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The Khmer

The Khmer have about 1,000,000 inhabitants living in the provinces of Soc Trang, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, Can Tho, Kien Giang and An Giang – in south Vietnam . They are also called the Viet of Mien origin and Khmer Krom.

Being one of the ethnic groups among the community of nationalities in Vietnam, the Khmer have lived in the Mekong River delta for a long time. Though they preserve their own language and writings, the Khmer have shared with other nationalities a national culture and history of the defence and construction of the homeland. The Khmer live alternatively with the Kinh and Hoa in scrocs (villages) and phums or aps (hamlets). The houses are simply built with mainly thatched but a few with tiled roofs, and doors facing the east. The back roof is often longer than the front. The Khmer used to build the houses by measures of odd numbers such as 5 or 7 metres, and so on.

The Khmer have a long tradition in wet-rice cultivation. They choose seeds appropriate to the soil. Khmer peasants are experts in irrigation techniques and know how to take advantage of tides to clean alum soil and reform the land. Watermelons are grown in some places. Animal husbandry is still associated with agriculture, oxen and buffaloes are kept as dragging; chicken, ducks and fish supplement the family diet. Handicrafts include weaving, pottery and sugar-making from thot not trees which contain a sweet liquid that can be refined into sugar.

The Khmer in south Vietnam are influenced by three religious forms: traditional beliefs, Brahmanism and Hinayana Buddhism. They venerate Buddha. Each hamlet has a pagoda which is the centre of cultural activity of the people. The pagoda is looked after by many monks (called Mr. Luc) led by a high-ranking monk. Before reaching adulthood, the Khmer young people often come to study and improve their virtue and knowledge at the pagodas. There are now more than 400 pagodas in south Vietnam. The monks often teach the people how to use Khmer writings and exchange experiences in production.

The Khmer in south Vietnam preserve many customs and practises. Khmer culture and arts are very unique. In the large pagodas there are various teams of drum-men, trumpets-players and ghe ngo, a kind of small boat used for boat-racing. Every year the Khmer organise many traditional and ceremonies, the major ones being Chol Chnam Thmay (New Year festival), Buddha's birthday, don ta (forgive the crimes of the dead), Ooc bom booc (moon worship), and so on.

Nhan dan - (29/10/2003)

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