Not many Cambodians are aware that an American Professor, Dr. George Chigas, has spent over four years completing a translation of a classic Cambodian, tragic love story, “Tum Teav”, for the purpose of exposing it to the world. Dr. Chigas said “ ‘Tum Teav’ is the tragic love story of a talented, novice monk named Tum and a beautiful adolescent girl named Teav; a showcase of a poor man with true love and compassion.”
He said the story has been told throughout the country since at least the middle of the 19th century. The story is considered the “Cambodian Romeo and Juliet” and has been a compulsory part of the Cambodian secondary national curriculum since the 1950s. There are numerous versions of the story in every major genre of Cambodian literature.
Although the first translation in French had been made by Étienne Aymonier in 1880, “Tum Teav” was popularized abroad when Dr. Chigas created the 252-page English translation of the 1915 literary version. The 1915 version was written by the venerable Buddhist monk Preah Botumthera Som or Padumatthera Som, also known as Som, one of the best writers in the Khmer language.
Dr. Chigas said he became interested in “Tum Teav” as a graduate student. When he asked his Khmer literature teacher what book was the most important book for him to study in Cambodian literature, his teacher quickly replied, “ ‘Tum Teav!’ If you want to understand Cambodian culture, you must read the story of ‘Tum Teav!’ ”
Dr. Chigas is in Phnom Penh for one month, leading four students from University of Massachusetts, Lowell (UML) for an exchange program with students of American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP).
Dr. George Chigas is a professor of Cambodian language and culture in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at UML. While staying in Phnom Penh with his students from UML and working with AUPP students, Dr. Chigas said he’s extremely impressed by the quality of students studying at AUPP.
Dr. Chigas said, “They are very intelligent, hardworking and serious students. I believe they represent the best of the best in Cambodia and surely will play important roles in the future development of the country. They are fortunate to study at AUPP where they can develop their talents and skills to their fullest potential.”