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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tales of gecko wine and liver snakes

Tales of gecko wine and liver snakes

T AKEO - Cambodia's national animal the Kouprey is not the only species

endangered with extinction. The geckos with their booming call are also

threatened by people who catch and kill them for traditional medicinal


Southwest Takeo is one area where geckos have been hunted down by

both Khmer and Vietnamese country folk who sell them to traditional healers to

make wine believed to help asthma and coughs.

"Now in my village we

hardly ever hear geckos crying or kids repeating them," said Ngim Rin, a

militiaman in Tramkak district.

There used to be a lot of geckos in Takeo

but people have caught virtually all of them from palm trees and houses during

the last decade, Rin said.

He said during the early 1980s some Vietnamese

men in joint venture business with local Khmer boys and men came to catch geckos

in the province and brought them back to Vietnam.

Local Cambodians, after

being taught by the Vietnamese, later roamed across villages, rice paddies,

bushes and mountains with long bamboo sticks with string traps and cages to hunt

the reptiles.

"Now villages begin to stop them from catching geckos in

their villages," Rin said.

A lady who sells traditional herbs at Ang Ta

Som market in Takeo said she used to hire people to catch geckos for her. She

said she would make a trip to Phnom Penh every three or four days to wholesale

about 200 dried geckoes to traditional healers or retailers in the capital "but

never now."

Sellers of medicinal herbs in Phnom Penh have also told the

Post that there have been very few geckos available on sale during the last few

years. They said people in the country would come frequently to their shops with

about 20 geckoes and sell them for 500 riel each. The shops would then sell them

to customers with a few hundred riel profit.

According to a Khmer

traditional healer interviewed by the Post, the medicinal wine made from geckos

is not very complicated but must be prepared carefully.

Chay Seang Y, a

traditional healer who owns the popular Cadarmom Shop in Phnom Penh, said the

rule is to preserve a gecko in a liter of while wine for six months until it

becomes mature.

The gecko must not lose its tail which is the most

effective part of the animal, but its eyes must be removed otherwise the

eyesight of the person drinking the wine will be affected, Seang Y


Apart from its cure for asthma because the medicine could help ease

the breathing system and give extra strength to the lungs, the gecko wine is

said to help improve muscles and improve concentration in the drinker's spirit,

Seang Y explained.

He said the wine is especially used by soldiers

because it would help them better concentrate on fighting, and not to think

about their families at home. Seang Y, though, failed to confirm whether the six

month old wine made the soldiers too drunk to think about their girl friends,

wives or children.

However, he said gecko wine was just as popular among

the Chinese and Vietnamese, in whose countries the sort of traditional medicine

is believed to have originated.

Chap Narith, a staff member of the Phnom

Penh Post, said the Khmer Rouge's Angkar gave a strict order in late 1977 to the

people in Battambang to catch geckos to be sent to China. It was not known

whether the geckos were a type of bilateral transaction in exchange for tanks,

artillery or any kind of ammunition for the Pol Potists.

Deep in the

heart of legend is the "gecko snake", which slides into the geckos mouth once a

year to eat their swollen livers. The enlarged livers stop the geckos from

crying and once eaten by the snakes the geckos can begin crying again while

their livers regrow.


Post inquiries clearly confirm that the gecko snake is now almost


Animal experts approached for comment could not confirm the

existence of the gecko liver-eating snake-indeed there was some skepticism

whether the snake exists all-but luckily Seang Y could confirm, saying: "It is


Seang Y said he once saw a gecko snake entering the mouth of a gecko to eat

its liver in a Wat in Kompong Cham in 1946. "And it has since clarified my

doubts," he said.

The traditional healer said there are a lot of

characteristics and mystery about geckos in the Khmer community. He said if a

gecko cries five, seven or eleven times, it would indicate good luck for


"But it would be bad luck if a gecko cries only one, two or three

times," Seang Y stressed. "Such a gecko should be trapped out of the house."

A taxi-driver called Mao had a gecko in his home that only cried three times.

Seang Y told him to get rid of the lizard. After he did so Mao returned and

reported on his much-improved luck. He was able to repay loans and recover his

losses from gambling at cards.

The militiaman Ngim Rin in Takeo also told the Post of a funny game played by

children and some rural adults. The 'Memon- Memai' game is similar to 'He loves

me - He loves me not' played by some American kids while removing the petals of


Memom and Memai literally mean spinster and widow. In this game,

people begin to count the number of times a gecko cries to bet whether they will

have a spinster or widow wife.

They can begin either with Memon or Memai,

they will have a widow wife if the gecko cry ends with Memai.

Rin raised

another old belief about a lizard called the Thlen that would rush into a river

after biting a person. If the person who was bitten did not run and best the

lizard into the water, that person would die.

Chap Narith said one of his bothers did so once during the Khmer Rouge regime

even though he did not believe much in the stories.

"Believe it or not,

it is not hard work just to rush into a pond for a minute in case the belief

works," replied Narith when asked why he took this seriously.

Seang Y,

however, said this was not true and that there was a lot of things that the old

people lied about.



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