Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Royal oxen life of leisure

Royal oxen life of leisure

Royal oxen life of leisure

cow10-7.gif
cow10-7.gif

ROYAL BEAST

51 weeks' rest

THEY may be celebrities each year at the plowing ceremony, but the royal oxen have a most aristocratic existence for the rest of the year.

Royal Ox Keeper Phum Thet says that Champa (ochre), Tnaut (palm-tree brown) and Tnaut Cha (dark brown) "are lucky beasts. On the [other] days in the year they don't [have to] do anything. They just eat grass and sleep".

After an 11am wake-up call, they are taken out by the day keeper to one of several choice grazing spots near the Cambodiana Hotel, where their most taxing chore is finding the best bit of shade. This routine seldom varies.

"But for one week of the year, just before the ceremony, they have to work," said Thet. "We prepare all eight oxen and teach them how to walk with the plow. Then the best six are chosen. We keep two in reserve in case of sickness."

Whereas cosseted cows in the west are traditionally given flower names - Daisy, Clover, Buttercup - Thet has chosen to name the oxen after their coloring. Several of the (largely brown) animals share the same name - there are three Tnaut Chas and two Champas.

However, Thet said he can tell them all apart, explaining that for the last four years, the same two Tnaut Chas have been given the prestigious role of eating from the specially prepared bowls of food at the ceremony. "They are the most 'gentlemanly' oxen" he smiled.

For both Thet and the day keeper, Pak Pich, 30, the job has family connections. Thet's uncle, who held the position of Royal ox keeper before him, was asked to help buy the current animals in 1993, the year the plowing ceremony was revived.

"My uncle worked with oxen all his life, and went to Saang district to find the best ones for King Siha-nouk's household. He was very good at his job, and when he left in 1994 they gave (the position) to me."

Pich, whose uncle also worked in the same department, is enthusiastic about his work. "I don't have any children yet," he grins, "but when I do I would like my son to carry on this job. I think it is a good job." Shooing away an over-inquisitive Champa, he added, "They are not badly behaved. When they walk back (in the evening) the cars all stop for them. But I know if I lost one, I would be in big trouble."

At half past five every day Champa and friends are led back to their night enclosure near the fairground by the Hong Kong Center. The pampered bovines never spent a night in the open. Thet makes sure they are safely bedded down inside their specially constructed cow-sheds. "They have to be inside to save them from the mosquitoes," said Thet. "It's important. They're special oxen."

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen’s China visit ‘a good opportunity’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Beijing on Sunday to discuss economic and trade issues presents a good opportunity for the Kingdom to strengthen Chinese ties and counter punitive measures by the West, an analyst says. The prime minister’s four-day official visit to

  • Close to the edge: Hair raising pictures from Kulen Mountain

    A new hair raising attraction on Kulen Mountain has finally opened to the public, with people flocking to the protruding cliff edge overlooking green mountainous forests to take photographs. The giant overhanging rock is situated in an area known as Mahendraparvata – an ancient city of

  • ‘Action needed to stop road deaths doubling by next year’

    Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has expressed concern over the rate of traffic accidents, saying the death toll will double by 2020 if no effective preventive measures were put in place. At least five people on average are killed on Cambodian roads every day. The interior

  • Cambodian rice to lose EU duty-free status

    The Cambodian rice sector is set to lose its duty-free export status to the EU today – its major rice market – after the European bloc decided to impose tariffs on rice from Cambodia and Myanmar to curb a surge in such imports. The decision will be