Thanks to Lokkru Frank Smith, of the excellent online Khmer language study site, studykhmer.com, and also the main teacher and coordinator for Khmer language study at the Southeast Asian Summer Study Institute (SEASSI), and teacher of Khmer at UC-Berkeley, for pointing this out to me.
NAKHON SRI THAMMARAT: In the latest drug craze to hit the south, youths in Nakhon Sri Thammarat’s Muang District are reportedly drinking a concoction that includes the ashes of recently-cremated corpses and extract from leaves of the krathom tree.
‘Phon’, a 17-year-old from Muang District, said he and his gang of about 10 friends had tried every known concoction of krathom leaf available until they stumbled upon the new formula.
The mixture is made by boiling the leaves and then adding ashes taken from beneath funeral pyres following cremation ceremonies.
The youths believe the mixture confers physical strength as well as spiritual protection from the ghost of the person whose ashes were drunk, Mr Phon said.
The drink has an indescribably amazing taste and anybody who tries it becomes instantly addicted, he added.
To satisfy their thirst for the elixir, the youths drive around looking for funerals. When the cremation is over, they sneak in to steal the left over ashes, he said.
The mixture is known as ‘Avatar’ after the hit film or ‘tai hong’, which means ‘violent death’.
This is all really classic stuff. The notion of ‘instant addiction’ is of course completely fictional, like the supposed instant addiction of crack cocaine or methamphetamines. That said, I imagine that if these kids really are mixing cremains into their krathom extracts, this drug might be somewhat healthier than either of those alternatives (!).
“Tai Hong” is an ongoing element in the contemporary Southeast Asian (Thai, Khmer, and Lao, at least) imaginary; the image above is from a movie called “Tai Hong,” translated as “Die a Violent Death,” covered here and described as having a ‘grindhouse feel.‘
But what interests me is the way this ‘novel’ drug partakes of consistent schema relating to the power of the dead and of death – what I have previously called “Deathpower.” We have the word Tai Hong in Khmer too, where it means the same thing – violent death. Violent death, especially the death of a young person, or especially a pregnant woman (or a virgin woman) creates particularly terrifying and violent ghosts. Consumption of death – the incorporation of it into one’s own body – acts strongly as a sort of immunization against that particular ghost, providing not only protection, but the additional amorphous power and energy that arises when a person’s own living vitality is cut short in a violent death.
These teenage hooligans are excellent anthropologists.