and ecology of southern Vietnam. For example, instead of the plough, the Khmer use something called phang, which is better for cultivating soil that has salt and alum. There is a kind of scythe called pok to gather grass, a stick called so chal which is the reminder of the pointed digging stick used in the old days to make holes in the ground when transplanting the young rice plants. And finally, a reaping scythe-like tool, called kan dieu to cut rice plants.
The Khmer are very good at fishing, mat and textile weaving, knitting, making sugar from sugar palm-tree, and making pottery. The technique of pottery making is simple: the main tools are a stone (kleng), and a shaping table (cho). The Khmer don't use a turning wheel or a firing kiln. Khmer pottery wares are generally plain, with no color, and baked in low temperature, from 600C to 800C degrees. Potters produce mainly household wares; most popular are ovens (ca rong), and cooking pots (ca om). These are fondly used by the Vietnamese and Hoa people of the Mekong delta region.
The Khmer plant more than 150 different varieties of rice. They eat both regular and sticky rice. Daily foods also include shrimp, small fish, frogs, and vegetable. They process many kind of sauces: on pu sauce made from small shrimps, po inh sauce made from a kind of small fish, but the most famous one is a sauce made from a combination several kind of fish, small shrimps, rice flour, and salt. The Khmer love sour (tamarind), and spicy (pepper, garlic, vervain, hot pepper, carry) food.
Before, both man and women wore wrapped skirts made from silk which they wove themselves. Today, young people like to wear trousers and shirts. Middle- aged and older people often like to wear loose-fitting black blouses and pants. Wealthy men sometimes wears loose- fitting white clothes, with a bandanna wrapped around their heads, or thrown over the shoulder. Only in weddings do young people wear traditional clothes. The groom wears a wrapped skirt with a red blouse that has standings collar and a line of buttons on the breast. On his left shoulder hung a long white scarf (kal xing) and a wedding knife (kam pach); its symbol is to, protect the bride. The bride wears a purple or pink skirt (xam pot), a long red blouse, with traditional wedding veil and hat. The Khmer's long dress for women is very close to that of the Cham: shirt without lap, bigger and longer, reaching below the knees, has a short, is cut a bit in the front enough to pull over the body, has tight sleeves, and is covered (from the underarm to the shirt's fringe) with four extra long pieces of cloth on both sides.
The Khmer live on the Mekong delta, especially around those districts of southwest Vietnam. Moreover, they centralize around these three areas; on the delta, along the coast, and on the southwest mountainous area near the Cambodia border. Before, the Khmer live on house-on-stills. Now, however, they live in houses built on the ground, with a simple straw roof and thatch wall.
The Khmer use a cart and wagon on the road and on dry fields, and to transport agricultural products during harvest. Since they live in an environment filled with ditches and small canals, the Khmer use many*kind of boats: speed boat, sampan, and several local kinds of boats. However, a special kind of sampan called ngo (tuoc muaj, 30 meters-long, made by hopea wood, has from 30 to 40 rowers. On the bow and side of this sampan, there are pictures of the sea eagle, elephant, lion, and waves. This ngo sampan is used only on the occasion of greeting-the-moon ceremony, ok ang bok (on the October of the Lunar calendar). Otherwise, it is kept in temple like a sacred object.
The Khmer have small monogamous families, and are economically independent. However, in some families, 3 to 4 generations live together. There are still remnants of matriarchy in the Khmer society. The Khmer have many different surnames.
There are surnames from the Nguyen dynasty like Danh, Kien, Kim, Son, Thach. There are surnames from the Vietnamese and Hoa (ethnic Chinese) like Tran, Nguyen, Duong, Truong, Ma, Li, ect. There are also purely Khmer last names such as U, Khan, Khum. Adultery, polygamy, incest, and divorce seldom happen, and are strict taboos.
Parents arrange their children's marriage; though the young couple are involved in the discussion. Marriage has to go through 3 steps: match-making, proposing and engagement, and finally the wedding, which is celebrated at the bride's house. When all of this is done, the groom has to stay with the bride's family for some period. After couple of years, or when they have children, the young couple will live on their own, but still reside with the wife's family.
The custom of cremation has been with the Khmer for quite some time. After cremating a dead person, the ash is kept in a tower called Pi chet day, which is built next to the main room of a temple.

There are two main holidays in a year. The Chuon Chnam Thmay Festival is from the 1st to the 3rd day of "Chet" month (according to Buddhist calendar), approximately April in the western calendar. Greeting- the-moon Festival (Ok ang bok) is on the middle of Oct (lunar calendar). There is boat race between different villages on this occasion.
The Khmer worship Buddha, and their ancestors. There are also agricultural rituals, such as worshiping the field's God (Neak Ta xie), calling the rice's spirit (Ok Ang Leok), and the Moon (Ok Ang bok).
When boys are old enough, their parents send them into pagodas to be monks for three to five years. There, they will study Buddhist sutras and learn Khmer language. Only after fulfilling this requirement, could they be secularized and get marriage.
The Khmer have a treasure house of folklore literature, such as mythology, legends, fairy tales, fables, and funny stories. Of particular interest is a traditional theatre of Du ke, and Di ke: musicals influence from Indian and Southeast Asian traditions. The art and architecture of pagodas and towers are considered the Khmer's most special cultural trait. In the Therevada pagoda, the main statue of Shakyamuni Buddha is placed in the centre, there are also other statues of human and animal Gods surrounding him. These are remnants of Brahmanism and folklore religions.
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