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Ethnic minority music and dance

The ethnic Cham community of Cambodia no longer has an active tradition of performing arts. In contrast, several Chinese community associations in Cambodia have Lion Dance teams which perform during Lunar New Year and other Chinese festivals.1

Each of the hill tribes residing within Cambodian borders has its own unique music and dance traditions, which function together with the production of art objects to propitiate the spirits and celebrate the many social milestones in the lives of members of the community.

Musical instruments are crafted with great ingenuity from natural materials such as stone, wood, gourd, bamboo, animal horn and reed to accompany a wide range of solo and group songs and dances. In common with their cousins in southern Laos and the central highlands of Việt Nam, many groups utilise bronze drums as an integral part of their ritual ceremonies. The Jarai and Rhade (or Ede) in particular are renowned for their indigenous musical instruments, from stringed bronze gongs to the unique k’longput, made of bamboo tubes into which the players force air by clapping their hands.2

Many of Cambodia’s ethnic minority groups still maintain the services of shamans to intercede on their behalf with the world of the spirits. These perform special ceremonies and trance-dances to the accompaniment of ritual music.

Most of Cambodia’s hill tribes have their own dances, which originated largely as a celebration of everyday events and pastimes. Many of these have been adapted for theatre presentation over the past 50 years.

The best-known ethnic minority dances are the skorl (bamboo) dance of the Stieng, the warrior dance of the Kui, the buffalo sacrifice and hot (bamboo pipe) dances of the Jarai, plus a range of dances by Pearic peoples which include the wild ox dance, the cardamom picking dance, the sen ploy spirit possession dance and the Pursat peacock dance of the Pear, the ritual and3 drum dances of the Suoy and the port chor rung dance of the Samre.

The National Theatre Company of Cambodia Folkloric Dance Troupe includes a wide range of these highly-choreographed ethnic minority dances in its repertoire; however, those wishing to see the dances in their original form must travel to the villages.

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