‘Those who destroy pagodas will go to the deepest hell’
March 5, 2015, 8:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

‘Those who destroy pagodas will go to the deepest hell’

 Once upon a time right after the French colonial rule more than 100 years ago, some Japanese businessmen travelled by sea to Cambodia’s Koh Kong province to invest in a timber business. They lowered their ship anchors at a remote peninsula overlooking Koh Sdech, or the King Island, about 200 kilometers southwest of the capital of Phnom Penh.

As times went by, people moved in to settle in the seaside village which was later named Poum Poy Chapon, or Japanese Peninsula Village. To express their friendship and gratitude, the Japanese built a small pagoda for the villagers so that they could worship the Buddha statues and hold religious ceremonies.

Over generations, the pagoda built by the Japanese was worn down by old age and climate and became ruins. To replace the old monastery, the villagers started to raise money and build another pagoda during the last 10 years.

More than a century after the Japanese investors left, the Chinese developers from the Union Development Group Co., Ltd moved in. Unlike the Japanese who lived and worked in harmony with the villagers, the Chinese were not so kind. Armed with an Economic Land Concession granted by the Cambodian government to develop 36,000 hectares of land inside Botumsakor National Park, they evacuated all the monks in the pagoda along with more than 200 families from the Japanese Peninsular Village to the mountain side far away from the sea where they made their living on.

Instead of helping to finish building the pagoda for the villagers, the Chinese planned to knock it down along with another pagoda in the area which has been built by the villagers’ sweat and blood.

“I feel regret that we have built this pagoda and then they evacuated us like the Khmer Rouge,” says Prak Than, a Buddhist clergyman, member of one of the 19 families remaining in the village. “The pagoda costs 195,000 dollars to build.”

Except for occasional travellers who pass by the area on their way to the King Island, the Japanese Peninsular Village is very quiet and looks like a ghost town. Some coconut and fruit trees planted many years by the villagers are still standing. The sound of sea waves can be heard crashing into the shores from the distance.

Inside the almost finished pagoda, a giant Buddhist statue is surrounded by many other statuettes which look like orphans after they were abandoned by the monks.

However, they are not alone. Along with the 19 families who have stayed behind, Prak Than, the Buddhist clergyman who has personally helped erected the pagoda has refused to leave and vowed to fight for its survival.

Prak Than says he has decided to stay behind so that he can take care of the pagoda and clear the weeds and grass to keep it clean.

“I always dream of a powerful spirit coming to tell me to keep struggling,” he says.

The clergyman says he donated 10 hectares of his own land for building the pagoda and an adjacent school which was donated by a charity NGO.

At times, however, they say their hopes seem to dwindle.

“If they knock it down, we will greatly regret the loss of this pagoda,” Prak Than laments. “Then, I will shed tears.”

The clergyman warns that knocking down the pagoda will have a devastating boomerang effect on the government and the Chinese developers – at least in the afterlife.

“According to Buddhism, those who chase out the monks and destroy pagoda will go to the deepest hell,” he prophesies. “They will be tortured seven times a day.”

Without another nearer pagoda to go to, the villagers say a lot of people from nearby villages and islands come to hold religious ceremonies at the pagoda at Japanese Peninsular Village during the Khmer New Year and other festivals.

After all the monks were moved out, Prak Than says people continue to cook food and offer it to the Buddhist statues inside the pagoda.

“I always come to pray in the pagoda on the Buddhist day,” says Prak Than.

The villagers say those who refused to leave have had a lot of difficulties and were not allowed to renovate their houses.

“When we tried to fix our houses which were too old and broken down, the Chinese told the police to come and stop us,” says Ouk Savorn, 51, who moved to live in the village 25 years ago.

Seng Heang, 36, another remaining villager says her family and many other people have lived in the Japanese Peninsular Village for generations.

“When I was born, the village was already here,” she says.

Heang says those decided to move to the new village have faced even greater difficulty for their livelihood and daily survival.

“It will take 10 to 15 years to build a new village,” she says. “We cannot plant fruit trees for a few days and expect to have fruits ready to be eaten.”

“They have given us a new house, but we cannot eat the house,” she laments.

Even though people were evacuated to the new village, Prak Than says they have returned to the old village to make their living by fishing in the sea.

Despite all the development planned the Chinese company, the villagers hope the government will spare the pagoda and the Japanese Peninsular Village.

“We hope that the spirit of this pagoda will help us,” says Prak Than. He adds: “If they decide to let us live here and keep the pagoda, we will be extremely happy. Nothing can compare our pleasure.”

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