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Culture & Identity of Cambodia

Introduction

Cambodian Culture - Bread Salesman
Bread Salesman

Life in Cambodia is very rural and simple as the daily way of life seems to focus on family, community, and work, which for many is hard labor in the muddy fields of the country.

Although most tourists only encounter the urban Cambodia in Siem Reap or another city, 80% of the country's population is rural and over half of the total population works in agriculture. For these people the way of life is dictated by the sun, weather, and seasons. Life is reliant on the lands and what mother nature offers must be taken whenever it is available. This often means during busy times, days, and seasons farming is a family affair since all the help available is needed and at other times life moves more slowly. No matter the season though, this lifestyle is focused on family and community.

For the urban dwellers life can have a more regular pattern as many offices are open from about 8:00 am to about 5:00 pm. However, even in cities the daily schedule can vary greatly depending on a person's occupation. This varied schedule is especially true in the case of tourist workers. Tourists, especially in Siem Reap, demand evening restaurant hours, late bar times, and numerous other forms of entertainment that strongly influence the daily schedule of the people, as many are willing to adjust their schedule for an opportunity to make money, since wages in Cambodia are very low.

It becomes apparent rather quickly that for many people the main means of transportation is via bike or small motorbike, whether that is a child going to school, an adult off to work, or a farmer making his way to a different field. Also, due to the mid-day heat, many schools get out at about noon and many jobs take off a couple hours during the hottest hours of the day. This often means school and working hours begin very early and working hours can often times go well into the evening, as can private school lessons.

Free time in Cambodia is often spent with family as few people make enough money to have an excessive amount of discretionary income. This means evenings, weekends, and time off of work are often spent in the home with family, out in the community at a market, or playing sports with friends from school.

Identity

The people of Cambodia generally identify as Khmers, which is an identity based upon ethnicity, language, and religion above all else. The ethnic Khmers are generally Buddhist, but many of these people today struggle to define this identity in more detail as their past has been one that many people feel ashamed of as they seek a new path in the future. Due to past of violence, takeovers, and civil wars, many people are attempting to redefine Khmer to exclude politics and magnify culture, but there is no consensus on this direction or even what aspects of the culture should be defined. Oddly, most ethnic minorities in the country actual shift the other direction and identify as Khmers as they know identifying as Khmer will get them more opportunities in the country, even if they are not ethnic Khmers; this is leading to a slow loss of minority languages and cultures in Cambodia. So, generally speaking, most people identify as being "Khmer," but how this term is defined differs wildly from individual to individual or from group to group.

This page was last updated: November, 2013