Prey Veng province in south eastern Cambodia has an expanse stretching one and a half hectares and is deserted. No animals are grazed and no harvests are reaped. No villager will step foot on the grass.
In a country where so much land is the subject of dispute, a superstition dating back hundreds of years means local people in Ram Check village in Prey Chhar commune have left more than two acres untouched. They believe any man or animal who treads on it will be struck by lightning.
Sek Kheang, the chief of Prey Chhar commune, said that the legend stems from an historical family conflict several hundred years ago over ownership over the land.
According to the legend, two siblings fought over ancestral rights to the land. The older sister, Mummy Chhe, argued with her younger brother, whose name is not known.
They took the argument to court but were unsatisfied with the outcome of the trial and, to resolve the dispute swore before Nak Ta, the spirit that tradition holds has power over the land.
As punishment for their greed, the spirit cursed them and sent them both mad.
Villagers have blamed frequent lightning strikes in the area on the ancient dispute, saying that the spirit is alive and the land has been left unused.
Local man Kheang said he was not sure if the story was true, but that it had been passed down the generations since before he was born.
He said that even when the Khmer Rouge brought in tractors, they had to turn back and the land was deserted due to frequent lightning strikes.
He said: “When the tractors were forced to deforest the land in order to farm, all the tractors had flat tyres due to lightening strikes.”
He added that in 2002 a foreign construction company was introduced in the area to dig up the soil and build the National Road Number 1, the route which connects Phnom Penh to Vietnam.
The job, he says, was abandoned when the company heard about the superstition and abandoned the village.
Sam Nang, a villager living nearby, said he believed that any animal that set foot on the land would also be struck by lightning.
“I knew from hearing about the past that lightning would strike many animals to death when they entered there too.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Sou Vuthy at [email protected]