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Title : An Analysis of the Trickster Archetype as Represented by the Rabbit Character in Khmer Folktales
Type : Master Degree Thesis
File Size : 1.15 MB
Language: English
Author : Ms. Chor Chanthyda


This thesis, An Analysis of the Trickster Archetype as Represented by the Rabbit Character in Khmer Folktales, illustrates and analyzes the rabbit personality as a trickster figure in Khmer folktales. It examines how his development may have been influenced by Indian and Buddhist culture and how in turn the rabbit trickster has influenced Khmer society. His influence extends to certain rituals (Water Festival) and his representation is currently used in public relations advertisements.

Cambodian folktales, similar to other folktale traditions, reflect social and cultural mores and customs; yet, they also manifest unique characteristics, including Khmer cultural values, a satirical sense of humor, and a keen appreciation for verbal cleverness. Cambodians believe that the themes of these rabbit tales have developed in their own local context. Nevertheless, this research indicates that the Khmer rabbit trickster has also developed a distinctive personality because of various outside influences: the Buddhist Jātaka, the Milindapañha, and the Pañchatantra.

An important part of this research has been the application of some western theoretical perspectives to the analysis of the rabbit personality in Khmer culture. The trickster theory of Claude Lévi-Strauss (binary complemetarity) has been particularly useful in this context. I have applied it to explore the duality of the rabbit trickster’s personality in the Khmer cultural context. Rabbit’s personality is double-sided: both selfless and selfish. The positive side of his personality manifests itself in his roles as judge, benefactor and advisor. He intervenes in disputes through his admirable qualities as a clever and skillful mediator, serving to equalize social inequity. His selfish side is often identified with his mischievous comic and selfish buffoon traits.

In comparison to the “self-sacrificing” rabbit bodhisatva who transcends the world of ordinary human beings in the Sasa-Jātaka, the rabbit trickster in Khmer folktales mostly reflects the social reality of Khmer culture. He serves as the most skillful practitioner of common sense and intelligence in daily life. Hence the complex personality of the Khmer rabbit trickster reveals his importance as a social mediator in Khmer culture. His character does not act in the realm of myth in a primordial era but in mundane social reality.

Suggestions for further research include the need for a more fully developed comparative study between the rabbit trickster in Cambodia and the rabbit characters in other cultural contexts in terms of tracing the diffusion of the Judge Rabbit tales. There is also a need to collect rabbit tales from any remaining oral traditions in the rural areas of Cambodia.

Original post: Buddhist Institute of Cambodia