Based on archaeological evidence and historical records, Funan was located at the southernmost region of the Indochinese Peninsula just a little bit north of what is now called Kamao, Southern Vietnam. Geographically, if we looked at the southern tip of the Indochinese Peninsula in relation to the Malay Peninsula where the Strait of Malacca is located, we would see that the distance between the two regions is surprisingly so close to each other that they could have ideally served as short-cut stopping points for ships traveling from India to China and vice versa. Thus, it is fitting that for people who were looking for places to build maritime ports alternative to the areas surrounding the Straits of Malacca and Sunda, the southern tip of the Indochinese Peninsula would be an ideal spot because it is conveniently located between China, the Strait of Malacca, and beyond.
Map Vietnam Cambodia – Siem Reap Cambodia Map Photo Gallery
Whether the Cambodian people have their place of origin in the Indonesian archipelagos or in Northeastern India, only time and further research can determine for sure. But based on some archaeological and historical records, there seemed to be strong evidences, though inconclusive, linking indigenous people of Cambodia to those of Indonesian stocks. If we took off a few later cultural layers such as the influences of Buddhism, Islam, and Indian rituals, we would see that indigenous people of Cambodia and Indonesia (Malays included) have a lot in common. For instance, the belief in Supernatural Beings such as the Neak Ta and the practices of leaving deceased loved ones in the forests or caves.
For the Cambodians, or Khmers, or Funanese, the history began at the place called Oc Eov (a corrupt spelling of the Khmer words O Kaev which were given to the French colonialists by their Vietnamese assistants who could not pronounce the Khmer words properly), located at the southern end of present-day Southern Vietnam. It was probably at Oc Eov’s settlement that the Chinese travelers/sailors reported of seeing “ugly” people with very dark skin and frizzy hair. The Chinese called their country Funan. From the records left behind by these early Chinese travelers, the Funanese are the predecessors of modern Cambodians or Khmers. But, just like other indigenous people throughout the world, the Funanese and their culture were eventually glossed over by the arrivals of new ethnic groups and their cultures.
According to both historical and archaeological evidences, the Funanese appeared to lead a very primitive existence. Their lives revolved around hunting and gathering. They lived in villages surrounded by fences. Little was known about their governmental structure. However, it was likely that the Funanese formed tribal community and appointed or accepted whoever was the strongest or most cunning person to be their leader. Culturally, the Funanese liked to wear tattoos on their bodies and believed in shamanism and spirits. One of the most enduring symbols of spiritual worshiping was the Neak Ta, the omnipresent guardian of both the villages and the forests, which is still being worshiped today by many Cambodians.
The primitive world of the Funanese was first transformed around the 1st century of the Christian era when they came into contact with the Indian explorers/adventurers. According to the Cambodian history, these Indian adventurers or conquerors were not coming from India but rather from Java (Indonesia). The Cambodians or Funanese called them Pream Chvea or Javanese Brahmins and regarded them as warriors. Thus, it was likely that the Indian warriors who came to conquer or colonize Funan were Indian immigrants or traders from Java. Along with these Indian traders/warriors, there must have been Javanese troops, for, in order to conquer or colonize a territory which had already been settled by other people, ones must have forces.
Based on inscriptions and historical records, these “Indian” traders/conquerors arrived in Funan/Cambodia by ships and, after subduing or winning over the indigenous people’s acceptance, they established governmental administration which was modeled after the Indian Raja.
Along with these conquerors, Hinduism, a religion which is the foundation of Indian culture, also arrived in Cambodia. It was the arrival of these conquerors and their religion that shaped the early history of Cambodia known as the Angkorian Era.
Angkor or Nokor or Nagara (in Sanskrit) means city. However, the Cambodians use these terms to mean country or kingdom as well. For instance, if one spoke of Nokor Khmer, he or she would refer to the Khmer kingdom. Thus, the term Angkor, in this context, would be used interchangeably between city and kingdom.
Upon their arrival in Cambodia, the Indian warriors or Javanese Brahmins began the process of transforming the primitive world of the Funanese/Cambodians into a civilized culture–one that had the sound and rigor of an organized society. We did not know how the indigenous people reacted to the arrival of these conquerors, but based on what they left behind, they appeared to have formed a very successful society which was built around absolute monarchy and the adherence to Hinduism.
The achievements of these early Cambodians could be found at an ancient city of Angkor which is presently located in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. Though many infrastructures, namely the domains of mankind, had not survived to the present day (because they were built of wooden materials), the religious monuments, which were splendidly built of stones, had indicated a well-organized society with superb civilization. Based on the scattering religious monuments at Angkor, it appeared that this ancient Cambodian City was at least as large as the United States Capital, Washington, D.C. From the various religious monuments and the inscriptions and carvings left on their walls, we learned that the Cambodians who lived during this period (roughly from the 1st to the 14th century) were followers of Hinduism. They were ruled by absolute monarchs and appeared to have formed a federation of kingdoms under the leadership of a universal sovereign who (from the 9th-14th century) used Angkor as the central seat of government.
As far as population was concerned, after the arrivals of those early Javanese Brahmins and their companion settlers, other ethnic groups such as the Mons and the Khams (Khemaras or Khmers), who appeared to have lived in the territories north of Cambodia or Funan, began to make contact and commingled with the Funanese at roughly around the 8th century. Also, many Chinese (most of them sailors) appeared to have made Cambodia their home as well once they made contacts with the indigenous people after their exploration ships docked at Cambodian ports. Perhaps the clearest evidences of the Chinese immigrants living in Cambodia were a report made by a Chinese envoy named Chou Ta-Kuan who visited Cambodia at the end of the 13th century.
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