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Cambodia - A Country With Deep Roots
Cambodia is not one of the countries you readily think of. In fact, sadly, many might not even know that it still exists today. But this old and rich culture is still alive and flourishing today despite seemingly a multitude of attempts to wipe it out.
Deep, Strong Roots
If you dated a culture based on when it was first found in recorded history, Cambodia started to exist around 1 A.D. when China first reported it. But if you date it based on archeology, you must go many, many centuries back to around 4000 B.C.
The history of Cambodia is long and very intricate. And I will leave the official website of Cambodia tourism to help explain it. But the height of the culture occurred under the Angkor Empire in the 10th through 13th centuries. It was during this time that the expansion of the empire included current day Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and the Malay Peninsula.
During the 16th century, Cambodia entered a dark period in which very little is recorded and much of the culture was lost or destroyed. A few areas managed to keep many of the old traditions alive, but the overall culture of the country was lost. Thailand and Vietnam began to fight over the land. The end result was almost a total disappearance of the Cambodian heritage. In an effort to protect the country, the king of Cambodia appealed to France who was establishing their Indonesia Empire. France was to take over official control while leaving the culture to resurge and the monarchy in its place. This agreement lasted from 1863 to 1953 when Cambodia obtained their independence peacefully by King Kihanouk.
Cambodia stayed relatively quiet while growing during this stage. But the direction they were growing would change their entire future. Millions of lives would be changed.
During the Vietnam war, the political stance of the country became evident throughout the world. The Cambodians allowed the communists to sit up camps in their country. As a result, President Nixon of the United States began bombing the camps and the areas surrounding it.
During this time, the current leaders, Sihanouk as the prime minister, were disposed of and forced into exile in China. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge party took control of the government and announced Pol Pot as their leader. Pol Pot was a mysterious leader. He stayed in seclusion and kept his true identity secret. It eventually came out that his real name was Saloth Sar. Once taking power, the mood of the country drastically changed. The desire was to create a country mainly of hard working agricultural peasants. Therefore, if you lived in the city and made that your home you were evil. Urban dwellers were harassed and tortured with many being put to death. The hatred was also turned to any who lived in the country that were not of Khmer descent which included mainly anyone of Chinese and North Korean dissent. By the end of his four year reign, it is estimated that Pol Pot had at least 1.7 million of his own countrymen murdered. Compared to Hitler and Stalin this might seem a small amount, but the degree of horror that rampaged through this ancient country where murder was considered the norm is just as bad.
Despite the end of Pol Pot’s reign, the country was not allowed to have peace. Warring continued inside and outside the country as neighboring countries saw this as an opportunity to take more land and expand their own empires.
In 1991, the United Nations stepped in. The warring ceased and in 1993 a new constitution was created which restored the monarchy while keeping a prime minister. The new king was a familiar face, Sihanouk, who had been disposed of years before. Due to the fact that the country seemed to return to many of its troubled times, the new country was not recognized by most of the world and it lost its seat at the Untied Nations.
1997 brought a violent coup with Ung Huot taking over. The new government was revealed in 1999 which involved a senate, the monarchy, and a prime minister. In 1998 part of Cambodia’s past could be put to rest as Pol Pot took his last breath.
The country of Cambodia is not enormous yet it is nothing to sneeze at either. It is just over 181,000 square kilometers which is about the size of Oklahoma. It is located on the tropical Indochina Peninsula with a population of around 14 million. The majority can claim Khmer descent while only 5% of the population is descended from Chinese and Vietnamese cultures.
As stated when going over its history, Cambodia is rich in culture. Its architecture, dance, and music tells much of the countries histories and the heart of its people. Much of its dance is used to tell stories such as the epic poem of Rama. Since the 18th centuries it has been performed by the Royal Ballet at the palace. If you are familiar with Indian court dances, you will find much of the same style in Cambodian dance. That is because of the earlier culture was greatly influenced by the Indian empire and the Buddhist religion which is the official language of the country.
Classical literature is considered all composed between the 16th and 19th century. It was mainly kept alive through oral storytellers who memorized the epics and performed them in the many towns. Much of the classics were lost and the storytellers killed through the various conflicts over the years. It was in the mid-1900’s that a resurgence of many Cambodians, Khmers, began to look into their culture and try to keep their history in art and literature alive. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the first novels were composed when the French introduced printing methods.
The Cambodian music is beautifully played mainly by stringed instruments. It varies based on geographical location and the mini-cultures within the country. Its art is more reflective of its religion and mainly consists of Buddhist images which are largely found in its architecture. Since many of its stories are of myths and legends, European explorers assumed that all were tall-tales. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that French explorers uncovered much of the history of Cambodia when it found the “lost” city of Angkor. Most legends were found to have a grain of truth and the depth of the Khmer’s roots came to light.
Cambodia is a country that is well established in history. Much of it is not known to us and might be known, but despite all the opposition to the continuation of its existence, it remains strong. It might not be a world power, but it can with pride say that it was there before of the world powers were ever thought of.
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