Posts Tagged ‘land’

Cambodian Curses – Black Magic and Protest

In cambodia, fragment on June 17, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I currently intend my next book-length work to be an investigation of ritual creativity and imagination in Cambodia, especially those involved with political action or social issues (this is in many ways the flipside of my current manuscript in revision, with the working title “Deathpower”).  As a result, I’m fascinated by the sudden and persistent “Black Magic” actions taken by urban land protesters (most of these cases seem associated with the Boeung Kak protesters).

Here’s a video from the Phnom Penh Post which includes a bit of video, though it doesn’t describe the ritual much more.

John Vink (his excellent photography tumblr is here) has a new set of pictures on his page relating to this. Here’s one of them.

John Vink photo of the Boeung Kak protesters’ ‘Cursing Ceremony.’

Vink has a full description on his page, and I encourage you to go check out the rest of his page: there are tons of pictures of his excellent coverage of land protests (and other issues), and he has an extremely good ipad app for sale on the itunes store called “Quest for Land” at a reasonable price.

Sahrika has a copy of an article from the Cambodia Daily newspaper which tells a similar story of another curse on June 12. Karen Coates briefly mentions a similar protest by the same group in mid-May of this year here (in one paragraph: search on the page for ‘chicken’ and you’ll find it buried in a piece on a much broader topic).

In all three cases, the material requirements resemble each other: salt, red chillies, effigies of the people to be cursed, hell money, and in two of the three cases (not Vink’s), chickens, described either as ‘rotting,’ or ‘splayed.’

A few intriguing elements, none of which I fully understand.

  • “Crucified Chickens” are the preferred gift/sacrifice to Yeay Deb (Grandmother Goddess), usually associated with Umā/Pārvatī (Shiva’s lover), occasionally (less often) with Durgā. Yeay Deb is considered by most to be a anak tā (a.w. neak ta, អ្នក​តា), or regional spirit. However, in the video above, the interviewed man (0’20 forward) says that the ritual is to ‘pray to the ārukkha-ārakkha-devatā (non-Buddhist spirits thought to be those that care for the forest) for justice. 
  • Anak Tā spirits can be involved in curses, like other ‘brahmanist’ (or simply, non-Buddhist) spirits.
  • Burning effigies is used in many rituals, including non-‘cursing’ ones, but especially in Chinese rituals, such as in many Chinese funerals, when a paper house is built and then burned in effigy after a waiting period, or in the burning of Hell Money on numerous religious holidays, etc.
  • The use of Hell Money in these cases seems to be for symbolic or visual consumption, rather than spiritual consumption: it’s stuffed into the pockets of the politician/businessmen effigies, indicating their corruption. Not the usual use of Hell Money (though there’s a really good argument about how Hell Money indicates fundamental ambivalence toward the dead).

Perhaps most interestingly is the fact that these curses are being done in public and on the side of moral right. This is extremely rare in my experience. Note that in John Vink’s pictures, some of the participants are holding up images of the Buddha, which is a very normal way of protecting oneself from the proximity of nasty, non-Buddhist spirits. You could think of it in this case like people wearing rubber gloves to handle something stinky, I suppose. The Buddha’s presence protects the protesters from the work they are doing (probably dangerous work!) with powerful but dubiously moral spirits. One spirit medium I know who is regularly possessed by Yeay Deb does in fact were full-arm rubber gloves to handle the ritual implements of her work.

I would really like to know what Khmer words these protesters are using to describe these rituals, and to interview them about how they came up with this configuration of elements. Were I able to get deeper interviews, I would want to know how many of these people regularly attend Buddhist temples, see fortunetellers or spirit mediums, whether they themselves consider these rituals as ‘street theater,’ ‘real, effective’ rituals, some combination, etc. Would they laugh nervously if I brought up Yeay Deb? If political theater, it would be interesting to compare to this ritual I wrote about a few years back – The Krung Palī ritual performed by Hun Sen’s wife and head of the Red Cross in Cambodia, Bun Rany, at Preah Vihear (Braḥ Vihāra) temple. This ritual was pretty explicitly not a curse, but was immediately seized upon by the Thai nationalist press as if it were one.

Have ideas? Please leave them in comments below!

Washington DC Exhibit on Land Grabs in Cambodia: “Cambodia: Losing Ground” from Oxfam America

In cambodia on April 11, 2013 at 8:31 am

A pop-up gallery event—Cambodia: Losing Ground | Oxfam America The Politics of Poverty Blog.

Sounding Cambodia for June 17, 2011

In sounding on June 17, 2011 at 9:38 am

Limited engagement here, as my energies are being absorbed elsewhere. Here are some links regarding Cambodia that you should read.

  • Ang Choulean awarded Fukuoka Prize!
  • Mass Faintings at Factories
  • Primitive accumulation and National Forest Reserve given to Rubber Plantation company
  • Violent Land Evictions in Kompong Speu
  • Angelina Jolie photo
  • Bamboo Trains! Read the rest of this entry »

Cambodia Sounding for August 16, 2010

In comment on August 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Some stories I’ve been following lately, or that just caught my eye:

Lower Mekong Archaeology Project (LoMAP) gets some more much-deserved attention from Bora Touch, whose original article, “The Mekong Delta Before Angkor: origins, landscapes and emergent complexity,” was retitled in their classically nationalistic style here. Very much worth a read.

The Mirror, a Cambodian Newspaper translation blog online, run by Norbert Klein, has been doing its important work more frequently, and with more precision, sometimes lining of a sort of “We Said/They Said” set of quotes to attempt to set stories straight, among other crucial issues.  Go check them out and subscribe to the feed. Some stories from the Mirror recently:

And just for fun, some local Christian group in California has received its 15 minutes of fame and made lots of self-aggrandizing comments about their work.  Check it out here, in “Christians Fight Evils For Kids In Cambodia.”  Since I just accidentally ran across some particularly awful manuals for missionization of Sino-Khmer in Cambodia, this struck me as just dumb and rude, but perhaps I’m over-reacting.

Sounding on Cambodia, March 19, 2010

In sounding on March 19, 2010 at 9:18 am

Funded by the US State Department and the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, Undercover UXO is designed to run on the “One Laptop Per Child XO laptop.” The game will provide a consequence-free learning environment that teaches kids how to identify UXOs and report them to inspectors.

  • A lay nun burned herself inside the confines of Watt Ounalom in Phnom Penh.  If you click through, beware that the photo is pretty horrific. The reasons for this tragic action remain unclear, though there is a lot of speculation; the woman, whose current status has not been reported to my knowledge, was taken to Calmette Hospital.
  • Anne Elizabeth Moore has another excellent article on Cambodian Garment Workers. Moore has a relatively privileged perspective here, having lived as a dorm supervisor for a few months in Cambodia for the Harpswell Foundation.  The article, a followup to the last one written by Moore at Truthout, focuses on the Messenger Band, a band composed of current and former garment workers.  There’s audio on the site as well – go check it out! I cried at my computer when I read this part:

Members of the Messenger Band

Members of the Messenger Band

As garment factories close, more and more women enter the sex industry by working at the karaoke bars. You have a song about this.

Vun Em: When the factories close down, some girls will go to become entertainment workers, and HIV will spread out around. But why don’t [the NGOs] care about their living life? Why they don’t care about their family? Why they don’t care about the security of those people? Why they care only about HIV? [She starts to cry.] I don’t know, I don’t understand.

We also care about HIV, but you have to think about the lives of the people, not only HIV. If the people don’t have enough food to eat, if they don’t have enough education, if they don’t have good health, how can they prevent themselves from the HIV? They don’t have time to think about HIV, they only have time to think, I need food, I need food. All the time.

SOUNDING on Water, Poverty, Commons in Southeast Asia

In sounding on February 26, 2010 at 3:01 pm

A great review of a new book on Water Wars in Southeast Asia over at New Mandala came across the wires, serendipitously enough, at the same time as this tidbit:

The Phnom Penh Post – The grand theft of Dey Krahorm

In comment on January 28, 2009 at 9:26 am

David Pred, of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, sets the record straight on the legality of the evictions in Dey Krahom in today’s Phnom Penh Post. Today’s Must-Read.

Let’s set the record straight. The land that was grabbed on Saturday morning rightfully belongs to more than 150 poor families who have refused to sell their homes to 7NG for the pittance that was offered to them. Most of these families have the documentation to prove their possession rights under the 2001 Land Law. Moreover, these families were beneficiaries of the Social Land Concession granted to the entire community by the Council of Ministers in 2003, and the Development Plan, which called for a land-sharing arrangement with a private company in exchange for onsite upgrading.

To justify their claims over the land, the 7NG company relies on a dubious agreement signed with former community representatives to exchange the villagers’ homes for flats at the Damnak Treyoeng site outside Phnom Penh. This agreement was immediately rejected by most Dey Krahorm families, who dismissed their former “representatives” and filed a civil complaint against them for breach of trust, along with a separate complaint to cancel the contract.

Law on their side

Article 66 of the 2001 Land Law states:

“A person with Khmer nationality and with capacity to enter into a contract may sell or purchase immovable property.” Yet, the following persons may not sell: “A person who is not the owner of the property offered for sale.”

The so-called former representatives had no legal capacity to sell the villagers’ land. 7NG’s agreement is, therefore, null and void under the law.

An unbiased investigation into the facts will reveal that the Dey Krahorm families have legal rights that have been consistently denied by the competent authorities. The families are under no legal obligation to accept the company’s compensation offer. They have every right to reject it and remain on their land and in their homes. This is not a case of expropriation of land for public interest purposes. It is a case of a private company using armed force to acquire other people’s private property for their personal profit. Company representatives are on record stating that they do not even know how they intend to develop the site. Therefore, if they want this land, they need to offer the residents a price that they are willing to accept.

However, instead of offering a mutually agreed price for the land, the company and the authorities forcibly removed the families and demolished their homes and property. This action was illegal.

More via The Phnom Penh Post – The grand theft of Dey Krahorm.

Fears mount for future of iconic Bassac apartments

In comment on January 27, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Check out the last few paragraphs, where representatives of the Bassac building residents attempt to draw a line between themselves and the ‘anarchic’ residents of Dey Krahom who were just evicted last week. I understand the desire, in the aftermath of the illegal and violent evictions, to distinguish the situation of the Bassac residents, but I think it’s an error both in legal terms, and in practical ones.

Legally, the residents of Dey Krahom had legal status. Like residents of the Bassac building, for the most part they didn’t have legal ‘title,’ but given the issues of titling post-civil war, that’s hardly unusual. They did have legal status via the prior concession awards, as I understand it.

So legally, it’s extremely doubtful that the Bassac building residents are any more protected than the residents of Dey Krahom. Practically, making this distinction also seems like a bad idea: these representatives appear to be trying to speak the language of the people who have consistently disregarded their own policies and laws. It simultaneously disavows solidarity with those already evicted, the lack of which solidarity can lead to tragic consequences, as we saw in the Dey Krahom eviction, where former evictees were used to evict and demolish the homes of Dey Krahom residents.

Finally, a note on the word ‘anarchic.’ This is almost certainly a translation of the Khmer word anadhipateyya (អានាធិបតេយ្យ), a word from Indic languages like Sanskrit and Pali which means, literally, ‘unruled.’ Its current usage is most commonly found in reference to land-settlements with ambiguous (or supposedly ambiguous) legal title, and is used as a slur on those living in a location about to be seized. Anarchism is a word in English with similarly ambiguous meanings: ranging from ‘disorder and chaos’ to the political ideology which opposes all forms of oppression and hierarchy via the practice of universal solidarity.

I for one hope that some Cambodians start to take up the latter understanding of the word, and put it into practice. Perhaps anarchism will provide the collective guidance to Cambodians whom hierarchical Marxist communism has failed so tragically.

But housing rights advocates are also worried that after Saturday’s eviction, which brought an end to the long standoff between residents and 7NG, the Bassac residents will be the next to go.

“I’m feeling that after all the forced evictions, many other places are vulnerable,” said Yang Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre.

“My analysis is that in line with the repeated statements of the municipality about the beautification of the city … they will evict [more] people. That has been their justification to date, so I am worried for these people.”

David Pred, country director of rights group Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, could not comment on the status of the building, but said that even if an eviction were to be attempted, residents would enjoy protection under the Land Law.

“People have lived and owned those apartments for decades … and they have land rights like everyone else,” he said.

Srey Sothea, the 7NG chairman, said the company had plans to build a “modern commercial centre including hotels and supermarkets” at Dey Krahorm, and had its eye on acquiring the Bassac apartments as a precursor to the development of the now-vacant land. But he added that no plans had yet been set in motion.

“We are also interested in the Bassac apartments, but we have not yet started researching whether the people there are interested in moving to live in another proper place or not,” he said.

However, the success of any bid for the buildings will hinge on the legal status of the residents and the land that they occupy. No sources contacted by the Post could confirm whether the building sits on private, state private or state public land, but local authorities are confident the occupation of the buildings is legal.

“[Bassac residents] have no land titles, but they have family books to identify where they legally live,” said Village 2 chief Nhem Sovann.

“They live in a legal building, not anarchic buildings like at Dey Krahorm.”

Khat Narith, Tonle Bassac commune chief, said that land titles were never issued because the people live in a “community building”, and said all residents would have to be paid a fair price for their homes.

“They are not like Dey Krahorm’s residents,” he said.

“If any company would like to buy [the buildings], that company has to offer people market prices.”

via The Phnom Penh Post – Fears mount for future of iconic Bassac apartments.

'Tears of Dey Krahom Villagers'

In Uncategorized on August 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm

The title above is the title of the new song, composed by Dey Krahom villagers, to protest ongoing attempts to evict them from their valuable land int he heart of Phno Penh. The conflict over Dey Krahom (Sambok Chap) Commune has been going on for years at this point. It has involved violence and intimidation. The people of Dey Krahom are amazingly brave, however, and have banded together as a community to fight back.

I haven’t heard the song yet – still waiting for someone to post an mp3 or a version to youtube – but reported lyrics put me in mind of the proverb I posted a few weeks back, which inspired the title of my dissertation

. Those lyrics are:

“Why do rich people who have money, power, cars, land and villas… still want land from poor villager like us?”

An older video (with some unfortunate musical choices) is embedded below:

You can also read the Licadho report on the background to the Dey Krahom case by downloading this PDF here.

And a few good posts on the topic from DAS and Andy Brouwer.

Thongchai Winichakul: Preah Vihear could be a 'time bomb'

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2008 at 4:16 am

Prasat Preah Viheat

Preah Vihear has been much in the news of late, much to my annoyance, Thailand’s shame, and to the possible detriment of many. The amazing Thongchai Winichakul wrote this piece, special to The Nation. Author of the justly famous Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, Thongchai is perhaps unequaled in his authoritative and deeply humane and moral stance on this issue.

Preah Vihear can be ‘time bomb’
By Thongchai Winichakul
special to The Nation
Published on June 30, 2008

Using the temple to fan nationalism can lead to much bigger tragedy

The nature of modern boundaries between Thailand and its neighbours is like a time bomb.

All boundaries today bear the legacies of old world politics that did not much care if a demarcation by a sharp line, or the unambiguous territorial sovereignty, carried repercussions.

With little exception, claims to exclusive “ownership” rights of borderlands longer than the past 100 to 130 years are probably false and historically impossible to support.

Given the explosive foundation of the modern boundary, maps, treaties and courts have provided settlements of such areas.They are the ground rules used by modern nations to co-exist.

For the boundary around Preah Vihear, the International Court of Justice in 1962 provided a settlement without which military might and heavy loss of lives would have been the only other option.

We should respect the settlement provided by the court since Thailand has no better justifiable claim than Cambodia.

Despite that, the talks about “losing territory” have been common among thoughtless nationalists in the region.

Lao nationalists talk about losing the Isaan region to Thailand. Cambodian ones talk about losing territories to Thailand and Vietnam.

They produce maps of lost territories like Thai nationalists did for generations.

Thais have been taught their territories were lost as well. Every country lost territories. The idea of loss is a powerful tool used to whip up nationalism, especially in domestic politics.

The dark side of nationalism is dangerous as ever. It has now become a weapon in today’s Thai politics.

Nationalism is like fire and it can be destructive.Another kind of “fire”, according to Buddhism, generates greed, hatred and delusion. Read the rest of this entry »


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