It's not the recommended remedy you'd get from doctors at Calmette Hospital. But
48-year-old Yath Sal says she recovered from her disease when she allowed a
neakta, or guardian spirit, to possess her.
There are two ways in Khmer
to describe this possession: both Cholroob and Neakta Kan mean that a guardian
spirit is living within a person and using that person's body to communicate
Sal is a medium through whom a guardian spirit and
believers can communicate. Believers say that through Sal they can receive a
special magic formula for resolving all their problems and
Sal lives in Preak Panak village, Choeung Ek commune, on the
outskirts of Phnom Penh, where animism is widespread, as it is in much of
Every year after the villagers have finished harvesting their
rice, animists organize a harvest thanksgiving celebration known as Bon Darlean,
to give thanks to the powerful Neakta Krahom Kor or Red-Neck
Sal said she was sick for several years, and almost every day
she dreamed that the Red-Neck Guardian wanted to possess her in exchange for
curing her disease.
Then something happened to her a few weeks ago in
December during the Bon Darlean celebration at the spirit house of Neakta Krahom
Kor, which is about a kilometer from her house.
"I was working in the
rice field while the ceremony was taking place and I had a feeling of gooseflesh
on my head three times; then for several minutes I didn't know what was going
on," Sal said.
Sal's 73-year-old father, Ma Yath, said his daughter
immediately picked up a stick and ran toward the small hill the guardian
spirit's house stands on and knelt in front of the guardian.
"At first I
didn't know what was going on with my daughter, but when I ran after her and saw
her at the house of the guardian, where the villagers were paying homage to
Neakta Krahom Kor, then I knew that Neakta cholroob [had entered] my daughter,"
He said Neakta Krahom Kor has lived on the little hill
overseeing the ricefields since the time of Khmer Issarak, the anti-French
rebels in the 1950s, and his magic is still powerful.
Yath said that in
the 1950s people in the villages really believed and respected the magic of
Neakta Krahom Kor.
"I remember that back then, Neakta Krahom Kor would
possess someone and [through that person] would write a magic formula on a piece
of clothing, and the person whose clothing it was had an influence like the
neakta and the neakta's magic made that person safe from the enemy."
Yath said that the influence of Neakta Krahom Kor declined during the Lon Nol
regime, especially in 1972 when many soldiers took prostitutes into the area and
created anarchy, without respect for the local tradition.
society there is the belief that a neakta would not live in an area where there
is a bad environment," Yath said.
Sal said she plans to establish a small
sanctuary space in her house to pray to the guardian spirit. This space is known
as baysey, and contains a section of banana tree trunk with legs to which three,
five, seven, or nine layers of banana leaves are used in certain traditional
Sal said she now has to save about 200,000 riel to set up the
baysey and then she will conduct meditation in the evening.
Sing Kea, a
member of the Catudhisa Sangha of the Japanese Buddhist temple Shionsan Houonji,
spent about $100,000 to build a Buddhist center next to the spirit house of
Neakta Krahom Kor, which is two kilometers south of the Choeung Ek Killing
Kea said both cooked and live chickens as well as bananas are
brought to the guardian house almost every day as offerings. The live chickens
are freed before the shrine.
"Even though I don't really believe in the
guardian spirit 100 percent, I do respect [the belief that] the guardian spirit
can help to take care of the community, and I will keep the environment around
the guardian house clean for the village," Kea said.
Miech Ponn, 74, an
adviser for the Council of Khmer Culture at the Buddhist Institute, told the
Post that belief in neakta is a very old animist tradition within Khmer society
and those who believe do so ardently.
He said there were many different
kinds of neakta, ranging from local guardians all the way up to Preah Ang
Dangker on the riverfront in front of the Royal Palace, who is the highest
neakta in Cambodia and responsible for the care of the entire
Ponn said a neakta is the soul of a well-known person who in
life used to take care of their community or tribe and received strong support
from their community.
He said belief in neakta is an animist tradition
common across Cambodia, but strongest in areas where there are big trees, caves
"Animism and nature always coexsit within a community or
tribe," Ponn said.
"When believers are sick or worry about something,
they pray to the neakta, then the neakta enters someone to let people know that
his or her soul is still living in the community and taking care of people,"
Ponn said. "Neakta have a role both to take care of and to punish people in a
He said neakta like to live in big trees, caves, and big
stones, so when the natural environment is damaged the animist tradition in that
area tends to decline.
Ponn said that to maintain the animist tradition
Buddhist monks have established a house for neakta in each pagoda across the
country. When people come to the pagoda they can pray both the Buddha and to
He said each neakta has his or her own history. The Neakta Krahom
Kor was the soul of Dechor Meas, the commander of the armed forces and the
master of Kampong Thom province during the reign of a former king in the 17th
Dechor Meas was famous in his day and strongly supported by the
people under his rule. When he died he was concerned for his people and so his
soul has continued to live in the community to look after them.