Cambodia Folktales

Cambodia has a literary tradition that dates all the way back to the 7th century. The classical works of Khmer literature were first inscribed on stones and written in verse form. These works were heavily influenced by Indian culture and included metaphors as well as strong Buddhist overtones. The Jataka Tales were an important genre of Cambodian literature. This compendium of tales included 547 different stories about the lives of the Buddha. The Chbap or didactic codes were advice for daily life that were also central to the Cambodian literary tradition. By the 1930s, Cambodia began producing modern novels, but this stopped during the tyranny of the Khmer Rogue. After 1979, there was a revival of Khmer literature. Many Khmer works were published in refugee camps, including the timeless Cambodian folktales.
Cambodian folktales, like many other regional folktales, were passed down orally from generation to generation.  These tales were first recorded on palm leaves. Although many of the records of these stories were destroyed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, there has since been a revival of them in Cambodian pop culture. While Buddhism influenced many of these folktales, there was also a strong focus on animals and nature. The two most prevalent themes in Cambodian folktales are deception and humor.
We see these two themes blended in the rabbit as a character. Featured in many Cambodian folktales, as well as other Southeastern Asian traditions, the rabbit is often seen as a clever trickster. Judge Rabbit (Subhā Dansāy) is a character that solves cases and ridicules or punishes the guilty party. Through his 51a2lUJzU3L._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_cleverness he is able to act as a fair judge. In The Man Who Engages the Wife, a man is promised to a young woman by her parents if he stands in cold water for three days. Her parents accuse him of trying to warm up through a faraway fire. To prove the young man’s innocence Judge Rabbit cooks soup, but places the salt far away from the soup. When the parents complain, Judge Rabbit responds that if the salt does not flavor the soup when it’s far away then the fire would not warm the young man.
This shrewdness is why he is considered a hero in Cambodian folktales. While Judge Rabbit is a hero for others, he occasionally uses his cleverness for personal gain. In The Story of Judge Rabbit in prose (Subhā Dansāy Jā Bāky Rāy) the Judge Rabbit gets himself stuck in a plantation and continuously tricks a toad into helping him through persuasion. Although he promises the toad a reward, he does not keep his promise in the end. 
The stories of Judge Rabbit exhibit values important to Cambodia culture and the literary tradition. Judge Rabbit helps and entertains others, while exhibiting cleverness to defend and enrich himself.
Further reading:
* Cathy Spagnoli’s retelling of Judge Rabbit and the Snails (2015)
* Kent Davis’ Tales of the Hare (2011)
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