Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
This is a collection of readings from various sources. Each article throws some light on alternative social systems. They intrigue because they are different from models known to me all my life. But I have no obstinate allegiance to any particular social code, and it is easy to accept that other people have adopted other life models. The important conclusion is that ALL these life models have worked for the groups that live those.
I have great respect for each of these alternate models, and I do not subscribe to the view that they are what missionaries called ‘barbaric’ models.
Discovering such alternate models through the writings and first hand experiences of others, has been a mind opening experience for me. It teaches me the true meaning of the word ‘paradigm’.
This article on the Khmers is followed by an article on alternate conjugal / sexuality traditions of Tibetans.
In 1295, a young Chinese diplomat by the name of Zhou Daguan visited Angkor, lived with the locals and recorded extremely interesting accounts of Khmer life. Academicians today use Zhou Daguan’s scholarly works extensively to understand Khmer life.
Some parts of ancient Khmer life that are totally different from life as we understand it today relate to the norms and practices pertaining to sexuality.
Zhou Daguan describes a custom he calls “zhentan,” which consisted of having girls (9 years old in wealthy families and 11 in poor ones) deflowered by a monk.
“I have heard that when the time comes, the monk goes into a room with the girl and takes away her virginity with his hand, which he then puts into some wine. […] Some say the monk and the girl have sex together, others say they don’t,” Zhou Daguan wrote. The monk is subsequently given gifts and the family celebrates this event.
An image of the pre-13th century Khmer temple of Phanom Rung depicting this ceremony.
Another interesting note by Zhou Daguan:
“Everyone with whom I talked said that the Cambodian women are highly sexed. One or two days after giving birth to a child they are ready for intercourse: if a husband is not responsive he will be discarded. When a husband is called away on matters of business, they endure his absence for a while; but if he is gone as much as ten days, the wife is apt to say, ‘I am no ghost; how can I be expected to sleep alone?’ Though their sexual impulses are very strong,, it is said some of them remain faithful.’”
This seems contrary to the male-hunter role that is the common practice today.
The rest of the Khmer life model has many other gender-life differences – women armies for the palace, women handling all the trade and so on….so the alternate life model is both complete and internally consistent even though it is totally different from the majority of the models prevalent in the 21st century.
The easier reaction to these tales would be to judge and snigger a bit, call it barbaric and attempt to ‘civilise’ them by imposing their own models upon those alien cultures – that is mostly what the world has done up until now when encountered with strange new life models.
The tougher thing would be to simply stand by and watch the diversity and enjoy its uniqueness, even if we do not completely understand all its facets.
The next article in this series, “Alternate Sexuality Traditions-2, Tibet” is located here.