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Celebrating Cambodian New Year: A Journey Through Traditional Games and Festivities

by Surya Narayan
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Every year, as the sun sets on the last day of the Cambodian calendar, millions of people across the country eagerly await the arrival of the Khmer New Year. This joyous occasion is celebrated with an array of traditional games, many of which have been passed down through generations. These games not only serve as a means of entertainment but also as a way to preserve Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage. In this article, we will explore some of these traditional games and the role they play in fostering a sense of community and camaraderie during this festive season.

Chol Chhoung: Dancing, Singing, and the Spirit of Unity

One of the most popular games played during the Cambodian New Year is Chol Chhoung. This lively game encourages participants to work together and communicate effectively, as they dodge and throw the “chhoung” – a small, soft ball – back and forth between two opposing groups. The excitement of the game peaks when a player is struck by the chhoung, prompting their entire team to perform a dance while the opponents sing. Chol Chhoung serves as a perfect icebreaker, fostering a sense of unity and fun among participants.

Bos Angkunh: Strategy and Friendly Competition

Bos Angkunh is another traditional game that highlights the importance of teamwork and strategy. Players are divided into two groups and compete to knock the opponent’s “angkunhs” – inedible fruit seeds – off the ground using their own angkunhs. In this game, precision and aim are crucial, as the winners are granted the opportunity to playfully tap the losers’ knees with their angkunh. Bos Angkunh provides a platform for friendly competition and bonding among friends and family.

Leak Kanseng: Laughter and Surprise

A game that guarantees laughter and surprise, Leak Kanseng is played by a group of children sitting in a circle. One child, carrying a “kanseng” – a Cambodian towel fashioned into a round shape – walks around the circle singing a song, and secretly places the kanseng behind one of the seated children. The chosen child must quickly react, grabbing the kanseng and playfully hitting their neighbor before the attacker escapes. Leak Kanseng is a delightful game that keeps children on their toes and encourages quick thinking and reflexes.

Tort Seiy: Agility and Coordination

Tort Seiy, also known as the Foot-Feather game, is a test of agility and coordination. In this game, usually reserved for men, participants form a circle and take turns using their feet to keep the “Seiy” – a small, feathered object – in the air. Players must work together to prevent the Seiy from touching the ground, showcasing their skill and dexterity. Although there is no winner or loser in this game, the sense of achievement and camaraderie among participants is undeniable.

Lot Bao and Teagn Prot: Strength and Endurance

Two additional games that showcase the physical prowess of Cambodian New Year celebrants are Lot Bao, or Rice Bag Racing, and Teagn Prot, or Tug-o-War. In Lot Bao, participants place their feet in a sack and hop towards the finish line, testing their balance and endurance. Teagn Prot, on the other hand, requires two teams to pull a long rope in opposite directions, aiming to drag their opponents across a designated line. Both games encourage teamwork and friendly competition, embodying the essence of the New Year celebrations.

As the Cambodian New Year festivities unfold, these traditional games play a crucial role in creating a vibrant and joyful atmosphere. Through Chol Chhoung, Bos Angkunh, Leak Kanseng, Tort Seiy, Lot Bao, and Teagn Prot, Cambodians of all ages come together to celebrate their rich cultural heritage while fostering a sense of unity, friendship, and community. These games not only serve as a reminder of the country’s past but also as a symbol of hope and prosperity for the future.

Photo: Facebook page of ព្រឹត្តិការណ៍អង្គរសង្ក្រាន្ត Angkor Sankranta

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