(Asian and ASEAN Literature conference, Phuket Thailand)
By Mr. Lek Chumnor
Member of Khmer Writer Association
Literature is the record and reflection
of human society of the past with realistic evidence since writers and poets
are those who hold their pen jotting down their master pieces as testimony of
reality so we know social progress or decline by literature.
ascetical of literature writing with historical matter has been passed down
through time containing abundance knowledge of real life phenomenon in each
society specifically happening in each stage in development progress. Literature
plays important role in the way that readers understand daily life matters including
Custom and tradition, Geography, History etc,. For instance, if we reading Tum
Teav love story, we might im a picture of Khmer
people’s livelihood during Longvek period, while Phum Derechhan (Villages’
Beast/ภูมิดิรัจฉาน) tells readers how Khmer People, especially those in Krang Leav Village,
lived during under oppression of French Colonization. The New Sun on the Old
Land is a contemporary realistic novel which reflects actual events in
contexts of Cambodian society during hay day. Post-Colonial Government set
Political program for national election aligned with democratic principle and
governance. This novel skillfully reflects the society where politician seek
support by making promises only to end up with breaking it and oppresses the
poor supporters later on. Furthermore, in each period, there were many different
poets describing natural beauty introducing readers to love of nature so deeply
that they are willing to protect their environment. Besides, there are also
poets about natural law, social ethic and morality, and wisdom advice as well.
Comparing to neighboring countries,
their literature masterpieces consist of similar matters such as romances,
writing style, historical events, and historical folklore. They have similar
character’s names, plot, and set of time and place of the story which are
mostly influenced by writers’ social environment. For examples, the literature
of regional countries reflects actual events in their own nation as in Khun
Chhang Khun Phen which is one of Thai masterpieces also available in
Cambodian version. Besides, Southeast
Asian Regional literatures masterpiece such as Tum Teav (Cambodian), Khun
Chhang Khun Phen (Thai), and Thav Luor Neang Uor (Lao) are specifically
romances with consist of love, jealousy, social status stereotype, and always
socio-economic environment in that period. According to literature studies,
these stories were made by writers and people narrators telling about eternal
love as in English romance, Romeo and Juliet.
this essay, we do not aim to cover all stories in detail. We only observe that
beside each stories mentioned, we also focus on social context. The three
literatures above are not yet considered symbolic literature of each country at
any perspective but those classic fictions tell us each countries overview and
overall tradition. To what extent can we learn about each regional country’s
custom and tradition through their literature?
Understand neighborhood country in the region trough
literature is important in reflecting society and transition from one regime to
another especially when the society transform completely. Some writing did not
mention exact writer because those who live in certain period are being
oppressed and divided by social class. In Southeast Asian literature is
influenced by religion where countries with similar religion possess similar
literature with only different character and story setting.
social classes are essential to determine context of literature. By observing closely we can identify similarly
between Classic tales of XinXai(ซินไซ) of
Laos and Sang Selchey in Cambodia. They have similar story plot, peak
and solution while names of characters are almost the same. In addition, Maranak
Mata(มรณมารดา) in Cambodia is not far different
from Pla Buthong(ปลาบู่ทอง) of Thai except that Cambodian version has more detail
description. For another example of comparison, Khun Chhang Khun Phen in
Thai and Khmer version has much similarity regarding to story beginning and
name of characters.
above, those classic literature are crucial in explicit
the society, economy development, cultural tradition of each national more or
less according to their story ploy and setting.
literature does not only reflect social context of the writers but also
mentioned the external influences. Various Thai educational institutions also
mentioned study of Khmer modern literatures to understand about Cambodian
social context and history. Therefore, they are able to identify management and
leadership in each period such as in Phkar Sropon and Mala Doung
Chet by Mr. Nou Hach.
which was set in 1933 showed Cambodian society of
agriculture and small trading. The education system is in French design
following French style where high level student need to study in the city while
the poor remained uneducated. Girls are controlled strictly by their parent.
Most people appreciated and give value intelligent and education; however,
influence from the materialism such as wealth and fame are more attractive to
them. Beside materialism, the story also mentioned traditional values as people
followed strictly to the rule when they create family, prepare funeral, believe
in spirit and superstition.
by Mr. Nou Hach, the writer try to compensate readers by what he corrected what
he did in Previous novel, Phkar Srapon in which both character died. In
his new novel, the writer brings up women’s right to equal to Men in
nationalism. Such great masterpiece describes life of student who working hard
for education while having fond of music, art and tradition of Thai. Influenced by Thai culture, the protagonist
also speaks Thai at some point of storyline allowing him as Khmer student and
Thai woman create perfect romantic dialogue as fuel for the story plot moving
on and on. Beside romance, the writers also mention corrupted administration
and weak management at that time. He writes about a former Thai civil servant
who moves to Cambodia because being scape goat in his country, Thai during war
in Indochina. Passionate interracial love connected two loving souls from
different countries by understanding each other and values the morality in
humanity. They go beyond nationalism and social status to become true love
sharing the same destiny.
Death In Aranh (มรณภาพที่อารัญ) is a modern literature
about female victim worker in Thailand. There are several researchers critic
this story; however, this novel tells us a lot about life of immigrants, human
right violation of immigrants from their Thai boss that might lead to death.
Contrary to above novel, other young writers started to write a story about
work immigrant who is treated nicely in Thailand, jealousy of rich man against
house workers, strict rule by Thai Polices, and deportation of illegal
immigrants. Modern literature, The Destiny of
Flower outside the garden, (นิศัยดอกไม้นอกสวน) does not only show
Khmer society and Khmer immigration to Thailand but also protagonist modesty by
travel to married Khmer girl at her homeland and build their family followingcultures as well.
3.Folk Tales (Prose and Poet)
Folk tales is important in showing its
country origin’s Social classes, ideology, belief, tradition and custom of each
nation’s origin. However, in Southeast Asia, folk tales are much similar as the
example of Thun Chey (ศรีธนญชัย)
in Cambodia origin. Comparing to other folk tales originated in region, there
are similar story which contain similar story backbone, wisdom, characters.
However, there are also some differences according to geography, livelihood,
history, tradition and belief.
Thun Chey is widely known across
the country and also has seen in neighboring countries. The plot for Thun
Chey in Cambodia, Thai, Laos, are very similar in lengths and contents. Thun
Chey in Burma has similar story lines while story in Singapore, Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Philippine are somehow similar to Thai Version. The character of
protagonist is somehow indifferent where he is considered to be a Trickster.
How the story Thun Chey is varied among each country in
Story setting and story line:
The Story setting is similar, simply
about life of a young man till the end of the story except in Burma version
there are three wise men. Story start from peaceful environment and then the
problems arise making the readers willing to follow until everything is solved
Story line in Khmer version is similar to Thai, Lao,
Vietnam while Story line in Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and
Philippine has similar event but with different motif which is different from
Thai and Khmer version.
Literature play important roles not
only just worked of art but also to attract reader to follow and chilled with
the storyline which writer shows by reflecting evidence off reality according
to each social context. These crucial roles enable one nationality to
understand another. As mentioned above, we can see that the impact of
literature whether negative or positive is evaluated according to each culture,
tradition, and belief in each nation.
However, This important role is not
absolute or limited to writer talent because each masterpiece usually play its
role to show social context, time and place setting, and certain characters
including human, plants, or personalized objects. These are method to enable
people to understand deeply about a certain society and create their identity
in region through literature.
Hach, 1949 cited by Phamaha Sak
Phetprakhon (1997) Phka
Study of Khmer Society, Tradition and Faith, Master
Thesis, Department of Oriental Language, Silpakorn University.
Hach, (1979) Mala Doung Chet. Ministry of Education.
Mak (2005) Death in Aranh by Ankor Publiser
Chhan (2010) Destiny of Flower outside the garden, Nokorwat Publisher