Pedro takes part in a provincial Kru Khmer exorcism ceremony
As those who are familiar with The Kingdom of Wondering What in Lord’s Name is Going On are no doubt aware, asking a question about day to day events mostly results in a vague, non-intelligible response.
Common replies are “Culture” “Tradition””Luck” “Something to do with ghosts” or vacant stares followed by “Don’t know”, performed in the same indifferent manner as a Gallic shrug. Essentially it’s like that, (huh!) and that’s the way it is.
This time it began with a bunch of just ripe bananas. I share not only simian facial and body characteristics with our ancestral cousins, but also a penchant for bananas. Unlike the European Union regulated size bananas, there are several species of this wonderful fruit growing in abundance in Cambodia, from the thumb size chicken egg bananas up to the more recognizable. These hands of delicious looking specimens were not allowed to be eaten. When asked why, I was given the stern, yet sympathetic look usually reserved for the mentally impaired, and thus, although disappointed, I kept my grubby paws away.
There were also the Ara red cigarettes, Coca-Cola, a small but varied selection of fruit and packet of incense sticks which all came with strict instructions NOT TO TOUCH!
The explanation was that Mother was sick, and indeed she had been looking under the weather of late, with dizzy spells and trips to the hospital. A noticeable absence of screeched Cambodian cussings, which would put an Irish navvie to shame, proved she was a bit peaky. Having no faith in snake oil, sugar pills or the miracle saline drip dished out by local medical ‘professionals’, I couldn’t see any more pros or cons from a prescription of fags, fruit and sugary beverages.
Next up came a Dailim, piloted by Charles Manson, with a monk riding pillion. “Who is this scraggle beard, with long hair, who appears not to have washed since the late 90’s?”asked I. Apparently he was a ‘Wiseman’, which I took to mean shaman/sorcerer. With his non-Buddhist standard shade of orange cloak and special carved stick and mystical tattoos (including a reverse swastika), he did indeed look every inch the evil wizard. His travelling companion, the young monk, seemed more conventional meekly offering some words of greeting before taking a seat with Rasputin, where they chain smoked and drank pop.
Upstairs, an altar had been prepared and the forbidden bananas were arranged in front, along with a cooked chicken and the cigarettes; incense burned away. After a while the holy duo climbed the stairs and began the ritual. I watched for a short time, and as the monk chanted in monotone, the dirty chap waved his stick about and the family, sat cross legged with clasped hands occasionally repeating a phrase and bending down to touch the floor. Quickly becoming bored, I left them to it, not wanting to interfere with forces I could not understand.
After an hour or so the chanting died down and I came to understand that the whole affair was apparently an exorcism, performed to drive malevolent spirits away from the house. These said ghosts were supposedly the cause for Mum’s malady and, once appeased with gifts, which now seemed to include rice wine, disguised Glaswegian style in a water bottle.
However, to my knowledge, no had pictures flown off walls, no lights turned on and off by themselves and the kid’s head hadn’t spun around a few times spraying vomit.
The smokes that had stayed unlit for angry ghosts were now being enjoyed by monk and shaman, but as a practicing member of the orange order, the monk abstained from swigging the potent hooch. The wise man had no such qualms and quaffed away, exercising with spirits after exorcising spirits.
I was asked if I wanted to have ‘bath from monk’ and not wanting to be a party pooper, I agreed without first asking what it actually entailed. This turned out to involve stripping starkers, wrapping a sarong around my waist and sitting on the floor trying to keep all my nether bits in place. The womenfolk (for some reason I always get lumbered with the womenfolk), dutifully lined up protecting their modesty. Old Scraggle Beard got his chant on, waved his stick about and flicked us all with a brush dipped in water. Then the monk tipped a bucket of ice cold water over my head. The shock and surprise made me do a little girly shriek. Encouraged to rub the water into my hair and over, I complied and took another couple of buckets before the blessed pair moved down the line. They came back and repeated the trick 3 more times.
That was it. We dried and changed back into civilian outfits; the pair got paid up and rode off into the dust. The ghosts had been admonished and good luck bestowed on all.
A month or so later the untouchable bananas arrived once more. A bout of man flu and a minor traffic incident were not, it seemed, caused by a virus or local driving abilities, but that four letter word L-U-C-K.
So before any awkward questions could be asked I was whisked off to the local pagoda, closely followed by the mother because she is the only one who knows how to speak in that special revered language reserved for the anointed orange dudes.
The rep for this pagoda was seated, quite comfortably on a pile of plump, red cushions surrounded by a mountain of bottled water, stacked crates of soft drinks, instant noodles and enough fresh fruit for the man from Del Monte to tip his hat in an affirmative manner.
We kneeled before him, answered some questions and he agreed to do whatever it was we had come to do. I couldn’t help but notice that, instead of the standard photos of dead king/alive queen/alive king hanging on the wall, there was a portrait of the Iron Man proudly displayed, which was a bit strange really, given recent political events, but I guess one should never underestimated the appeal of the big fella out in the provinces. I also noticed that a nicely polished Lexus was garaged behind a half flap of curtain, so I had my suspicions about the patronage to this place and the source of funds for the huge, under construction temple in the grounds.
Leaving the old bat to converse about matters enlightened, I took a stroll around the grounds until my number was called. A poor lonesome monkey gave me a desperate look and the fact that the simian was tethered to a tree via a three-foot chain struck me as a trifle unBuddist. NO! I was told, I couldn’t give him a banana. Perhaps he was the earthly manifestation of something from the other side.
The time came to strip down again and undergo the water treatment, only a couple of rungs up the ladder from techniques practiced at another place where men wear a lot of orange- Guantanamo Bay. Toweling down next to the Lexus, I didn’t feel any more lucky, just cold and wet.
Since then, I’ve won a few free beer cans from ring pulls- but no moto, Ipad or 4×4, and I’m still here, although whether through luck or (mis)judgment, who can tell?
If you enjoyed this article on Kru Khmer, why not check out an earlier piece from our archives?