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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Casting out devils all in a day's horseplay

Casting out devils all in a day's horseplay

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horse2.jpg

There have been murmurings from time to time about setting up a horse-racing track

in Phnom Penh. But Chhoy Pisei and his camera have found it won't be the first

in Cambodia. The village of Pring Ka-ek in Kandal has a long history in the Sport

of Kings.

IT may not look it, but Pring Ka-ek originated as a religious ceremony in a village

of the same name. One villager said it began as an effort to drive off the devils

that brought disease to their village. The elders decided to form a noisy parade

at the end of June every year to scare away the harmful spirits.

The parade is still an important part of the day, but it now competes with horse

racing as the main attraction.

Eung Kong, 73, is the chairman of this year's Pring Ka-ek.

He can't say how long it has been going on but noted that his grandfather told him

it happened every year of his life that he could remember, and he died aged 86 many

years ago.

The day usually started with the parade in the morning, but this year the Ponlea

Leau district authorities asked that it be put off till 2pm because some important

people wanted to attend.

The parade is a colorful, light-hearted affair, with all villagers and their livestock

participating. The animals are scrubbed and decorated with ribbons, polished bells

and colorful cloths. The villagers often dress in costumes, men and women paint their

faces with makeup, exaggerating features like rosy cheeks, beards and mustaches,

and thick eyebrows.

Kong said he did not know why custom dictated such a get up, and put it down to "the

artistic way of the locals to dress up for fun".

He said the locals see the ceremony as more for their own fun than for a serious

purpose.

"They just want to be happy; this ceremony is not for the television or suchlike,"

he said.

The horse racing is not completely incongruous at this religious ceremony.

Pra Sokhep, director of the district's culture bureau, and head of the horse racing

committee, said the village and ceremony were named after a cavalry commander who

died there centuries ago, and it was believed his spirit resided in the village's

Neak Ta [spirit house]. The ceremony was an appeal to him to intercede on their behalf

and protect themselves and their farm animals.

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