Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Dead’ man’s presence at funeral scares villagers

‘Dead’ man’s presence at funeral scares villagers

‘Dead’ man’s presence at funeral scares villagers

In the dim light of Sunday evening, 32-year-old Kong Channeang approached his family. Startled at his unexpected presence, they ran away in abject terror.

The reaction was more than understandable. Channeang had, after all, turned up at his own funeral.

Suffering from an unidentified mental illness, he had gone missing five days earlier from his home in Svay Rieng province’s Romdoul district.

On Sunday, a decomposing and bloated body was spotted by villagers in a nearby river. His family, satisfied the corpse was likely their son, proceeded to hold a funeral for him.

They were preparing the body for cremation when Channeang turned up.

“All of us were scared and ran away immediately. We thought that we were being haunted, since it was a little bit dark at 6:30pm when he showed up at the funeral,” Orn Song, the chief of Svay Chek commune, said.

Kong Vanny, Channeang’s 63-year-old father, told the Post yesterday that while everyone was running away, his son had shouted for him to return.

“When I heard him call me, I just went to him and grabbed his hand. I realised that he was not a ghost and I told the villagers and authorities to return to the funeral and to not be afraid of him because he was actually alive.”

The unidentified body was handed over to authorities, who buried it at a local pagoda.

According to Vanny, three members of his immediate family suffer from a hereditary mental illness that Cambodians call sabour.

Before Channeang “went crazy” a few years ago, he was an industrious builder, he said, but now, he becomes aggressive and leaves the house for long periods of time.

“His condition is like a spirit comes and controls his body. Sometimes he is normal, and sometimes he is not normal and he has problems with other people. Sometimes, I shackle his legs in order to stop him from attacking anyone in the village.”

When Channeang ran away on May 27 his legs had been chained but he managed to set himself free. Chaining relatives suffering from mental illness remains a common practice in the Kingdom, despite being decried by rights groups.

“The condition affecting my wife and sons usually occurs on days where there is a full moon and on the last day of the month. Apart from these days, they are normal and can work,” Vanny said.

“I have never taken them to the psychologist.”

Dr Chhim Sotheara, executive director of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, said that it is common in Cambodia for people to explain mental illnesses in spiritual or superstitious terms.

“Mental health is pretty new in the Cambodian context. Psychiatry in particular is really new. In general, Cambodian people have their own explanatory model to explain behaviours or [mental states] or attitudes of people,” Sotheara said.

“The explanation is based on cultural beliefs, religious beliefs and maybe based on experiences from their parents’ generation. It’s very common that Cambodians explain this kind of psychological reaction as a kind of spirit possession . . . or what we call sabour, a kind of craziness running in the family.

“But if we look at an explanation based on Western psychiatry, we can see clearly that these people meet criteria for mental disorders [such as] schizophrenia [or] psychosis.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH

MOST VIEWED

  • Purging Sihanoukville’s past with a new masterplan

    Amid illicit activities, haphazard development and abandoned projects, the coastal city of Sihanouk province needs a reset to move forward. A new masterplan might be the answer to shake off its seemingly mucky image to become the Shenzhen of the south Gun toting, shootouts, police

  • Chinese may be first in tourism revival: PM

    Cambodia's tourism industry is gearing up to roll out the red carpet for Chinese travellers after Prime Minister Hun Sen on September 17 indicated that the Kingdom could soon throw open its doors to international holidaymakers vaccinated against Covid-19 – starting with guests from China. Cambodia Chinese

  • Four-pillar approach in reopening of tourism: PM

    Cambodia is drawing up a four-strategy approach to promptly restore domestic and international tourism activity and put the industry on a transition pathway to a sustainable and inclusive model that is resistant to future crises, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The prime minister made

  • Airline says ready for green light to reopen international tourism

    Sky Angkor Airline Co Ltd on September 21 said it is ready to transport South Korean and Chinese tourists to the Kingdom once the Cambodian government makes good on plans to reopen its borders to vaccinated travellers. The Siem Reap-based airline made the remark during a

  • Tourism concerns laid bare

    To ensure the success of plans to reopen the tourism market for international visitors, Cambodia must pay utmost attention to two primary determinants – the ongoing paradigm shift in domestic tourism services towards the ‘new normal’, and the factors influencing choices of destinations among foreign holidaymakers.

  • Cambodian bride ‘badly treated, held captive’ by Chinese man seeks help

    A Cambodian woman who travelled to China to marry a Chinese man there was “badly treated” by her husband’s family and then had to be rescued and will be returned to Cambodia to ensure her safety. The rescue operation came about after the 25-year-old