Reyum Gallery
Exhibition on
Khmer Lacquer Making
and Lakhaoun Khaol

Opening on Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Collaborative Article by
Ly Daravuth, Ingrid Muan, Preap Chanmara, An Sopheap, Pic Bunnin, Tia Tina, Vann Vanny
© reyum publishing 1999.

[There are no plates / images or Khmer text in this web version]


    Reyum Gallery is a place for the encounter and exchange of ideas. In the context of contemporary Cambodia where few forums or opportunities exist for developing and showing art, literature, and cinema - our initiative hopes, if only in a small way, to generate active reflection and to open a space of expression.

    This exhibition is an opportunity to display the particular artistic practice of Cambodian lacquer making which, by its increasing scarcity, only confirms the necessity of our project. The process of preparing this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue has also been an occasion for students of archeology and fine arts to share their research on this theme and to put the display of these objects in an anthropological light.

    The text which follows is the synthesis of our collective research. It is a modest work with many missing pieces. We hope through this project however to spur others, in particular students, to pursue further research which will deepen our knowledge of the subjects sketched here.

Reyum Gallery is a non-profit local organisation supported by the Friends of the Gallery and a generous gift from the Kasumisou Foundation.

        The co-directors and founders

        Ly Darawuth and Ingrid Muan

    Lakhaoun Khaol is a kind of theater in which the actors wear masks and perform scenes from the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Ramayana. Since the word "Khaol" probably means a kind of monkey, we can think that the name Lakhaoun Khaol comes from the group of monkey characters found in the Reamker.*1 Lakhaoun Khaol is usually used to refer to the type of theater found in the Royal Palace. There is also however another less well form of Lakhaoun Khaol which villagers perform in the countryside. This kind of village performance is found today, for example, in Vat Svay Andaet Srok Lovea Em, as well as in Battambang Province, Pursat Province and Kandal Province.*2 Our exhibition presents research, both from the past and from the present, about these two kinds of Lakhaoun Khaol.*3 We also outline the process of making the Lacquer masks which play such an essential role in both forms of Lakhaoun Khaol. We hope that through the preparation of this exhibition we have assembled documents that may be of interest to students of the Faculties of Archeology and Fine Arts as to a general audience. We would like this exhibition to encourage others to pursue further research on the subjects outlined here.

Lakhaoun Khaol in the Royal Palace

    We know for certain that Lakhaoun Khaol has existed since the 19th century. Before that, we cannot be sure of its existence.*4 In the 19th century, King Ang Duong established a troupe called Lakhaoun Khaol in the Royal Palace. This group had two sets of performers, one set all male, the other set all female. Because Siamese and Laotian culture had considerable influence on Cambodia during the 19th century, we can surmise that by establishing his theater, King Ang Duong was following examples from the Siamese court where there was a theater troupe called "Lakhaoun Nai".*5 In order to establish his troupe, King And Duong ordered his servants to search for performers in the countryside. Because Vat Svay Andaet had a famous troupe of Yike performers, the minister chose some of these performers to come and help establish the Royal Palace Lakhaoun Khaol troupe. Later on, this Royal Troupe performed for many important occasions including the Royal ceremony Tang Toc which, since its founding by King Norodom, has celebrated the birthday of the reigning King for more than a century.*6 Royal Lakhaoun Khaol performances varied in length. In the reign of King Suramit, for example, the performances only lasted one afternoon whereas previous performances had sometimes lasted for 7 days.*7 Since the Pol Pot era, the Royal Palace Lakhaoun Khaol troupe and its performances have lapsed completely. Elderly people however still remember its performances from the 1950s and 1960s.
    In particular, An Sok, whose masks are featured in our exhibition and who has made masks and other ceremonial items for the Royal Palace from the early 1960s to the present, remembers the late 1950s and 1960s as a vibrant period of performances in and around Phnom Penh. At that time, in addition to the Royal troupe performances, independent private theater performances were often presented to urban audiences. These performances, both in the Royal palace and in the city at large, were opportunities for entertainment and were attended with pleasure the year round. The emphasis of these performances thus was on the visual beauty and artistic presentation of the spectacle. This is in stark contrast to the single annual performance of Lakhaoun Khaol in its village setting where the performances has a specific social meaning in the cycle of village life.

Lakhaoun Khaol in the countryside

    For the purposes of this exhibition, we take as our example the village version of Lakhaoun Khaol at Vat Svay Andaet in Kandal Province (plate 1). Called Lakhaoun Khaol Pol Proh to mark its all male cast, this village version uses only male performers even when the character represented is female (plate 6, 7). Taking place directly after the Khmer New Year at the end of the dry season, the village version of Lakhaoun Khaol includes a whole set of practises which mark the end of a yearly cycle and the beginning of regeneration as signified by rain. At Vat Svay Andaet, Lakhaoun Khaol begins with "Hom Roong" [(khmer)], a ceremony during which the teachers of Lakhaoun Khaol roles are honored and the masks used in the performance are brought to life (see description below). The local spirits or Neak Ta are called at this time and are asked to join in the ceremony. Neak Ta are the spirits of powerful people in the village who have died and still have influence on daily life in the village. As spirits, they have no form, although their presence is marked by the small sheds and houses set up in and around the village in order to give them offerings of food, drink and incense (plate 20). When Neak Ta want to mediate in a dispute or solve a problem in the village, they enter into the body of a villager. We will return to this aspect of Lakhaoun Khaol in the following description.
    On the opening day of the Lakhaoun Khaol ceremony, masked characters are presented in the performance hall but no complete Reamker scene is performed. The following evening, the presentation of scenes from the Reamker begins. The most important scene that is presented each year is that of Kumbakar stopping the water. The successful performance of this scene is thought to bring rain. Performances continue for several days and a closing ceremony marks the end of Lakhaoun Khaol for the year. As a set of ceremonies and performances spanning a series of days, Lakhaoun Khaol involves almost all the villagers of the area either as performers, narrators, musicians or participant organisers / observers. In other words, Lakhaoun Khaol in its village version is not a form of entertainment in which professional actors present something to a passive and separate audience assembled to view a finished product. Rather, preparation for and participation in the performance is a collective ritual considered to be the duty of all villagers. Successful completion of the entire set of ceremonies ensures the well-being of the village for the coming year.

Location of the Performance

    At Vat Svay Andaet, Lakhaoun Khaol is performed in an open hall located about 50 meters south of the Vat (plate 4). The present performance hall stands on the ground of a previous hall which is located in the area where villagers remember that Lakhaoun Khaol has been performed for a long time. The performance hall is 10 meters long and 5 meters wide. It is built at ground level and is made of wood and roofed with tiles. Today it is in dilapidated condition and parts of the hall have been repaired with old materials taken from the School of the Khum. Before a performance, mats and draperies of various colors are unfolded and hung to decorate the hall.
    On the east side of the hall (see plan, plate 5), the building's open wall has been closed off with planks in order to make a small room from which the performers emerge. Attached to this wall in the main hall, there is a platform for putting offerings to the teachers. Inside the small room there is also a long shelf attached to the outside wall which is the place for putting masks in preparation foo the performance.
    To the east of the performance hall there is a small shed about 1.5 metres square. This is the place from which those who the Neak Ta has entered sometimes speak from. It is also associated with Neak Ta Kamhaeng and during the performance, offerings to him are put there (plate 18). Another nearby larger shed is sometimes used to shelter the audience if the weather is bad during Lakhaoun Khaol performances. Otherwise it has no significant meaning in the performance.

The Performers

    Characters represented in the performances of Lakhaoun Khaol include the various yeaks, the various monkeys, princes and princesses, comics, and the narrator (Neak Pol). Previously the number of performers was 60 people or even more. The number included three narrators, three comics, and eight musicians.*8 Today, the number of performers has decreased and is sometimes only about 20 or 30 people. All the performers, musicians, narrators, teachers, and organisers are villagers from the surrounding area and thus they are often family members or relatives. Since the troupe is not professional, all performers are either farmers or other workers who cannot practise their roles full time. If performers are compelled to go far from their village during the year in order to support their families, they still return to join in the annual performance of Lakhaoun Khaol in order to pay homage to the local spirits for the good of the whole village. Performers believe that if they avoid the ceremony and don't come and particiate, they will have various difficulties or illnesses as a result of the anger of the spirits who protect and look over the village of their birth.


    Because the villagers presents Lakhaoun Khaol annually, roles must be studied and passed down in order to keep and continue the village tradition of performance. The teaching of roles is the job of elders who know the dance positions and movements (kbach) for a particular set of characters. The division and number of teachers has remained relatively constant over the years with at least one teacher in the village actively teaching the monkey roles, another teaching the roles of the yeaks (demons), and still another teaching the human roles. Each teacher trains students individually as there is no official school or organised time for practicing. Today some of the old teachers only teach while others still performs as well. The teacher of yeak roles today is called Kru Suon, the monkey role is called Kru Som (plate 2), while the roles of the princes and princesseds are taught by an old woman since the male teacher of human roles was killed during the Pol Pot times. Extended over many years, this practise of teaching means that roles are passed down from one generation to the next in order to continue the village tradition. Villager / students come to practise in front of the house of their teacher. Today Kru Suon takes time in the evening to teach the kbach or dance positions of the yeak (demons) to his four students, two of whom are his children. Students who just begin to study have to prepare and present offerings to their teacher. These offerings include the tiered banana poles with attached leaf ornaments topped with an egg which Khmer call Baay Sai. A smaller one tier version of Baay Sai, Baat Cha, is also offered along with betel, candles, incencse, flowers, rice, cigarettes, lengths of white cloth, and holy water. Students study with their teacher until the teacher decides that they are 'ready' to dance. Villagers remember one case in which a performer practised for fourteen years before his teacher allowed him the full rights to perform Lakhaoun Khaol. Teaching concentrates on the particular role to be learned. Thus few performers know the entire story of the Reamker in detail; instead they know the stories, positions, and movements associated with their specific role. For example the pose which Hanuman is taking in plate 3 is called 'Baek Leam' and indicates that he (or any other of the monkey characters) is about to fly off. Interestingly, the position which we illustrate is considered to be a royal school gesture; in the countryside, the position with the same name is performed with the hands held parallel to the ground. Before the day of the Lakhaoun Khaol performance, all the performers meet to practice together for about one week in the performance hall.


    Lakhaoun Khaol requires various accessories for a performance such as masks, clothing costumes, jewellery, weapons (sword, bow, cudgel), as well as the musical instrument for a Pin Peat orchestra.

The Masks

    Masks are made of lacquer and are worn on the head (se technique section). Each character from the Reamker has a different color and specific characteristic ornaments. Almost all the characters presented in Lakhaoun Khaol are fully masked; only Preah Ream, Phreah Leak, and Neang Seda wear headdresses, or 'mongkot' which do not cover their faces. Our exhibition presents a set of characters that An Sok, the mask maker, believes to be those used in the Royal Palace version of Lakhaoun Khaol. The characters, with some of their noteworthy formal characteristics include:*9
Phreah Ream - the hero of the Reamker who wears a headdress (mongkot) and whose skin is generally represented as green. In the Wat Svay Andaet version of Lakhaoun Khaol, Phreah Ream wears a headdress and has a powdered white face; other versions of Lakhaoun Khaol use a full green face mask to represent him.
Phreah Leak - the brother of Phreah Ream wh fights alongside of him and supports him in every way. Phreah Leak is generally represented with white skin and wears a headdress (mongkot) identical to that of Phreah Ream. Again, in the Vat Svay Andaet version of Lakhaoun Khaol, Preah Leak does not wear a face mask and instead has a white powdered face. In other versions of Lakhaoun Khaol, Phreah Leak wears a flesh colored face mask.
Neang Seda - the wife of Phreah Ream who is stolen away by the demon king Krong Reap, precipitating most of the action in the Reamker. She (a male performer) wears a smaller headdress (mongkot) with slightly different characteristics than that of Phreah Ream and Phreah Leak. Her face is powdered white.
Hanuman - the clever monkey commander and the closest ally of Phreah Ream and Phrah Leak. He is a white monkey, with a kbang (the name for the broad headband around his forehead around his forehead) but no tower headdress.
Nilaek - a monkey commander, the son of Mohajompuh. He is a black monkey with a kbang and no tower headdress.
Sugrib - the younger brother of Peali who becomes the monkey King and rules of Nokor Keh Kem Borei after the death of Peali. He is a red monkey with a gold tower headdress.
Mohajompuh - the monkey King who rules over Nokor Saimpuli. He is the color of light pig's blood and has a gold tower headdress.
Jompuhpean - a monkey commander, the son of Mohajompuh. He is the color of dark earth or dark pig's blood and has a kbang but no gold tower headdress.
Angkut - a monkey commander, the son of Peali (the dead monkey king) and Mondulkiri (the queen of Krong Reap who was formerly married to Peali). He is green with a large snout and a gold tower headdress with a green bulb on the top.
Eysei - the hermit. The "normal" hermit mask has a full face mask with a fish tail headdress while the "false" hermit mask keeps the face of the performer bare and only adds the fish tail headdress. Various hermits are encountered in the Reamker. They counsel both Preah Ream and Krong Reap and thus stand in the middle of the two warring sides.
Krong Reap - the demon King. He can ba represented either in all gold or in green with gold detailing. Krong Reap has a headdress of ten heads which has led to his popular name Dusamuk or "10 headed one".
Ream Eyso - a yeak whom Preah Ream meets along the road when he is returning home with Preah Leak and Neang Seda after his marriage ceremony. He is a green yeak with a headdress the shape of a goose tail ornament (Kbach Kontouey Hong).
Eysei Akaneat - a hermit who helps Krong Reap. His eyes are red and they burn those he sees. This hermit is all gold and has a long beard.
Kumbakar - the younger brother of Krong Reap. He is a green yeak with a round kbang and a simple black rounded head. In the scene most often peformed in the village version of Lakhaoun Khaol, Kumbakar meditates to make himself huge, thereby stopping water on one side of him so that the soldiers of Preah Ream have no water to drink. Pipaet, who by this time is helping Preah Ream, informs Preah Ream of Kumbakr's ploy and advises him to send Hanuman and Angkut to disturb Kumbakar's meditation. Hanuman changes himself into a crow and Angkut changes himself into the decaying corpse of a dog. They float on the side of Kumbakar that still has water, the crow (Hanuman) sitting on the dead dog (Angkut) and pecking at his corpse. The two float close to Kumbakar and hit his nose so that he is both startled and revulsed. His meditation is interrupted, the waters are unleashed, and Kumbakar returns to his regular size and runs away.
Virul Chamban - a yeak from a neighboring city, Nokor Roomkan, who helps Krong Reap fight Phreah Ream. He is a green yeak with a tower headdress the shape of the chicken tail ornament.
Pipaet - the younger brother and the soothsayer of Krong Reap. He so angers the demon king by his prophecies of doom that Krong Reap throws him out of the kingdom and Pipaet goes to help Phreah Ream's side. He is a green yeak with a gold tower headdress topped by a green bulb.

These then are some of the characters encountered in a Lakhaoun Khaol performance. Before the Pol Pot era, the villagers borrowed the necessary masks from the Royal Palace shortly before their annual performance, returning them directly after Lakhaoun Khaol had been presented in the village. Today, masks are borrowed from the Department of Performing Arts of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. According to the research of Pic Bunnin, some masks are kept in the village year around. These masks were once kept by one particular family in a special storage place called "Kruh" which has now been destroyed. Today the masks are kept in the Vat although there are plans to reinstall them in their special storage area. The masks are kept in the village are often identical to those borrowed from Phnom Penh but the village masks are more often associated with the names of Neak Ta while the borrowed masks are usually called by the names of the Reamker. For example, Hanuman is borrowed from Phnom Penh while the identical, if more worn, mask in the village year round but is called Lok Ta Kamhaeng after the Neak Ta associated with Hanuman in village belief (plate 18). The mask of Lok Ta Kamhaeng and other offerings are placed in the small shed near the performance hall during the period that Lakhaoun Khaol is performed.

The costumes and jewellery:

    Like the masks, costumes and jewellery used to be borrowed from the Royal Palace bu today are borrowed from the Department of Performing Art. One can see from the photographs of the village performance in the 1960s (plate 8) that the costumes of the performers are not seamlessly presented as they would be in the Royal Palace performance. Instead, wrist watches, shorts, and paraphernalia of everyday contemporary life mix with the spectacular borrowed costumes. One suspects thus that even if no costumes were available, the performance could go on and could satisfy the Neak Ta, since the meaning is in the playing rather than in the visual surface presented to the viewers. Likewise, the masks used in village performances are often battered and worn. Still they embody the spirit of the character that they represent and as such are just as adequate as the highly finished gold leaf masks presented in our exhibition.

The Weapons:

    The weapons used in the performances are made from ordinary materials readily available in the village. Thus for example, swords are usually represented by simply carving and painting wood pieces.

The Musical instruments:

    Today Vat Svay Andaet has the instruments of a complete Pin Peat orchestra. This orchestra is used for Lakhaoun Khaol performances as well as for other ceremonies held at the Vat throughout the year.


    The timing for the performance of Lakhaoun Khaol comes from tradition. The set of ceremonies associated with the performance must begin on the Saturday immediately following the Khmer New Year (in April). This prescribed timing is considered important and the spirits can be angered if they are not honored and given offerings at the proper time. Villagers remember bad things which occurred a few years ago when the performance began on a day other than Saturday. The villagers understand such events to be a sign that the spirits are angry over the choice of a timing that contradicts long-standing traditions. Another incident showing the importance of respecting the timing prescribed by tradition is described in Sem Sara's article. She explains that in 1957, after performing for only 5 days ( 2 days short of the then standard 7 day theater), the village troupe departed for a village which wanted to rent the Vat Svay Andaet troupe to perform because there had been so little rain that year. The village troupe departed and a cholera epidemic ensued which killed 800 people. Today villagers still remember this event as an especially strong lesson for why Lakhaoun Khaol should be performed according to tradition.
    Before the Pol Pot era, Lakhaoun Khaol was performed for seven days. The standard length could be extended if the spirits were not pleased with the performance. In this case, the Neak Ta or spirit enters their embodier and tells the assembled villagers that the performance must continue for an additional length of time. Today, poverty and a general lack of everything, has limited performances to three days unless the spirits are unhappy in which case the performance is extended to five days. Performance generally begins in the evening at around 7 or 8 pm. They last for 2 to 3 hours per night, or until about 11 pm, and are continued the following evening.

The Performance

    Before performance of scenes from the Reamker begin, an opening set of ceremonies are performed. In the afternoon of the Saturday on which Lakhaoun Khaol starts, the ceremony of [khmer] (roughly, opening the hall) is celebrated. On the low shelf in the main performance hall, offerings are arranged in honor of the teachers of Lakhaoun Khaol (plate 13, 14). These offerings include Baay Sai (tiered banana leaf arrangements), pairs of betel leaves, candles, incense, flowers, rice, cigarettes, lengths of white cloth, and holy water. In the main hall, there is a Pin Peat orchestra which plays for the ceremony. The masks of important characters are brought and arranged on the shelf in the small inner room of the hall (plate 15, 16). The masks used for this this ceremony usually include the hermit, who is put in the middle, the Mongkot of Preah Ream placed to the right of the hermit, and Krong Reap or Dusamuk who is placed to the left of the hermit. These three masks summarize the main groups of characters who will perform the various stories of the Reamker in the coming days. In front of this shelf, offerings such as a boiled pig's head, chicken, lotuses of many kinds, sweets and other foods are placed and performers pay homage to the masks (plate 17). An old man called "Neak Sot" opens the ceremony by calling all the spirits and participants, both living and those from the past, to join in the performance of the next few days. The teachers of the Lakhaoun Khaol roles are specially invited to join in the ceremony. The orchestra plays several pieces.Then the old man invites the teachers to scatter rice on the ceremonial shelf. Blessed water is sprinkled on the masks and sometimes their faces are powdered and washed. Finally a mirror is held in front of the mask and the villagers understand that the mask has awoken. After these ceremonies of homage and awakening are completed, two yeak characters and two monkey characters go to the temple where they dance in front of the gods. Examples of the music for each character are played. When these dances are over, the offerings that have been arranges in two rows in front of the place for respecting the teachers, are given away. The offerings on the right are given to the dancers / performers while those on the left are given to the musicians.

The Scenes Performed

    On the day after this opening ceremony has taken place, the villagers begin to perform scenes from the Reamker. The scenes presented are chosen by the narrator (or Neak Pol) in consultation with the teacher of the yeak roles and the teacher of the monkey roles as well as other village elders. In times of drought, the scene in which the Yeak Kumbakar stops the water is performed in order to ask for rain to come to the village. Villagers still remember that, because of a drought from 1962 to 1966, they performed this scene and such a heavy rain begun to fall that the performance of Lakhaoun Khaol had to be stopped. A few years ago as well, in the face of a severe drought, the village decided to perform the scene of Kumbakar stopping the water. As soon as the scene was finished, rain returned to the village. Other scenes from the Reamker are chosen and performed in the course of the evening performances as well. The scenes to be presented are determined each year by the Neak Pol in consultation with the teachers.

Entering the form

    During each night of performances, an event which villagers call "all the spirits comes" occurs. In the middle of the playing of a Reamker scene, the music suddenly changes to a music which the villagers recognize as that accompanying the "entering of form". Ordinary villagers then appear in the dance area. These villagers are people into whom the Neak Ta has entered, either as they are seated in the audience or when they were outside in the temple or elsewhere in the village. During the first two days of the performances, these who have been entered dance and speak the message of the spirits (plate 19). Their dance contrasts with the dances of the performers in that it has little order or recognizable form to it. According to Sem Sara's account of Lakhaoun Khaol as performed in Vat Sway Andaet in 1967, there are up to 15 Neak Ta or local spirits that can enter villagers. These include:

1. Look Ta Kay [khmer]
2. Dusamuk [khmer] (associated with Krong Reap)
3. Kamhaeng [khmer] (associated with Hanuman)
4. Socheat Bopha [khmer]
5. Chhak Vei [khmer]
6. Klong Tvea [khmer]
7. Chom Chum Bopha [khmer]
8. Moha Muntrei [khmer]
9. Poan Hak [khmer]
10. Rumyol Tong Phka [khmer]
11. Chumteav Hang [khmer]
12. Phuong Muni [khmer]
13. Kamrong Phka [khmer]
14. Samin Loeung [khmer]
15. Lok Ta Krong Nokor [khmer]
16. Lok Ta Me Thnal [khmer]

Pi Bunnin has added the 16th name to the list. He understands this Neak Ta to have been present in the village since a long time ago; at the time of Sem Sara's research however, this spirit had not found a proper person to enter and thus was not present in the way the other 15 were. Once a person is chosen and entered by a Neak Ta, they remain designated as a medium for the rest of their life. The Neak Ta can only speak through them however on certain ceremonial occasions such as Pchum Ben (the October ceremony to remember the dead) and Lakhaoun Khaol. According to Preap Chanmara, when entered, the medium speaks in a different voice, becoming bigger than life and changing character completely. When the villagers 'enters form', the performance of Reamker scenes is suspended so that the audience can listen to what the Neak Ta has to say. Sometimes the person entered dances and speaks; other times they sit in the small shed separate from the main performance space and villagers gather around to hear whether the spirits are pleased or angry with the performance so far as well with village affairs in general. The message of the Neak Ta includes an evaluation of the Lakhaoun Khaol performance to date and usually determines whether the performance stops after three days or whether it continues for several additional days in order to appease unhappy spirits. After the Neak Ta has finished speaking, the spirit leaves the person who it has entered and they become normal again until next time that they are used as a medium. Once entered, the person becomes a medium for life and this role is often passed upon death to children or relatives in the next generation.

Closing ceremony

    After three (and previously seven) days of performing, if the Neak Ta are happy, a special closing ceremony is prepared. Monks, who until now have had no role in the ceremony, are invited from the Vat to come and say prayers for the villagers before they return to their homes. A small banana boat is carved from a banana stalk and offerings of all kinds (sweets, fruits) are put in it. Incense and candles are burnt and prayers are said for the health and prosperity of all the inhabitants of the area. After this prayer ceremony, the boat is carried by the villagers to the Mekong River about 30 meters south of the area where Lakhaoun Khaol is performed. The boat is placed into the river and sent off. After the boat has floated away, the ceremony of Lakhaoun Khaol is considered over for the year.


1. Personal communication, Dr. Ang Choulean, October 1999.
2. Report on Lakhaoun Khaol, Department of Performing Arts, Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (no author name given, 199?).
3. We draw heavily on Sem Sara’s 1967 article "Lokhon Khol au village de Vat Svay Andet, son rôle dans les rites agraires" found in Annales de l'Université Royale des Beaux Arts (Phnom Penh, 1967). We also make use of pictures and document assembled by Pic Bunnin, a graduate of the Faculty of Archeology, during the years in which he has been researching Lakhaoun Khaol in collaboration with Pou Thunnvat. Our account also relies on a short period of field work coordinated by Tin Tina, graduate of the Faculty of Archaelogy, and conducted by two present students of the Faculty: Preap Chanmara and An Sopheap.
4. Sem Sara, ibid.
5. Georges Coedes, "Origine et evolution de diverse formes du theatre traditionel en Thailande". In BSEI, vol.38, #3-4 (Saigon, 1963).
6. Adhémard Leclère, "Cambodge: le Tang Tok". In Revue Indochinoise, vol.4, #1 (September 1904).
7. Sem Sara, ibid.
8. Sem Sara, ibid.
9. Our account of the characters from the Reamker is drawn from Thiounn, "Sur les fresques de galeries de la Pagode Royale Prea Oubusoth Rottanaram Prèa Kèo a Phnom Penh", November 10, 1903 (handwritten Khmer manuscript, EFEO, Paris).

Khmer lacquer mask-making technique

    The masks on display in our exhibition are made out of paper mache, lacquer, enamel paint and gold leaf. In those masks with towers, wood and metal pieces are inserted into the headdresses. In order to make the mask for a particular character, the head of the character must first be sculpted in clay. The sculptor has to know the particular formal characteristics of each character (Hanuman, Krong Reap, etc) as well as the ornamental details that are unique to that character. These characteristics are usually learned through the study of traditional painting before they are translated into three dimensional form. When making a mask for use in real performances, it is best if the sculptor / mask maker measures the heads of the performers so that the masks will be suited to those who use them. Once the basic shape of the character's head has been sculpted in wet clay, there are two ways to proceed in order to make a mask. Before 1960, the clay head was used directly for making the mask. Strips of paper brushed with glue were layered to cover the clay head thus building up a mask form which could be cut off the clay model when the glued paper dried. This method allowed for only one, or at most, two masks to be made from any single sculpted clay head. Beginning in the 1960s, An Sok developed the idea of making a cement mold from the original sculpted clay head (plate 21). Because the cement mold could be kept for many years, masks could be made from it whenever the same character was required thus eliminating the need to sculpt another head every time a particular character was comissioned. Today, in An Sok's roof top studio, a library of these cement molds allow him to make various yeak and monkeys without having to sculpt an original head again.
    The basic mask form is made from the cement mold by pressing strips of paper dipped in glue into the mold form and then painting over then with a brush dipped in glue. The paper strips are applied until there are about 10 layers and the skin of the mask is strong. In Khmer, this process is called "smach". The paper mask form is only allowed to dry until damp within the cement mold. It is then removed from the mold and fully dried. If the paper dries completely within the cement mold it is difficult to remove the mask form.
    Once the basic paper mache form of the mask has been made (plate 22), paper ears, eyebrows, horns and moustache are attached and ornamental details are added to the surface of the mask face. These ornamental details are found for example on the ear "leaves" of various characters as well as on the headband area which is called the "kbang". The ornamental details are made from lacquer resin. Lacquer resin (mrak) is taken from the Kreul tree which is found mainly in Kompong Thom and Kratie Provinces. The resin is harvested by local inhabitants who not only sell it to markets in Phnom Penh but also still used it for various everyday purposes including the waterproofing of baskets and the impregnating of wooden tool handles so that insects cannot eat them. Resin is collected mainly in the dry season from February through May. According to An Sitha, An Sok's son, resin is collected through en incision in the tree to which a container is attached. The container fills with the black lacquer resin and is emptied once every day or two. Lacquer resin taken directly from the tree is not yet cured for use. It is usually stored in bags and sold raw in markets both in Kampong Thom and in Phnom Penh. In order to use lacquer resin (mrak) to make masks, it must be heated several times and mixed with another resin called Joa Jong and other ingredients. If one want different colors of lacquer, it can be mixed with color pigments. Previously these pigments were taken from nature but today they are most often chemical pigments bought in the market. One of the peculiar characteristics of lacquer resin is that, despite its black color, it can be mixed with pigments such as white and yellow without darkening their tone. However when lacquer resin is used raw and painted directly on wood, it is a strong black color.
    The lacquer details found on the surfaces of the masks are formed in molds. These molds were once chiseled directly into a stone that Cambodians call 'glass stone'. Today the molds are made by carving the kbach ornaments out of wax and then making a cement mold from this positive (plate 23). Cured lacquer resin is then poured into the ornament molds and allowed to cool. When it is cool, it can be peeled up and glued onto the mask. Afterwards it is painted with an orange colored primer which harden the resin and secures it onto the mask. The mask is then painted the appropriate color for the character represented and gold leaf is applied to the ornamental lacquer details.

List of Plates

1. The landscape on approach Vat Svay Andaet
        Photo: Preap Chanmara and An Sopheap
2. Lok Kru Som, the teacher of monkey roles
        Photo: Preap Chanmara and An Sopheap
3. Hanuman in the gesture of the position “Baerk Leam”
        Photo. Darren Campbell
4. Performance hall at Vat Svay Andaet
        Photo: Preap Chanmara and An Sopheap
5. Plan of the performance hall at Vat Svay Andaet
        Plan: Preap Chanmara and An Sopheap
6. The characters of Neang Sida and Preah Ream
        Photographed by Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath in 1999
7. Neang Seda
        Photographed by Jacques Brunet in 1967
8. The yeak soldiers
        Photographed by Jacques Brunet in 1967
9. The story of Virul Chamban from the Reamker
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
10. Preparation of the Baay Sai offerings
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
11. Preparaton of the performers: Dressing the clown in his kben
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
12. Preparaton of the performers before the performance
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
13. The place for offerings to the teachers, photo: on an ordinary day
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
14. The place for offerings to the teachers, photo: just before a performance
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
15. The shelf for putting the masks, photo: on an ordinary day
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
16. The shelf for putting the masks, photo: on an ordinary day
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
17. Paying homage to the masks
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
18. The place of Lok Ta Kamhaeng
        photo: Pic Bunin & Pou Thonevath
19. Houses of Neak Ta
        Photo: Preap Chanmara and An Sopheap
20. The ceremony of entering form
        Photographed by Jacques Brunet in 1967
21. Cement mold
        Photo: Ingrid Muan
22. Papermache mask before lacquer detailing is added
        Photo: Ingrid Muan
23. Kbach mold (recent cement mold)
        Photo: Ingrid Muan