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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The future is written: as fast as cooking a shrimp

The future is written: as fast as cooking a shrimp

EIGHTH century Khmer monks and laymen predicted Cambodia's future from the time of

the destruction of the Angkor Empire till now - and beyond.

Some people staunchly believe what they say is an eeriely accurate picture; others

say that the superstitious might interpret the predictions any way they wish.

The Puth Tumneay (Buddha's predictions) - a collection of ancient poems brought together

from word of mouth - begins with the tale of a huge thunder coming from the East,

and of old people hugging themselves crying. This is the beginning of the trials.

It tells of a King who was "father of the people", who then became "grandson

of the people." Scholars point to King Sihanouk's accession, then abdication.

During these times buffalo went to the forest to hide and sharpen their horns. The

Khmer Rouge?

When the water flooded the forest, the buffalo invaded the towns. (Another poem tells

of blackbirds dropping beautiful fruit over the land that the farmers gathered and

stored - only to find later the fruit is full of worms.) Nixon's B52s? Khmer Rouge

1975-79?

Later, the shrimps traveled to the tops of the mountains to lay their eggs. Everyone

knows that shrimps lay their eggs in rivers, not mountains - interpreted to mean

power was held by ignorant people doing everything the wrong way, like the shrimps.

Puth Tumneay "believers" point to the ignorant district cadre "shrimps"

of the Khmer Rouge.

It says that the white crows left to hide in the reeds - (the true leaders having

had to hide from the KR oppressors) - and had to build their nests in secret - (preparing

for power later).

The little monkey learnt how to use the sword, and hid as soon as he saw the galloping

horse. The galloping horse is the Vietnamese, believers say; the little monkey -

the border resistance which fought them.

The collections continue: The heron pretends to know the number of fish in the water.

(The Vietnamese presuming to rule Cambodia.)

Then, a white elephant with blue tusks comes when the parties are fighting each other,

to bring peace at the invitation of the spiritual Ramayana monk Thoam Mek. The monk

also conjures up the crown and the sword of the King, and the monk and the elephant

fly together and land in front of the Royal Palace. That's an obvious vision, some

say, of the UNTAC.

But the Puth Tumneay says this peace will last only "seven days."

If this is history all past, as written in the 8th century, history future - according

to the same script - is as follows: There will be a very short battle (blitzkrieg,

as tranlated by two Khmer scholars) that will end with some leaders withdrawing in

the time that it takes for a man to boil a shrimp.

Pomm Miech, 63, the chairman of the Committee for Khmer Customs at the Buddhist Institute,

says: "I have been studying these poems for the past two years. They were written

around the eighth century, but it's difficult to know exactly when."

"The monks and laymen said then it was Buddha's prediction. In fact, Buddha

never made predictions. This claim is just to reinforce people's belief in the poems.

"Some have been written on satra (palm leaves) and stored in pagodas. But mostly

they have been transmitted by word of mouth.

Pomm is able to recitate the poems; many Khmers know about them. Pomm knows them

from his father who was one of two in the village who received them.

"Those predictions are really familiar. In all Cambodia, they have existed with

some variations from one province to another," he said.

He said he was trying to collect the predictions by interviewing the old men who

remember them.

"There are no official interpretations. Khmer [people] are really superstitious

and try to justify the country's history through the poems," he said.

"When war and destructions started in the country, at the time of the Angkor

fall, the number of predictions increased," he said.

According to Pomm, once the event has happened, the people find the proper poem to

explain it.

"It is quite hazy. It is a Cambodian game," he added with a smile, saying

that he does not believe in the predictions at all.

"My father always told me the story about the time that is needed for a leader

to fall is the same time it takes for a man to cook shrimps. It never happened, and

today [my father] would be more than 100 years old," he said.

"This prediction is inevitable today. The situation is very tense. There are

only two parties. Hun Sen is the most powerful man..."

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