Cambodia’s Oxcart Races | God's World News

Cambodia’s Oxcart Races

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    Cambodian villagers race oxcarts in Romdoul village, Kampong Speu province, Cambodia, on April 7, 2024. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    Oxcart racing is a centuries-old tradition. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    Villagers watch a race. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    A man prepares his ox for a race. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    Locals stand with cattle in Romdoul village. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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    Some folks want to preserve the traditional oxcarts. (AP/Heng Sinith)
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Round and round the animals trot. Dust flies, and carts zoom. Hundreds of Cambodian villagers hold a yearly race. They celebrate the arrival of a new lunar year—and hope to revive a centuries-old tradition.

The Khmer (kuh-MARE) Empire was an ancient kingdom in Southeast Asia. It included present-day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Khmer is the name of the ethnic people group that ruled the empire from the 800s to the 1400s. The word still refers to Cambodian peoples or their language.

King Jayavarman VII was the most powerful Khmer king. During his reign, oxcarts became the vehicle of choice in Cambodia. Ancient stone carvings depicting Khmer oxcarts decorate temples throughout the country. The nimble carts not only carried supplies into battle but also helped ordinary citizens transport farm goods, people, and food.

Khmer oxcarts measure up to 13 feet long and more than five-and-a-half feet wide. They have two 16-spoked wooden wheels over four feet in diameter. The wide cart with big wheels easily traverses Cambodia’s muddy country lanes, even during the six-month rainy season.

Despite their significant role in Cambodia, oxcarts are disappearing. Modern tractors and motorized rickshaws increasingly replace the older transport method.

God often reminds His people of the past. Under inspiration, Moses wrote: “Remember the days of old.” (Deuteronomy 32:7) He wasn’t talking about oxcarts but how God set people groups inside their own borders. Celebrating ethnic traditions can honor the God who made the differences.

Villagers gathered in Romdoul village in mid-April. They celebrated Khmer Lunar New Year and the end of rice harvest with traditional oxcart races.

High school teacher Khem Rithy attended for the first time. She traveled with 150 of her students to watch the event.

Two oxen pulled each cart and its driver around a rough dirt track. About 50 pairs of oxen competed. Drivers hailed from four provinces: Kampong Speu, Kandal, Phnom Penh, and Kampong Cham.

Many carts feature a long, upward curving pole sprouting from the center of the yoke beam. The poles often hold tassels and colorful flags. Oxen usually wear decorative headpieces and bells around their necks. Bridles are cords strung through their large nostrils.

Spectators line the approximately three-quarter-mile route. They cheer fervently for favorite animals and drivers. There is jostling, ringing, and shouting as the oxcarts rumble around the sandy track.

“We have a lot of wonderful culture in Cambodia,” Rithy says. She is among those who want to preserve the culturally important oxcarts. She adds, “I want Cambodians to know this culture.”

Why? God designed great variety in the Earth. People and their traditions often reflect that creativity.

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