By Soy Sophea
Cambodia is rich in culture, heritage, fines arts, traditional performances and a well-known Apsara traditional dance. However, appreciation of Khmer poetry seems to be dropping out of favor among Cambodia’s youth.
Yan Borin, a professor at the Royal University of Fine Arts, said that he was concerned about the preservation of Khmer poetry even though today, there is a wide selection of poetry texts available.
Borin, who is also a poem chanter for the Cambodian Television Network, noticed that Cambodian youth has been enticed by new technology, pop songs, and foreign culture, introduced in the midst of globalization. They no longer appear interested in the composition and chanting of poems. He said that in his class at the university he could only attract between five to ten students per term.
Borin, 60, said that he has devoted almost his entire life to his national culture and yearns to see it preserved for future generations. He valued the sheer variety of Khmer poetry which can count on 60 different styles of chant. He viewed it as “heritage”, like the Angkor Wat; and whilst the art was not as visually impressive as the temple complex, he firmly believes “Every aspect of Cambodian culture has its own value.”
Mok Makara, a student at a local university in Phnom Penh, said that he has been interested in Khmer Poems since he was 14 years old. He said that the genre provided him with limitless inspiration, especially when his thoughts turned to matters of the heart.
“I do love Khmer poems,” he said. “They provide a virtually limitless supply of inspiration when I want to declare a more tender emotion to the lady that I love.”
Makara, who studies tourism, added that he had been introduced to Khmer poetry only as recently as three years ago in secondary and high school. However, in that time, he had learned to appreciate the gentleness of the art and its applicability to describing the lovelier subjects of life.
Makara admired Cambodian writers Krom Ngoy and the Venerable Som. He appreciated their knowledge and the generosity of spirit which lead them to share their knowledge and advice to the younger generations.
Seng Rachna, another university student, said that he rarely took time to listen to poems chanted on TV or radio. As an IT student, he found little relevance in the subject.
“I know Cambodia is rich in culture and the finest of fine arts,” he said. “But that’s not going to help me pass my latest assignment.”
Rachana, a third year student, said that he did not like literature and wanted to concentrate on future challenges for Cambodian society and the world in general.
He said that he had never looked down on anyone for their interest in Khmer culture. However, he believed that, “If we care about only one thing, we would not be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with other nations of the world.”
“We are in the middle of the Information Age,” he said. “We should not forget our heritage, but neither should we insulate ourselves against newer developments simply because they have not formed a part of traditional ways of living.”
Professor Borin said that his intention was to revitalize the interest in Khmer culture as expressed in poetry. Quite apart from its value as a pure expression of national identity, it provided ideal material for contemplation by the intelligent mind at rest. He believes that future generations of young Cambodians are as likely to benefit from the gentle advice contained in Khmer poetry, as generations long gone by.