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Spirits figure large in hill tribe life

Spirits figure large in hill tribe life

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.

"The man

put his hook into the water and the line moved - it seemed stronger than usual,"

tells Nuk.

"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.

"Our ancestors

thought there was an underground channel," said Nuk Tuk.

"Once they

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.

The lake

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.

Many

Tampuan stories tell of the lake spirits' intense power and its wrath when it is

not obeyed.

"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

1980s.

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