An alarming amount of young Cambodians have no idea know what our national symbols are, a shocking surprise given their knee-jerk reactions when responding affirmatively to being nationalists.
Yang Hakvun, 20, a student at Vanda Institute, said, “I want to know about the symbols of our national pride, but I don’t know what those animals and plants are.”
Hakvun studies accounting, and has heard nothing of Cambodia’s national symbols in the media.
According to a Royal Decree dated March 21, 2005 on the Designation of Animals and Plants as National Symbols of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the seven symbols are the kouprey, giant ibis, royal turtle, giant Mekong barb, sugar palm, rumdul and chicken egg banana.
The kouprey is a kind of wild animal that dwells in low land and forests. They are more intelligent than other species in their family, and they are strong and agile. However, the kouprey is now extinct – it hasn’t been spotted since 1983.
The royal turtle stands out from other turtles because while other turtle species have five claws, the royal turtle has four. The turtle was believed to be extinct in Cambodia, but the animal was spotted again in 1995 in Koh Kong Province. People named it the “royal turtle” because its eggs were eaten only by the king.
The giant Mekong barb is the biggest kind of river fish in Cambodia; its weight can be up to 300 kilograms. There are pictures of Giant Mekong Barb carved on Angkor Wat bas reliefs. The fish is so delicious that Cambodians prefers to eat it more than any other fish, while its scales are used to make shuttlecock.
The giant ibis can be found in Preh Vihear Province, where its population stands around 100. The bird has been widely written about in popular Khmer songs and traditional tales. The giant ibis is very intelligent: if it fails at hunting in one place, the bird will never return to that location.
Sugar palm is a kind of trees with a single stem, large stump and cylindrical trunk with a height of approximately 10 metres. People use sugar palm’s leaves for building roofs, its dates for making cookies and the trunk for building boats.
Rumdul is a kind of flower that’s known for its alluring fragrance. The elderly compare the smell of a rumdul to a virgin girl, both fresh in nature. Rumdul flowers are a white-yellow colour and you can smell them from miles away.
The chicken egg banana is used as an offering to the spirits, Thevada and for presents in many ceremonies. Its purpose is largely ceremonial.
H.E. Chuch Phoeurn, Secretary of State, responsible for Cultural Heritage and Museums, said, “By selecting the seven national symbols of Cambodia, we must distinguish whether it’s rare or extinct to be preserved such as the kouprey, the giant ibis and the royal turtle.”
“Those things must be praised and valued by Cambodian people, relate to the history and culture as in the songs or books and be especially advantageous to every-day life.”
“For example, sugar palm can provide benefits from its roots to its leaves.”
His Excellency added, “The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has planned and is preparing an application to put these National Symbols of Cambodia as the Memory of the World Register, like Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.”
Om Ratha, 22, a Beltei International Institute student majoring in English Literature, said, “I know about the animals and plants from when I read through a magazine, which made me want to read more about these symbols.”
A history teacher at Intraktevi High School, Ke Sokhena, said that she knew about the animals and plants as National Symbols of Cambodia, but she did not have time to talk about it due to a tight lesson schedule.
However, the animals and plants chosen as symbols are taught in geography class, she said.