The Tampuan
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The Tampuan

Farmers of the Forest

Farmers of the Forest

The Tampuan (also known as Tompuan, Tampuon, Tumpoun or Tumpuon) are a native ethnic group living in the Western and Southern Ratanakiri region in Cambodia. Additionally, they are called “Upper Khmer” or “Montagnards” as all hill tribes in past French Indochina. They are approximately 30.000 people.


  • Region is Southern Asia

  • Climate here is Tropical

  • The challenge here is Medium

  • This trip has been rated 5 by other travelers



Tampuans live in small villages (from 100 to about 400 people). Communities, usually displayed in a square plan, have a communal house and a court in the centre. All around the village, there are plantations mostly occupied by dry-land rice. The possession of the land is collective, but each family has his designated section. People are mostly subsistence farmers, and they practice "slash and burn agriculture". In this rotational way of farm: after two or three years of exploitation the soil is left to lie fallow, and a new one is prepared to burn some plants on it to make it more fertile.

They also breed pigs, chickens, and cows. They hunt deer, small rodents, boars, and pheasants and catch bugs or ants to eat them as snacks.


In traditional houses, everything from floor to roof, walls and doors are made of split woven bamboo. Usually, a home is built on a pillar of about six foot high and has a small rectangular shape, but in some communities, people can live all together in longhouses. Longhouses can even be 200 foot long and are partitioned longitudinally: along one side there is an open common area and on the other hand a row of private living units, one for each family.


Social Structure

The Tampuan people follow a matrilineal system; hence family names and heritages pass through the mother's side of the family. They marry in adolescence age and bigamy is tolerated. Following the tradition, a couple after marriage live three years with the bride family, then move to the groom’s one for others three years. After this period, they can start their own life together.


Tampuans are animist: they believe everything in nature has a spirit. Recently Christianism and Evangelism reached this tribe through missionaries.


They celebrate animals sacrifices to appease evil spirits.

Tampuans consider mediums and sorcerers can get in touch with spirits and speak their will.

They have an old musical tradition: usually, men play instruments and women sing.


They have their language, which is part of the Mon-Khmer language group.


In this tribe, we can find talented musicians: they learn playing instruments from their young age: banjos, drums, flutes, fiddles, and gongs. Gongs are made of hammered bronze, and they are their most important instrument.


Romvong: a dance where men and women dance in a circle.

Once ended the seeding of their rice plantation, the entire village gathers to celebrate it: they eat together with music and tales about their traditions.

The construction of a new house is usually celebrated drinking rice wine.

After some villager death, people get together to eat, drink and celebrate in honour of the deceased.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

Home-made rice wine is Tampuan’s traditional drink.

Most of Tampuan have a second house on the farm they grow to rest during the working day.

Photo credits

Yeak Lom lake de Mamiel

"Friend" by Lukas is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Farmer with buffalo Taesuwan

Farmer carrying baskets

Asiatic elephant, Cambodia de Mamiel

Traditional houses de Mamiel