When all travelers arrive at the beautiful land of Cambodia often see the smiling faces of Cambodian people peeping out from under a traditional, multicolored cotton scarf called a Krama. Today, in this globalized world, the Krama scarf represents a special identity and has become a symbol of the Cambodian people.
What is the Krama?
The Krama scarf or handkerchief is a multi colored piece of cotton cloth of small squares handwoven by Cambodian people. The most popular designs are black and white, blue and white, red and white and there are others varying with the region.There are several standard sizes of Krama such as 0.5 m by 1.2 m, 0.7 by 1.5 m, up to the biggest size of 1.2 m by 2m., and etc.
The history of the Krama scarf is long and elusive but it is heavily identified with the Cambodian people and their culture.
How the Krama is used
Since ancient times, the Khmer people have made Krama cloth as a multi-purpose covering in their daily lives such as scarves, bandannas, mini- Sarongs (skirt), blankets, mats, pillows etc. Most of the time when people go out of their homes, they cover their heads and faces to protect themselves from sunshine, dirt, dust and wind. They can wear Krama around their necks for decoration and sometime slung around their waists and worn as Sarongs(skirt ). Sometimes the people even use Krama for carrying objects or children or using it as a hammock for their children.
Krama is everywhere in the countryside. Rural workers can wear trousers and Krama as a shirt while the women wear proper clothes plus a Krama for beauty. "Normally the Cambodian people go everywhere with their Krama. It is important to them because it is multifunctional".
"Krama is very flexible for personal use as a convenient necessity and indeed, it can be folded, rolled, or displayed and unrolled quickly and sometimes twisted and wrapped around objects to be carried. It can be used to cover the head, face, or for bathing, carrying things, and especially for a covering when sleeping or for use as a pillow,There are many Cambodian people still use the Krama as a hammock for their children."
History Research about karma
Mr. Hab Touch, Director of the National Museum of Cambodia, said that
"We're not sure when it took root in our Khmer culture but we know it existed at least as far back as the Norkor Phnom era between 1-5th century because we found many statues of the Gods and Siva from the Angkor Borey historical site in that period wearing the Kben," .
The Kben is a kind of a large Krama, some times worn above the knee and sometime below the knee. When worn, they have to roll it a bit at the waist and then tie it at the back of the waist. Today, old Khmer women still wear the Kben in their daily lives out in the provinces. Many men wear the Kben at special ceremonies or on their wedding day. “Everyone knows that is used by many classical artists performing the Tep Monorom dance or as a part of Khmer Ramayana” Mr. Touch added.
“Many younger people still wear the Krama as a Kben while they climb trees or perform traditional sports such as boxing, wrestling, etc.,”Touch said.
Michael Trane, Ph.D, a Khmer culture expert, agreed with Mr.Touch’s statement. “Properly used with The Kben, the Khmer people wear the Krama on the shoulder or around the next to make a classic set with more beauty. Kben and Krama in our tradition are like brother and sister.”Dr. Trane said.
As well as its beautifying effect, an aura of the calmness is displayed by someone with Krama on his shoulders.”Dr. Trane said.
“Also, expensive Krama is often worn in the countryside as a status symbol displaying a certain bit of wealth for people who has it.”
He recalled that he found a statue made from red soil at the Angkor Borey archeology site.
The statue was a man with his head tied with the piece of cloth that resembled the Krama, "I'm sure that is Krama," Dr. Trane said. "So with these artifacts, we know that Khmer people produced and used their Krama since the earliest centuries because of the many traditional weaving materials found in various archeological gravesites such as Phume Snay."
"I think that the original concept of Krama may have been influenced by the ancient states of Amaravati and Mathura in the southern part of lndia, whose peoples use a Pagadi (turban) for head coverings according to the Brahma religion," Dr. Trane said. When an Indian explorer arrived at Nokor Phnom and married our queen Souma, not only did the local Khmers copy this usage but also modified it to be the Krama of today.
Mr. Heng Sophady, representative of the archaeology team of the Memot Centre for Archaeology, in Kampong Cham province, said that according to the 2003 results from this site, we found many tools used by ancient peoples such as stone artifacts and red soil material, pottery products, ceramic products, etc. and especially the spindle worm. "We have ample evidence of this spindle worm. We found it in various sites as far back as circa 500 years BCE," he said. Spindle worms are very important components of the weaving process.
"Spindle worms were found at many of our Cambodian archaeology sites, such as Memot Centre, Phume Snay & Phume Sophi archaeology sites in Banteay Mean Chey province, and recently from Pro-hear archaeology site in Prey Veng province," Sophady said.
"With these spindle worms, we know that the ancient people living in Cambodia knew how to weave thread into clothing such as Sarongs. This cloth or Sarong as well as the traditional cloth may have evolved from the Krama over several generation right up to today," Mr. Sophady added.
Even back through the traditional roots of Khmer culture, the original concept of this scarf and its use still kept the same function and symbolism but some colors and sizes varied according to peoples' needs.
Where to buy Krama
Nowadays, there are many kinds of Krama sales in the markets throughout the Kingdom of Cambodia, especially in handicraft shops. The Toul Tumpong (Russian) market in Phnom Penh is the most popular. Some Krama were made of 100 percent cotton as per the original tradition and some were mixed with silk and even nylon. Some were multi-colored. The most popular Krama in the markets now are made by the people of Takeo, Kampong Cham, Kandal and Prey Veng provinces.
The price of Krama ranges from 2,000 to
5,000 riel (0.50-1.25US$). It depends on the size and the quality. But we recommend a 100 percent cotton one as it will last longer.
Where we can see The Krama Manufacture
Visiting a Krama manufacturing village at Koh Dach
Cambodian farmers make traditional Krama all throughout the kingdom, but for day tripping, it may convenient to visit several interesting places such as Pea Ream and Thnoat communes in Bati district, and Tang Yab, and Say Va commune in Samroung district of Ta Keo province, Or go to Prek Chang Kran commune, Sithou Kandal district of PreyVeng province, but the closest Krama makers are on Koh Dach village island.
Koh Dach village, well known as a weaving handicraft village, is on one of the largest islands located on The Upper Mekong, with a length of 12 kilometers.
The island is in Koh Dach commune, Mukh Kampool district, about 10km from Phnom Penh.
The Koh Dach villagers have retained their traditional lifestyle based around their main traditional handicraft, traditional silk weaving such as Pha Moung, Hol, Krama and cotton clothes. Visitor walking the villagers trail around the island will the sound of looms emerging from every house. Some houses have 5-10 looms and all the family members are weavers. From eight to eighty years of age, all the family play a role in production. As a result, much of the silk, Pha muong, HoL and Kramar products for sale in the Phnom Penh mar kets originated in the Koh Dach villages, all of it hand made and of fine quality.Beside the production of handicrafts, the residents of Koh Dach are also excellent gardeners, producing a wide variety of seasonal vegetables and fruits. The geography of Koh Dach Island varies. Though
12 kilometres long, some areas are only 100 meters wide and 2,500 meters wide elsewhere. The land is home to thousands of Khmer traditional houses and three ancient pagodas, each with a long history set in a traditional context. A visit to Koh Dach will give you a better understanding of Cambodian life than any other area surrounding the capital. You will take away lasting memories of the arts and lives of Cambodtan people, happily co-existing with nature and traditional values.
Khmer Textile Performing Arts
Khmer textile dance performing arts is dedicated to the Khmer silk industry, from local silkworms to silk material for scarves, skirts, Sarongs, Krama and other textiles. This dance was only choreographed in an attempt to demonstrate to Khmer people that they could take raw natural materials from silkworms and create beautiful finisheproducts without support from abroad.
"silk handicraft affects Krama manufacturing because silk threads can be eas1ly used to manufacture Krama. The Khmer call this kind of Krama 'Krama Sot,' which means handkerchief silk."
"So the Khmer textile performing arts attempts to represent the Krama industry and culture and our lives in the village, because there are many textile villages around Phnom Penh city, such as in Kien Svay district and Koh Dach in Mokh Kampool district,"