Cambodia’s Magic War With Thailand
by Moeun Chhean Nariddh
Phnom Penh Post, Tuesday, 12 August, 2008
arly this month, The Nation newspaper in Bangkok reported that many Thai residents in Si Sa Ket province which borders Cambodia wore yellow to help protect Thailand from black-magic spells cast by Khmer “wizards” who met at Preah Vihear Temple during the solar eclipse early this month.
On August 1, Bun Rany, the wife of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, led Buddhist monks and soldiers to the ancient Hindu temple to call upon their ancestors to protect the temple.
The Nation wrote that Thai media reports said that the mysterious black-magic spells by Khmer wizards would not only protect the temple but also weaken Thailand. Meanwhile, some Thai astrologers were reported to have urged local people to wear yellow to deflect the spells.
Whether the Thai astrologers considered the solemnly organized prayer at the temple Cambodia’s cast of magic spells on Thailand, the use of magic by Cambodians has prevailed for centuries.
According to the Khmer-language book “The Tale of Ancient History,” in 1502 under the reign of King Chan Raja there was a Khmer warrior named Moeung who fearlessly fought against Siam, as Thailand was known in the past.
Unable to bear Siamese colonial dominance, the Khmer king ordered his men to kill the Siamese king’s son who was controlling Cambodia. The Siamese king found out and sent troops to arrest King Chan Raja and his court. But Chan Raja’s lady-in-waiting, Pen, escaped with army chief Moeung, his wife and four children.
The Siamese prepared a massive attack. But Chan Raja’s son, Prince Chey Ahcha, had neither enough troops nor weapons to fight them.
When asked if he could think of any tactics to win, Meoung told Prince Chey Ahcha an odd plan: to recruit a ghost army.
He ordered his men to dig a deep rectangular hole and to plant spears and swords at the bottom.
“Please use every effort in this battle to liberate Cambodia from the enemy,” he told his troops. “If within seven days after I die you hear a thunder-like cheering, we will win.”
Upon that Moeung jumped into the grave and impaled himself. His wife and two sons followed, killing themselves too.
Exactly seven days later, the cheering of the ghost army came from every direction as Chey Ahcha’s army advanced to stop the invading Siamese troops near Battambang.
“The ghost army went to the front to display their might and made the Siamese troops dizzy, gave them stomach aches and made them vomit,” the book says. “Chey Ahcha’s army killed all the Siamese soldiers.”
After victory Chey Ahcha was crowned King Preah Chey Chehsda of Cambodia. He ordered a ceremony to commemorate the spirit of his army chief, who earned the title “Neak Ta Khlaing Moeung”.
In 1866, Po Kambo, one of the first Khmer protesters against French colonial rule, led a struggle in Rong Damrey province in Kampuchea Krom, which was later annexed by Vietnam.
“Po Kambo knew the magic words with admirable effectiveness to turn away bullets,” wrote Sou Chamreon in 1971 in a book “History of the Struggle of the Khmer Heroes in the 19th Century.”
“The bullets from the French army… hit Po Kambo the most, but they could not make him fall down. Even other fighters survived thanks to the power of his magic,” the book reads.
Also in the late 19th century, two other anti-French protesters, Achar Svar and Kralahom Kong, used magic during the battle.
Kralahom Kong was said to be both fire and bullet-proof. Kralahom Kong could not be killed when the French tied him to a ship’s smokestack in front of the Royal Palace.
During Cambodia’s civil war between the 1970s and early 1990s, many Khmer soldiers would also seek supernatural protection in the forms of tattoos, magic kerchiefs “yons” and magic words written in Pali or Sanskrit, the currently dead languages used during the Angkorean period.
Nevertheless, the use of magic could probably give only spiritual strength for believers and might not provide any real solutions.
While the prayer at the temple was a good religious, non-violent approach, Cambodia may need to negotiate more with Thailand to solve the border disputes. It probably needs intervention by the United Nations Security Council if the bilateral talks stall.
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