Of Kite flying in Cambodia : The legend of Th’nuhn Chhey

 In Cambodia, Khmer traditions, Legends, Phnom Penh, Traditions, Typical

« Thnuhn Chhey, of the existence of Kites in China, and of Chinese in Cambodia »

… Once upon a time…, there was a poor – a bit cheesy – peasant by the name of Chhey – which means « Victory » – who was forced to become a servant of a rich Lord. Although a kind of ‘dopey’ of his state, it wasn’t devoid of common sense and after many adventures during all his years at the service of his rich Lord, he found himself in a “sampan” boat in the direction of the Middle Kingdom (Cathay/China). And there, for some small misconduct in a society that is being foreign to him, the poor Chhey found himself in the jails of the Emperor of China.

To get rid of his boredom, he asked his guards a little piece of rattan and bamboo, paper and some fine thread to make a kite, and so homesick he was of his native country, that took him to the depths of his soul… The peculiarity of the Khmer kite is the addition of a small bamboo carved device called « Aek » so that when the wind blows through, it can emit a melodious or gloomy sound!

By a moonless night and when the North wind blows through his cold prison cell and bars, Chhey was flying his kite. In the dark of the night, the small instrument « Aèk » produced long and dreary groans – even worse than a night bird – that dread awoke the Emperor of China and the entire Court. The Emperor immediately requested his best astrologers who predicted that the worst misfortunes will befall on the Middle Kingdom « if the Sage of the Khmer country who is imprisoned in the jails is not released within the hour! »… Chhey was brought before the Emperor who – seeing him so humbly prostrating to the ground before Him – ordered to cover Chhey with gold and silver coins until his entire body disappears under the pile.

Chhey of course, took the opportunity to raise to the maximum his posterior to accumulate as much as possible the coins and jewelry! The ceremony ended, the Emperor asked the Chhey’s ‘secret’ who then unveiled the secret of the making of Khmer kites to the Emperor of China, and offered the most melodious “Kh’laèng Aèk” to the Emperor. Then, the Emperor of China had Chhey embark in his most richly decorated sampans and Chhey returned to the Khmer country accompanied by dignitaries from the Middle Kingdom and Chinese merchants, filled with glory and fortune. He lived a long life and had many children!

It is since that day that kites exist in China and that there are Chinese people in the Khmer Kingdom!

Every year, in the month of “kaddoeuk” that often falls in November according to the lunar calendar, young Cambodian children, taking advantage of the cool Northern wind of the Winter Monsoon that blows from China, are flying kites, and even in the most remote villages of the Kingdom, a competition of Kh’laeng Aek (kite) is organized and rewards the best decorated Kh’laeng Aek that produces the most melodious sounds!

If you are interested in learning more about Khmer culture & traditions, join our interactive mystery city tour in Phnom Penh.

© Vireak HOEUNG

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