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.
|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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
version of Chhoung involves a lot of singing and dancing.
(2) Free-Your-Partner Chhoung
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.
none of the girls catch it, they must toss the chhoung back to the boys.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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3. Leah Konseng
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.
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.
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.)
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.
is continuous and does not end until the group calls it quits.
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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
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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