Pagodas make efforts to preserve Khmer culture

Students of the Khmer ethnic group in the Mekong Delta province of Vinh Long have spent their two-month summer holidays in pagodas learning the Khmer language, which is at risk of disappearing.

With regular Khmer language classes, Ky Son pagoda in Loan My commune, Tam Binh district, has attracted the largest number of students. 

Monk Thach Chanh Nhenh, who presides over Ky Son pagoda, says he cannot remember when the classes began. However, he maintains that the classes have been running for generations. 

Loan My commune is one of the localities with the largest population of Khmer ethnic people in Vinh Long province. 

Presently, local children learn mostly the Kinh language so they often make mistakes in pronunciation when speaking in their mother tongue-the Khmer language. Many use both languages at the same time in their daily conversations. 

This summer, nearly 100 students attended Khmer language classes at Ky Son pagoda. The pagoda reserves two rooms for such classes which take place three times a day. 

Under the instruction of teachers, mainly monks, nuns and Khmer Buddhist followers, children have learnt how to read, write and speak in their traditional language.

Thach Thi Cha Re Da, a seventh grader at Loan My secondary school, has spent three summer holidays in the pagoda. The student, who once could not speak or write Khmer, is now fluent. 

Like Ky Son pagoda, Moi pagoda in Thon Ron village, Tra Con commune, Tra On district, is open to students who want to learn the language. 

Thanks to efforts made by the pagoda’s monks and nuns to raise public awareness of the language, nearly 160 students have attended classes at the pagoda. 

Monk Hia Rich, deputy head of the pagoda, says that the monks and nuns have encouraged Khmer Buddhist followers to bring their children to the classes. 

Apart from teaching the Khmer language, the pagoda also introduces culture and rites of the Khmer people to the children. 

The pagodas also serve as a destination for children to entertain themselves and review what they learnt at school after a hard academic year. 

Monks and nuns concur that if Khmer students understand and have a sense to protect their mother tongue, they can learn more about their traditional customs and culture. 

Vinh Long is home to 13 Khmer Nam Tong (Theravada) pagodas, nine of which have organised language classes. 

The move has contributed to protecting the traditional language and culture, while making it easier for Khmer people to read newspapers and other documents in their mother tongue.

VNA/VOV online