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A traditional Khmer dancer wearing a sampot

The sampot (សំពត់, ALA-LC: saṃbát, IPA: [sɑmpʊət]) is a lower-body, wrap around cloth and is the national garment of Cambodia. The traditional dress is similar to those worn in the neighboring countries of Laos and Thailand where they are known as pha nung (ผ้านุ่ง), but variations do exist between the countries. The similarities can be explained by the fact that traditional Thai and Lao dress are derived from the Angkorian-style sampot when the Khmers had immense cultural influence on Lao and Thai culture. Both Sukhothai and Ayutthaya were provinces of the Angkor empire, and Lan Xang was formed by Fa Ngum, the Lao prince that resided in the Cambodian courts who later married a daughter of the Khmer king.

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Origins

Apsara dressed in Angkorian-style sampot cloth.

The sampot dates back to the Funan era when a Cambodian king ordered the people of his kingdom to wear the sampot at the request of Chinese envoys. It is similar to the lungi and dhoti worn in the Indian subcontinent, the longyi worn in Burma, and the sarong worn in the Malay archipelago. Silk weaving has been an important part of Cambodia's cultural past. It has been documented that people from Takéo Province have woven silk since the Funan era and records, bas-relief and Zhou Daguan's report have shown that looms were used to weave sampots since ancient times. Since ancient times, women have learned highly complex methods and intricate patterns, one of which is the hol method. It involves dyeing patterns on silk before weaving. What remains unique to Cambodian weavers is the uneven twill technique, the reason why they adopted such an unusual method remains unclear. However, little is known about the old Khmer vocabulary for these fabrics, and if the sampot today was simply changed over time from the original Angkorian textiles. The ancient bas-reliefs however provide a complete look at what fabrics were like, down to patterns and pleats. Silk woven pieces are used as heirlooms, in weddings and funerals, and as decoration in temples.

Textiles

There are three important silk textiles in Cambodia. They include the ikat silks (chong kiet in Khmer), or hol, the twill-patterned silks and the weft ikat textiles. Patterns are made by tying natural and synthetic fibers on the weft threads and then it is dyed. It is repeated for different colors until the patterns firm and cloth is woven. Traditionally, five colors are used. Red, yellow, green, blue and black are the most used. The Sampot Hol is used as a lower garment and as the sampot chang kben. The Pidan Hol is used as a ceremonial hanging used for religious purposes.

Variations

There are many variations of the sampot, each is worn according to class. The typical regular sampot, known also as the sarong is typically worn by men and women of lower class. It measures approximately one and a half meters and both ends are sewn together. It is tied to safely secure it on the waist.

  • The Sampot Chang Kben (សំពត់​ចងក្បិន, ALA-LC: saṃbát caṅ kpin) is the preferred choice of clothing for women of upper and middle classes for daily wear. This practice of daily wear died out in the beginning of the twentieth century. Unlike the typical Sampot, it is more of a pant than a skirt. It is a rectangular piece of cloth measuring 3 meters long and one meters wide. It is worn by wrapping it around the waist, stretching it away from the body, twisting the ends together then pulling the twisted fabric between the legs and tucking it in the back of the waist. It is then held by a cloth or metal belt. Regardless of class, all Cambodian women wear the Sampot Chang Kben for special events. Men also wear it, but the traditional patterns depend on gender. The Sampot Chang Kben is adopted in Thailand and Laos, where it is known as kraben. It dates back to ancient Cambodia where deities often wear such styles.
    A Khmer traditional Dancer in Sampot Chang Kben
  • The Sampot Phamuong (សំពត់​ផាមួង ALA-LC: saṃbát phā muaṅ) are many different variations of traditional Khmer textiles. They are single colored and twill woven. There are currently 52 colors used in Sampot Phamuong. The Phamuong Chorabap is a luxurious fabric using up to 22 needles to create. Phamuong variation are rabak, chorcung, anlounh, kaneiv and bantok. It usually uses floral and geometric motifs. The most valued silk used to create the Phamuong is Cambodian yellow silk, known for its fine quality in the region. New designs draw inspiration from ancient patterns on old silk.
  • The Sampot Hol (សំពត់​ហូល ALA-LC: saṃbát hūl) is a typical traditional textile. There are two kinds of Sampot Hol, one is a wrapping skirt that uses a technique called chong kiet and twill weave. Influence by the Indian patola, it developed patterns and techniques over the centuries to become a genuine Khmer art style. The sampot hol has over 200 patterns combined with three to five colors, yellow, red, brown, blue, and green. There are four variations, sampot hol, sampot hol por, sampot hol kben and sampot hol ktong. Patterns are usually geometric motifs, animals, and flower motifs.

In daily life

Dancers wearing the sampot and sampot chang kben.

The Sampot is deeply rooted in Cambodia. Even though the French brought a degree of westernization to Cambodia, Cambodians continued to wear the Sampot. Royalty and government officials used the sampot chang kben with a formal jacket. The sampot chan kben and sampot pamung are still worn by Cambodians today during special occasions, and rural and poor Khmers still prefer it over western style clothing for its comfort. The material used by poor and rural Cambodians is not hand-woven silk but printed batik-patterned cloth imported from Indonesia. It is still popular with both men and women alike and is regarded by the people of Cambodia as their national garment.

References

See also








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