Krom Ngoy or Phirum Ngoy or Ouk Ou was a famous Khmer poet in the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century. His poems were sung with his ‘Kse Diev’, a Khmer traditional one string music instrument, which was rhymed so well together.
Biography of Krom Ngoy
Krom Ngoy was born in 1865 in Andong Svay village, Kambol commune, Phnom Penh district (currently Ang Snoul district), Kandal province. Ngoy was his nick name that his parents and villagers always call him when he was young. His real name was Ouk Ou.
In his childhood, his father, who was the chief of Kambol commune, brought him to Boeng Chork pagoda in Baek Skor village, Baek Chan commune to study. In his time, there was no school beside pagodas and monks are teachers. Krom Ngoy was a child who studied hard, so he became beloved student in the pagoda. After gain more knowledge about Khmer words, his teacher asked him to learn Dharma in Pali language in order to become a monk. Then after he became a novice, he learned more about the grammar of Pali and tried to translate Pali language into Khmer. A few years later, he left his monkhood in order to help his parents in farming.
When he was 21 years old, he came back to the monastic life again as a Bhikkhu or senior monk. During this time, Krom Ngoy travelled from place to place to learn how to translate Buddhist scripture, the Tripitaka. Five years later, Krom Ngoy left the pagoda and become a layperson. He spent a life as an ordinary farmer and married his wife named In, who lived in the same village, and they had six sons.
By his knowledge and he used to be a monk, villagers regarded him as a scholar. Beside his work in the farm, Krom Ngoy liked to sing a poem of whatever issue he met. Since he was skillful in the structure of Khmer words, he could immediately compose any poem related to the situation where he was being with well rhyming words.
After a while, his unique skill was famous within his village, he was invited to perform in various Buddhist ceremonies, his voice was loud and clear which always attracted villagers from near and afar to enjoy his poem singing.
The official Title of Krom Ngoy
The great poet talent of Krom Ngoy had spread to the king. Samdach Chakrey Pon, a court official of His Majesty King Sisovath invited Krom Ngoy to perform his skill in the royal palace in Phnom Penh. He had gained impression and reputation from the king. By so he had got an official title as ‘Preah Pirum Pheasa Ou’ means one who is talented in language using.
Krom Ngoy’s poem singing skill was also impressed a prince of Thailand during his visit to Phnom Penh royal palace and had a chance to watch Krom Ngoy’s performance. After the prince went back to his country, there was a royal letter from Thai king to king Sisovath asking for permission to invite Krom Ngoy to perform in Bangkok. Krom Ngoy spent three months in Bangkok and the Thai king presented him a title as the master of melodious voice (“phai roh leou kern).
However, villagers sometimes call him as ‘Phirum Ou’ or ‘Phirum Ngoy’ but ‘Krom Ngoy’ was the most well known name of him. Because this name was related to his position in his village in which ‘Krom’ was a position of small official in village.
Krom Ngoy’s Appearance
Krom Ngoy had a big and firm-build body but with bulging belly. His hair was always short but kept his moustache growing. He always appeared wearing Sampot chorng kben (a kind of Khmer traditional Skirt) and white round-necked shirt. Whenever he travelling out, he wore a bird-nest-like hat,his bag handing on his shoulder and carried his walking stick. His ‘Ske Diev’ was able to assemble immediately whenever he needs to perform his poem. It’s made of coconut shell and his walking stick, they were attached together with one single string. Then he started to play it and compose his new poem in the real time of his singing.
Krom Ngoy’s Publication
Krom Ngoy’s poems were contained educational meanings related to the ways of real life of Cambodians in his time. His topic included: the life of farmer, the ethics and morals of life, consequence of ignorance, the cause of poverty, dominance of foreigner on Khmer, the crisis of Khmer culture and literature.
However, most of his poems were delivered to the audiences verbally and has never been written down. Until 1930, Georges Cedes, a French researcher, accompanied him to the Royal Library in Phnom Penh to show his skill to other Khmer professors and the manager of the Library, Suzanne Karpeles. There Krom Ngoy sang slowly and clearly in order to let the writers write down his words and published in books. There were four poems written down that day:
1. Chbab Laberk Thmey (The Law of New Prose), four rhyming words poem.
2. Chbab Kekal Thmey (The Law of New Inheritance), four, five, and six rhyming words.
3. Chbab Bros Chbab Srey (The Law for Men and Women), seven rhyming words.
4. Bandam Krom Ngoy (Krom Ngoy’s Will), seven rhyming words.
These particular recorded works has been used as guidelines for parents to bring up their children and also used by teachers in schools for generations. Krom Ngoy’s great talent had gained him a title in Khmer literature’s history as ‘the father of Khmer poetry’. The ethics and morals of living instructed through his poems always appropriate to apply until today as well as in the future.
Krom Ngoy passed away in 1936 when he was 71 years old.