Research article
Issue: № 6 (96), 2020


Научная статья

Нгуен Тхи Киеу Тиен*

Университет Чавинь, Вьетнам

* Корреспондирующий автор (info[at]


В статье утверждается, что «Smôt» - это жанр фольклорного художественного фонда кхмерского народа юга в целом и региона Чавинь в частности, который несет в себе культурные особенности кхмерского фольклора и народного творчества, но пока не подвергался каким-либо научным исследованиям во Вьетнаме. Подробно, в статье разъясняется концепция, описываются типы Smôt и определяется фактический текст Smôt, который в настоящее время остается в Чавине. Кроме того, в статье приводятся дополнительные сравнения характеристик Smôt у кхмеров в Чавине и в Камбодже. Это результат многолетних исследований кхмерского фольклора, авторских коллекций и полевых работ в 2019 году.

Ключевые слова: Smôt, кхмерский фольклор, кхмерский, юг, Чавинь.


Research article

Nguyen Thi Kieu Tien*

Tra Vinh University, Vietnam

* Corresponding author (info[at]


The paper initially affirms that Smôt is a genre within the folklore art-stock of the Khmer in the South in general and Tra Vinh in particular, which carries cultural features of the Khmer folklore and folk arts but has not been subject to any scientific research in Vietnam yet. In detail, the article clarifies the concept, describes the types of Smôt and identifies the de facto of Smôt text currently remaining in Tra Vinh. Additionally, the article provides additional comparisons on Smôt characteristics of the Khmer in Tra Vinh and one in Cambodia. This is the result of a long-term research on Khmer folklore and the author's collections and fieldwork in 2019.

Keywords: Smôt, Khmer folklore, the Khmer, the South, Tra Vinh.

Rational and aims of the study

As a long-standing cultural activity of the Khmer people in the South, Smôt is well-known for reciting rhyming poems in a sacred space and it holds a distinct and unique artistic nuance which directly presents in the practice of rituals in folk festivals and Buddhist festivals of the Khmer [2:178-185]. This is an art form that had posed a great influence on the cultural life of the Khmer in general and the Khmer people in Tra Vinh in particular. However, a fading tendency is obviously witnessed due to numerous reasons, including the causes from the performers’ specialization to the transformation, mainly omitting process in the life-cycle rituals of the current Khmer people. We collected 10 Smôt articles upon the results of folk literature collection in Tra Vinh; despite insufficient number of articles to compare with other types of Khmer folk literature in Tra Vinh as well as irreflectability to the bulky tradition of Smôt, this is also an important corpus for us to generalize the basic characteristics of the Smôt. Through this study, we desire to contribute to partially affirm and preserve the unique folklore values of the Tra Vinh Khmer people.

Research objects and methodology

Tra Vinh’s location lies between Tien and Hau river in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. This province holds the population of 1049809 including 17.2% of those living in urban area and 82.8% in rural area; also the vast residence of the Khmer in the South [10]. Tra Vinh ranks the second biggest home to the Khmer people in the Mekong Delta (following by Soc Trang province) with the number of 318231 comprising 31.35% of the total provincial population. In particular, Tra Vinh embodies 59 communes and wards with a large number of Khmer residents, 143 Theravada Buddhist temples with 3371 monks and nuns studying in accordance with customs [1]. In addition to the culture engaging in religion coupled with diverse community activities, the Khmer also adhere to their own writing for a long time. They have been able to record folk knowledge on the leaves (Satra), on folded paper (Krangrang), ... from ancient times. Therefore, the artstock of Khmer folklore is fully reserved in genres, rich in content and diverse in artistic expression. However, the exploitation and research in order to preserve and bring into full play the source of Khmer folklore still remain limited. Selecting Smôt as the research object, specifically, the paper considers focusing on describing the general appearance of Smôt type in Tra Vinh province of great necessity.

Tra Vinh currently contains 09 administrative units at district, township and city levels; 106 communes, wards and towns. The Khmer are present in almost all districts and cities in the province, but mainly reside in the districts of Tra Cu, Chau Thanh, Cau Ngang, Cau Ke, Tieu Can and Duyen Hai. However, we determined that each region (rural - urban, densely – undensely populated Khmer people) holds its own advantages and certainly makes important contributions to the collection of Khmer folklore. Therefore, during 7 months (from January to July 2019), we went to most areas in Tra Vinh province to record and observe the folklore activities of the Khmer people. And the Khmer folk literature which were recorded are those currently circulating within the Khmer community in Tra Vinh at the given period.

This research mainly uses collecting and fieldwork methods. We contacted the local authorities in Tra Vinh province (hamlets, communes, districts, towns and cities) with a large number of Khmer people to make a list of individuals and artisans. Afterwards, we met artisans, Khmer people aged 30-70 years old at their areas to document, record Khmer folk literature of Tra Vinh, including genre Smôt [3:78-83]. On the basis of the collected works, we analyzed at the perspective of the genre poem and the performing art of artisans to organize the texts into the system of Khmer folk literature types. In this research method, we attach importance to 2 techniques: Attendance observations and In-depth interviews. In detail, during our fieldworks, we combined interviews with collaborators, observed the performance activities to verify and compare with available information, as well as recorded practical values of folklore in life of Khmer people in Tra Vinh.

Thus, when I proceeded to the districts, I chose the hamlets and communes with the most Khmer people residing in each district and especially those with the Achar (the person who is knowledgeable or experienced a time of practice or serves as the member of the temple management board), regionwide high-profile Khmer intellects; and places with superb Khmer temples to collect Khmer folklore literatures. This is grounded in the role and significance of Theravada Buddhism in the spiritual and cultural life of the Khmer in the South. Therefore, our collection scope covers 50 locations in Tra Vinh province with in-depth interviews with 300 Khmer dwellers in the areas listed as follows:

(1) Tra Vinh City: Ward 6, 8, 9 and Long Duc Commune;

(2) Cang Long district: some communes namely Huyen Hoi, Phuong Thanh and Binh Phu;

(3) Chau Thanh District: Hamlet 4 - Chau Thanh Town, the communes of Da Loc, Luong Hoa, Luong Hoa A, Hoa Thuan, Hoa Loi, Nguyet Hoa, Song Loc;

(4) Cau Ke district: the communes of Phong Thanh, Phong rich, Hoa An, Tam Ngai and Chau Dien.

(5) Cau Ngang district: the communes of Hiep Hoa, Kim Hoa, Nhi Truong, Truong Tho, Long Son and Thanh Hoa Son.

(6) Duyen Hai district: the communes of Long Vinh, Ngu Lac, Don Xuan and Don Chau.

(7) Tieu Can district: the communes of Phu Can, Hieu Tu and Hieu Trung.

(8) Tra Cu District: Tra Cu Town, Dinh An Town, the communes of Ngai Xuyen, Long Hiep, Tan Hiep, Ngoc Bien, Tap Son, Thanh Son, Tan Son, Kim Son, Phuoc Hung, Dai An and Ham. Giang, Ham Tan, An Quang Huu and Luu Nghiep Anh.

With over 400 documented texts, we inputted the Khmer language upon comparing handwriting versions and tape records; after checking their accuracy (literature values and styles,...), we thereby forwarded them for expertise verification of the Khmer text. The completion of editing process of the Khmer text took place prior to our hiring transliteration into Vietnamese and conducting specific categorization.

With the Smôt genre, after the analysis process, we gained 10 Smôt texts which are mainly distributed in Tra Cu and Cau Ke districts, and some in Chau Thanh and Duyen Hai (one in each district). This reflects the ancient aggregational area of the Khmer in Tra Vinh in particular and the South in general. Nowadays, these places serve as the focal points for accumulation and preservation of tremendous traditional cultural values of the Khmer in Vietnam [6]. Especially, regarding Chau Thanh district, despite the geographical adjacency to Tra Vinh city and not being the foremost residence of the Khmer in Tra Vinh, according to our previous study, it is considered a place almost preserving the traditional cultural values of the Khmer.

Besides, for Smôt text filtering, I used the classification and systemization method with the criteria set to limit the object of study. In detail, these methods aim to arrange the works into a system for analyzing and interpreting the relationship between the elements to capture the integrity of the problem based on the relationship with the characteristics of religion or belief factors. Specifically, we will study the Smôt genre based on the characteristics of ethnic culture, the relationship between Khmer culture and folklore.

Findings and results

Socio-cultural characteristics of the Khmer in Tra Vinh

The ethnic community of Tra Vinh was formed and developed in harmony with the groups of Kinh, Khmer, Chinese, Cham, ... The most populous group for thousands of years in the population - ethnic community of Tra Vinh is Kinh, followed by the Khmer, followed by the Chinese, the Cham, ... The Khmer in Tra Vinh share the same occupation with that of other provinces in the Mekong Delta region as agricultural workers, living alternately interspersed with Kinh and Hoa people in almost all districts and towns of the province [5:86].

The primitive stage in the newly accreted, saline, sparsely populated areas, the Khmer chose to live and cultivate on high beds of Tra Vinh according to the nation's tradition of residence. They live in small neighborhoods around the temples so-called phum and soc. This residence form has entailed and pertained the Khmer to the simple, rustic but truly sincere, sticking lifestyle.

Festival is a convergence of typical cultural features of the Khmer. The Khmer people holds various festivals annually, including Buddhist festivals and folk ones. There go 03 important folk festivals: New Year celebration (Chol chnam thmay), the Grandparents Ceremony (Sen dolta) and the Moon Ceremony (Ok om bok). In addition to the 3 aforementioned important folk festivals, the Khmer also engages in multiple festivals rooting from folk beliefs such as: pay-off hair-cutting ceremony, celebration of new age, ceremony on new home, soul-touching ceremony, god-taken ceremony, rice-field worship, worshiping ceremony, praying ceremony, blessing ceremony, death anniversary, cotton offering, inauguration ceremony.

In addition to festivals, in the Khmer culture, the role of Buddhism and the Khmer temples always intensely dominates the world-view, life-view, customs, rituals and lifestyle of this ethnic group. From the 13th century onwards, Brahmanism was considered to be the main religion, and Buddhism, despite its early introduction into the life of the Khmer, it was not until the 13th century did it become the main religion and play a special role in the Khmer life in the South. For the Khmer people, from the young to the old, from birth to death, they are attached to Buddhism and temples. Buddhist ideology exerts a direct impact on Khmer people's thoughts, attitudes and behaviors in daily life and also becomes a crossing red thread affecting all festivals and customs of the Khmer people. The whole province of Tra Vinh currently contains 143 Theravada Buddhist temples, which serve as the basis of religion and belief; places for cultural activities of the community and also for Khmer people to practice their faith in supernatural forces and the "sacred". In addition to the unique architecture, Khmer temples houses many Buddhist scriptures, books of palm leaves (satra) recording ancient stories and poems from Khmer folklore. Most temples hold classes to teach Khmer and Pali for young Khmer [8:79-80].

The traditional custom stipulates that Khmer over-11-year-old boys enter the temple for in a certain period. They are about to learn the language and traditional culture there, as well as familiarize themselves with Buddhist scriptures. The period of practice, upon personal decision, can be several months, years or a lifetime. After a period of practice these young people will return to normal life and become respected in the society. According to Theravada Buddhism, contemplative practice is prohibited to Khmer women, but they still go to the temple to listen to Buddhist sermons and participate in some religious activities. Coupled with the role of Buddhism, the position of monks is highly respected by the Khmer community. In traditional social management as well as in important affairs of the phum soc and each Khmer family, the habit of consulting Prime Monk in Khmer temples.

Characteristics of Smôt type of Khmer people in Tra Vinh

3.2.1. Smôt concept

In terminology, Smôt is a derivational word rooting from sôt (សូធ្យ) and adding the middle-affix ម to become a noun denoting the recital or declamation. The word smôt in Khmer has two spellings: ស្មូត and ស្មូធ្យ, but it is often used as ស្មូត, both as nouns and verbs [4:29-30].


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Fig. 1 – Smôt of grand opening ceremony of Kosla Temple, Tra Cu district (photo: Tang V. Thon)


Smôt originates from practices of belief and religion done by the Khmer people such as funeral, contemplativeness ceremony, Y Kathina ceremony, sermons-opening ceremony, etc. The Smôt songs may be a poem, a prayer, a grievance, ... The Smôt’s dominant contents and topics involve in education, moral reminders; or serve a specific religious ritual. In the language of poetry, the Smôt of Khmer people conveys tremendous emotional nuances due to the resonance of the rhyme element, the picture-rich language, the voice of the performer, and the solemn atmosphere of Smôt activities [9:34 -36]. The Smôt text collected in Tra Vinh are presented hereinafter:


Table 1 – The Smôt text collected in Tra Vinh

No. Title Providers Performing space Note
1 បុណ្យ (Blessing) Kim Thanh, 1955, Tra Sat B commune, Long Hiep, Tra Cu district, Tra Vinh Sen dolta ceremony, Funeral, Contemplativeness ceremony  
2 គុណម៉ែ (Thanks to Mother) Thach Huynh, 1951, No Dung hamlet, Tan Hiep commune, Tra Cu district Funeral  
3 ផលប្រយោជន៍នៃវិជ្ជា (Benefit of Knowledge) Lum Tran, 1951, Xoai Xiem, Ngai Xuyen commune, Tra Cu district Contemplativeness ceremony  
4 សាមគ្គីញាតិ (Brotherhood solidarity) Thanh Binh Kien, 1950, Soc Ruong, Tan Hiep commune, Tra Cu district, Tra Vinh Sen dolta ceremony  
5 ច្បាប់គោរពមាតាបិតា (Rules of respecting parents) In Ruong, 1951, Ba Giam B hamlet, Đôn Xuân, Duyên Hải, Trà Vinh Funeral  
6 ម៉ែពុកមានគុណ (Thanks to parents) Thi Cua Thach, Luong Hoa commune, Chau Thanh district, Tra Vinh Sen dolta ceremony  
7 សារភញ្ញ (Sa ră phanh) Kim Thanh, 1955, Tra Sat B commune, Long Hiep, Tra Cu district, Tra Vinh Contemplativeness ceremony  
8 លើកទង់ព្រះពុទ្ធសាសនា (Salute the Buddhist flag) Thi Sa Nga Thach, 1954, O Tung A, Chau Dien commune, Cau Ke district, Tra Vinh Contemplativeness ceremony  
9 កំណើតឆព្វណ្ណរង្សី (Origin of 6 colors of aura) Thi Sa Nga Thach, 1954, O Tung A, Chau Dien commune, Cau Ke district, Tra Vinh Funeral  
10 រំលឹកវិញ្ញាណខន្ធ (commemoration of the passed souls) Thi Sa Nga Thach, 1954, O Tung A, Chau Dien commune, Cau Ke district, Tra Vinh Funeral  

3.2.2. Comparison of the Khmer Smôt in Tra Vinh and that in Cambodia

Smôt is a type of art literature wide spreading across the cultural life of various ethnic groups in Southeast Asia such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, ... However, Smôt predicates its distinct variants in both content and method of performance in specific places.

The Khmer people in Tra Vinh express the Smôt dance according to the content and purpose of use. All are aimed at educating and encouraging the good deeds of the Khmer descendants. The comparison between the Smôt of the Khmer Tra Vinh and that in the Cambodian Khmer is presented in the table below:


Table 2 – The comparison between the Smôt of the Khmer Tra Vinh and that in the Cambodian Khmer

Place Characteristics The Khmer’s Smôt in Tra Vinh The Khmer’s Smôt in Cambodia
Performers - The monks, the middle-aged or senior Achar monks. - Middle-aged and senior female believers - The monks and Achars at any ages. - Any believers at any age.
Purpose of use - Before starting the sermon on such occasions as funerals, Sen dolta ceremony, contemplativeness ceremony, Y Kathina offerings, Buddha's Birthday, ... - Used in most rituals of the festival such as funeral, Sen dolta ceremony, contemplativeness ceremony, Y Kathina offerings, Buddha's Birthday, summer receptions, and summer valediction, etc. - Education of ideology according to the contents of the teaching hymns.
Music instruments None Flute, coconut shell fiddle, dan nhi, xiao
Voice tone The tone of recitation depends on the poems of a particular poem. The tone varies, regularly in moody tone.

Despite multiple distinctions, the Smôt of the Khmer in Tra Vinh and Cambodia also share common features such as the Smôt purpose, the lyrics of the Smôt deriving from Khmer poems. The biggest difference is that the Smôt in Tra Vinh no long holds its common use in rituals in regard to its peer in Cambodia.

3.2.3. Smôt types

The Khmer in Tra Vinh applies Smôt articles in various rituals, they are used differently depending on the characteristics and meanings of given rituals. Within the scope of this research, upon the results of collection, we introduce the characteristics of some Smôt types that are still being performed in Tra Vinh as follows:

Smôt in Sen dolta ceremony

Annually, the Khmer hold the Sen dolta ceremony on the 29th and 30th of Phă Trô both month and the 1st of Ă such month (Khmer lunar calendar), around September of the solar calendar. On these days, the Khmer come to the temple nearby their places to offer food to monks and the Smôt articles frequently in use during on this occasion are: ម៉ែពុកមានគុណ (Thanks to parents), បុណ្យ (Blessing), សាមគ្គីញាតិ (Brotherhood solidarity), ... These articles are meant to encourage people to do good deeds, avoid evil acts for merit accumulation. Particularly, they mainly remind their descendants of the crime of filial piety, failing to caring their parents, which are classified as the most heinous offences in the Buddhist doctrine. After being tormented in hell, the wrongdoers are supposed to reincarnate to devil. Therefore, on these days, people regularly make food-offerings (Bos bai bun) to the hungry demons.

Smôt in funerals

The Khmer organize funerals at home with simple rituals. The first day when a loved one passed away, other family members shroud the dead. In the first night, after the end of the evening chanting session, the senior women in the phum soc are about to perform Smôt articles related to the principles of cause and effect, impermanence, suffering, egolessness, ... Smôt in funerals is quite diverse, the number of article in Smôt delivery depends on the time and health condition of performers. Some typical articles frequently being performed during the funerals of the Khmer people are: ច្បាប់គោរពមាតា (Rules of resepcting Parents), បុណ្យ (Blessing), គុណមែ (Thanks to Mother), សាមគ្គី ញាតិ (Solidarity of Brothers), ... In Tra Vinh, funerals are the occasion attaching most Smôt articles performed in comparison with other rituals. This intriguing phenomenon will be further studied and published in the following time.


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Fig. 2 – Smôt in a funeral, Cau Ke district (photo by Tang V. Thon)


Smôt in contemplativeness ceremony

The practice of filial piety of parents and grandparents is a prominence in the young Khmer Buddhist community. Traditionally, the Khmer sons are mandated to leave home for temporary monastic time in temples in a period to acquire the doctrine of religion and life. There exist two religious ranks stipulated by age, the under-20-year-old is the Sadi level and the over-20-year-old is the level of Bhikkhu. Families of boys in temporary monastic time will hold a religious ceremony at home, invite monks for praying and sermonizing. The evenings regularly feature articles related to parents' gratitude, which express the feelings of remorse towards parents, thereby helping people to revise themselves to become useful people for community. Some common smôt articles can be listed are: ផលប្រយោជន៍នៃវិជ្ជា (Benefit of knowledge), បុណ្យ (Blessing), etc. In addition, those articles’ contents also recommend boys to study diligently in order to overpass the rank of impermanence, suffering and egolessness.

In brief, most Khmer rituals - customs, beliefs - religions contain Smôt. But as aforementioned, nowadays, it gradually fades its position in the minds and lives of the Khmer. Through surveys at some Theravada Buddhist temples in Tra Vinh, we perceive the fact that the monks still retain the Smôt articles to pass on to future generations. But unfortunately, the number of Smôt articles in preservation and performance remains poor, including some popular ones such as: បទលើកទង់ព្រះពុទ្ធសាសនា (Salute to the Buddhist flag), បទសារភញ្ញ (Lady Sa-Ră-Phanh), កំណើតឆព្វណ្ណរង្សី (Source of the Buddhist Flag color), រំលឹកវិញ្ញាណខន្ធ (Commemoration of passed souls), .... One of the causes leading to this situation is the omission or simplification of the Khmer rituals in the South in general, Tra Vinh in particular. Hence, the ritual practices on these occasions are either lost or noticed inadequately. Simultaneously, the current number of Smôt performers in Tra Vinh remains unplentiful. It is obvious that the Smôt is on the verge of disappearance unless specific, appropriate and quick measures in terms of teaching, developing the Smôt performers, especially preserving the traditional rituals of the Khmer are conducted properly.


The folklore of Khmer Tra Vinh is seen as the intelligence and the soul of the Khmer in Tra Vinh. Through its folklore, the socio-cultural life of the Khmer people throughout the history has been reproduced and remained alive in the modern era. The text and performance space of the Tra Vinh Smôt genre reflects clearly and visually the life image imbued with the beliefs of the Khmer people in which the purpose of educating people to hold usefulness, goodness, evil avoidance, awareness of their responsibility towards family members and the community of Smôt is effectively promoted. The Smôt of Khmer people in general and Khmer people in Tra Vinh in particular carries a distinct and unique art style, contributing to the typical feature of Khmer folklore stock. In which, in addition to the monks, the role of the current Smôt performers focuses on middle-aged women is also considered an interesting feature of the Smôt performance. People without the Khmer, Pali language knowledge can still remember and artfully perform Smôt songs and lead the choral in performance. Besides, the sacred space of Smôt activities is also an important characteristic of this genre.

The great concern of the author when studying this object in Tra Vinh area in particular and Vietnam in general falls in the current poor number of Smôt performers and researches. There go few researchers being informed or accessed the Smôt studies over the past time, which greatly affects the preservation and promotion of literary and cultural values of this genre now and in the coming time.

Indeed, it is uneasy preserve the cultural identity of the Khmer people through preserving the folklore stock in today's integrated economic development trend. This problem not only emerfes in Tra Vinh but also many other provinces and cities of Vietnam with Khmer people residing in. This research considers itself a contribution of the theory, topic, methodology, ... to the entire study of Khmer folklore in general and specific genre of Khmer folklore in particular in the near future.

Regarding the Smôt genre, studies of educational value in the contents of the Smôt, the Smôt performance and its cultural life in modern society will be tempting scientific issues for the authors and other Vietnamese folklore scholars to pour their effort in.

Конфликт интересов Не указан. Conflict of Interest None declared.

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