Volume 2 No.6

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THE KRAMA - A Versatile Khmer calling card
By: Khim Veayo ( June, 2002 Volume 2 No.6 )

While spending their leisure time in Cambodia, most visitors will not miss buying the "Kra-ma" (scarf) for wearing over their shoulders, folding round their necks or fastening their waists not just for fashion, but also to show that they like the style and are loving to get closer to the Khmer--as with the saying, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. Visitors coming here to hunt the essence and the beauty of the Khmer splendid architecture and natural attractions in this country sometimes hint that they are impressed by the perseverance of local craftsmen, including the arts of producing Kra-ma by hand. Meanwhile, many of the locals also accept that the Kra-ma is considered as a nominative name card in the face of the international community.

The craft of Kra-ma weavers have been practiced from ancient time until today by the Khmer, especially female adults and girls at countryside. Designs of Kra-ma woven from heads of crude cotton or from selective silk must also evolve from a simple to a complex one in order to meet the changing demand of people of all ages upon the course of time. Along side with other works of art, Kra-ma also gains ground in drawing attention of foreign tourists from many corners of the world. Kra-ma is thus becoming an element of the national heritage. The picture is true to their daily life as Kra-ma is always at the hand reach of the Cambodian people, especially those living in rural and remote areas and then is very probably becoming their good friend indeed. Because of the specific requirements by geographical conditions, a farmer or a highlander does not care about Kra-ma aesthesis but prefers using a thickened scarf that can ensure conformance, durability and serviceability. For them, they discover many advantages from using a scarf. A mother surely concerns over only the protection of her baby in a Kra-ma haversack hung on her back from the sunheat. A father who wants to shield his head from sunheat will fold Kra-ma round his head. A young man might turn his Kra-ma into a stretched fan to wind his body full of sweat after exerting his physical force. A young lady might turn it into a provisional bag to hold light stuff such as personal belongings, cakes, fruits and vegetables or on another occasion as a piece of cloth to hide her body when taking a bath, etc. On a hazardous occasion, Kra-ma is helpful for a young lady to cover her face while she is shy in front of male onlookers. And perhaps on another occasion she can peep from behind at her neighboring boy whom she pays special attention at. Perhaps they consider Kra-ma wearing a style, town people especially the girls prefer silk scarves of bright colors rather than the cotton one. While picnicking they have silk scarves with knitted rims folding round their heads or fastening their waists. By nature, the Khmer are always friendly towards their guests. At countryside, a visitor would be invited to enjoy eating local foods and fruits available in the relevant season whereas in Phnom Penh or town the visitor would be asked to accept a souvenir- most probably a box made from palm leaves containing a piece of silver craft with a silk Kra-ma in the litter. For their part, certain psychologists make a remark that any special items, Kra-ma for instance, which are being serviced by a person would symbolize and reflect the concerned user's character and the sentiment. As yet there are some, especially a handful of Phnom Penh dwellers, who "chluok teuk massin" (a slang referring to those being spoiled by ‘urban water’ -a luxurious life), would instead laugh at foreign visitors for buying and wearing strange item on their body such as the Kra-ma. In fact, such a group of people fail to learn that those foreign visitors know well enough about and they like Kra-ma much more than they do because those foreign visitors really appreciate the Kra-ma 's essence and value. Kra-ma has its profound significance in the Cambodians' daily life and is thus becoming an important topic for the study about the Khmer by domestic and foreign researchers.