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Ethnic minority crafts

Craft production has long been one of the most important functional aspects 1of material culture amongst Cambodia’s ethnic groups. Some ethnic crafts are of ritual origin, but most are produced for domestic use.

Handwoven textiles were once produced in a great variety of different traditional designs, colours and weaves in this region, but that skill has declined considerably with the increased availability of cheap mass-produced textiles, particularly amongst those communities living in close proximity to the majority Khmer population. However, in more remote regions both the Malayo-Polynesian speaking Jarai and Rhade (Ede) communities and the Mon-Khmer-speaking Bahnaric peoples (Brau, Lamam, Kaco, Tampuan, Pnong and Stieng) still create their traditional black costumes with elaborate red and gold brocade for festivals and other special occasions.

Cambodia’s Cham Muslim community still preserves a distinctively Malay style of dress which is worn to the mosque and on special occasions. This usually comprises a long tunic similar to the Malaysian baju panjang, worn in tandem with a silk sarong, also in Malay style. The distinctive Cham headdress known as the kiet is made from spotted cloth patterned with tiny three-dimensional peaks which are created by tying off the fabric tightly with a resist material.

2As traditional Khmer weaving skills declined amongst the majority Khmer community during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum period of 1955-1970, the Cham themselves became highly proficient in this ancient art and today many of the leading centres for Khmer weaving are still run by ethnic Cham. It is interesting to note that in neighbouring Thailand the late Jim Thompson’s efforts to pioneer the production and promotion of what is now Thai silk were originally initiated in a Cham settlement at Ban Khrua.

Basket weaving is prevalent in most hill tribe communities and includes the production of fish traps, mats and containers from all types of natural grasses. The ubiquitous bamboo basket known as the khapa is woven in various sizes with straps made from rattan and worn on the back to carry products to and from the market.

An important feature of both Mon-Khmer and Malay-Polynesian material culture is the creation of elaborately-carved funeral houses decorated with motifs and surrounded by wooden statues or totems, which play an important role in facilitating the passage of the dead to the spirit world. Those of the Jarai, Rhade, Brau, Pnong and Stieng peoples of north east Cambodia are particularly noteworthy.

However, woodcarving is more commonly associated with the production of everyday items, including traps (fishpots, pits, cages), spears, bows and arrows, cowbells, tobacco pipes, bowls, spoons, combs and children’s toys. Certain ethnic communities also preserve the art of creating musical instruments such as 4lutes, fiddles, flutes, reed trumpets, mouth organs and ideophones, which are manufactured from a variety of natural materials including gourd and bamboo.

Several ethnicities still utilise bronze gongs in their propitiation ceremonies, though sadly




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