Sounding Cambodia on August 2, 2011

  • 8-year-old dies after explosion at cremation in Cambodia
  • Alison In Cambodia blogs summer fieldwork
  • Baphuon Reconstruction Completed!
  • Pansukula for Chea Vichea in France
  • Professor Sorpong Peou discovers his father is alive, ater 35 years.
more after the jump…

Drinking And Drugging with the Dead – Literally

Thanks to Lokkru Frank Smith, of the excellent online Khmer language study site,, 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 (!). Continue reading


The Buddha's Father was cremated

I’m writing the ethnographic description chapter of my dissertation on Cambodian funerals, and was looking for images of the cremation of Suddhodana, Siddhartha Gotama’s father.

In Cambodia, the Buddha is often shown lighting the cremation fire, an image which occasionally causes some controversy, since it is understood that Buddhist monks are not to light fires, especially those for cooking (note the correlation between cremation fires and cooking fires).

And I found this lovely image from a Burmese mural of the Buddha presiding over Suddhodana’s funeral (but not explicitly lighting it.)

via Buddhist eLibrary :: – The Buddha’s Father was cremated


Fantastic New Photo Collection from Cambodia Online

The irrepressible, enormous, and much-missed May Ebihara, the only American anthropologist to perform village fieldwork in Cambodia prior to the Khmer Rouge, passed away a few years back, and is much missed. Her work, including her wonderful dissertation entitled merely “Svay: A Khmer Village in Cambodia,” continues to be a source of new knowledge and relevance.

Now, thanks to the work of Judy Ledgerwood and the Southeast Asian Studies Center at Northern Illinois University, her field photos from her work during the late 1950s are available online.

Many of the photos could be taken from the last few years. Others are quite different. Here’s a nice one of the beginning of the cremation phase of a funeral (probably a relatively high-status one).

Check out more here.