THE KHMER MENTALITY


(Based on a 1997 translation of the original Khmer text, “Proloeng Khmer,” published in 1973)

Author: Professor Sar Sarun (deceased)
Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences
University of Phnom Penh
Editing author: Khmer Aphiwath Group
Publisher: Khmer Aphiwath Group, Melbourne, Australia
Translator: Kua Cham
Further Edited 2003 for the Khmer Institute by Vannareth Lamm and William Snyder

 

The First Root:             MATRIARCHY

A principal component of the Khmer mentality is matriarchy.  At all levels of organization within Khmer society, ranging from family life to national government, the accepted leader or decision-maker is a woman.

This pattern dates back to the beginnings of our recorded history.  During the Funan Period we had as our monarch a queen known variously as “Soma,” “Liev Yi,” or “Neang Neak.”  An Indian prince known as “Kaodinhya” (Indian name), “Hun Tien” (Chinese name), or “Preah Thong” (traditional Khmer name) conquered the nation of Funan and eventually married the Khmer queen.  During the wedding the prince followed the queen, and held on to the edge of her scarf so as not to be distracted by his surroundings.

Our Khmer ancestors carved this story into the walls of Angkor to remind us of the ancient origins of our matriarchy.  At present-day royal weddings, custom still requires the groom to hold the edge of the bride’s scarf.  For ordinary people as well, matriarchy is a basic principle of social organization.  This can be seen in the titles of important positions, in educational maxims, and in common social beliefs.

A)  Within the family, female titles normally precede male ones:

  • “mother and father”

  • “grandmother and grandfather”

  • “aunt and uncle” 

B)  In the armed forces, important titles include:

  • “mother of the army” (army chief)

  • “mother of the command” (commander)

  • “deputy mother of the command” (deputy commander)

C) Government titles include:

  • “mother of the commune” (commune leader)

  • “mother of the town” (mayor)

  • “mother of the district” (district councilor)

  • “mother of the block” (block representative for a group of ten households)

D) An educational maxim: បន្ត​ការ​អាន