Khmer Festival Games

The Khmer people have many traditional games that they like to play during festivals and holidays such as New Year.  These games are passed down from generation to generation, and although specific written rules generally do not exist, rules tend to remain consistent within each village.  The lack of written records has, however, led to some variation in the way these games are played today.  Many of the games involve throwing objects at ones opponents or playful hitting.  These games are important in Cambodian society as they provide some of the few socially acceptable mediums through which boys and girls may interact and even tacitly express interest in each other.

  1. Bos Chhoung (Chhoung Tossing)
  2. Ong-kunh (a type of dried fruit)
  3. Leah Konseng (Scarf Hiding)
  4. Khleng Chab Koun Moun (Hawk Catches Baby Chickens)
courtesy of Rajana Society at the University of Washington

1.  Bos Chhoung

Bos Chhoung (Chhoung Tossing) is one of the most popular Khmer games, commonly played at the temple during New Year.  Teenagers particularly enjoy this game because it pits boys against girls.

To play this game, participants form two lines about twenty feet across from each other.  All the girls line up on one line, all the boys on the other.  Each line traditionally consists of from 10 to 20 individuals.  A krama (Khmer scarf) is folded into a ball with a little tail at the end, which is used as a throwing mechanism.  This is the chhoung.

Two versions of this game are played in different parts of the country: (1) Sing-Dance Chhoung, and (2) Free-Your-Partner Chhoung. 

(1) Sing-Dance Chhoung

·         To start off the game, the boys lob the chhoung toward the girls for the girls to try to catch.

·         If one of the girls manages to catch the chhoung, the girl who catches it throws the chhoung at a boy on the opposite line in an attempt hit him.  More often than not, participants aim at the person on whom they have a crush.  The boys are allowed to try to dodge the chhoung, but they may not leave the line.

o        If the girl does not hit anyone on the opposite line, then the game starts over with the boys again lobbing the chhoung towards the girls.

o        If the girl hits a boy with the chhoung then that boy has to sing and dance, and then return the chhoung back to the girls.  Everyone claps and helps out with the singing.

·         If the girls do not catch the chhoung before it hits the ground, then they must lob it back to the boys for the boys to catch.  The boy who catches the chhoung then gets to throw it at the girls.

·         This version of Chhoung involves a lot of singing and dancing.

(2) Free-Your-Partner Chhoung

·         To begin this game, the boys often start off by singing a song (optional).  There are many different lyrics and tones to the song, depending on which part of Cambodia the game is played.  After they are finished, they shout “Chhoung Euy Chhoung” and toss the chhoung to the girls.

·         If none of the girls catch it, they must toss the chhoung back to the boys.

·         If a girl does catch it, she will throw it at the boys.  Again, more often than not, she will aim at a boy on whom she has a crush.

o        If she hits someone, that boy must go over to the girl's line as a prisoner, and it becomes the girls' turn to toss the chhoung to the boys.

o        If the girl who catches the chhoung misses, then the boys can pick up the chhoung and throw it at the girls.  If the boys manage to hit a girl, then one prisoner on the opponent's line is returned to his original line.

·         The goal of the game is to get all the members of the opposite line as your prisoners.  Sometimes the prisoners are blindfolded and used as shields to block from getting hit.

·         Free-Your-Partner Chhoung is on the whole more popular than Sing-Dance Chhoung because it contains more action whereas Sing-Dance Chhoung involves more singing and dancing.


2.  Ong-Kunh

Ong-kunh is another game that is usually played during Khmer New Year.  Its name comes from a dried fruit that grows on trees in the northeastern provinces of Cambodia.  The shell of an ong-kunh is hard, dark brown, flat on two sides, and circular with a diameter of from 1.5 to 2.0 inches.

For the game, each ong-kunh is called a kouy. There are two types of kouy: (1) kouy bos (throwing kuoy) and (2) kouy daam (planted kuoy).  Kouy bos is used as a throwing object and kouy daam is a target that stands on its side.  Before the game begins, everyone decides whether to use 3 or 5 kouy daams.

Teams are usually divided by gender, but are sometimes mixed in order to keep the game competitive.  A typical team consists of from 5 to 10 participants.

·         To being the game, the two teams stand in a line at least fifteen feet opposite each other and place their kouy daams in front of them.  Each participant is given the same number of kouy bos as the number of kouy daam that are present.  (E.g., if the game is played with 3 kouy daams, then each person receives 3 kouy bos to throw.)

·         Before the game starts, the participants decide which team goes first in throwing their kouy bos.  The team that goes first then throws their kouy bos in an attempt to hit the opponent's kouy daam.

o        Players can aim for any of their opponent's kouy daam except for the middle one. This particular kouy daam can be hit only after one of the surrounding kouy daams has been hit.  If the middle kouy daam is hit first, then that team automatically loses.

·         The players try to hit as many kouy daams as possible before running out of kouy bos while keeping in mind that the middle kouy daam cannot be the first target.  After the first team throws all their kouy bos, the other team gets a chance to throw their kouy bos at the first team's kouy daam.  The team that wins is the team that hits the most kouy daam with the least kouy bos.  Ties may also occur.

·         In playing ong-kunh, the penalty for losing is as much a part of the game as throwing the kouy.  The penalty is what makes the game of ong-kunh fun and competitive.

o        If your team loses, everyone on the winning team is allowed to thump each loser in the knees with the ong-kunh.  One ong-kunh is laid flat against the loser's knee and another ong-kunh is used to strike it.  By striking the two ong-kunh together, you should hear a clicking sound.  When hitting a loser’s knee, the clicking sound must be heard or that particular loser is allowed to hit you back.

o        The number of times you hit the losers depends on the number of stationary kouy daam that both teams agreed to use in the game – either 3 or 5.

·         Ong-kunh should be played with the typical number of 5 to 10 participants on each team. Although more than this number of people may participate, it is not recommended because the game then becomes easy since there are many more kouy bos than kouy daam.  Sometimes people play with 7 kouy daam to accommodate the extra players.  The level of difficulty of the game can be increased or reduced by changing the distance between kouy daam and kouy bos throwers.


3.  Leah Konseng

Leah Konseng (Scarf Hiding) can be played at any occasion, but as with most Khmer games listed here it is especially popular during Khmer New Year.  The game requires at least 5 participants. The setup of the game consists of everyone sitting in a jong hong (circle).  A krama (Khmer scarf) is folded to create a small ball with a little tail hanging out from it.  This is the konseng.

·         To begin the game, one participant is selected to hold the konseng.  This person skips around the outside of the circle and may drop the konseng behind any seated participant.  As the konseng holder skips around the circle of seated participants, these individuals are not allowed to look behind or feel the area behind them.  They must look straight ahead and keep their hands at their sides.  Participants who are seated can only look at or feel the area behind themselves when they see that the person who was holding the konseng no longer has it in hand.

o        If the person who held the konseng is able to travel the entire circle of participants back to where he/she dropped the konseng, then he/she may pick it up and use it to hit the person in back of whom it was dropped.  The person who is being hit must run around the entire circumference of the circle until he/she gets back to his/her original sitting spot to be relieved of the hitting.  (To hit, hold the konseng by its tail and swing the ball end of the konseng at the person.)

o        If the person who is seated discovers that the konseng is dropped behind him/her before the konseng holder returns to get it, that person may pick up the konseng and use it to hit the person who dropped it.  To be relieved of the hitting, the konseng holder must run around the entire circle of participants until he/she gets to the sitting spot of the person behind whom the konseng was dropped.  The person now holding the konseng skips around the circle and may drop the konseng behind whomever he/she chooses.

·         This game is continuous and does not end until the group calls it quits.


4.  Khleng Chab Koun Moun

Khleng Chab Koun Moun (Hawk Catches Baby Chickens) is extremely popular among children in Cambodia.  The good thing about this game is that no materials are needed, only enthusiastic players.  The game typically consists of 4-10 participants, but can be played by any number of individuals.

In the game, one child is designated the hawk, another child the rooster, and the rest are baby chickens of the rooster.

·         Optional prelude to the game: As the rooster and baby chickens sit around a campfire, the hawk approaches and asks the father rooster for the fire.  He gets denied.  The hawk then sits beside the fire while the rooster and his baby chickens sing an insulting song and dance around the hawk and the fire.  After the song is finished, the hawk demands to be given a baby chicken and the rooster again refuses the hawk's request.

·         The game begins when the hawk, angered by the rooster’s refusal, prepares to chase the baby chickens.  All baby chicken participants line up behind the rooster and hold onto each other.  The rooster tries to protect his children as the hawk tries to catch them.  The hawk chases after the baby chickens and must catch them one by one, starting from the end of the line.

·         The game ends when the hawk either catches all the baby chickens or gives up.



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