High-ranking government officials are paying thousands of dollars for wild boar tusks, and the demand is rising, tusk vendors say. The sacred tusks are believed to offer powerful protection from accidents and ill fortune.
Military leaders had been the major customers for the tusks, which were traditionally sought as lucky charms in battle, but now politicians are snapping them up.
Ly Srey Poch, who has been selling the tusks for 10 years at shop near Kolen Mountain in Siem Reap, says her clients came from Cambodia and some paid thousands of dollars for a single tusk. The tusks are also valued by Thais, she said.
“High-ranking government officials, rich people and business people are my main customers now,” she added.
Vendor Som Chamreoun said that besides protection, buyers believed the tusks could bring harmony and happiness to their families.
Tusks that were not carved or chipped were most valued, he said, explaining that historically they had been seen as offering protection in battle against being stabbed, burned or shot.
Researchers have found that belief in the tusks’ sacredness is ancient.
Possession of them has historically been associated with power, they say. Owning a tusk was a way of distinguishing oneself from ordinary people.
There are strict codes on how to treat the tusks. It is, for example, prohibited to carve them into the shape of a divinity. To do so will invite bad luck, believed to be the cause of family rifts, illness or death, vendors say. Owners must also be cautious if they sell a tusk. It is best to trade them, or perform a ritual before the transfer is made. Such rituals can be elaborate, taking place at seven pagodas, according to researchers.
On Khmer blogs where tusks are discussed, the incident in which an infamous gangster known as Rasmach was killed during a shootout with police a decade ago is still held up as proof that while tusks may protect against harm from others, they do not protect those who do the harming.
Rasmach had been a leading collector of tusks and other sacred bones.
Bloggers also discuss experiments to ensure a tusk is pure. One method is to place the tusk into a young banana tree. If the banana tree rots, it means the tusk is pure.