Paris Peace Accords 23 Oct. 1991

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


Cambodian Protesters Turn to Spiritual Warfare as Last Resort


OZY | 25 June 2018

Addressing protesters before his trip to Australia in February, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had a message, and it was unambiguous. “Do not burn my photo,” he said. “If you burn my photo, I will follow you home … I will follow you and beat you at home.” In Cambodia, there’s meaning beyond disrespect in burning someone’s image. Often, it’s seen as a malicious magic ritual — a curse. But if the Cambodian leader thought his threat would quell the protests against his now 33-year-long rule, he had underestimated his opponents — and their reach, as far away as Down Under.
“We took up that challenge,” says Hong Lim, a Cambodian-Australian and member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly. A local Cambodian monk taught him and other protesters the proper Pali language words needed for the ritual. They preformed the ancient chants and burned effigies in Sydney’s Hyde Park near the hotel where Hun Sen was dining. They were “wishing him dead in the real sense of the word,” says Lim. They were also celebrating an old practice reborn in an unlikely new form.

Cambodia’s history with curses, magic and spells predates Buddhism, says Ian Bard, a professor of geography at University of Wisconsin-Madison. But while traditionally rituals were used in village spats and personal vendettas, new types of conflict between local communities on the one hand and politicians and businesses on the other have spawned a whole new avatar of the tradition. Faced with land grabs and displacement in the name of development, along with little recourse against their powerful opponents, communities and activists are increasingly turning to a last resort — spiritual warfare. It’s something both sides take seriously — even the country’s strongman prime minister.
The neighborhood of Boeung Kak in Phnom Penh once sat on the shores of a lake — a small oasis in the dusty city that attracted guesthouses, restaurants and a thriving community. When the government made a deal with a private company in 2007 to build in the area they drained the water — turning it for years into a sandpit, destroying the local ecosystem and threatening those who resided on its shores with displacement. The lake’s destruction sparked especially frequent protests from residents — including a group of women known as the Boeung Kak 13 — and regular cursing ceremonies. The woman would march through the streets of Phnom Penh, burning effigies of politicians or judges, throwing salt and chili on the burnt remains and placing a curse on relevant authorities.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:51 AM

    So rude, and that's why Henry Kissinger ordered B52 bombings to humble down the Khmers. You must not threat people with your black magic. While it never worked, it gave others the excuse to bomb the "hex" out of you.