Villagers make offerings of apology at Te Touk Pos hot spring on March 20.
More than 500 people gathered by the edge of the Te Touk Pos hot spring in Aural
District of Kampong Speu on March 20 to make offerings of apologies following rumors
that numerous treasure hunters who had descended on the area in recent weeks had
mysteriously sickened and died.
The "golden spring" has been the focus of a treasure hunt by hundreds of
locals and outsiders drawn by reported discoveries of gold, jewelry and suspected
Angkorian artefacts on the site in recent weeks.
While Kampong Speu First Deputy Governor Yim Sokhom was unable to confirm whether
the reported deaths of the looters were true, he said the rumors were already taking
on a life of their own.
"Eight of 10 people consulted by provincial officials about these rumors insisted
that people had died after taking away artefacts and gold from the spring,"
Sokhom said. "We're still trying to confirm what is happening."
A telling indication of the power of the rumors of harm befalling those who have
looted the site was the presence of Sokhom and other provincial officials at the
March 20 ceremony in which a new spirit house was unveiled adjacent to the hot spring.
General Keo Pong, Deputy Commander of Military Region 3 and former Khmer Rouge commander
of the Aural region, is also a believer in the lethal spiritual power of the hot
spring. Pong told the Post he had personal knowledge of the death of an elderly woman
said to have taken the first artefact from the site in February.
According to Pong, shortly before her death the woman had dreamed that a spirit had
told her that 100 cows and 10 people would have to die because of the looting.
Pong's belief in the malevolent nature of the spring "spirits" is evident
in his role as one of the organizers of the apology ceremony.
Vanna, 20, was one of those in attendance who swore that woe had befallen his family
since he recently took home a small "telephone shaped" stone that he'd
found by the edge of the spring.
According to Vanna, shortly after she brought the stone to his house, his brother
and nephew promptly "disappeared".
More disturbingly, he said after he put the stone on the household shrine that also
held the photos and ashes of his grandparents, both photos and ashes inexplicably
fell to the ground.
"I really believe that all the things that happened in my house were caused
by that piece of rock," he said. He had since discarded the spring souvenir
out of fear for his and his family's wellbeing.
In front of the new spirit house, five ethnic Suoy elders told the Post that the
villagers were praying that the spirits that dwell in and around the spring would
punish only those who had desecrated the site.
"We want the spirits to punish the looters, not us," a 73-year-old Suoy
elder said. "We have never touched these sacred objects."
True believers take water and sand from the spring.
Others busied themselves filling up water containers of all sizes due to the water's
reputed effects in successfully treating skin diseases and "increasing vigor".
"We have come here not to seek treasure," said Chiem Nhoeng, 77, a resident
of nearby Tronop commune. "We just want to pour water over our heads and pray
for help in living a good life."