T HE Tampuan people still believe it is important to keep the spirits of Boeng
Yeak Laom lake happy.
Each year before they start fishing in the rainy
season, they sacrifice a piglet and a chicken on the banks of the lake and pray
over a jug of rice wine to insure a good fish harvest.
They are also
careful never to curse the lake. Nuk Tuk, 35, the chief of Phum Chree, located
near the western crest of the crater, tells of an incident some ten years ago,
when a Tampuan swore at the lake for not giving him enough fish.
put his hook into the water and the line moved - it seemed stronger than usual,"
"He pulled up a rat, which was very uncommon. That night he
slept under a plastic tarp, with the rat nearby. In the middle of the night the
wind came up and he heard a large noise, like a limb falling off a tree. He ran
home, and heard a monster's voice say: 'If you stay at the lake, I will send
something else to you.'"
Tampuans as well as Khmers living in the
vicinity believe that there are deadly currents, whirlpools, and dragons in the
lake, which have pulled people down and drowned them.
thought there was an underground channel," said Nuk Tuk.
dropped a melon into the lake, and several days later it reappeared in the
Srepok River in Lumphat, which is very far away. For this reason we do not swim
in the middle of the lake."
The Khmer name for the lake is Yeak (meaning
monster) Laom. The Tampuan name, Yeak Ralom means "that which is destroyed by
the word of the spirits."
The Tampuans have many stories that they say
indicate that the lake and surrounding forest is full of spirits, and until the
Khmer Rouge regime - when many of the highlanders were relocated elsewhere and
spiritual practices withered - they never cut the trees in the forest
surrounding the lake because they were considered sacred.
itself is said to have been created in ancient times when Tampuan villagers
caught a deer and decided to use it in a sacrifice, rather than a buffalo, as
was the custom. The spirits became unhappy with the people, and obliterated the
village, creating the 50-meter depression which is the lake today.
Tampuan stories tell of the lake spirits' intense power and its wrath when it is
"Many years ago the spirits told our ancestors not to use
traps when they fished in the lake, or they would be punished," said Hing Tev,
40, commune leader of Phum Laun, located on the sloping road to the lake.
"This really happened when one man put a trap near one of the streams
draining the lake. That night he dreamed that he found his daughter's necklace
there. 'You might catch a necklace this time,' the spirit warned, 'but next time
it will be your child there.'"
Tales of lake spirits and mythical animals
continue into the present time.
Hing says that only last year he and
several other villagers saw a strange lizard-like creature arching its back and
swimming in the middle of the lake when the water was rough and foamy. "Some
people thought it was a dragon," said Hing.
Others tell of foreign divers
- some say Filipino, others say Japanese or American - who disappeared into the
depths of the lake in 1970s and were never seen from again, and of six
Vietnamese soldiers who were swallowed up in the lake in the early