Nagaravatta was a very important paper that was published in Cambodia in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It is a great source for gaining an understanding of the ideas of reformist intellectuals at that time.
Unfortunately, not many scholars have made use of this valuable source. Penny Edwards employs it to some degree in her Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007). However, her study ends right around the time that Nagaravatta started to be published, and it therefore is not central to her work.
I’ve long wanted to write something based on the articles in this paper, but haven’t had the time. My knowledge of Khmer also isn’t good enough to be able to conduct such research with much ease.
Several years ago I tried reading some article from this paper, and I translated some of what I read. Below is an unfinished translation of an article about the progress or advancement of Khmer women from the 5 March 1938 issue. If anyone who knows Khmer reads this, please feel free to correct what I have written and to tell me what is there in the places that I don’t understand.
The Advancement/Progress of Khmer Women
I have observed that since the administration of the Protectorate established schools for girls—for about 20 years now—Khmer girls of this generation have progressed in knowledge in two areas: literature and sewing/embroidery/knitting/weaving. I will talk here about sewing/embroidery.
On the occasion of various festivals, you have probably seen Khmer girls, who are virgins, dress elegantly in the new style [taam robieb samae tmae], and are an attraction to the masses who have all seen them. If there is any displeasure, it is from some of the members of the old generation, who are buried in the doctrine of antiquity.
What is this style of dress that is called “progressive” [comraun]? It is wearing congkaben or somloi (explains what that is) and a white blouse in the Western [Barang] style, along with high-heeled shoes. One must also cut one’s hair ????? or in the Bombay style (some people also even carry a purse). This is the beauty of Khmer girls in the present age.
I wish to respectfully remind all the girls about this manner of dressing, so that they can dress beautifully, because there is a saying that goes, “The peacock is beautiful because of its plumage, while women are beautiful because they know how to dress and make-up.” However, one should not discard conduct so that one departs distantly from Khmer customs [domniep braweni Khmair], which they say is a good manual of rules already. This will be explained in detail with what follows.
The thing that will be good like this, or even better than this, will depend on whether those female teachers and the parents and guardians of girls discipline them so that they know [and to do this fully?]. I therefore have the firm hope that from this point onward we will see the achievements of all the teachers and parents to make the adornment of clothing [??] appealing to the eyes of a civilized community, and to let it absolutely become more progressive than it is now. Because we people who can be called civilized, are so because [in part because] we know how to adorn ourselves well. When foreigners come and see clothing that fits people’s status [double check this] and the times, they will then probably declare that “the people of this country are civilized in their dress.
As for other aspects of being civilized, we must strive in these respects as well.
However, that which is good and proper that we see in the cities now, is only present in very small amounts in the countryside, because there are not many people who show how to dress, and also because people are shy/bashful. Therefore, it is not very progressive. I therefore want to remind women in the outer srok, to catch up by swiftly following the example in dressing of the women in the cities. Do not be hesitant and shy. Be hopeful that those men of the new age who are of the same nationality will be tremendously satisfied!