The traditional rite of passage for young Khmer women, Chol Mlop, is losing its place in the modern world, but one Cambodian researcher hopes to change that
Sun Chandeb has spend the past five years researching Chol Mlop, the traditional right of passage for young girls in Cambodia.
IN KHMER culture, each
important stage of the life cycle such as birth, ordination, marriage
and death are celebrated with a ceremony, or a "rite of passage".
little known and often misunderstood ceremony of Chol Mlop, which is
the traditional rite of passage for young girls when they reach
puberty, is on the verge of disappearance in Cambodia, says one
researcher who wants to see it remain alive in the interest of
preserving Khmer traditions.
Chol Mlop, literally meaning "entering
the shade", is a Khmer ceremony for a girl marking her first menstrual
period. After the girl is secluded in the "shade" for a specified
period of time, she is socially accepted as a nubile young woman and
therefore considered ready for marriage.
Sun Chandeb, director of
the Department of Basic Study at the Royal University of Fine Arts, has
been researching the practice of Chol Mlop since 2004, when he
received a conservation grant worth US$1,000 from Ford Motor Co.
i really want khmer people to carry on the tradition of chol mlop.”
He says that while many would like to see the traditional version of Chol
Mlop continue in Cambodia, the restrictive nature of the ceremony and
the practicalities of modern life make this impossible.
throughout Chol Mlop, a Cambodian girl was secluded in a darkened,
curtained-off part of the house. She was forbidden to look at men and
only allowed to go outside after dark.
A typical seclusion lasted
anywhere from several months to a year, during which the girl learned
various skills that she was supposed to utilise as a wife later in life.
Chandeb says that the sacrifices of time and mobility during Chol Mlop
may explain why the tradition has become unpopular in modern Cambodia.
Mlop] is gradually disappearing from our society because Cambodian
people are now more occupied with working and earning money to support
themselves," he said.
"They just don't have time to follow traditional rituals anymore."
the origins of the tradition are unclear, Sun Chandeb says that kinship
is one of the backbones of Cambodian society and that marriage-related
activities, including seeking suitable partners, have long been one of
the central concerns in Cambodia.
While men could choose between marriage and monkhood, women had only the option of building family.
According to Sun Chandeb, this explains the strong position Chol Mlop once had in Cambodia.
Chol Mlop ceased under the Khmer Rouge, its core principle has survived
through the practice of chaperoning until a girl gets married.
Sun Chandeb says that Chol Mlop remains persistent in some regions of
the countryside, where urban and foreign influences remain minimal.
people think Chol Mlop no longer exists. I would disagree, because if
this traditional ceremony was completely lost, I could not do research
and write a book about it. People still practice [Chol Mlop], but only
in remote areas. That's why it is not popularly known," he said.
Persistence of tradition
Sun Chandeb says that today Chol Mlop is usually only practiced for one day to fit in with modern lifestyle.
"This adjustment is an indication that traditions evolve along with society," he said.
Sun Chandeb strongly believes that some people still choose to conduct
Chol Mlop because of their commitment to preserving traditions.
"Some families still [follow Chol Mlop rites] because they respect and follow their ancestors' steps," he said.
will happen if people stop this ceremony. No one forces it upon them.
It is their right, and I think they don't want to stop, but they can
hardly support such activity nowadays," he added.
Nonetheless, support for the preservation of this tradition remains evident.
Sun Chandeb's lecture last week on the topic of Chol Mlop was well-attended, particularly by the young crowd.
Sun Chandeb hopes that through his work, interest in Chol Mlop will
become more widespread and eventually result in the preservation of
this often-misunderstood tradition.
"I usually tell my students and
people to pay attention and take care of our traditions. If we don't
take preservation measures, traditions will be lost forever and that is
very regretful for a nation," he said. "I really want Khmer people to
carry on the tradition of Chol Mlop.
Sun Chandeb has recently
written a book on the topic of Chol Mlop, titled Damneur Chivit, or The
Path of Life, focusing on the provinces of Koh Kong, Kampong Cham and