Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/795

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777
INCIDENTS OF CAMBODIAN LIFE.

ous and less gifted race. The children have prodigious memories, and I have often been surprised at the facility with which, without giving themselves much trouble, they learn in a few months the Roman characters and French writing and language. The faculty of learning foreign languages persists in the adult; the grown men, our servants, persons living near us, learn enough of our language to make themselves understood, while we have to take nearly two years to learn, without study, as much as they. The children are very intelligent, but I have been assured, and am disposed to believe it, that their intelligence, if it does not remain stationary, becomes less active after their fifteenth year. It seems as if a little darkness came over their minds when their primitively pure features are deformed and they lose their atavistic resemblance to their ancestors.

They are docile, obedient, quiet in their sports, and very respectful to their parents. They are never seen presenting anything to their father with one hand, negligently or hurriedly, but well-brought-up children, observing well the old customs, offer the object requested with both hands, gracefully bowing. They do not eat with their father unless he invites them, but with their mother and her women, in whose charge they are. They do not sit with their father or on the same level, because it is proper for children to be always placed below their father. They have likewise a great respect for their mother, but it is more intimate than that for their father, who is also master of the house, and is designated by a word that means master and prince. Respect for the mother, while less demonstrative, is more durable; it continues in sons and daughters long after their marriage, and with grand mandarins and in the palace assumes a really touching appearance of deep veneration. I was told that the king never came into the presence of his mother without saluting her on his knees, and without offering her the homage which his mandarins offered to him.

At eleven years for the girls and thirteen years for the boys—or sometimes thirteen years for the girls and fifteen years for the boys, but never twelve or fourteen years, for years of even numbers are considered unlucky—the ceremony of cutting the hair is performed; that is, the shearing of the tuft which we have seen is tied and fastened with a pin. This ceremony of Brahmanic origin, a kind of sacrament instituted by Siva, which the Hindus call kesenta, takes place usually in the anniversary month of the child's birth, on the first day of the decrease of the moon, in the presence of all the relatives and the friends and clients of the family. The festivals already mentioned in connection with the cutting of the hair are repeated in full, but this time it is the turn of persons of higher importance to perform the ceremony. This festival is the festival of puberty. From its celebration the child