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Paint firm’s generosity saves exorcism dance being brushed off the map

Cam-Paint officials pose with performers of Cambodia’s traditional trodi exorcism dance.
Cam-Paint officials pose with performers of Cambodia’s traditional trodi exorcism dance. Moeun Nhean

Paint firm’s generosity saves exorcism dance being brushed off the map

We’ve all seen people whose attempts at dancing can scare away members of the opposite sex, but scaring away evil spirits?

As the Khmer New Year approaches, trodi dance troupes are invited to perform everywhere family homes to companies to government ministries in the belief that their movements can exorcise evil spirits, chase away bad luck from the previous year and bring good fortune for the coming year.

It is a popular custom, but for the dancers not a lucrative one – travel costs alone have posed a roadblock to trodi groups expanding their reach. This is where Cam-Paint, the Kingdom’s leading paint manufacturer and supplier, stepped in.

Cam-Paint had long invited trodi dancers to perform at all its branches in Phnom Penh and the provinces every Khmer New Year, company director Som Sambath said. Then, in 2010, the firm decided to use its own money to fund trodi troupes countrywide, so more people could have access to the spiritual cleaning service.

“I believe that trodi can drive out all bad luck and bring happiness and prosperity to our business in the coming year. Trodi is a dance that brings success,” Sambath said. “We created these dance groups to help promote Khmer culture, as trodi is
so meaningful to me, to my company and especially to our customers.”

He’s not wrong. Trodi’s roots run deep. In centuries past, ethnic Samre from what is now Siem Reap province would travel to the Angkorian capital and perform the dance to offer New Year blessings to the King. Even today, Siem Reap natives hold a certain pride in their link with the ritual. While Cambodia was under French rule the dance spread to other provinces and even into Vietnam and eventually Thailand. Trodi spread even faster in the early ’90s and is now known and appreciated by Cambodians the country over.

With its status as a household name, why does trodi need the help of generous sponsors such as Cam-Paint? The answer lies in the vast differences brought by the Kingdom’s recent development.

Professor Ieng Sithhul, from the Royal University of Fine Arts, said: “In ancient times, trodi dancers would travel from village to village. Locals would feed them and donate what they could. Some of the donated money would be passed on the local pagoda or for other public projects such as schools or to help the poor. A small amount was divided among the performers.”

These days, however, trodi troupes aren’t bound by where an oxcart can travel. Better roads and faster modes of transport mean they can visit multiple towns in a single day. Cam-Paint is pitching in by filling the gap left by people living on tighter budgets and the dance troupes’ bigger transport expenses.

Director Sambath said: “in the last three years, Cam-Paint has funded the establishment of three separate trodi groups to perform in different parts of the country. Group 1’s area covers Battambang, Porsat, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey, Group 2’s is Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear, and Group 3’s is Phnom Penh and nearby towns. This year, our company is supporting a total of about 100 performers.

“I believe that trodi was an important part of what brought prosperity in the Angkorian period, as evidenced by the many temples – such as Angkor Wat – that were left for future generations. For me, trodi is not only meaningful because it brings good luck, it is also beautiful and attractive because of its dancers, their colourful clothing and their remarkable dancing.”

In fact, according Sambath, these eye-catching colours have done more than brighten up the trodi performances – “They are the root of a lot of goods colours of our paint products!”

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