When a new calendar year approaches, many Cambodians look to fortune-tellers for a glimpse of what lies in wait for the year ahead. While not all cosmic news is good news, Phnom Penh’s leading soothsayers say that after a grim 2010, more prosperity is in the stars for next year.
After a year of predicted pestilence, famines and other misfortunes, 2011 – a traditional year of tevada (angels) – will apparently herald a growth spurt for the national economy, an increase in effective law enforcement and a decrease in violent conflicts.
Im Borin, director of the National Committee of Khmer Customs and Horoscopes at the Ministry of Cults and Religion, has published about 5,000 copies of a horoscope handbook in the run up to the New Year. Im Borin, a long-time mystic, said that his predictions are based on “geocentric planetary phenomena”, which he claims are reliable, a decent proportion of the time.
“I have read and analysed the characters of tevada as a traditional fortune-teller for about ten years and about 80 percent of my predictions have been accurate,” he said.
While his most recent prophecies for 2011 augur an increase in this year’s spate of natural disasters – including flash floods and serious fires – he says that people across the country should generally remain in greater spiritual harmony than they did in 2010.
Im Borin’s cosmic predictions for 2010 were ominous at best, claiming that many people would be tragically killed in a year filled with famine, conflict and pestilence. He even goes as far as to say that his predictions foreshadowed last month’s tragic stampede at the Diamond Island bridge, which killed 353 people.
“The prediction became accurate if you compare it with the Koh Pich bridge stampede, which caused the deaths of hundreds of poor people, many of whom were working in factories,” he said.
Luckily, however, Im Borin’s darker premonitions for the past year – including a prediction of falling crop yields and a rash of human casualties as a result of declining “social morality” – have failed to come to fruition in 2010.
“The farmers must take care of the crops they have already harvested because crops this year will not be good,” he said in January, adding that “about half of the vegetable and fruit crops will be destroyed” by insects.
Window into the future
San Vannak, a 53-year-old “spirit guardian” fortune-teller who also plies his trade in front of the Royal Palace, said soothsayers are usually asked to divine the future on matters such as romance, finances, job opportunities, marriage plans, divorce and the outcome of illnesses.
He said that for generations, Cambodians have consulted fortune tellers to gain self-understanding and knowledge which could lead to personal power or success in some aspect of life.
“Individual people need to learn about their life when there are problems and they come and consult with a fortune-teller to help them make decisions,” he said.
San Vannak said his clients include government officials and business people who look to the stars to tell them “whether their rank or business will increase or decline”.
His national predictions for the upcoming year are again fairly benign – he sees the country’s political situation calming down, due to improvements in leadership – but warned there will be an increase in diseases caused by flooding, such as cholera.
Although it sounds somewhat bleak, San Vannak’s 2011 predictions pale in comparison to the unequivocally dire outlook he gave for 2010.
“Everything this year will be worse than last year,” San Vannak told The Post in January. “Many people and also cattle will die from epidemic diseases and disasters such as floods, storms and droughts, all of which will be caused by climate change.”
He predicted that five provinces – Battambang, Kampot, Prey Veng, Pursat and Siem Reap – would be affected by inclement weather.
But So Baramey, 64, who also works outside the Royal Palace, declined to give such grandiose predictions, saying true fortune-tellers should only attempt to provide helpful spiritual guidance for individuals.
He said the soothsaying profession has been corrupted and that only spiritual shysters attempt such grandiose predictions about the state of the nation.
“My fortune-telling focuses on personal life; I leave politics for the leaders,” he said.
His fellow fortune-tellers regularly solicit payments from clients and kick-back money to the local authorities to secure plum positions outside the palace, he said, tarnishing the reputation of the time-honoured tradition.
“Individual fortune tellers sitting here in an area in front of the Royal Palace have to pay money to the local authorities,” So Baramey said. “We are doing business here now.”
“A true traditional fortune-teller would never force their client to pay,” he added, pocketing the standard, but voluntary, 5,000-riel donation for his services.