The National Assembly ordered a special Buddhist ceremony on April 1-2 to purge the
assembly grounds of the influence of perceived malevolent spirits.
Chan Ven, Deputy Secretary General of the National Assembly, told the Post that the
special ceremony was ordered in advance of the Khmer New Year due in part to fears
that the deaths of four legislators in the past year and the poor health of many
others were connected to the recent felling of a century-old fig tree on the Assembly
The fig tree, widely believed to host a guardian spirit for the assembly site, was
cut down to make way for a new Chinese-funded legislative office building that was
unveiled by Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his state visit in November 2000.
"As part of our traditional culture we cannot give up our belief in the influence
of a guardian spirit angel," Ven said of the motivation behind the ceremony.
"In the past year we've been faced with the challenges of big health problems
so we only pray for peace of mind for the Khmer New Year".
Em Borint, a researcher for the Committee of Astrology and Khmer Culture and Customs
within the National and International Committee for Festival Organization, said that
belief in the power of "spirit trees" was firmly embedded in traditional
Cambodian Hindu and animistic traditions.
"If someone abuses the host of the guardian angel or the spirit tree, [traditional
belief] holds that those persons will have bad karma for their future lives,"
Belief in the malicious power of the violated "spirit tree" is strongest
among the National Assembly's security staff.
"I have to pray [for safety] because the spirit of the tree did every thing
possible to ensure me and other believers were protected from harm and can [sicken
or injure] those who don't respect the teachings of the guardian angel," said
Kong Ny, 22, a NA security guard.
"I don't know about other people, but when I dreamt of seeing the [tree] guardian
or ghost, I had to repay him with a bunch of bananas and light incense at the stump
of the spirit tree."
Kong recites a list of people whom he claims lived to rue ignoring the sanctity of
the spirit tree.
"For example my two friends who work as the security here died. Their deaths
were related to a disease, but we also think [it was related to] the spirit's anger."
Un Chun Nim, 68, who lives across from the National Assembly, said that the power
of the spirit tree's guardian angel was most visibly seen during the Lon Nol Regime,
when Khmer Rouge rockets that were pounding the city failed to hit the building in
spite of its size and prominence.
Chum Nim added that in 1987, National Assembly security staff frequently reported
seeing the figure of a huge guardian angel straddling the site's main gate. Since
the "spirit tree" was cut down, she says the "vibrations" from
the National Assembly have changed markedly, and for the worse.
"Now I see a light similar to that of a firefly almost every night on the roof
of National Assembly building," said Chun Nim.
"I cannot say the deaths of [the four] lawmakers were related to the spirit's
anger, but if my children had the same problems as the people in the National Assembly...
I would blame my children for wrong behavior to the guardian angel".
Legislator Ky Lum Ang (Fun) told the Post that she had been shocked and worried by
the deaths and sickness of so many legislators since the July 1998 election and would
not rule out the influence of spiritual forces.
"...I believe in spirit trees. We are Khmer children who have for ages believed
in spiritual forces," Lum Ang said.
But legislator Princess Norodom Vacheara (Fun) struck a far more skeptical note when
asked about the possible repercussions being suffered due to the removal of the "spirit
"Those legislators who died were old and sick... I don't believe in spirits,"