Kram Ngoy, A well-known Khmer Poet and Sa Deav Singer​

Kram Ngoy was born in Kambol commune, Phnom Penh district, which si currently called Ang Snoul district, Kondal province in 1865. He was also known as “Ouk Ou,” but his parents called him Ngoy.

Ngoy was a famous and well-known Khmer Poet and Sa Deav Singer. A lot of what we know about Kram Ngoy today came from the research of Mr. Ly Theamteng. Mr. Ly Theam Teng is a researcher and an author at the Buddhist Institute. He traveled around and asked people about Kram Ngoy and received 5 old documents that Kram Ngoy detailed his life. 

The picture of Kram Ngoy on the cover of a book which Mr. Puy Kea compiled Kram Ngoy's poets. 

When he was young, Kram Ngoy remained with the Chief Monks of the Ang Boeung Chak temple and then became a Buddhist monk. He was very diligent in his study and was able to master the prayer’s script.

He continued to study with different teachers at different temples. After he stopped being a monk, he got married to his wife at Baek Chan commune, Phnom Penh district, and lived there as a normal farmer. He had 6 kids: Chuong, Cheng, Cha, Chen, Chong, and Chev. His fifth son became a famous composer and was very well-known among the people there. 

Even with life as a normal farmer, Kram Ngoy was still very popular. His abilities to talk, improvise poems, sang songs, and have knowledge in Dharma made him likable to everyone in the district. His popularity and knowledge gained him the title “Kram,” given to him by the government, which meant that he was the ambassador between the people and the government.

After the harvesting season was over and he got some free time, Kram Ngoy often taught moral lessons and sang his poems from one village to another, describing the sentiments of the hardships that the Khmer people faced: poverty, lack of education, and conflict with each other that ruin the unity.

His poems and talents did not just stay in the village. It spread into the city and he was, thus, invited to sing for King Sisowath. The King was impressed by Kram Ngoy’s performance and rewarded him with money and titled him “Neak Preah Phee-rom Pheasa Ou.” Words of Krom Ngoy’s talents reached George Cœdès, a member of the French school in the east, and he could also speak Khmer. George Cœdès carefully listened to Kram Ngoy’s singing and was, again, impressed by it so much that when he had to research Bangkok, he brought Kram Ngoy with him and introduced him to the King of Thailand. 

Soon after they came back from Thailand, George introduced him to Suzanne Karpeles, director of the Buddhist Institutes in Phnom Penh. She, then, had people there recorded Kram Ngoy’s songs and poems and published 4 books of Kram Ngoy’s works. For this, Suzanne Karpeles gave him 1 riel. It was a little, but at the time, 1 riel was considered very historical and it symbolized that not all French people were not colonizers pressuring the Khmer people. There were some that love and value our culture and what’s left by our ancestors.

Kram Ngoy died in 1936 at age 71. All of his work such as songs and poems taught all of the Khmer people and awakened their morality especially the farmers and the poor that had experienced oppression during the time, thief, and fraud from foreigners like Chinese and Vietnamese. But most importantly for the Khmer people to hold on to Buddhist teachings and work hard. Many of these lessons were written in his works.

Even though he is gone, Kram Ngoy remains in the mind of the Cambodian people as a person who loved his country and wanted to teach ordinary Khmer people to be able to stay strong and survive. His works and legacies remained very influential throughout our history despite the political changes. 

During the Khmer Republic, 1970-1975, the author community established award-winning “Kram Ngoy” and there was the 500 riel currency with Kram Ngoy’s picture. Besides, many other periods in our history, his works have been studied and used for academic purposes. His works were published and put into the academic curriculum of several grades such as grades 7 and 8. This indicates the value and importance of his legacies. 

Even today, people are still trying to keep his legacy alive and continue to emphasize the importance of his work. Dr. M. Saroeun and other Cambodian’s living abroad come together to establish  Kram Ngoy’s Center that teaches professionalism and also improves the imported technology and professions to help youths perform work in today’s economy while thinking long-term and looking forward. 

In the memories of Kram Ngoy, a statue of him costing $202,000, was given a grand opening by His Excellency Ouk Kep Chuktema, governor of Phnom Penh.

All of this is showing that we have been and will always continue to value the works that Kram Ngoy did and his wonderful legacy. He will always be remembered for loving and protecting ordinary people and as our hero.

By: Moeun Kimyan