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Khmer People

Khmer People. The stone inscriptions found in the Angkor’s region are mostly concerned with the religious related topics and rarely speak anything about the ordinary life of the local Khmer people. Only the stone carvings on the relief of Angkor Thom do portray some glimpses of the daily life in those days, however, most of our knowledge about the life of the Khmer laymen interestingly come from the Chinese Chronicle written by Zhou Daguan who was a Chinese ambassador of Yuan Dynasty.  He visited the Angkor Empire in 1296 and traveled widely inside the kingdom for a year before his return. Residing with the local people in various circumstances, Zhou Daguan described quite an accurate picture about the life and activities of the laymen and enable us to  project our imagination.2

Zhou Daguan wrote that both men and women are breast-naked and barefooted with a piece of cloth wrapping around their waists.  Ordinary females have no hair ornaments, but may wear golden rings on the fingers and bracelets on the arms.  Beautiful women are always sent into the court to serve the king or his royal family….All trades in Khmer are carried out by women. In the market place, there is no shop, and the female vendors sell their goods and products on the mats which are spread on the ground.  The space in the market is not free, and the rent must be paid to the officials….  the Khmer people do not have any table and chair in their house, and neither have the bowl nor the bucket.  They cook their food in the earthen pots which are used for boiling rice and for preparing soup. The ladle sticks are made up from the coconut shells and the soup is served in a tiny bowl made up from the woven leaves by which the soup does not leak from the bowl.

In addition to Zhou Daguan’s description, the relief carvings of Bayon add further views to the lively scene of the market.  Many people walk to and fro; two bulls can be seen to pull an oxcart, some people carry their goods on the head, the dignitary on a palanquin carried by the servants, and some people ride on the horses. In the carving, well-dressed foreigners can be seen to walk among the local people.

As the palaces and the houses in the Angkor Empire were mainly made up on unendurable materials such as woods and thatched leaves, they left no traces to the present day, except the various Khmer temples which were built from bricks and stones. During those days, we can imagine the Angkor’s capital such that the remarkable Khmer temples like Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom must be surrounded by the wooden houses, some with tiles on the roof while some only with thatch-leaves, and the people carried out their life in the market place.  However, all these scenes had long been faded away; only the temples and the memory remain.

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