1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cambodia

CAMBODIA[1] (called by the inhabitants Sroc Khmer and by the French Cambodge), a country of south-eastern Asia and a protectorate of France, forming part of French Indo-China.

Geography.—It is bounded N. by Siam and Laos, E. by Annam, S.E. and S. by Cochin-China, S.W. by the Gulf of Siam, and W. by Siam. Its area is estimated at approximately 65,000 sq. m.; its population at 1,500,000, of whom some three-quarters are Cambodians, the rest Chinese, Annamese, Chams, Malays, and aboriginal natives. The whole of Cambodia lies in the basin of the lower Mekong, which, entering this territory on the north, flows south for some distance, then inclines south-west as far as Pnom-penh, where it spreads into a delta and resumes a southerly course. The salient feature of Cambodian geography is the large lake Tonlé-Sap, in a depression 68 m. long from south-east to north-west and 15 m. wide. It is fed by several rivers and innumerable torrents, and at flood-time serves as a reservoir for the Mekong, with which it is connected by a channel some 70 m. long, known as the Bras du Lac and joining the river at Pnom-Penh. In June the waters of the Mekong, swollen by the rains and the melting of the Tibetan snows, rise to a height of 40 to 45 ft. and flow through the Bras du Lac towards the lake, which then covers an area of 770 sq. m., and like the river inundates the marshes and forests on its borders. During the dry season the current reverses and the depression empties so that the lake shrinks to an area of 100 sq. m., and its depth falls from 45-48 ft. to a maximum of 5 ft. Tonlé-Sap probably represents the chief wealth of Cambodia. It supports a fishing population of over 30,000, most of whom are Annamese; the fish, which are taken by means of large nets at the end of the inundation, are either dried or fermented for the production of the sauce known as nuoc-mam. The northern and western provinces of Cambodia which fall outside the densely populated zone of inundation are thinly peopled; they consist of plateaus, in many places thickly wooded and intersected by mountains, the highest of which does not exceed 5000 ft. The region to the east of the Mekong is traversed by spurs of the mountains of Annam and by affluents of the Mekong, the most important of these being the Se-khong and the Tonle-srepok, which unite to flow into the Mekong at Stung-treng. Small islands, inhabited by a fishing population, fringe the west coast.

Climate, Fauna and Flora.—The climate of Cambodia, like that of Cochin China, which it closely resembles, varies with the monsoons. During the north-east monsoon, from the middle of October to the middle of April, dry weather prevails and the thermometer averages from 77° to 80° F. During the south-west monsoon, from the middle of April to the middle of October, rain falls daily and the temperature varies between 85° and 95°. The wild animals of Cambodia include the elephant, which is also domesticated, the rhinoceros, buffalo and some species of wild ox; also the tiger, panther, leopard and honey-bear. Wild boars, monkeys and rats abound and are the chief enemies of the cultivator. The crocodile is found in the Mekong, and there are many varieties of reptiles, some of them venomous. The horse of Cambodia is only from 11 to 12 hands in height, but is strong and capable of great endurance; the buffalo is the chief draught animal. Swine are reared in large numbers. Nux vomica, gamboge, caoutchouc, cardamoms, teak and other valuable woods and gums are among the natural products.

People.—The Cambodians have a far more marked affinity with their Siamese than with their Annamese neighbours. The race is probably the result of a fusion of the Malay aborigines of Indo-China with the Aryan and Mongolian invaders of the country. The men are taller and more muscular than the Siamese and Annamese, while the women are small and inclined to stoutness. The face is flat and wide, the nose short, the mouth large and the eyes only slightly oblique. The skin is dark brown, the hair black and, while in childhood the head is shaved with the exception of a small tuft at the top, in later life it is dressed so as to resemble a brush. Both sexes wear the langouti or loin-cloth, which the men supplement with a short jacket, the women with a long scarf draped round the figure or with a long clinging robe. Morose, superstitious, and given to drinking and gambling, the Cambodians are at the same time clean, fairly intelligent, proud and courageous. The wife enjoys a respected position and divorce may be demanded by either party. Polygamy is almost confined to the richer classes. Though disinclined to work, the Cambodians make good hunters and woodsmen. Many of them live on the borders of the Mekong and the great lake, in huts built upon piles or floating rafts. The religion of Cambodia is Buddhism, and involves great respect towards the dead; the worship of spirits or local genii is also wide-spread, and Brahmanism is still maintained at the court. Monks or bonzes are very numerous; they live by alms and in return they teach the young to read, and superintend coronations, marriages, funerals and the other ceremonials which play a large part in the lives of the Cambodians. As in the rest of Indo-China, there is no hereditary nobility, but there exist castes founded on blood-relationship—the members of the royal family within the fifth degree (the Brah-Vansa) those beyond the fifth degree (Brah-Van), and the Bakou, who, as descendants of the ancient Brahmans, exercise certain official functions at the court. These castes, as well as the mandarins, who form a class by themselves, are exempt from tax or forced service. The mandarins are nominated by the king and their children have a position at court, and are generally chosen to fill the vacant posts in the administration. Under the native régime the common people attached themselves to one or other of the mandarins, who in return granted them the protection of his influence. Under French rule, which has modified the old usages in many respects, local government of the Annamese type tends to supplant this feudal system. Slavery was abolished by a royal ordinance of 1897.

Cambodian idiom bears a likeness to some of the aboriginal dialects of south Indo-China; it is agglutinate in character and rich in vowel-sounds. The king’s language and the royal writing, and also religious words are, however, apparently of Aryan origin and akin to Pali. Cambodian writing is syllabic and complicated. The books (manuscripts) are generally formed of palm-leaves upon which the characters are traced by means of a style.

Industry and Commerce.—Iron, worked by the tribe of the Kouis, is found in the mountainous region. The Cambodians show skill in working gold and silver; earthenware, bricks, mats, fans and silk and cotton fabrics, are also produced to some small extent, but fishing and the cultivation of rice and in a minor degree of tobacco, coffee, cotton, pepper, indigo, maize, tea and sugar are the only industries worthy of the name. Factories exist near Pnom-Penh for the shelling of cotton-seeds. The Cambodian is his own artificer and self-sufficing so far as his own needs are concerned. Rice, dried fish, beans, pepper and oxen are the chief elements in the export trade of the country, which is in the hands of Chinese. The native plays little or no part in commerce.

Trade is carried on chiefly through Saigon in Cochin-China, Kampot, the only port of Cambodia, being accessible solely to coasting vessels. With the exception of the highway from Pnom-Penh (q.v.) the capital, to Kampot, the roads of Cambodia are not suited for vehicles. Pnom-Penh communicates regularly by the steamers of the “Messageries Fluviales” by way of the Mekong with Saigon.

Administration.—At the head of the government is the king (rāj). His successor is either nominated by himself, in which case he sometimes abdicates in his favour, or else elected by the five chief mandarins from among the Brah Vansa. The upayuvrāj (obbaioureach) or king who has abdicated, the heir-presumptive (uparāj, obbareach) and the first princess of the blood are high dignitaries with their own retinues. The king is advised by a council of five ministers, the superior members of the class of mandarins; and the kingdom is divided into about fifty provinces administered by members of that body. France is represented by a resident superior, who presides over the ministerial council and is the real ruler of the country, and by residents exercising supervision in the districts into which the country is split up for the purposes of the French administration. In each residential district there is a council, composed of natives and presided over by the resident, which deliberates on questions affecting the district. The resident superior is assisted by the protectorate council, consisting of heads of French administrative departments (chief of the judicial service, of public works, &c.) and one native “notable,” and the royal orders must receive its sanction before they can be executed. The control of foreign policy, public works, the customs and the exchequer are in French hands, while the management of police, the collection of the direct taxes and the administration of justice between natives remain with the native government. A French tribunal alone is competent to settle disputes where one of the parties is not a native.

The following is a summary of the local budget of Cambodia for 1899 and 1904:—

  Receipts.  Expenditure.
1899  £235,329  £188,654 
1904  250,753  229,880 
The chief sources of revenue are the direct taxes, including

the poll-tax and the taxes on the products of the soil, which together amounted to £172,636 in 1904. The chief heads of expenditure are the civil list, comprising the personal allowance to the king and the royal family (£46,018 in 1904), public works (£39,593) and government house and residences (£29,977).

History.—The Khmers, the ancient inhabitants of Cambodia, are conjectured to have been the offspring of a fusion between the autochthonous dwellers in the Indo-Chinese peninsula, now represented by the Kouis and other savage tribes, and an invading race from the plateaus of central Asia. As early as the 12th century B.C., Chinese chronicles, which are almost the only source for the history of Cambodia till the 5th century A.D., mention a region called Fou-nan, in later times appearing under the name of Tchin-la; embracing the basin of the Menam, it extended eastwards to the Mekong and may be considered approximately coextensive with the Khmer kingdom. Some centuries before the Christian era, immigrants from the east coast of India began to exert a powerful influence over Cambodia, into which they introduced Brahmanism and the Sanskrit language. This Hinduizing process became more marked about the 5th century A.D., when, under S’rutavarman, the Khmers as a nation rose into prominence. The name Kambuja, whence the European form Cambodia, is derived from the Hindu Kambu, the name of the mythical founder of the Khmer race; it seems to have been officially adopted by the Khmers as the title of their country about this period. At the end of the 7th century the dynasty of S’rutavarman ceased to rule over the whole of Cambodia, which during the next century was divided into two portions ruled over by two sovereigns. Unity appears to have been re-established about the beginning of the 9th century, when with Jayavarman III. there begins a dynasty which embraces the zenith of Khmer greatness and the era during which the great Brahman monuments were built. The royal city of Angkor-Thom (see Angkor) was completed under Yasovarman about A.D. 900. In the 10th century Buddhism, which had existed for centuries in Cambodia, began to become powerful and to rival Brahmanism, the official religion. The construction of the temple of Angkor Vat dates probably from the first half of the 12th century, and appears to have been carried out under the direction of the Brahman Divakara, who enjoyed great influence under the monarchs of this period. The conquest of the rival kingdom of Champa, which embraced modern Cochin-China and southern Annam, and in the later 15th century was absorbed by Annam, may probably be placed at the end of the 12th century, in the reign of Jayavarman VIII., the last of the great kings. War was also carried on against the western neighbours of Cambodia, and the exhaustion consequent upon all these efforts seems to have been the immediate cause of the decadence which now set in. From the last decade of the 13th century there dates a valuable description of Tchin-la[2] written by a member of a Chinese embassy thereto. The same period probably also witnessed the liberation of the Thais or inhabitants of Siam from the yoke of the Khmers, to whom they had for long been subject, and the expulsion of the now declining race from the basin of the Menam. The royal chronicles of Cambodia, the historical veracity of which has often to be questioned, begin about the middle of the 14th century, at which period the Thais assumed the offensive and were able repeatedly to capture and pillage Angkor-Thom. These aggressions were continued in the 15th century, in the course of which the capital was finally abandoned by the Khmer kings, the ruin of the country being hastened by internal revolts and by feuds between members of the royal family. At the end of the 16th century, Lovek, which had succeeded Angkor-Thom as capital, was itself abandoned to the conquerors. During that century, the Portuguese had established some influence in the country, whither they were followed by the Dutch, but after the middle of the 17th century, Europeans counted for little in Cambodia till the arrival of the French. At the beginning of the 17th century the Nguyen, rulers of southern Annam, began to encroach on the territory of Cochin-China, and in the course of that and the 18th century, Cambodia, governed by two kings supported respectively by Siam and Annam, became a field for the conflicts of its two powerful neighbours. At the end of the 18th century the provinces of Battambang and Siem-reap were annexed by Siam. The rivalries of the two powers were concluded after a last and indecisive war by the treaty of 1846, as a result of which Ang-Duong, the protégé of Siam, was placed on the throne at the capital of Oudong, and the Annamese evacuated the country. In 1863, in order to counteract Siamese influence there, Doudart de Lagrée was sent by Admiral la Grandière to the court of King Norodom, the successor of Ang-Duong, and as a result of his efforts Cambodia placed itself under the protectorate of France. In 1866 Norodom transferred his capital to Pnom-Penh. In 1867 a treaty between France and Siam was signed, whereby Siam renounced its right to tribute and recognized the French protectorate over Cambodia in return for the provinces of Battambang and Angkor, and the Laos territory as far as the Mekong. In 1884 another treaty was signed by the king, confirming and extending French influence, and reducing the royal authority to a shadow, but in view of the discontent aroused by it, its provisions were not put in force till several years later. In 1904 the territory of Cambodia was increased by the addition to it of the Siamese provinces of Melupré and Bassac, and the maritime district of Krat, the latter of which, together with the province of Dansai, was in 1907 exchanged for the provinces of Battambang, Siem-reap and Sisophon. By the same treaty France renounced its sphere of influence on the right bank of the Mekong. In 1904 King Norodom was succeeded by his brother Sisowath.

See E. Aymonier, Le Cambodge (3 vols., Paris, 1900–1904); L. Moura, Le royaume de Cambodge (2 vols., Paris, 1883); A. Leclère, Les codes cambodgiens (2 vols., Paris, 1898), and other works on Cambodian law; Francis Gamier, Voyage d’exploration en Indo-Chine (Paris, 1873).

  1. See also Indo-China, French.
  2. Translated by Abel Rémusat, Nouveaux Mélanges Asiatiques (1829).