Basic Info on Cambodia - History

Basic Info on Cambodia - History

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Cambodian music history

A distinction must be made between "music in Cambodia" and "Cambodian music," for the former embraces all ethnic groups within the national boundaries while the latter is limited to the majority, Cambodians. The northern provinces of Rattanakiri and Mundulkiri include hilly plateaus which are home to the Pnorng (Pnorng), an upland Mon-Khmer speaking group, while in the southwest along the Koulen and Cardamom ranges are found the Kuoy (Kui), Por, Samre, and other upland Mon-Khmer speakers. Their musical expression emphasizes gong ensembles, drum ensembles, and free-reed mouth organs with gourd windchests. In the west, around the great lake (Tonle Sap) live Cham, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other lowland minorities, but the extent to which these groups maintain their traditional musics is not largely known.

Cambodian music flourished in both court and village settings, some associated with specific functions, others with entertainment. In villages weddings are celebrated with kar music, communication with spirits is accompanied by arakk music, and entertainments include ayai repartee singing, chrieng chapey narrative, and yike and basakk theaters. At the court, dance, masked play, shadow play, and religious ceremonies are accompanied by the pinn peat ensemble and entertainment is provided by the mohori ensemble. Temples--urban or rural--often possess a pinn peat ensemble as well, but also a korng skor ensemble for funerals.

Historical Perspectives

Cambodian music reflects both geographical and historical relationships to neighboring cultures. The Indianization of Southeast Asia nearly 2,000 years ago included the area that became Cambodia and deeply influenced lowland peoples, especially the ruling elites. In later periods Chinese, French, Vietnamese, Cham came as well, all leaving their mark. The early ocean port near the Mekong delta known as Oc-Eo and called by later observers a "crossroad of the arts," was the most likely point of infusion. The Cambodians absorbed diverse influences from these peoples--language, concepts, writing systems, literature, religion, art styles, and musical instruments. But the Cambodians absorbed and adopted Indian, Chinese, European and other cultures to suit their own traditions and tastes, resulting in a distinct Cambodian Culture.

Travelers from India offered the Cambodians languages, writing systems, the concept of the god-king, literature, styles of art, especially sculpture, Hinduism and Buddhism and their rituals, musical instruments, and likely the concept of cyclical time. The Chinese introduced cuisine, and musical instruments, i.e., two-stringed fiddles and hammered dulcimers, and a theatrical style which the Cambodians adapted into basakk theater. Europeans, especially the French, brought Roman Catholicism, technology, and much musical influence, including notation, classical European music and instruments, and popular music which the Cambodians adapted into the phleng samai (modern music).

Overview of Historical Periods

Little is known of the pre-historical period, before the coming of Indian traders and missionaries. Upland Mon-Khmer speakers living in the mountains straddling Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, where Indianization made little penetration, likely preserve the oldest strata of Cambodian culture. Animistic rites require music. The bronze gong ensembles and dancers of the Pnorng in Rattanakiri and Mundulkiri provinces are associated with Kapp Krabey Phoeuk Sra (Buffalo Sacrifice Ritual). Other dances, such as the Kngaok Posatt (Peacock of Pursat) and Tunsong (Wild Ox) preserved by the Por of Pursat and Kampong Chhnaing provinces, likely derived from rituals. Other musical instruments, such as the sneng (free-reed buffalo horn) used on elephant hunting expeditions and the ploy (free-reed mouth organ) with gourd windchest are survivals from the earliest periods.

Indianization occurred during the Founan-Chenla period (first to ninth centuries), when the Cambodians juxtaposed prehistoric animistic rituals with those of newly adopted Hinduism, the co-existence of which continues among villagers to teis day. Court rituals were created. The blowing of a conch shell ( saing ) by a Brahmin priest created a propitious vibratory environment for divination, propitiation, or to signal the arrival of the sovereign.

Cambodian civilization reached its peak from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. The great temple city of Angkor marked the apex of Cambodian glory. In it stand gigantic masterpieces symbolizing the union of celestial and earthly beings. Carved on the walls of the great temples of Angkor and vicinity are the apsara (celestial dancer) figures along with musical instruments: the pinn (angular harp), korng vung (cicular frame gongs), skor yol (suspended barrel drum), chhing (small cymbals), and sralai (quadruple-reed shawm). These are believed to have developed into the present pinn peat ensemble used to accompany court dance, masked play, shadow play, and religious ceremonies. Among Cambodian ensembles, the pinn peat is the most significant of the powerful period of Angkor.

Harp bas-relief Drum bas-relief

In 1431, Angkor was looted by conquering Siamese armies, abandoned, and overrun by vegetation. The Cambodian king and his court musicians fled. Subsequently the capital was moved to Lungvek. Once again, in 1594 Lungvek was sacked by the Siamese. Little is known of this period, the most obscure in Cambodian history. This second eradication shocked and weakened the Cambodians. After this humiliation of the Cambodian empire, music and its functions were deeply affected, and a new style of melancholic and emotional music is said to have emerged.

The period from 1796 to 1859 was the renaisssance for Cambodian music. King Ang Duong , the greatest of the monarchs of this period, ascended the throne in 1841 in the capital of Oudong. Under his rule, Cambodian music and other art forms were revived and began to flourish again.

For the Cambodians, the twentieth century has been a period of conservation, preservation, and revival of traditional arts. The surviving art forms from the past were carefully conserved under the watchful eyes of many traditional masters. At the turn of the 20th century, there were some foreign influences on Cambodian arts, which resulted in new art forms. Chinese theater is now presented in a modified Cambodian form, called basakk . Islamic-influenced theater appears in modified form, called yike by the Cambodians. As in the ealy period, we see the modification of imported forms into Cambodian style. Costumes, languages, performing styles, decor, song and music of both the Chinese and Muslim have been greatly Cambodianized to suit local needs and tastes.

Pol Pot

Although Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge didn’t come to power until the mid-1970s, the roots of their takeover can be traced to the 1960s, when a communist insurgency first became active in Cambodia, which was then ruled by a monarch.

Throughout the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge operated as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the name the party used for Cambodia. Operating primarily in remote jungle and mountain areas in the northeast of the country, near its border with Vietnam, which at the time was embroiled in its own civil war, the Khmer Rouge did not have popular support across Cambodia, particularly in the cities, including the capital Phnom Penh.

However, after a 1970 military coup led to the ouster of Cambodia’s ruling monarch, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge decided to join forces with the deposed leader and form a political coalition. As the monarch had been popular among city-dwelling Cambodians, the Khmer Rouge began to glean more and more support.

For the next five years, a civil war between the right-leaning military, which had led the coup, and those supporting the alliance of Prince Norodom and the Khmer Rouge raged in Cambodia. Eventually, the Khmer Rouge side seized the advantage in the conflict, after gaining control of increasing amounts of territory in the Cambodian countryside.

In 1975, Khmer Rouge fighters invaded Phnom Penh and took over the city. With the capital in its grasp, the Khmer Rouge had won the civil war and, thus, ruled the country.

Notably, the Khmer Rouge opted not to restore power to Prince Norodom, but instead handed power to the leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot. Prince Norodom was forced to live in exile.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Phnom Penh, the capital and the only major city, is relatively small, but rapidly increasing in population. At the time of the 1998 census, it was 997,986. A lack of political and economic integration with rural Cambodia and peasant resentment of the urban population probably influenced the decision of the DK government in 1975 to evacuate the entire urban population to the countryside. Since 1979, Phnom Penh has experienced only a gradual rebuilding. Architecturally, the city is a mixture of pre-1975 French colonial, Chinese, and modernist styles alongside the simple socialist styles of the 1980s, garish new buildings, and shanty towns.

The Royal Palace compound and the nearby National Museum lie on Phnom Penh's park-lined central riverfront and form a prominent cultural focal point of the country and city. Norodom Boulevard, lined with embassies, government buildings, and villas, runs between Independence Monument and the Wat Phnom temple. Several key markets, Buddhist temples, and luxury hotels serve as major landmarks. City streets are full of people, evoking a sense of social flux with no clear boundaries. Communication is easy and natural.

Provincial capitals have compounds of government buildings, large central markets in pre-1975 modern buildings, and several Buddhist temples. At the district and subdistrict levels, there are more modest temples, makeshift markets, and simple school buildings. Distinctions between public and private buildings tend to be free-flowing.

Hun Sen re-elected

2004 - After nearly a year of political deadlock, Prime Minister Hun Sen is re-elected after CPP strikes a deal with the royalist Funcinpec party. Parliament ratifies kingdom's entry into World Trade Organisation (WTO). King Sihanouk abdicates and is succeeded by his son Norodom Sihamoni.

2005 February - Opposition leader Sam Rainsy goes abroad after parliament strips him of immunity from prosecution, leaving him open to defamation charges brought by the ruling coalition.

2005 April - Tribunal to try Khmer Rouge leaders gets green light from UN after years of debate about funding.

2005 December - Rainsy is convicted in absentia of defaming Hun Sen and is sentenced to 18 months in prison

2006 February - Rainsy receives a royal pardon and returns home.

2006 May - Parliament votes to abolish prison terms for defamation.

2006 July - Ta Mok, one of the top leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, dies aged 80.

2006 November - Funcinpec party, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, drops Prince Norodom Ranariddh as its leader.

The People of Cambodia

Type of Government: multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy

Languages Spoken: Khmer (official) 95%, French, English

Independence: 9 November 1953 (from France)

National Holiday: Independence Day, 9 November (1953)

Nationality: Cambodian(s)

Religions: Theravada Buddhist 95%, other 5%

National Symbol: Angkor Wat temple kouprey (wild ox)

National Anthem or Song: Nokoreach (Royal Kingdom)

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Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire that extended over much of Southeast Asia and reached its zenith between the 10th and 13th centuries. Attacks by the Thai and Cham (from present-day Vietnam) weakened the empire, ushering in a long period of decline. The king placed the country under French protection in 1863, and it became part of French Indochina in 1887. Following Japanese occupation in World War II, Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953. In April 1975, after a seven-year struggle, communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh and evacuated all cities and towns. At least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, forced hardships, or starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime under POL POT. A December 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside, began a 10-year Vietnamese occupation, and touched off 20 years of civil war.

The 1991 Paris Peace Accords mandated democratic elections and a cease-fire, which was not fully respected by the Khmer Rouge. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy under a coalition government. Factional fighting in 1997 ended the first coalition government, but a second round of national elections in 1998 led to the formation of another coalition government and renewed political stability. The remaining elements of the Khmer Rouge surrendered in early 1999. Some of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders were tried for crimes against humanity by a hybrid UN-Cambodian tribunal supported by international assistance. In 2018, the tribunal heard its final cases, but it remains in operation to hear appeals. Elections in July 2003 were relatively peaceful, but it took one year of negotiations between contending political parties before a coalition government was formed. In October 2004, King Norodom SIHANOUK abdicated the throne and his son, Prince Norodom SIHAMONI, was selected to succeed him. Local (Commune Council) elections were held in Cambodia in 2012, with little of the violence that preceded prior elections. National elections in July 2013 were disputed, with the opposition - the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) - boycotting the National Assembly. The political impasse was ended nearly a year later, with the CNRP agreeing to enter parliament in exchange for commitments by the ruling Cambodian People&rsquos Party (CPP) to electoral and legislative reforms. The CNRP made further gains in local commune elections in June 2017, accelerating sitting Prime Minister Hun SEN&rsquos efforts to marginalize the CNRP before national elections in 2018. Hun Sen arrested CNRP President Kem SOKHA in September 2017. The Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017 and banned its leaders from participating in politics for at least five years. The CNRP&rsquos seats in the National Assembly were redistributed to smaller, less influential opposition parties, while all of the CNRP&rsquos 5,007 seats in the commune councils throughout the country were reallocated to the CPP. With the CNRP banned, the CPP swept the 2018 national elections, winning all 125 National Assembly seats and effectively turning the country into a one-party state.

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Basic Info on Cambodia - History

Cambodia General Information

181,035 square kilometers. It is bordered to the North by Thailand and Laos, to the East and the South by Vietnam, and to the South and West by the Gulf of Siam and Thailand.

Total population is 12 million. Khmer people account for about 90% of citizens. Ethnic group is 10%.

Phnom Penh, 290 square kilometers, is considered as the center of Industry, Administration, Commerce and Tourism. The population is over 1 million.

The average temperature is 27oC. There are two seasons, the monsoon season from May to October, and dry season from November to April. December to January is the coolest period.

The official religion is Theravada Buddhism. Ninety percent of Khmers follow this religion. The country also has minority religions such as Islam, Christianity.

The official language is Khmer. It is part of the Mon-Khmer family. English has gained popularity. The older people speak French.

The Riel. Denominations are Riel 100,000 50,000 20,000 10,000 5,000 2,000 1,000 500 200 100 50. Foreign currencies can be easily changed at hotels, airports, markets and banks.

Phone cards are available throughout Phnom Penh Capital and the cards can be purchased at many outlets. There are also several mobile phone systems.

The visa on arrival valid for a thirty-day stay is issued to each tourist at a cost of US $20 and to each businessman at a cost of US $25 at the Phnom Penh International Airport, Siem Reap Airport, and international border checkpoints. Visas can be obtained at Royal Cambodian Embassies or Consulates in foreign countries. Indeed, the free visa (K) is issued to the Cambodian who live overseas. The visa can be extended at the Immigration Department in Phnom Penh City.

There are many kinds of transport in Phnom Penh. The favored mode of transportation is still by taxi, car rental, bus, motorbike Cyclo.
The Cyclo (maximum US $3 per hour) provides visits with a way to view the city at leisurely place. Rail transport is available. Travel by rail is only possible to reach Battambang province and Shianoukville.

There are eight provincial airports throughout the country. River travel is becoming popular, along the Tonle Sap, Tonle Bassak, and Mekong River. Travel to some parts of Cambodia, tourists are advised to contact the Ministry of Tourism, Provincial Tourism offices at the information counters in Phnom Penh International and Siem Reap Airports.

Visitors enter Cambodia through Phnom Penh International Airport and Siem Reap Airport. If previous booking is made, arrangements will be made for an airport pick-up. If any traveler makes their own way to the city, the taxi will take 15 minutes to reach Phnom Penh City from Phnom Penh International Airport at a cost of US $7 and 10 minutes to reach Siem Reap City from Siem Reap Airport at a cost US $5.

Rice and Fish, together with a tempting array of herbs, sauces and spices are typical Khmer cuisine. Curries and soups with beef, port, poultry and seafood can be bought from any street vendor at a normal charge. There is no problem in Phnom Penh. All the world’s main cuisine are found here in more than 100 restaurants such as European, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean and Vietnamese

Government offices are opened from 07:30am to 11:30am and resume from 02:00pm to 05:00pm, Monday to Friday.

Private offices are usually opened for business from 07:00am to 08:00pm everyday. Banks are opened fro 08:00am to 03:00pm, Monday to Friday, and Saturday from 08:00am to 12:00 noon. It is closed on Sunday and public holidays. Markets are daily opened from the early morning to the evening.

It plays an important part in the lives of the people, and accompanies all of the dances, rituals and ceremonies.

More than 200 supervised hotels handle the yearly influx of more than one million visitors from all continents. Accommodation price is moderate, but those seeking luxury will find five star deluxe hotels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.


Government-licensed tourist guides are available to help visitors pay a trip. These multi-linguistic guides accompany organized bus tours, or the guide or the visitor can hire car on an individual basis with the driver. Visitors are welcomed by more than 100 travel agencies and offered guides speaking English, French, Japanese, German, Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese.

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Watch the video: Angkor Wat. The Macro-City of Cambodia. History Documentary