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Culture in Festivals

   Water Festival

Another very colorful festival is the Water Festival or the Festival of the Reversing Current. It takes place in late October or early November and marks the reversal of the Tonle Sap River so that it once again flows south from the Tonle Sap Lake into the Mekong River . The highlight of the three-day festival is the boat races that are held in Phnom Penh . Individual villages build their own boats by hollowing out a log to make a dugout canoe that is rowed by as many as forty people! The prow and the stern of the canoe turn upward and the prow is painted with an eye, just like the war vessels on the wall of the temples at Angkor Thom.

On the first two days of the festival, pairs of boats race each other. At sunset on the third day, there is a big race and everyone believes that the river is happy, the fish will be plentiful and the rice crop will flourish.

   Funerals

Most Cambodians are Buddhists. Accordingly, they do not look on death as the end of life. Rather, they consider it the beginning of a new life that they hope will be better than the one which ended. Therefore, just as performing the wedding rituals correctly is very important, it is also very important to perform the ceremonies for death in the correct Buddhist tradition. Otherwise the relative will not be able to pass on to their new life. When a person dies, their body is washed, dressed and put into a coffin. Flowers and a photograph of the deceased are usually put on top of the coffin, which is then carried to a special Buddhist pagoda to be cremated. All the family members walk with the coffin to the pagoda. If the dead person was important, everyone in the village also joins the procession. Family members sometimes show their sorrow by wearing white clothing and shaving their heads. White is the traditional color of death instead of the Western idea of black. Because the rituals connected to death affect the ability of the dead person to have a happy next life, many Cambodians were distraught that they were not able to perform the correct rituals for loved ones who died under the Khmer Rouge regime.

   Birthdays

Cambodian children do not celebrate their birthdays and it is not a special day for them. Often their parents just remember what season they were born in, but not the exact day so they don't know for sure. During the Khmer Rouge years, many people were separated from their families and they lost their birth certificates. However, all Cambodians know which year they were born, and what it means in the Chinese animal calendar: Do you know which year were you born in and which characteristics you should have?

   Literature

The greatest piece of literature in Khmer is called The Reamker. It is the Cambodian adaptation of the Indian epic of the Ramayana. It dates from the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The story of Hanuman and Sovann Macha (which is described separately) is derived from this story and made into a dance. Many Cambodian dances, and shadow plays are also taken from the Cambodian version of The Ramayana. The Ramayana is found in many cultures throughout Southeast Asia . Cambodians also like to tell their children "chbap"s or moral proverbs which school children memorize, as well as stories from the Reamker of folk tales. The chbap teaches the values of Cambodian society, such as being obedient to your elders and protecting those who are less fortunate than yourself.

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