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A Look At How Cambodian People Resolve and Prevent Conflict Through Cultural Values

by Lay Vicheka


Cambodia was once known as one of the most powerful empires in Southeast Asia, due to her richness in resources and cultural diversifications. Not only masterminding of the world’s biggest religious temple, Angkor Wat, but Cambodian ancestors were also peace-oriented, ethical and wisdom engineers. Series of devastating phases, I believe, has helplessly destroyed those cultural pillars.

Today’s Cambodia, I believe, is moving on the step toward the betterments. By and large, negative impacts do simultaneously exist with the positive ones. Revolutionary technology has brought better welfares to Cambodian people; on the other hand, it has buried the society of tolerance of Cambodia. With a better outlook, Cambodia would have to pay a much higher price to ubiquitous disputes, compared to bygone Cambodia. A look at Cambodia’s history and culture, I think, would reflect and brings in betterments to today’s Cambodia.

Tradition of Conflict Prevention

To be the column of cultural identity and solidarity between the Khmer nationals and also the Khmer Krom, in other words, Cambodian social manifestations, Buddhism has always been an indispensable itinerary to non-violence doctrine. One of the Buddhist regulations is to assign the male youngsters from the age of seven to ten to save their hair and become monk for at least one or two seasons. In the state of monkshood, they are obliged to patiently master Khmer literature, ethics, moralities, and other vocations. What the most important are to teach them the ethical and moral livelihood, the categories of living beings, the problems of man existence, the impermanence of all things, the causes of suffering, etc. Two of the most heard metaphors of Buddhism that aim to settle and prevent conflict are: 1. “An individual that desires the way to conflict resolution, but does not insightfully understand that conflict is like losing half of the body and want to rush to the destination” and 2. “Most of the people are forgetting and not conversant that they will one day pass away. If they know this natural law, they would detest controversies”. And the four most common spoken Buddhist jargons are: Universal Love, Equanimity, Sympathetic joy, and Compassion.

In Dynamics of Dispute Resolution and Administration of Justice for Cambodian Villagers, Dr. William A. Collins showed that, Cambodian people had two ways to settle the disputes; 1. through courts and 2. through Buddhist monasteries. William A. Collins wrote that, Cambodian people preferred Buddhist monastery than the court, because people always presumed the courts as biased and imbalanced, and especially they couldn’t afford briberies to win the cases. Monasteries were deemed fair, transparent, ethical, and most of all they didn’t have to pay anything. The decisions of the clergymen or monks did not have serious consequences, like those of the courts’. In this sense, William means that decisions of clergymen or monks wouldn’t really break the relationship between members of the communities. The decisions of the courts must categorize between the winners and the losers and would ruin the solidarities of the communities. This is another evidence to prove that Buddhism has been an effective warehouse of dispute-settling in Cambodia.

Bringing up the children, in Cambodian sense, is an astoundingly convoluted drudgery of every parents. A proverb states, “of all the three children, an unborn child, a dead child, and an insane child, the former twos (unborn and dead) are proper children, because they hurt the parents only one time, but the insane child is an improper child, because he/she hurts parents for the whole life. According to Cambodian traditional value, since childhood, parents always instruct their children to obsessively value peace and solidarities within the families and the neighbourhoods, and inconsistency between the families’ members and neighbourhoods would be bode ills. Making the child peace-oriented and value solidarities are the most momentous obligations of the parents or other senior family members. If any argument happens between the families’ members, parents or other seniors immediately call the arguing partners to discover the roots, to reconcile. These all mean to avoid violence.

Many Cambodian festivities contain the connotations of conflict resolution and prevention. One kind of festivities is called “Pithi Chol Mlob”. Pithi Chol Mlob is done by the parents when their daughters are old enough to get married. Pithi Chol Mlob is celebrated to instruct the daughters how to be decent (virtuous) wives and housewives, the qualities of honourable wives or respectful mothers, how to prevent mental disagreements between husbands and wives, and other family-related obligations that socially acceptable families should have. Pithi Chol Mlob is done between three months or six months. The mothers, in Pithi Chol Mlob, edify their daughters the value of endurances, tranquilities, tenderness, how to get on well with the parents in law and the neighbours, etc. Hair-cut festivity is done to purify the couples’ souls and to teach them to retain the honesties within the couples. Besides these, Cambodia has many more merriments and philosophical laws that aim to fortify harmonies within the families and the communities.

The Elderly People's’ Advices

The elderly people here are to refer to those who have been Buddhist monks for a long period of time, thus boast extraordinary knowledge concerning Cambodian tradition, culture, literature, moral codes and values, Khmer ancient metaphors, and they are also well respected by all of the people and administrators of the whole communities, in which they are living in. The elderly people have important posts which are to directly guide every people of the communities to conduct the right things, evade disharmonies, and not to commit the irrational conducts.

One celebrated cultured elderly person, Cheng Phon, stated that, people of the ancient Cambodia always respected the elderly people, because these elderly people were monastery headmasters, who were the masters of all the village people. Every quarrel happened in the communities, the conflicting parties always went to the elderly people to help them reconcile and fix the problems. Furthermore, if parents had hardhead children, that they could not advise, the parents always sent those kinds of children to the elderly people, believing that they would be better advising experts. The elderly people were the role models of transparent and justified people’s courts.

Selected Cambodian Peace–Related Metaphors and Wisdoms (Translated by me from Khmer to English)

“Age, karma, property, knowledge, and death are the human being’s innate law”.

“One that wins the war for thousands of time, and another one wins himself/herself even one time is better than the former. Because the most respected victory is the victory on him/herself, that even angle, god, or giant can’t move this victory into failure”.

“A lot of people don’t know that coming into this world is to live in harmony with one another. If they are clearly aware of this, they wouldn’t have conflicts“.

“All that always remembers that this person blames, punches, steals from, looks down on him/her… So his/her mind could not be serene, because revenge in this world is never even one be fixed by revenge. Revenge is always punished by amnesty, which is love. This is ancient allegory“.

“Most of the people are forgetting and not conversant that they will one day pass away. If they know this natural law, they would detest controversies“.

“One that sees fiction as fact and fact as fiction is the one living in misunderstanding, and can’t see the insight or verity“.

“Concentration, intelligence and caution are the route to immortal. But indolence is a route to bereavement. The indolent person is to face mortality“.

“The one that industriously and tirelessly struggles with him/herself and edifies his/her mind from malevolent intention, he or she is to meet peace“.

“An individual should not conduct any deed that brings in regret, tear, and sadness. Because that consequence would push him/her to premature mortality. So the proper conduct is which that is done, and results in joy and content“.

“The rock unshaken by the storm, the intellectual is not shaken by philosophical vices. The secular philosophies to all governance values are; benefits, loss, glory, lowness, censure, admiration, health, suffering“.

“The intellectual never repeats the mistakes for many times for his/her or another’s interests. The intellectual doesn’t desire for reputation, fame, property, colony, victory or failure. Ethics, correctness and wisdoms are his/her aspiration”.

“The one that already completely released him/herself from greed, ferocity and hostility, always holds tranquil speech and conduct”.

“The one that is hospitable to the elderly people, tender, helpful and open to forgiveness, is always been destined to four lucks; age, status, health, strength (eternal long age, beauty, vigor, happiness and fitness)”.

“The priceless property is the good conduct and equanimity in mentality, speech and social order. Vice-embarrassment and fearfulness is the unique property of an individual”.

“Patience, intelligence, the spirit of industry, the spirit of collective good, compassion are the leader’s characteristics to be yielded in happiness and solidarity”.

“And many more…”

Others of my publications related to public issues of Cambodia:

ª Writers and singers should not single-mindedly write and sing only “love for love” songs: The Rasmey Kampuchea Daily, year Nº12, Nº3538, Thursday 02nd November, 2004.

ª Women and barriers to social participations: The Rasmey Kampuchea Daily, Nº 3499, Sunday-Monday, 17-18, October 2004.

ª Drug and scholarship addiction, which one you stand for? The Rasmey Kampuchea Daily, Nº 3544, Thursday, 09, December 2004.

ª The advantages of serious stance: The Rasmey Kampuchea Daily, Nº 3556, Thursday, 23, December 2004.

ª January 03, 2005: http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/barriers.htm.

ª Why study?: The Rasmey Kampuchea Daily, Nº 3570, Saturday, 08, January 2005.

ª How to mentally motivate learning: The Rasmey Kampuchea Daily, Nº 3601, Sunday-Monday, 13-14, February 2005.


The author is a second year student of law at the University of Phnom Penh.

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