Tum Teav story is not a legend or a make-up story. It is based on a true story that actually happened during the Cambodia Lonvek era, an obscure era following a downfall of the glorious Angkor era starting from 1431. Lonvek era ends in 1593 when Cambodia moved its capital from Lonvek in the province of Kampong Chhnang to Oudong in the province of Kampong Speu after Siam conquered it.
We do not know exactly in what year the story happened. Most Cambodians believe to be a 16th century tragic love story that captured Cambodian people’s attention. The story had been told by word of mouth until a written version came to life in the early 20th century. According to the Cambodian Buddhist Institute, a well-known research and publication organization in Cambodia, there are two versions of the story. One version was written in 1915 by a monk named Som, an abbot of a Buddhist temple located in Kamprov commune, district of Sithor Kandal, province of Prey Veng. The story was written in a 7-words or 7-sound poetry and believed to be that of a true and untainted story. The second version was written in 1942 by a Khmer nobleman named Nou Kan in an 8-words or 8-sound poetry. Sir Nou Kan titled the story Teav Ek and had inserted his own opinion in the story.
The Yeekae Tum Teav show on September 11, 2016 in Washington DC Metropolitan area during the Cambodian festival is based on the story of the 1915 version of Abbot Som.
Regardless of the slight differences in the two written versions, the main idea remains the same. The story is a cultural landmark that gradually overtime causes Cambodia to abandon a pre-arranged marriage system. The story of Tum Teav creates a concept called in Khmer “Num Minthum Chieng Neal”, literally translated into English as “a cake cannot be bigger than the cup that holds it”. The concept of “Num Minthum Chieng Neal” is a concept that a child cannot be above his or her parents, that is, the parents are the sole decision makers on almost everything and in particular, the choosing of their children’s marriage. While the pre-arranged marriage worked for the most part in the Cambodian society back then, it did cause some Cambodian couples to bear a lifelong suffering causing some to revolt against this long-practiced system as manifested in the story of Tum Teav. The debate of “Num Minthum Chieng Neal” intensified in the 20th century as the story of Tum Teav was adopted into the Khmer literature of the Cambodian educational system. The following story is a translation by Ben Bao, President of the Cambodian Community Day organization. It is as close as possible to the meaning of the original Khmer verses in the poem, but not word by word.
STORY OF TUM TEAV, BY THE ABBOT SOM
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