An excerpt from the book – When the War Was Over – by Elizabeth Becker:

“from an early age Cambodian children learn their culture through the telling of Khmer folktales – stories rich with ribald, often black humor, with a taste for sensuality and for great food.  The world of these fables is peopled with all powerful ministers of the king, greedy crocodiles, wise rabbits, and ordinary Cambodians who allow their violent passions to overrule common sense.  The stories are endless, episodes piled upon each other in the slapdash fashion of the rural life they reflect, a life ruled by the elements and by the fatalistic faith of Buddhism.  The stories, like the lives they celebrate, often end abruptly.  There are no apparent moral lessons, and sometimes no point  The full treasury of tales shows how life is filled with the unexpected, how violence is part of experience, and how one should strive to discover a path that will lead to a better life in the next incarnation.

There is one folktale named “the Devious Woman” which spells  mere ghoulish.

The character of the acts of violence and the act that the cruelty goes unpunished set the Khmer tale apart.  No moral lesson is drawn, at least in a Western sense, only the accurate portrayal of how man’s violence towards his fellow men begets more violence.

Obviously a culture that produces such stories is not as single-mindedly gentle as its reputation.  These folktales are one clue to the nearly incomeprehensible violence unleashed in Cambodia during the war and the Khmer Rouge.”


It reminds me about Pop, the little  boy whom we bumped into on my first day in Cambodia.  He shouldered a plastic basket load of books of these folktales.  When Beth engaged him in conversation about a Khmer-English Bible, I took one of his picture books and flipped through it.  Indeed what E. Becker mentioned is gruesomely true.  There is no moral lesson in any of these folktales.  Simply violence and free rein of experiencing sensuality and fantasy.  My heart is stabbed with a fresh gush of wounds when this piece of knowledge drills deeper into the call to action of bringing the gospel into the hearts of Khmer people.  Truly only His truth can turn this tidal wave of crippled society and mentality into treasuring and upholding the intrinsic value in one human life.

Does Pop believe in these folktales when he sells it to tourists?  Do generations after generations of Khmer people carry out their days with such belief and continue to view human lives as one experiential existence for another??  My heart hurts as I once again grieve.  My tears fall uncontrollably as one signpost leads to another signpost of learning about trauma over trauma in this nation.  The shifting of attention from child sex trafficking to their years of violence ladling endlessly like salt water splashing onto their gushing wounds.

It reminds me the sin catalogue mentioned in Romans, the very heart of external behaviour.  “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised.” – Romans 1:25

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