Tradition and Superstitions around Childbirth and Pregnancy in Cambodia

By Sophearith Dareth

©Vanessa Porter/2010/licensed under CC BY 2.0

In Cambodian society, especially in the past, the process of giving birth was considered to be extremely dangerous. Undoubtedly, this was due to the lack of medical knowledge. Giving birth in Khmer is called “Chhlorng Tonle” which means “going across the river”, because Cambodians used to regard the process of giving birth to be as risky as crossing the river.

Traditionally, Cambodia has many beliefs, ceremonies, as well as some practices proscribed that people believed would put the lives of the child and the mother in danger at the time of giving birth, or cause the child to be born with physical or some mental defects. According to a book called “Khmer Civilization”, published by the Institute of Foreign Languages, here are some of Cambodian traditions related to “birth”.

  1. Before giving birth:

During ancient times in Cambodia, especially among the royalties, when a woman is sure that she is pregnant for 3 months, her family would arrange a ceremony called “Jorng Somroang”. In those days, the Khmer people held this particular ceremony to pray for a healthy child and for the baby to stay inside the mother’s womb until the proper day for giving birth. Furthermore, they believe this ceremony would create a close bond between the mother and the child.

However, this ceremony is no longer practiced, and was even rarely practiced during the ancient period.

Cambodian women in the past had to somehow follow some traditions and and avoid certain practices that were believed to have kept the baby and the mother safe during the state of pregnancy and at the time of giving birth. There are some that are considered to be medically correct and some to be false.

  • Women must not consume any spicy food because it will cause irritation to the baby inside.
  • They must not try to reach to grab things higher than themselves to avoid separating the placenta from the baby’s stomach.
  • Women have to avoid dressing too tight.
  • They cannot eat rice porridge.
  • During solar eclipse, pregnant women have to place a certain ingredient called “Ork Komboar” on her belly. The belief around this practice is to prevent the baby from being intimidated or scared of the power of the eclipse that the baby will be born with mental conditions or “Men Krub”.
  • They shall not sleep during the day or shower at night to avoid difficulties of the baby being too big that will cause more danger when giving birth.
  • Pregnant women shall not visit other women who had had difficulties giving birth to a child.
  • Finally, they shall wake up before their husband.

2. When giving birth:

As stated in the Khmer Civilization book, in the past, midwives were crucial when women were giving birth, although they were far less medically educated than midwives nowadays. Furthermore, there were also rituals that people prepared to pray for a safe and successful delivery of the baby.

In the Bayon Temple, there are carvings that depict the process of giving birth during the ancient time as well, with the mother lying on her back surrounded by midwives.

3. After giving birth:

There are also some traditions that most Cambodians used to follow and a certain minority still practice them.

  • The woman that has recently become a mom must practice roasting or in Khmer “Ang Pleung”.

As stated by an article by Southeast Asia Globe, “Ang pleung is still widely practiced in the countryside as a way to heat the mother after the delivery”, said a Cambodian woman. This particular practice is in fact very dangerous due to various reasons like skin burns, infections, and dehydration that can also somehow increase the mother’s alcohol consumption.

There are also other traditions like inviting priests over to practice blessings for the mother and the child or another well-know ritual called “Tomleak Jangkran”, which directly translates to “dropping the clay oven”.

It is such a great responsibility for any mother in the world to take care of themselves and the baby inside when they are pregnant. Cambodian ancestors had to come up with beliefs, superstitions and also traditions to protect pregnant women, although many of them have proven to be dangerous and unnecessary.

Personally, since I was little, I have not been informed about most of the superstitions that Cambodian had in the past when it comes to pregnancy. However, because of this blog I was able to research and learn more about such a unique aspect of Cambodian culture. And if you had not known about it like me, I hope you find this blog informative.

See you in the next post.

Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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