Population, Way of Life
simple clothing, krama, subsistence farming, Buddhist monastery, loincloth
Eighty percent of Cambodia’s people live in rural areas, where their principal occupation is subsistence farming on family-operated holdings. In rural Cambodia, most houses are built of palm leaf and bamboo and are often raised on stilts for protection from annual floods. A rural village (phum) consists of a group of houses, usually clustered around a Buddhist monastery, or wat.
In the cities, life for the poor resembles life in the countryside, but sanitary conditions are worse and violent crime is much more frequent. Wealthy and middle-class Cambodians value material possessions, which reflect their social standing. In the 1990s hundreds of extravagant villas were built for members of the political and commercial elite.
Most rural Cambodians wear simple clothing and have few material possessions. Women usually dress modestly in cotton shirts and ankle-length skirts, reserving their multicolored, locally woven silks for religious festivals. A cotton garment called a krama is worn by both men and women as a head covering, as a loincloth (for bathing), and as a carrying bag. Urban Cambodians usually wear Western-style clothing. Rice and fish form the basis of the Cambodian diet.
Cambodian families are large, but infant mortality, especially from intestinal disorders, remains high. Women head a large proportion of family units because many men were killed in the warfare of the 1970s and 1980s. In most families, females manage the household economy. Women also constitute the majority of vendors at local markets. Traditionally, boys became monks for a few months during their adolescence, but this practice is fading.
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