1902 Encyclopedia > Cambodia


CAMBODIA, more properly CAMBOJA, or KAMBOJA, a very ancient kingdom of South-eastern Asia, still subsisting in decay. As now limited the territory of Camboja [Cambodia] forms a rough parallelogram, consisting in large of alluvial plain, lying athwart the lower course of the Mekong or Great Camboja [Cambodia] River, just above the Delta. The greatest length of the territory runs from W. to E., covering a little more than 3_º of longtitude, viz., from about 103º E. long. To 106º 40´. The mean breadth from S. to N. is a little over 2º of latitude, extending on the western coast from 10º 30´ N. lat. to 11º45´ and on the little known eastern frontier about 11º 35´ to 13º40´. On the N. it is bounded by provinces which the Siamese have wrested from Camboja [Cambodia]; on the E. by Cochin-Chinese territory; on the S. by the Delta Provinces first taken by Cochin-China from Camboja [Cambodia], and then by the French from Cochin-China; on the W. by the Gulf of Siam, along which it extends for 200 miles, now its only seaboard.

Ankor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Both the ethnology and the early history of Camboja [Cambodia] partake of the obscurity that hangs over Indo-China generally. But traditions of the ancient grandeur of the kingdom are borne out by the recent exploration of numerous architectural remains of extraordinary extent and magnificence within its former limits. Some important notices are found in Chinese annals, and more information is to be expected when numerous existing inscriptions shall have been successfully interpreted.

The name given by the people of Camboja [Cambodia] to their own race in Khmér, a name which was known and used by early Arab voyagers and geographers under the form K_mâr, and noted by them as a country famous for aloes-wood; it has, however, been imbroiled in much confusion both by them and by their commentators. There is a persistent and apparently well-founded tradition among the Khmér, that before their own immigration, as they say from the north, the Tsiam or Champa race were in possession of the soil, whilst the Khmér themselves seem to have preceded the descent of the Thai race, to which the people of Siam and Laos belong.

Local written legends again appear to speak of two early immigration from Gangetic India. We know that the Pali-Buddhistical annals of Ceylon record that at the conclusion of the third great synod of the Buddhist church, held at Palibothra, in the year 302 after Buddha corresponding, according to ordinary Ceylonese reckoning, to 241 B.C. , but as corrected by Professor Max Müller to 175 B.C.), a mission was dispatched to the region of Sûvarna-Bhumi—i.e., Aurea-Regio or Chryse; and this record may have been the basis of the earlier Cambojan [Cambodian] tradition. But it must not be forgotten that in Ptolemy’s map of the Indo-Chinese coast are found many Sanskrit names, indicating the existence of Hindu settlements at least as early as the 1st century of our era. The name of Kamboja, though in later days we find it subjected to fantastic charade-making after the Chinese fashion of etymology,_ appears to be simply the transfer of a name famous in old Indian literature as that of a race and region on the N.W. of the Panjâb, in or near the present Chitrâl. Such transfers were common, and many survive in Indo Chinese use or memory to this day._

It is a singular circumstance that some of the Cambojan [Cambodian] legends collected by Bastian—indications of which were also recorded by missionaries two centuries ago—bring the second Indian immigration from a western region called Rom or Rama-vísei. This will be noticed again.

Like other Indo-Chinese states Camboja [Cambodia] possesses written annals; but these do not commence till 1346 A.D. Hence they only take up the history of the kingdom when its power, and perhaps its civilization, were already past their climax.

From the Chinese annals older information is obtained. These mention, under the name of Fu-nan, and as early as the 12th century B.C. a kingdom embracing what afterwards became Camboja [Cambodia]; and the Emperor Hiao-wuti of the Han dynasty is alleged to have made Funan tributary, along with adjoining countries, circa 125 B.C. Some two centuries later the same annals place an immigration under a foreign prince, who became the founder of a dynasty, and is perhaps to be identified with the Indian leader of the native legends. The fourth king of this dynasty—say in the latter part of the 2d century—makes extensive conquests over the adjoining kingdoms and coasts, and takes the name of Tawang ("great King), probably a translation of the Indian title Mahâ-râja, which reappears some centuries later in Arab narratives as that of the King of the Isles. It is alleged, too, at this time, the people of Ta-tsín, i.e., of the Roman empire, including Western Asia, frequented the ports of Funan for trade. This circumstance is highly probable when we consider that Ptolemy attests such voyages as having been made at least occasionally, in the 1st or 2d century, whilst the Arab narratives show that they were habitual in the 9th.

Cambojan [Cambodian] legend, like that of nearly all the Indo-Chinese countries, couples the introduction of Buddhism (perhaps rather its re-introduction) with the name of Buddhaghosha. However that may be, it is about the 1000th year of Buddha (i.e., according to the ordinary calculation 457 A.D.), and near the date usually assigned to Buddhaghosha, that the traditions place a great king, Phutamma Surivong, i.e., Padma Surjyvansi; and it is at this epoch of the 5th and 6th centuries that Garnier is inclined to place the great kings, who were the founders of the older architectural monuments. Fergusson would place these several centuries later, but the whole subject of their chronology is as yet too obscure. From about this time the kingdom is known in Chinese records as Chinla, and to those days of splendour may be referred an old Chinese proverbial saying, "Rich as Chinla." It appears long to have ruled over the valley of the Menam (since the 14th century the seat of Siamese monarchy), and perhaps at one time to the shores of the Bay of Bengal. In the reign of Prakrama Bahu of Ceylon (115 A.D.) we hear, in the annals of that island, of his intercourse with Camboja [Cambodia] (Jour. As Soc. Bengal, vol. xli. p.198).

A very remarkable account of Chinla or Comboja, by an envoy sent from Peking shortly after the death of Kublaï Khan (viz., in 1295-1297), has been translated by Abel Rémusat, and affords us a strange peep into the midst of a civilization now in the profoundest decay. The accuracy of his details regarding topography and surviving monuments of architecture attests the written’s truthfulness. The court and capital are described as very splendid, whilst (as in all Indo-Chinese countries) some trials of the deepest barbarism in manners show themselves. The kingdom possessed many fortified cities; but its power was already in decline, for it had not long before suffered from one of those invasions of the Thai which have ever since been wearing it away. Again and again such invasions and temporary occupation were repeated, especially after the foundation of the Siamese monarchy by another branch of the Thai in 1350.

The Portuguese found their way to Camboja [Cambodia] not long after the conquest of Mallacca, and the Kingdom still retained a good deal of the shell of its old splendour. Yet its native force appears by this time to have been in reality almost burnt out; and towards the end of the 16th century and Asiatic, among the latter of whom Japanese were prominent. At the instigation of some of adventurers we find the Spanish authorities at Manilla (1594-1598) engaging in "fillibustering" expeditions to Camboja [Cambodia], with little result. Somewhat later the Portuguese had factories in the country, and then the Dutch (1635). Notices of English trade with Camboja [Cambodia] appear as early as 1616. In 1641 Gerard van Wusthoff of the Duthc factory conducted a remarkable expedition up the Great River to Vienchang, the capital of one of the Laos states, about 1000 miles from the sea, —a feat never repeated till the French missions of 1866-68. In 1643 Mynheer Regemortis, envoy from Batavia, with all the European s of the factory, on his way to court, were assassinated under Portuguese instigation, and this put a discreditable and too characteristic end to the official relations of Europeans with Camboja [Cambodia]. The English established a factory at Pulo Condore, a group of islands off the coast of the Cambojan [Cambodian] delta in 1702, but this also come to a speedy end in the massacre of its members by the Macassar sepoys of the garrison. The first missionary who entered Camboja [Cambodia] was Gaspar de Cruz, Dominican, in 1555. He has left some curious particulars which are given by Purchas.

Camboja [Cambodia] continued to be ground between the two millstones of Siam and the now rising kingdom of Cochin-China. The former about 1690 annexed large tracts on the N.W., augmented a century later, and again in 1810-12, by seizures which embraced the districts adjoining the Great Lake, at the very heart of the old monarchy; the latter in the middle of the last century absorbed the whole of the Delta; and Camboja [Cambodia] was thus reduced to its present narrow limits. In 1846 a king was enthroned under the joint investiture of Siam and Cochin-China. The French invasion of the Anamite provinces in the Delta took place in 1859, and these were formally ceded in 1862. Meantime Camboja [Cambodia] seemed about to be finally swallowed up by Siam. It was manifest, however, that the prospects of the new French possession would be materially restricted if all above the Delta were Siamese; and France began to claim the character of protector of Camboja [Cambodia]. In 1864 the king, Morodam, was solemnly crowded in the presence of a French and of a Siamese representative; and a treaty was concluded, pracing the kingdom formally under joint protection of those two powers, but practically of France. The presence of a Siamese resident at the court ceased; and thus a reprieve at least was given to this ancient monarchy.

Capitals and Seaports. -- The ancient capital of Camboja [Cambodia] in its splendour was Angkor, of which we shall speak below, abandoned in consequence of its exposure to Siamese aggression in 1388, but briefly reoccupied in 1437. In 1388 the court moved by Basan or Boribun, on the S.W. shore of the lake, and a few years later to P’nompenh, corruptly in some books called Calompé, at the confluence of the outlet of the Great Lake with the Mekong. This appears to be the place named by some of the old writers Chordamuco. About 1528 it was established at Lovek (called by Valentijn Eauwek), near the west side of the issue from the lake; then t Puntenang or Pontaipret opposite Lovek. Udong, a few miles north of the confluence, became the capital in 1739, and so continued down to 1866, when it was again transferred to P’nompenh. The chief port of foreign trade in the 17th century was Potaimat, called by foreigners Ponteamas, replaced afterwards by Kangkao or Atien on the same bay. But both were in the territory taken by the Cochin-Chinese, and now French. Since the annexations by Siam and Anan Camboja [Cambodia] has only the one port, Kâmpot. The trade is chiefly in Chinese hands. Between this and the rich alluvial tract round the capitals a high range of hills has be passed, but there is a cart road the whole way to P’nompenh.

Chief Geographical Features. -- The great river Mekong, known also as the Camboja [Cambodia] River, a name bestowed when its delta yet belonged the Camboja [Cambodia], flows through the existing territory for about 250 miles, from N.E. To S.W. This river as a whole will be better dealt with elsewhere (see MEKONG). The next main feature main feature of the present limited territory is the "Great lake," as it is called by the Cochin-Chinese (Bienhoa),or "Freshwater Lake" of the Cambojans [Cambodians] (Talé-Sab), —by the Malays styled the Lake of Sri Râma. This lake is of the nature of those sheets of water which in Bengal are called jhîls, viz., a shallow depression in an alluvial plain, retaining a part of the animal overflow of the rivers throughout the year, and hence subject to great variations in depth and extent. In the rains it is said to have a length of about 100 miles. (N.W. to S.E.) with a breath of one third as much. Its average depth in the dry season is only 4 feet. The Udong River, communicating between the lake and the Mekong, fills a channel of great breadth. Its waters change their direction half-yearly, from June to December filling the lake from the Mekong, and from December to June draining the lake into the Mekong. The lake is an object of superstitious regard to the people, and the fishery therein is the most important event in their annual life. It is carried on in the dry season, during which time extensive pile-villages are erected in the lake, where the drying and salting of the fish is carried on. The dried fish is exported largely to Cochin-China, as well as live fish in cages. Much also is converted into oil.

Natural Productions and Exports. -- The elephant may be regarded as the characteristic animal of Camboja [Cambodia]. Wild herds are numerous, and frequent the shores of the lake in the dry season. The tamed animals are by no means so well trained as in India, but they are the chief beasts of burden, and a few years ago did not cost more than £10 or £12. The rhinoceros also abounds (the species we do not find stated) about the foot of the mountains north of the lake. Strong and handsome ponies are bred, much in demand at Bangkok. Among wild animals there are sad to be three species of wild cattle.

The Chinese envoy of 1295-97 mentions among Cambojan [Cambodian] exports rhinoceros’ horns, ghamboge, cardamoms, and eagle-wood; and these are still among the most characteristic. Though the gum called gamboges derives its name from Camboja [Cambodia], and is chiefly supplied by that country, the tree (Garcinia Morella) does not appear to have been seen in its naïve localities by any botanist. Dr Thorel, of the French expedition, indicates its habitat as in the N.W. of the old Cambojan [Cambodian] territory, about Korat, now subject to Siam. The cardamoms (Amomun villosum, Louveiro) are produced in the mountains not far from the lake. Eagle wood (or Aloes-wood) appear to be the result of disease, forming internal cavities in the soft white wood of Aquilaria agallocha, and is obtained by splitting the tree, —its probable existence in any tree being recognized by indications known to the collectors. It is now found chiefly neat the coast of the Gulf of Siam, about Chantibun (now Siamese), and is said to be common in the island of Kotran, or Phukok, off Kampot. The names eagle-wood, agila, &c., are corruptions from the Sanskrit Agura, and have nothing to do with eagles.

Other vegetable products are nutmeg, liquorice, caoutchouc and gutta-percha, tobacco, sapan-wood, pepper, rice, cotton, &c., with benzoin from the Upper Mekong. Additional exports of sorts are hides and horns, tortoise-shell, lac, ivory, and dried elephant flesh. Iron of excellent quality is smelted and wrought by some of the hill tribes.

People, Government, and language. -- Of the numerous wild, or we should rather say illiterate, tribes on the borders of the Cambojan [Cambodian] plain, and still imperfectly known we cannot speak in our limited space. The Cambojans [Cambodians] proper, or Khmér, differ much from both Siamese and Cochin-Chinese. They are described as tall, well and strongly made, showing less of Mongoloid feature than any of the better known nations of Indo-China; good-natured but apathetic, and leaving all the trouble and gains of trade to Chinese, Anamites, and Malays. Their region is Budhism of the usual Indo-Chinese type. But like the other races of that region they call in the devil-dancing medicineman in illness. They cut the hair short, leaving a top-tuft, and wear the langûti, or loin-cloth, tucked between the legs, using that Hindu name for it.

There are some 2000 Roman Catholic Christians in the country, and some considerable number of Malay and Tsiam Mahometans. The Malays are chiefly on the coast, and claim to be very ancient settlers.

The government is an absolute monarchy, after the usual Indo-Chinese kind, with a second king of Caesar, the Yuvarâja of ancient India, known by a corruption of that title.

The language is placed by the late Mr Logan in his "Mon Anam" class. But it appears to differ materially from the Anamite, as well as from other purely monosyllabic languages of Indo-China. These, like the Chinese, employ a variety of so-called tones, or inflexions of voice, by which different meanings of the same monosyllable are discriminated, —the Anamite having six such tones. The Cambojan [Cambodian] is without these, being spoken, as a missionary expresses it, recto tono. The numerous is stated by Garnier to present traces of a quinary system, but the vocabulary which he gives hardly confirms this. The letters are an ornamental form of the Pali, which has been the foundation of all the Indo-Chinese alphabets. An older form, illegible to the modern priests, is used in the inscriptions.

Aspara dancer, Bayon Temple, Cambodia image

Apsara dancer from the bas-relief of the Bayon Temple in the Angkor area, near Siem Reap, Cambodia

Architectural Antiquities. -- As already indicated, these are of the highest importance and interest. They are found in some forty or more known localities, and some as far north as Suren in the Korat district, now Siamese (14º 47´N. lat.) Indeed the most important remains are all in what is now Siamese embrace walled cities of large extent; palaces and temples, stupendous in scale and rich in design, and often most elaborately decorated with long galleries of storied bas-reliefs; artificial lakes enclosed by walls of cut stone; stone bridges of extraordinary design and excellent execution; elaboration; elaborate embanked highways across that alluvial flats, &c. Were it possible to reconcile the geography, they would almost justify the extravagant fictions of Mendez Pinto regarding the palaces and temples of Timplan and Timagogo.

About fifteen miles north of the lake, buried in forest, is the ancient capital, commonly called Angkor or Nakhon (both corruptions of the Indian Nagara) Thom, or "the Great City," the proper old name of which was Inthapataburi, i.e., Indraprasthapuri, after the capital of the Pandus in the ancient India of the Mahâbhârat. Mouhot and Thomson have by some misapprehension greatly exaggerated its size; but its walls do in fact form a quadrangle of nearly 8_ miles in circuit and 30 feet in height, surrounded by a very wide ditch. There are five gates (two on the east), of very grandiose though fantastic architecture. About five miles south of the city is the great temple called Nakhon Wat, i.e., "the city monastery," one of the most extraordinary architectural relics in the world.

This also is enclosed by a quadrangular wall of 3860 yards in compass, outside of which is a wide ditch. We cannot attempt to describe this edifice with its corridors, sculptures, and towers rising to 180 feet and upwards. Much in the detail is Indian; much that is but obscurely traced as yet in India connects itself with other remains in Indo-China and in Java; much again is unique. One remarkable point is the Roman-Doric character of the enriched pilasters which form a feature frequently recurring; this, too, has parallels, though not quite so striking, in Ceylon and in mediaeval Burmese remains.

Some remarkable features of the Camboja [Cambodia] monuments are distinctly mentioned in the Chinese mediaeval narrative, but there is apparently no notice of the Nakhon Wat. If force is to be attached to this omission, it will indicate the date of that building as between 1296 and 1352, the date of the first great Siamese invasion. We are not yet in a position to say with certainly to what worship they were dedicated, though inclining to the view of Garneir, who regards them as belonging to Buddhism, the still existing worship of the nation; and some of the temples are certainly Buddhist. Mr Fergusson dissents, and regards the great temples as monuments of serpent-worship, —though admitting doubt.

Though the existence of these remarkable ruins had been quite forgotten till what may be called their rediscovery, of which the first distinct account was given by M. Mouhot in 1859, they had been known to some of the early Jesuit missionaries, who speak of their "discovery in 1570;" and a notice of them from such a source will be found in Zedler’s Universal Lexicon under "Cambodcha" (1733). Father Ribadeneyra (1601) says a legend ascribed the erection to Alexander the Great. This must have originated with the Malays, among whom Iskandar and the "Alexander Saga" were familiar and popular. And to the same communication may perhaps be due that strange introduction of Rome into the legendary history. This would then be Rome in its Mussulman sense,—Rûm—i.e., Greece or Turkey.

Further Reading. -- See Garnier, Voyage d’ Exploration en Indo-Chine, Paris; Cortambert et de Rosny, Tableau de la Cochin-Chine, Paris 1862; Bastian, Reise, ii. and iv.; Mouhot’s Travels, 1864; The Philippine Islands, &c., by Antonia de Morga, Hakluyt Soc. 1868; Cambodia and its Races, by G. Thomson; Antiquities of Cambodia, by J. Thomson; Ferguson’s Hist. of Architecture, vol. ii and Tree and Serpent Worship; Crawfurd’s Mission to Siam and Cochin-China; Abel Rémusat, Nouv. Melanges Asiat. Vol. i. 100; Calendar of State-Papers, East Indies, 1862; Purchas, vol. iii., &c. (H. Y.)


(1) The syllables of Kamboja [Cambodia] have been tortured by the later natives to mean "born of the waters," "race of Kam (Khmér)," and what not. The modern Chinese have corrupted Kamboja [Cambodia] through Kan-phu-ché into Tung-po-chai, probably to meet some fancy of a similar kind.

(2) The occurrence of the name Camboja [Cambodia] on one of the repliche of the inscriptions of Asoka, in connection with the names of regions in the extreme south of India, has lately raised a question whether the Indo-Chinese Camboja [Cambodia] did not even then exist.

The above article was written by Col. Sir Henry Yule, R.E., K.C.S.I., C.B., Secretary of Public Works Department, India, 1857-62; edited The Book of Marco Polo for the Hakluyt Society; author The Book of the African Squadron Vindicated, Fortifications, and The Mission to the Court of Ava, 1855.

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