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Are traditional games being lost to the young generation?

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Students play a traditional Khmer game during break time. Photo Supplied

The arrival of New Year means that young people will have lots of time to play games. Known as “Cambodian popular games”, the games provide a bit of fun and relief from work during the holiday period. They also allow the players to get exercise.

Rann Sothea, 23, of Kandal province plays a classic Cambodian game with his friends called Angkunh. Played with two teams, one team “stands Angkunh” while the other team tries to knock down the standing Angkunh. After the Angkunh is taken down, it is the other team’s turn to take down the opposing Angkunh.

Angkunh, like many other Khmer games, was once very popular. While the game is still played throughout the country, An Chheaheng, deputy director at the Department of Performing Arts, says that the rules of the old games have changed over the years and are now much simpler.

Chheaheng said that young people only play the easy parts of classic Cambodian games. Although he is glad that young Cambodians take interest in the old games, he is concerned that they are not preserving the original rules.

“It is a good idea that Cambodian youth play popular Cambodian games. None-theless, they should follow the original rules rather than only play the easy parts of these games. If they do not follow them, the original rules will be lost.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Another plays throwing Angkunh. Photo Supplied

The rules for classic games are defined in the Cambodian Popular Games book, which was published in 1964. With Angkunh, the game is traditionally divided into six different moves: throwing the Angkunh from a standing position; hitting with fingers on the knees; hitting with fingers on the ground; rolling from a standing position; putting the Angkunh on the insteps of the feet and then throwing it; and throwing as punishment. If a player does not follow the steps properly, he or she will be punished in different ways, with blindfolding being a common punishment.

When the game is finished, the winners hit the knees of the losing team. While the game’s rules today are similar to the original, they lack the same complexity.

Angkunh is not the only traditional popular Cambodia game that has changed throughout the years. Although the games Chhoul Chhoung and Leak Korn Sen involve the hard hitting of opponents, for instance, young players of the game now barely tap their opponents.

Phal Saravuth, deputy director of the Fine Arts School, said that players might not be comfortable hitting the other team because they are worried they may cause an argument.

Another game known as Sey Peng was once played with the soles of the feet, but is today played with the palms, knees, elbows or insteps of the feet. And instead of using a traditional sey ball, which is made from rattan, it is common for the game to be played with a football.

The changes in rules for these games is not entirely bad. It provides evidence that Cambodian culture is developing. However, the traditional games will be lost when Cambodian young people care less over the original rules. The next generation may never know how Cambodia’s traditional popular games were once played.

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