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A woman plays vai kaom, in which participants hit a pot with a stick. Photo supplied

New Year fest celebrates village roots

The fourth edition of the Bonn Phum festival features an expanded set of activities, public transportation options and the opportunity for city dwellers to get a taste of rural life

A three-day showcase of traditional Khmer arts and culture kicks off today just south of Takhmau with the 4th annual Bonn Phum festival, which organisers hope will continue to promote an appreciation for Cambodian culture and give residents a taste of a Khmer New Year village celebration.

Held at the Toul Krasang pagoda, the festival will start with Buddhist prayers in the morning before moving to traditional new year games throughout the day and folk dance and art in the afternoon. Each day will be capped off by an evening performance starting around 6:30pm.

There will also be surprise “pop-up performances” by artists throughout, says festival director Lomorpich Rithy, who co-founded Bonn Phum with her sister Lomorkesor, as well as Oum Chantevy and Bo Sakalkitya. The quartet have mobilised the resources of volunteers and the membership of the youth arts collective Plerng Kob each year with increasing success. This year they have an army of 150 volunteers.

“We just want to make Bonn Phum happen as a platform where everyone is invited and gathered to celebrate the arts and culture of Cambodia,” she says.

Food will also be available for purchase, with some 100 stalls offering up everything from drinks to dessert. Attendees should expect more than just fried rice or noodles, Rithy says.

“Mainly we focus on the village food so you can enjoy the taste of Cambodia,” she says.

One new addition to this year’s festival is shared transportation. Festival-goers are encouraged to not drive themselves individually, [and] buses, taxis or tuk-tuks will be arranged at Olympic Stadium to ferry people to the location, which is about 20 kilometres south of Phnom Penh.

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Chapey performers during last year’s Bonn Phum festival. Photo supplied

The highlight of the weekend’s events will be in the evenings. On Sunday, Sovannaphum and Cambodian Living Arts present a rooster-themed performance mixing sbek thom, or shadow puppetry and Lakhon Khol, or masked dance, to match this year’s zodiac animal. And on Saturday the Sophiline Arts Ensemble will dance the Ream Eyso Munikekala, which Rithy describes as a performance done before the harvest “to call for rain and good luck”.

“The main actress is a woman, [and] in the Cambodian context you don’t usually have a female lead,” Rithy explains.

In tonight’s headlining performance, the Yike Amatak group will premiere their interpretation of the story of Kakei in the musical theatre form known as Lakhon Yike. The performance will include an element of social commentary, says Yike Amatak coordinator Yon Sokhorn.

The story revolves around a beautiful woman named Kakei who is abducted and coerced into sex by a king and then a giant. Because of this, the name has become something of a slur in Khmer language to shame women.

“People usually think of her as a bad lady because she has a lot of men,” Sokhorn says. “But it’s important to understand . . . It’s not Kakei herself who is bad, but the men and environment surrounding her,” she says. “If she didn’t act that way, she would not have lived.”

Bonn Phum will be held at Wat Toul Krasang off of road 21 from April 7-9. Festivities begin each day at 7am and end at around 9pm, with free entry. Transportation is available from the front gate of Olympic Stadium. Buses cost 3,000 riel ($0.75) one way, while a taxi or a tuk-tuk will cost $8.

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