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The Hainanese of Cambodia

Who are the Hainanese?

The Hainanese are an ethnic Chinese minority living in Cambodia. For centuries the Hainanese have been immigrating to Cambodia due to wars, political pressures and economic hardships. The earliest Hainanese settlers immigrated to Cambodia more than 500 years ago, and settled in a small province on Cambodia's coast, Kampot. There is still a large Hainanese population in Kampot Province, with Chinese temples and Chinese schools, which now use Mandarin as their language of instruction.

Originally, the Hainanese came as farmers and established large pepper plantations in Kampot. In time, they turned their focus to larger enterprises of producing salt in salt fields. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge gained control over Cambodia and the Hainanese population dispersed to various parts of the country. The flight of Hainanese away from Khmer Rouge control and the loss of life due to executions and starvation decimated the population. The remaining Hainanese population is less than 1/5 of its former size.

Today, many Hainanese still live in Kampot, while a large number have settled to do business in Phnom Penh.

What are their lives like?

Of late, the Hainanese have distinguished themselves as experts in the food catering business. Many Hainanese run coffee shops, Chinese noodle shops and other businesses in the food industry. They are hard workers and rarely take time off for rest, stopping work for only a few days a year during Chinese holidays to celebrate and travel.

Like most ethnic Chinese in Cambodia, Hainanese children spend their days attending both Chinese schools and state schools. Their parents frown upon any extracurricular activities and encourage them to work hard to be good students. Because they spend most of their time at work or school Hainanese people have little time for entertainment and socializing.

What do they believe?

The Hainanese people are very superstitious. Most practice ancestral worship, demon veneration and some, Buddhism. It is not uncommon to find an entire wall in their homes covered with altars to an array of different gods, endowed with food sacrifices and burning incense. The Hainanese in Kampot worship a territorial spirit called Bentougong. Their worship involves demon possession and tongue-cutting ceremonies where after slicing their tongues open with a cutlass, they lick pieces of paper that have a symbol of fortune or blessing and hang the amulet above their the door of their homes or in their shops. They believe that Bentougong will then bless their families and businesses and give them good luck and prosperity. This dark practice highlights their spiritual depravity and and their need of a Savior.

What are their needs?

Hainanese people do not invest much time in relationships outside of the extended family, so friendships are often shallow, leaving a sense of loneliness. Demonic strongholds and the focus on gaining wealth have been strong barriers to the Hainanese people hearing the good news. Pray for current efforts to share the gospel with the Hainanese. Pray that God would break their bondage to the territorial spirit, Bentougong. Pray that families of peace would have open hearts to the gospel. Pray that a movement of reproducing churches would be sparked among the Hainanese!


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