Krama (Khmer Scarf)

Kramar is a sturdy traditional Cambodian garment and signifies the Khmer cultural identity with many daily-life uses and ornate by all segments and religions.

Krama (Khmer Scarf)
Krama (Khmer Scarf)

Kramar is a sturdy traditional Cambodian garment and signifies the Khmer cultural identity with many daily-life uses and ornate by all segments and religions.

We, Khmer, are not hard to understand about “What Kramar is?” due to this thing was born and existed with us from the past. But, if we talk about the deep history and how to wave the scarf, it is a unique and complex thing and requires a long research. However, Khmer society considered it an essential part of their everyday life and activities. It is just only a tab of the skirt, but it connected with the value of identity and cultural aspects in it. Kramar has a unique value for farmers, workers, and citizens by using in daily-life activities such as wrapping, head, and body covering, scarfing and selling. In the context of Khmer traditional and culture, Kramar can be used during the Khmer religious ceremony such as the wedding, other ceremonies, part of Khmer popular game, and unforgettable national identity. In the Khmer modern society, however, Kramar is a good and suitable as a souvenir, as belonging to ornaments, or as materials of garments or other utensils. Due to its significant value, we have to do a research, make more understanding, and sustainably preserve it.

Evidence and history of weaving in Khmer Society

Kramar is a product that produced from the weaving and designing form many raw materials such as cotton or silk and natural dye (Leak) for the color. Stretches back to the ancient time, threads, Wooden board “Kda Mol”, Wooden teeth “Thmenh Chheur Trol” and loom (Kei) are the required materials for weaving. Based on the historical evidence, archaeologists have found the part of Kbal Trol (kind of equipment used for weaving) and a bend of thread (Khna Om Bos) at Mlou Prei archeology site located in Preah Vihea province, which was about 200-year-old before Christianity. The above evidence could have explained that people living on this land have been weaving since 2200 years ago.  

Likewise, based on the inscription study, they have found some inscriptions consist of words that make us think about the evidence of the weaving in the ancient era. Through the inscription of Sarsar 100 pagoda (K.124) in the 9th century, they have found a “krapās” word in the 16th and 9th line. However, the Tvea Kdei inscription also known as the 8th gate in the 10th century, also have word “krapās” in 28th and 31st line. These words have been conjectured by the researchers to refer to the so-called “Cotton or in Khmer krapās” as a raw material used in weaving. The overall meaning in the two instructions described the rendering of things to the temple for use, including the male and female slaves.

In between the 11th century, there was the word “tai thkar” in the inscription of East Snoeung temple (K.879) in the 8th and 19th line. While, the inscriptions of Rokar Kork (K.155) in lines 9th and 26th have a word “rañhvai”, and the Prey Mean inscription on line 9th contain the word “Ku tpāñ”, and the word “tai thkār” in line 12th from the Snong temple inscription. By these words, they can be assumed that period; weaving is exactly occurrence in Khmer society, even there were many names of men and women who responsible such work, as evidenced in the above inscription.

By the end of the 13th century according to Zhou Dagan’s record about clothes, said Khmer people, from the King to the normal people both men and women were shirtless, only a small skirt wrapped around (Jarng Pong); and if they go out, they take a large skirt and wrapped it over. The study also indicated that the dressing is also in style depending on their social class. However, through the Chinese diplomatic note, we could know that the weaving of fabrics in Khmer society at that time began to grow so much in advance, despite the customary habit of locality preferably shirtless. Moreover, based on the carvings along the temples, it is almost certain that Khmer has fabrics for producing clothes. Therefore, it is believed that the Kramar we use today has existed since ancient times, although it is not clear about the source of word “Kramar” yet and Khmer often called the word “Krama” depend on the areas they located such as scarves, towels, and chhnout. etc.

How to weave a scarf?

We do not have any evidence of how to weave in the pre-history. But according to the research and observation of the way of weaving in contemporary Khmer society can be made in two ways- traditional and modern. Modern weaving is less complicated, for both equipment and textile materials include silk and dye (Leak) that are imported from neighboring countries. For traditional weaving, however, consists of many complicated phases, and the equipment and materials used for weaving are made directly by craftsmen. This work seems to reflect the knowledge, creativity, and patience of each craftsman to achieve a Kramar for sale or use. For this reason, we only suggest how to weave Krama in a traditional way, and the following exhibition below are some of the ways in which the scarf is woven from the thread.

Generally, the traditional way of weaving has to go through many phases after harvesting cotton from the field, and in other words, there are many technical and difficult words to describe. However, all those phases counted from ginning the cotton (separate the seed from cotton, in Khmer Bos Krapas), carding cotton fiber (t’pic), swabbing the cotton, spinning the thread, kong thread, dyeing color, Oy Bai, warping thread on the loom “Arn Torng”, preparing the heddle on a loom “tkar”, and weaving in the later phases if making a scarf.

“Bos Krapas” is the way of ginning the cotton by separate the seeds from cotton and keep it partially. Next, they hit the cotton by the whip, the so-called “t’pic”. Outside of that, they take the thread after t’pic and then thinly swab cotton into thin strips for spinning. This phase is called “cotton swab”. After the cotton swab, the cotton was woven into the thread. The spinning tool was called the wooden wheel which made of wood and bamboo. The looming process is quite complicated for processing the cotton to the fibers. Once the fiber is threaded, the thread is rolled onto tube or bunch (or in KhmerKong” or “Rong Voeng - the frame on which thread is wound prior to rolling it on a bobbin”) in order to make it out as coil for boiling water and then dye color in the next phase. Color dyeing is an important stage of weaving, and it is necessary to have a thorough knowledge of the color texture and technique of dyeing. Normally, it is considered a good color for weaving work, which is naturally refined color dyes and the color is longer and prettier than chemical color dyes. Natural dyes can be made of various colors but it was divided into four main colors: red, yellow, blue and black.

The red color comes from the pith of sbaèng tree (Caesalpinia sappan) and the seed of rose-apple. Fresh Red comes from the scab of the tree (usually Khmer called Krormor Chhuer) or Lac Chum KrorLarng. Light Red produces from the peel of Gumtree (Sambork Chhuer Teal). Reddish-bruised (Krorhorm Joim) takes from the peel of Smaè tree. Krorhorm Bromeouk makes of the peel of Kandoul tree (Careya shaerica Roxb). While the reddish-gray takes from the peel of the Papyrus tree (Smarch Tree). Dark red makes from the peel of Narva or Burama Paduak tree (Tnong Tree) and Ceylon Oak tree (Pong Ror Tree).

The yellow color comes from the Curcuma zeodaria (Preah Angkourl) and turmeric (Rormiet) (mashed with water). Old yellow color gets from Garcinia Vilersiana (Pror Haut). Light yellow comes from the peel of Banyan tree, Jackfruit tree, larkspur tree (Changreak tree), Markhamia pierrei (Dok Po tree), Takeo bushwillow tree (Sangké tree or Combretum quardanulare), Om Pil Barang Tree, and Arn Chey Tree.

The blue color comes from the Wild indigo tree (Trum Tree). But the dyes from this tree could change into old blue or green color depending on the duration of soaking in the water. If it soaks for one night, it will get the light green; but, if it soaks for two nights, it will get the blue color. They also can use chili leaves, Ivy gourd leaves (Coccinia granis or Sloek Bas), or tamarind leaves to make the blue color.

Black color comes from Swamp Bushwillow (Trors Tree), Derm Phnous leaves, Asian Bulletwood fruit or Spanish Cherry (Pkar Tkol), Diospyros mollis (Mork Khleur). However, in order to get a good black color, they have to take silk or skirt to dye with green color, then dry it, and dye with the black color later. However, for the other colors, they also can create it from other types of plants.

Before dying the thread, we have to take a regular soaked for overnight. In the morning, we have to dry the thread, and leave it some time, and roll it with shapes like worms in order to make it easier to dip. Traditionally, there is not much the color which is often used for the dyeing; there is just only dark blue and white color. That is why Kramar of that generation is still not very much colored. But nowadays, they can make more colorful Kramar than before, since they use more chemical colors.

After dyeing the thread, it is reached another stage called “Oy Bai”. Oy Bai is to make the thread to be tougher than before and be more useful. The way to do it is to soak the thread into the water with rice (bai), and steam until it is tough. Moreover, the rice is milled into the powder and mixed with water and other ingredients to use instead of rice.

After that, it moved to next stage called “Arn Torng”.  Warping the thread on the loom is for dividing the proper amount of threads on the wooden teeth (tool) and insert the thread into each gap between the wooden teeth. In this stage, they need to spend many days and many human powers.

Next, it reached another stage called “Trokor”. We set up nylon to trokor to separate threads. Then, this action is repeated after flipping the wooden board over. And, they make the threads into Korm Krala. Korm Krala, in general, is divided into five forms such as Krala Chaktrong (Square Shape), Krala Thnang Om Pov, Krala Kat or Krala Phlous, Krala Kanh Chork and Krala Sroka Lenh.

After they set up all tools, the last stage called Weaving. Weaving can do it on Kei (tool). Based on the documents, Traditional Kei is approximately 4 to 5 meter in length and generally, it is carved to design on the Kei and Trorl. In fact, as we can see the traditional Kei where exhibited at the National Museum. In particular, the modern Kei is approximately 2 meter in length only. In the weaving stage, Trorl is an important stuff because it has been used to deliver the threads one by one to produce the Krama. Trorl is shaped similar to Khmer Boat.

Krama in Culture and Using Context               

Generally, Krama was weaving in Khmer Society consist of two types such as Thread Scarf and Silk Scarf. Thread Scarf is woven from the thread that made by krapās as the above mentioned. For Silk Scarf, on the other hand, is woven from the thread that made by silkworm. According to the observation between the two types of the scarf, Khmer people always use Thread scarf more than the Silk scarf in their daily use due to this kind of scarf are easy to maintain and wash. For the Silk Scarf, it was used when there is a celebration or just an ornament item. And nowadays, the Silk scarf is popularly used as a souvenir item. The Silk scarf cannot often wash as the Thread scarf because it could be broken. However, if we look at Khmer scarf in Culture and Using Context, Kramar showed the identity and absolute benefits for Khmer People; as mentioned in Khmer poetry by Mr. Phrum Mainh. In daily use context, Kramar can be used as wrapping, head, and body covering, and scarfing. In the countryside, Middle-age-men use Kramar to dress as the skirt at home or bathe changing. For the middle-age-women use Kramar to wrap their body or bathe changing. In the ancient time, it is used by middle-age-women for covering their body (as Jacket) when they have a long journey. And, men used it as a belt.

In other ways of using, it can be used as blanket or flooring for seat and sleep. Furthermore, the big size scarf can be used as hammock for the baby and other ways such as “Rong Vael”, “Sampeay”, “Bang Vech”, or can be bind as “Bag or Barv” or “kar Rong”, can be used as wire to tie wood or bunch of sugar cane.

Khmer people mostly elder people in the countryside always use Kramar for scarfing or “Pea Nea” during join the celebration or go to the pagoda. Moreover, we always see that elderly people use Kramar as flooring during the monk perform the sermon, due to they believe that it is a temperament in sacrificing to a sermon. In the Khmer wedding ceremony, it is used to wrap Bai Proloueng, areca “Sla Dok or Sla Kon Saeng”, and areca flower. In Khmer popular folk game, it is used as an item in the game like folded to make Chhoung, braid for Leak Kon Saeng “Hiding Scarf”, covering eyes for hit pot clay and so on. In 2001, Kramar was transformed into dance and was officially perform during the National Cultural event held on 03 March 2002, and the dance was inscribed in the teaching program of Faculty of Choreographic Art until present.

By Kramar is always exist in the mindset of Khmer people. In the sports sector like Bokator (Khmer Martial Art), Kramar is defined for ability and skill level identities, such as black Kramar and gold Kramar. Even in the method of self-defense technique of the martial art also used Krama. Moreover, many Khmer celebrities take Kramar for design as clothes, bag, or omental item during their performance. In offices and some modern restaurants design Kramar as window curtain or tablecloth, which show the relation of Kramar in Khmer modern society.

Presently, Cambodia is being recognized by the world that it is a country that riches in traditional cultures, civilizations and sparkling on the land of Angkor and the people living in an innovative manner. A group of young Khmer people has propelled their campaign to claim the Guinness World Record for weaving the longest Cambodian scarf or Kramar. The official record endeavor will begin on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018. It is arranged by GoGo Cambodia, an organization set up by youth to promote Cambodian national pride. The effort must create a kramar of no less than 1,000 meters’ length to satisfy prerequisites set by Guinness World Record. 

On July 1st, 2018, Cambodia has won another new place in the Guinness Book of World Records for more than 1,000 meters long version of the Khmer scarf (Kramar). Thousands of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC) members unrolled a Kramar on Koh Pich island, Phnom Penh for a visiting Guinness official to measure the garment. “With 1,149.8 meters, you have set a new Guinness World Record!” announced by a Guinness adjudicator Mr. Swapnil Dangarikar to a large cheering crowd.