Cambodian Romeo and Juliet: Tum Teav

Literature can change people’s perspectives, opinions, behaviors, and thoughts.

Tum Teav is a novel written by Pi Kok Som (Pi- Khok -Sa-om). There are versions of books written and movies created about this story. As time had evolved, the novel is still remembered and respected by most Cambodians.

This novel was written based on Longvek era, which was the second capital city during the Cambodian Dark Ages. During this era, girls had strict commands, one of which they had to “go under the shade”, which is referred to in Khmer as “Chol Mlobb”. Girls would Chol Mlobb when they hit puberty. They would always linger inside the house and take care of their beauty. Furthermore, those girls had to learn various rules that get them ready to become wives, while men had the opportunity to be educated in pagodas and some even became monks.

In the story, Tum was a monk and Teav was a teenage girl who practiced Chol Mlobb. When both of them first saw each other, they immediately fell in love. Tum requested his sage to allow him to leave his monkhood since monks in Cambodia can’t admire or touch a woman. The love they had for each other was so strong that nobody can separate them. Teav’s mom exclusively disagreed to their love because Tum was a poor man. She forced Teav to marry Mouen Nguon, who was the son of the district chief. Oh Chum, Mouen Nguon’s dad, killed Tum against the King’s command. Their love was indestructible that one could not live without the other. So Teav killed herself to follow him.   

I got so emotional while watching this movie. It made me feel so glad to be born in this generation that allows me to be more independent. I don’t have to Chol Mlobb; I can go to school and have equal opportunities to boys.

My tears started rolling down when Teav was ordered to marry. I constantly questioned myself why. Why did Teav’s mom only see money? Did she not have a heart? But I do respect her decision. She cared about her daughter. She wanted her daughter to have a brighter future by marrying a wealthy man.   

Teav’s mom is not the only character that I didn’t agree with. Oh Chum and Mouen Nguon always find new strategies to marry Teav, even though they knew Teav didn’t want to marry him. They used their power to control Teav’s mom and people that disagreed with their decision.

The juxtaposition of the evil and innocent characters made the novel more interesting. The author intentionally made the characters the way they are because this is what occurred in society at the time.

This particular novel changed many people’s perspective, particularly enlightening parents to not force their kids to marry or marry someone they don’t love.  

Teav and Tum in that era died in the novel made today’s Tum and Teav (people that live in this society) alive; this phrase is being said by most Cambodians. By making Tum and Teav die in the novel, the author helps people in this generation—parents, boys and girls—to understand that parents shouldn’t force their children. They should ask each other, and make healthy decisions. Anyone can love each other but they should respect our culture and focus more on pursuing education.

I highly recommend everyone to read the book or watch the movie because you will discover a lot of life lessons and understand more deeply about Cambodian culture​ during the Longvek era.  

By  Marady Heang

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *