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Friday, March 1, 2013

Ghost Houses in one remote tribal Cambodian village

Just a few weeks ago I was thrilled to be traveling in Cambodia with the chance to view this "ghost village."   It is up the Tonle San River that flows through northeastern Ratanakiri Province and we rode up the river for an hour by boat to reach this Kachok tribal village.  Our guide was a member of one of the other seven tribes in this remote area and I felt privileged and awed to see the creations of family and village members in reverence for their deceased. 

 The ghost village sits in a wooded area near the dwelling for the villagers and contains about twenty ghost houses in various stages of composure and decomposure. 

 Essentially, family members and others close to the deceased carve statues to represent them as they might wish to be equipped, with sunglasses or cellphones (these days) and perhaps a gun. 

The statues stand around the grave enclosure and a roof overhead may be decorated, more or less intricately depending on how "important" or "rich" the person was. 

Inside the enclosure are the deceased's possesssions--a rice pot and kettle perhaps, and a banana tree may be planted to provide sustenance.  Rice and other food offerings may be brought throughout the first year to appease any anger the spirit may feel for not being alive or to beseech the dead for favor to gain help, for example with a child's illness or a crop failure.

 After one year the family and community gather together to slay an ox and feast to send the spirit off in good form.  Then they can in the words of our guide "forget them" and move on!

Over time the ghost houses deteriorate in the weather and return to nature.

I continue to think about this rich ritual as it would provide creative outlet and social support while in grief.  It seemed to me akin to excellent art therapy process allowing for mixed and possibly unnameable feelings to be expressed and contained.  We could stand to learn something from the Kachok!