The Central Khmer Vietnam
The Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, encompassed present-day Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and southern Vietnam. Its power declined when the Thai and Vietnamese conquered the Khmer and restricted them to the area that now known as Cambodia.
Bombings, civil war, and war with the Vietnamese turned Cambodia into a killing field in 1970. At the same time, Vietnam was in civil war. Many of the Khmer in Vietnam fled their villages to escape the war. Some moved to refugee camps, but were resettled to "New Economic Zones" at the unification of Vietnam in 1975.
What Are Their Lives Like? The Central Khmer have virtually been absorbed into the Vietnamese community. They have intermarried and now share the same religions, customs, and culture. Most of the Khmer are farmers who grow rice in irrigated paddies. They live in thatch roof, bamboo houses that are built on stilts.
In the 1970's, most of the Central Khmer were middle-income peasants who owned enough land and tools to farm successfully without relying on outside labor. There were very few poor among those living in the Mekong River Delta.
Fish and shellfish from the coastal waters and the plains of the Mekong River are a major resource for the Central Khmer. It is also the second most important staple food, after rice. Forestry was once a major industry in the area inhabited by the Khmer. However, most of the timber has now been used for reconstruction after the war.
The state now controls transportation, wages, education, medicine, health services, housing, food, and clothes; all of these goods are rationed. Rural education was badly disrupted during the war years, and all schools were nationalized after 1975. Twelve years of schooling are provided free.
More men than women were killed between 1975 and 1979, creating a skewed sex ratio among the Central Khmer. Today, mostly widows and orphans remain. The women are now required to perform duties that once belonged to the men.
The Central Khmer have a simple social structure. Each village has its own chief, and there is no political structure beyond the village. The village chief is the link between the people and the central government. Village leadership is usually divided; the chief has authority in secular matters, while the Buddhist monk has authority in religious issues.
Many of the Central Khmer have acquired the language and culture of the Vietnamese. Traditional Khmer music reflects a tie to Indonesia. Folk dancing and the classical royal ballet are also popular. However, their own traditions have begun to fade as they have become more assimilated into Vietnamese culture.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Due to Buddhist influence, the Khmer also seek the middle path to nirvana, or ultimate peace through gaining "merit" in this life. Merit may be gained through supporting the construction of Buddhist temples, giving food to monks, and studying in the monastery. Peasant boys often became monks in order to gain an education in the monasteries.
What Are Their Needs?
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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