Khmer people (Khmer: ខ្មែរ, Khmer pronunciation: [kʰmaːe],
Northern Khmer pronunciation: [kʰmɛr]) are a Southeast Asian ethnic
group native to Cambodia, accounting for 97.6% of the country's
15.9 million people. They speak the Khmer language, which is
part of the larger Austroasiatic language family found in parts of
central, eastern and north eastern
India and parts of
South Asia, and in other parts of
Southeast Asia (including Vietnam),
South China and numerous islands in the Indian Ocean.
The majority of the Khmer are followers of the Khmer style of
Buddhism, a highly syncretic version that blends elements of Theravada
Buddhism, Hinduism, animism and veneration of the dead.
Significant populations of Khmers reside in adjacent areas of Thailand
(Northern Khmer) and the
Mekong Delta region of neighboring Vietnam
(Khmer Krom), while there are over one million Khmers in the Cambodian
diaspora living mainly in France, the
United States and Australia.
Thailand and Vietnam
1.3 Western nations
2.1 Arrival in Southeast Asia
Khmer Empire (802–1431)
2.3 Post Empire (1431-present)
3 Culture and society
4.1 Immunoglobulin G
5 See also
7 External links
The majority of the world's
Khmer people live in Cambodia, the
population of which is over 90% Khmer.
Thailand and Vietnam
There are also significant Khmer populations native to
Vietnam. In Thailand, there are over one million Khmer, mainly in
Surin (Soren), Buriram (Borei Rom) and Sisaket (Sri Saket) provinces.
Estimates for the number of Khmer in
Vietnam (known as Khmer Krom)
vary from the 1.1 million given by government data to seven
million advocated by the
Khmer Krom Federation.
Khmer percentage of the total population in various provinces of
Khmer % in 1990
Khmer % in 2000
Due to migration as a result of the Cambodian Civil War, there is a
large Khmer diaspora residing in the United States, United Kingdom,
Australia and France.
Main article: History of Cambodia
According to one Khmer legend attributed by
George Coedes to a tenth
century inscription, the Khmer race arose from the union of the
Kambu Swayambhuva and the apsara ("celestial nymph") Mera.
Their marriage is said to have given rise to the name Khmer and
founded the Varman dynasty of ancient Cambodia.
A more popular legend, reenacted to this day in the traditional Khmer
wedding ceremony and taught in elementary school, holds that Cambodia
was created when an Indian
Brahmin priest named Kaundinya (commonly
referred to as Preah Thoang) married Princess Soma, a Naga (Khmer:
neak) princess. Kaundinya sailed to
Southeast Asia following an arrow
he saw in a dream. Upon arrival he found an island called kok thlok
and, after conquering Soma's Naga army, he fell in love with her. As a
dowry, the father of princess Soma drank the waters around the island,
which was revealed to be the top of a mountain, and the land below
that was uncovered became Cambodia. Kaundinya and Soma and their
descendents became known as the Khmer and are said to have been the
rulers of Funan,
Chenla and the Khmer Empire. This myth further
explains why the oldest Khmer wats, or temples, were always built on
mountaintops, and why today mountains themselves are still revered as
Arrival in Southeast Asia
The Khmers are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the area, having
Southeast Asia around the same time as the Mon, who
settled further to the west and to whom the Khmer are ancestrally
related. Most archaeologists and linguists, and other specialists like
Sinologists and crop experts, believe that they arrived no later than
2000 BCE (over four thousand years ago) bringing with them the
practice of agriculture and in particular the cultivation of rice.
This region is also one of the first places in the world to use
bronze. They were the builders of the later Khmer Empire, which
Southeast Asia for six centuries beginning in 802, and now
form the mainstream of political, cultural, and economic Cambodia.
The Khmers developed the Khmer alphabet, the earliest alphabet still
in use in Southeast Asia, which in turn gave birth to the later Thai
and Lao alphabets. The Khmers are considered by archaeologists and
ethnologists to be indigenous to the contiguous regions of Isan,
Cambodia and South Vietnam. That is to say the Khmer
have historically been a lowland people who lived close to one of the
tributaries of the Mekong River. The reason they migrated into
Southeast Asia is not well understood, but scholars believe that
Austroasiatic speakers were pushed south by invading Tibeto-Burman
speakers from the north as evident by Austroasiatic vocabulary in
Chinese, because of agricultural purposes as evident by their
migration routes along major rivers, or a combination of these and
Upper class Khmer ladies in the 1800s.
Angkor Wat in the 1900s.
Like the other early peoples of
Southeast Asia such as the Pyu, Mon,
Chams, Malays and Javanese, the Khmer were part of Greater India,
adopting Indian religions, sciences, and customs and borrowing from
their languages. The first powerful trading kingdom in Southeast Asia,
the Kingdom of Funan, was established in southeastern
Cambodia and the
Mekong Delta in the first century, although extensive archaeological
Angkor Borei District
Angkor Borei District near the modern Vietnamese border has
unearthed brickworks, canals, cemeteries and graves dating to the
fifth century BCE.
The Kingdom of
Funan is considered to be the mother of all later
Southeast Asian kingdoms. During the
Funan period (1st century - sixth
century CE) the Khmer also acquired Buddhism, the concept of the
Shaiva imperial cult of the devaraja and the great temple as a
symbolic world mountain. The rival Khmer
Chenla Kingdom emerged in the
fifth century and later conquered the Kingdom of Funan.
Chenla was an
upland state whose economy was reliant on agriculture whereas Funan
was a lowland state with an economy dependent on maritime trade.
These two states, even after conquest by
Chenla in the sixth century,
were constantly at war with each other and smaller principalities.
Chenla period (5th-8th century), Cambodians left the
world's earliest known zero in one of their temple inscriptions. Only
Jayavarman II declared an independent and united
802 was there relative peace between the two lands, upper and lowland
Jayavarman II (802–830), revived Cambodian power and built the
foundation for the Angkorean empire, founding three
capitals—Indrapura, Hariharalaya, and Mahendraparvata—the
archeological remains of which reveal much about his times. After
winning a long civil war,
Suryavarman I (reigned 1002–1050) turned
his forces eastward and subjugated the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati.
Consequently, he ruled over the greater part of present-day Thailand
and Laos, as well as the northern half of the Malay Peninsula. This
period, during which
Angkor Wat was constructed, is considered the
apex of Khmer civilization.
Khmer Empire (802–1431)
Further information: Khmer Empire
The Khmer kingdom became the
Khmer Empire and the great temples of
Angkor, considered an archeological treasure replete with detailed
stone bas-reliefs showing many aspects of the culture, including some
musical instruments, remain as monuments to the culture of the Khmer.
After the death of
Suryavarman II (1113–50),
Cambodia lapsed into
Jayavarman VII (1181–1218) ordered the construction of a
new city. He was a Buddhist, and for a time, Buddhism became the
dominant religion in Cambodia. As a state religion, however, it was
adapted to suit the Deva Raja cult, with a Buddha Raja being
substituted for the former Shiva Raja or Vishnu Raja.
The rise of the Tai kingdoms of Sukhothai (1238) and Ayutthaya (1350)
resulted in almost ceaseless wars with the Cambodians and led to the
destruction of Angkor in 1431. They are said to have carried off
90,000 prisoners, many of whom were likely dancers and musicians.
The period following 1432, with the Cambodian people bereft of their
treasures, documents, and human culture bearers, was one of
Post Empire (1431-present)
A map of ethnic groups in Cambodia.
In 1434, King Ponhea Yat made Phnom Penh his capital, and Angkor was
abandoned to the jungle. Due to continued Siamese and Vietnamese
Cambodia appealed to
France for protection in 1863 and
became a French protectorate in 1864. During the 1880s, along with
Vietnam and Laos,
Cambodia was drawn into the
French-controlled Indochinese Union. For nearly a century, the French
Cambodia commercially, and demanded power over politics,
economics, and social life.
During the second half of the twentieth century, the political
Cambodia became chaotic. King Norodom Sihanouk (later,
Prince, then again King), proclaimed Cambodia's independence in 1949
(granted in full in 1953) and ruled the country until March 18, 1970,
when he was overthrown by General Lon Nol, who established the Khmer
Republic. On April 17, 1975, the genocidal
Khmer Rouge led by Saloth
Sar, better known by his alias, Pol Pot, came to power and virtually
destroyed the Cambodian people, their health, morality, education,
physical environment, and culture.
On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese forces ousted the Khmer Rouge. After
more than ten years of painfully slow rebuilding, with only meager
outside help, the United Nations intervened resulting in the Paris
Peace Accord on October 23, 1992 and created conditions for general
elections in May 1993, leading to the formation of the current
government and the restoration of Prince Sihanouk to power as King in
Khmer Rouge continued to control portions of western and
Cambodia until the late 1990s, when they surrendered to
government forces in exchange for either amnesty or re-adjustment for
positions into the Cambodian government.
In the 21st century, Cambodia's economy has grown faster than that of
any other country in Asia except for China and India. Today,
Cambodia exports over $5 billion worth of clothing,
mainly to the
United States and the European Union, is one of the top
ten exporters of rice in the world, and has seen international tourist
arrivals balloon from less than 150,000 in 2000 to over 4.2 million in
Cambodia is no longer seen as being on the brink of disaster, a
reputation it gained in the 1980s and 1990s as guerilla-style warfare
was still being waged by the
Khmer Rouge until their ceasefire in
1998. Cambodians in the diaspora are returning to their homeland to
start businesses, and expatriate Western workers in fields as diverse
as architecture, archaeology, philanthropy, banking, hospitality,
agriculture, music, diplomacy and garments are increasingly attracted
Cambodia because of its relaxed lifestyle and traditional way of
Culture and society
Main article: Culture of Cambodia
Khmer dancers at Angkor Wat, 1920s.
The culture of the ethnic Khmer is fairly homogeneous throughout their
geographic range. Regional dialects exist, but are mutually
intelligible. The standard is based on the dialect spoken throughout
the Central Plain, a region encompassed by the northwest and
central provinces. The varieties of Khmer spoken in this region are
representative of the speech of the majority of the population. A
unique and immediately recognizable dialect has developed in Phnom
Penh that, due to the city's status as the national capital, has been
modestly affected by recent French and Vietnamese influence.
Other dialects are Northern Khmer dialect, called Khmer Surin by
Cambodians, spoken by over a million Khmer native to Northeast
Khmer Krom spoken by the millions of Khmer native to the
Mekong Delta regions of
Vietnam adjacent to
Cambodia and their
descendants abroad. A little-studied dialect known as Western Khmer,
or Cardamom Khmer, is spoken by a small, isolated population in the
Cardamom Mountain range extending from
Cambodia into eastern Central
Thailand. Although little studied, it is unique in that it maintains a
definite system of vocal register that has all but disappeared in
other dialects of modern Khmer.
Khmer women dressed up during Cambodian New Year.
The modern Khmer strongly identify their ethnic identity with their
religious beliefs and practices, which combine the tenets of Theravada
Buddhism with elements of indigenous ancestor-spirit worship, animism
and shamanism. Most Cambodians, whether or not they profess to be
Buddhists (or Muslims), believe in a rich supernatural world. Several
types of supernatural entities are believed to exist; they make
themselves known by means of inexplicable sounds or happenings. Among
these phenomena are khmaoc (ghosts), pret and besach (particularly
nasty demons, the spirits of people who have died violent, untimely,
or unnatural deaths), arak (evil spirits, usually female), neak ta
(tutelary spirits residing in inanimate objects), mneang phteah
(guardians of the house), meba (ancestral spirits), and mrenh kongveal
(elf-like guardians of animals). All spirits must be shown proper
respect, and, with the exception of the mneang phteah and mrenh
kongveal, they can cause trouble ranging from mischief to serious
The majority of the Khmer live in rural villages either as rice
farmers or fishermen. Their life revolves around the wat (temple) and
the various Buddhist ceremonies throughout the year. However, if
Khmers become ill, they will frequently see a kru khmae
(shaman/healer), whom they believe can diagnose which of the many
spirits has caused the illness and recommend a course of action to
propitiate the offended spirit, thereby curing the illness. The
kru khmae also is learned in herb lore and is often sought to prepare
various "medicines" and potions or for a magical tattoo, all believed
to endow one with special prowess and ward off evil spirits or general
bad luck. Khmer beliefs also rely heavily on astrology, a remnant
of Hinduism. A fortune teller, called hao-ra or kru tieay in Khmer, is
often consulted before major events, like choosing a spouse, beginning
an important journey or business venture, setting the date for a
wedding and determining the proper location for building new
Court ladies of King Sisowath I, late 1800s.
Throughout the year the Khmer celebrate many holidays, most of a
religious or spiritual nature, some of which are also observed as
public holidays. The two most important are Chol Chnam (Cambodian New
Pchum Ben ("Ancestor Day"). The Khmer
Buddhist calendar is
divided into 12 months with the traditional new year beginning on the
first day of khae chaet, which coincides with the first new moon of
April in the western calendar. The modern celebration has been
standardized to coincide with April 13.
Khmer culture has influenced Thai and Lao cultures and vice versa.
Many Khmer loanwords are found in Thai and Lao, while many Lao and
Thai loanwords are found in Khmer. The Thai and Lao alphabets are also
derived from the Khmer script.
Proportion of membership of Northeast Asians and Southeast Asians in
a Mean (SD)
Source: Table 3, Page 361, Kim Young-jin & Jin Han-jun (2013)
Hideo Matsumoto, professor emeritus at
Osaka Medical College tested Gm
types, genetic markers of immunoglobulin G, of
Khmer people for a 2009
study. The study found that the Gm afb1b3 is a southern marker
gene possibly originating in southern China and found at high
frequencies across southern China, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Sri Lanka,
Assam and parts of the Pacific Islands. The
study found that the average frequency of Gm afb1b3 was 76.7% for the
Ethnic groups in Cambodia
Ethnic groups in Thailand
Ethnic groups in Vietnam
Benjamin Walker, Angkor Empire: A History of the Khmer of Cambodia,
Signet Press, Calcutta, 1995.
^ a b c d e Hattaway, Paul (ed.) (2004), "Khmer", Peoples of the
Buddhist World, William Carey Library, p. 133 CS1 maint:
Extra text: authors list (link)
^ "CIA World Factbook: Vietnam". Retrieved October 28, 2014.
^ "The Asian Population: 2010 Census Briefs" (PDF). United States
^ "Korea Immigration Service (캄보디아)". immigration.go.kr (in
Korean). 3 July 2016. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
^ "Estimated Resident Population by Country of Birth, 30 June 1992 to
2016". stat.data.abs.gov.au. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
^ "Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada". Statistics Canada. [not in
^ "2006 Census: Cambodians- Facts and Figures". Te Ara: The
New Zealand .
^ "MOFA 2016 カンボジア王国". mofa.go.jp (in Japanese). 17 June
2016. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
^ Project, Joshua. "Khmer in Belgium". Joshuaproject.net. Retrieved 10
^ "Ausländeranteil in Deutschland bis 2015". De.statista.com.
Retrieved January 2, 2017.
^ a b Faith Traditions in
Cambodia Archived August 22, 2006, at the
Wayback Machine.; pg. 8; accessed August 21, 2006
^ "Ethnic groups statistics - countries compared". Nationmaster.
^ "Birth Rate". CIA – The World Factbook. Cia.gov. Retrieved 15
^  Archived May 9, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Buriram" (PDF). Web.nso.go.th. Retrieved 2017-03-08.
^ "Chanthaburi" (PDF). Nso.go.th. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
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^ D'après l'épigraphie cambodgienne du X° siècle, les rois des
"Kambuja" prétendaient descendre d'un ancêtre mythique éponyme, le
sage ermite Kambu, et de la nymphe céleste Mera, dont le nom a pu
être forgé d'après l'appellation ethnique "khmèr" (George Coedes).
[permanent dead link]; See also: Indianised States of Southeast
Asia, 1968, p 66, George Coedes.
^ Miriam T. Stark (2006). "9 Textualized Places, Pre-Angkorian Khmers
Archaeology by Miriam T. Stark - Cambodia's Origins
and the Khok Thlok Story" (PDF). University of Hawaii. Retrieved
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^ Huffman, Franklin. 1970. Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning
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^ Kim, Young-jin & Jin, Han-jun. (2013). Dissecting the genetic
structure of Korean population using genome-wide SNP arrays. Genes
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Retrieved March 9, 2018, from link to the article.
^ a b c Matsumoto, Hideo (2009). "The origin of the Japanese race
based on genetic markers of immunoglobulin G". Proceedings of the
Japan Academy Series B. 85 (2): 69, 71, 73 & 78.
Center For Khmer Studies
The Khmers via Tamtofi
Ethnic groups in Cambodia
Ethnic groups in
Thailand by language family
Isan (Northeastern Thai) · Khorat Thai · Khün ·
Lao · Lao Ga · Lao Krang · Lao Lom · Lao
Loum · Lao Ngaew · Lao Song · Lao Ti · Lao
Wiang · Tai Lu · Northern Thai (Tai Yuan) ·
Nyong · Phu Thai · Phuan · Shan · Southern
Thai · Tai Bueng · Tai Daeng (Red Tai) · Tai Dam
(Black Tai) · Tai Gapong · Kaleun · Tai
Nüa · Tai Wang · Thai (Central Thai)
Saek · Nyaw · Yoy
Cham · Filipino · Malay · Moken ·
Moklen · Urak Lawoi’
Bru · Chong · Kensiu (Maniq) · Khmer (Northern,
Western) · Kintaq · Kuy · Mani (Negrito) ·
Mon · Nyah Kur (Chao-bon) · Nyeu · Pear ·
Sa'och · Aheu · Vietnamese
Khmu · Lua · Mlabri · Phai · Pray ·
Blang · Lamet · Lawa · Mok · Palaung
Akha · Bamar · Bisu · Karen · Kayah (Red
Karen) · Lahu · Lisu · Lolo (Yi) ·
Mpi · Pa'O · Phrae Pwo · Phunoi ·
Pwo · S'gaw · Ugong
Thai Chinese (Teochew · Hakka · Hainanese ·
Cantonese · Hokkien · Chin Haw · Phuket Baba)
Hmong · Yao/Iu Mien
Australians · Burmese ·
Farang (Caucasians) ·
Indians · Iranians · Japanese · Koreans ·
Nepalis · Pakistanis
Ethnic groups in
Vietnam by language family
Thái Hàng Tổng