Saturday, October 13, 2012


Pchum Ben or Ancestors’ Day that takes places during the lunar month of Pot-bot, is a Cambodian Buddhist and Brahmanism festival where people pay respect to the spirits of their ancestors and deceased relatives.

It is probably the most important festival in Cambodia and anyone who can, returns to their place of birth to be with family. As a result, schools, government offices and many business closed for several days.

Even though it is called Ancestors’ Day, it runs for three days and there is a lead up of fifteen days where people follow the custom of feeding the ancestors. It is believed that the dead wander the world during this period and the offering of food is meant to make their passage more comfortable.

On the main day Monks chant the Mantras in Pali  language throughout the night as prelude to the gates of hell opening, an event that is presumed to occur once a year, and is linked to the cosmology of King Yama originating in the Pali Canon. During the period of the gates of hell being opened, ghosts of the dead are presumed to be especially active, and thus food-offerings are made to benefit them, some of these ghosts have the opportunity to end their period of purgation, whereas others are imagined to leave hell temporarily, to then return to endure more suffering Relatives who are not in hell (who are in heaven or otherwise reincarnated) are also believed to benefit from the ceremonies.

In temples adhering to canonical protocol, the offering of food itself is made from the laypeople to the (living) Buddhist monks, thus generating "merit" that indirectly benefits the dead; however, in many temples, this is either accompanied by or followed by food offerings that are believed to directly transfer from the living to the dead, such as rice-balls thrown through the air, or rice thrown into an empty field. Anthropologist Satoru Kobayashi observed that these two models of merit-offering to the dead are in competition in rural Cambodia, with some temples preferring the greater canonicity of the former model, and others embracing the popular (if unorthodox) assumption that mortals can "feed" ghosts with physical food.

Pchum Ben is considered unique to Cambodia although similar festivals are found in Sri Lanka.

Interesting fact: All Souls Day is a Christian festival that is universally celebrated on November 2, but in Cambodia, Catholic communities celebrate it is during the traditional Pchum Ben.


Young clowns pictured during one of their show at PPS’s circus in Battambang. Photograph: Rolf Braendels/Phnom Penh Post
“Art is integral for human development, for freedom of expression, for dreaming … but perhaps it’s even more important for young people in a country like Cambodia,” Suon Bun Rith muses.

As director of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), an arts hub, school and orphanage for disadvantaged children in the outskirts of Battambang, Rith and his team assist almost 80 children bearing emotional and physical scars – victims of trafficking, domestic violence and extreme poverty. They provide medical support, meals, education and a unique arts and performance program.

The NGO’s raison d’etre, however, was always to reinvigorate the arts in Cambodia among the country’s young through a unique arts and performance program, and it now houses three artistic schools in Battambang. Free of charge,  they are open to all and now teach 450 children painting, cartooning, acting, circus acrobatics, music and theatre.

Last month, the organisation was hailed as one of 11 recipients of an annual, worldwide award from Dutch body the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development (PCFCD).

Awarded a €25,000 prize, the award was a “complete, but very pleasant surprise” for Rith and his team, who had been nominated by a mystery advocate.

“I think this is a great opportunity and honours our work and our belief in the arts, I believe we may be the first Cambodian group to win this award.

“We are empowering the youth by using culture as a medium for young people, it’s a very specific award,” he says

The award couldn’t have come at a better time for PPS, Rith says, as wild weather in July had ripped the roof off one of the schools.

“We didn’t have the money to fix it and even though we are not a cultural heritage site, PCFCD also gave us a grant of €1,000 to fix it.”

The award money will be used to upgrade facilities and hygiene systems in surrounding villages and boost staff and resources at the centre.


A Thai man accused of dealing drugs in partnership with his Cambodian wife was wounded in a shootout with police and military police officers in Battambang town yesterday.

Heng Send Hong, director of the Battambang provincial military police anti-drug office, said an operation had led forces to surround a rented house in Svay Por commune, where they believed the suspects were holed up.

When police swooped on the property in an attempt to arrest the suspected dealers, the man opened fire, Hong said.

Police fired back, hitting him in the lower back, then arrested him and his wife.

“We have not yet finished investigating, and are searching for anyone in their wider network,” Hong said, adding that police had discovered an undisclosed amount of methamphetamines and a gun.

Hong said he could not reveal the identities of the suspects or the quantity of drugs seized as authorities wanted to make more arrests in connection with the alleged drug activities.

Cheth Vanny, deputy police commissioner in Battambang, said the arrests were the result of co-operation between the two police forces.

Monday, June 4, 2012


The Citizens of Battambang and indeed, the whole Country, vote today for candidates for Local Government election.

Part Two of the Story is based on an article in the Phnom Penh Post about a young woman from Battambang.

Sam Rainsy Party candidate Sin Chan Pov Rozeth, 25, campaigns for commune chief in O’Char commune in Battambang town. At 25, she is the youngest candidate running in the elections. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Postaption
 Sin Chan Pov Rozeth is 25 years old and the youngest candidate running for commune chief in the current election. She  faces a ruling party opponent more than half a century her senior.
he young Sam Rainsy Party hopeful is pitted against the Cambodian People’s Party Kem Chhorng, 78, who has been the chief of O’Char commune in Battambang town since just after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown in 1979.

Sin Chan Pov Rozeth’s former job was selling quails here, where she grew up with only her mother, who sells vegetables for a living and lives in the SRP headquarters.

Last week, she has been aggressively selling something more abstract: a campaign message to end alleged corruption in the commune, build a healthcare centre and construct a sewer system to stop continual flooding.

“Even though my competitor is old and has experience, I still hope that I will beat him, because in the 20 years that he has been a commune chief, he has not served people well but thinks about money; there has been no development for people,” she said.

The first-time candidate, who has actively supported the SRP since she was 11 years old, said it was the will to develop, not experience and gender, that is important.

“In Thailand, they voted for a woman to lead the country. Why in our O’Char commune can people not vote for a woman to lead?” she said.

Kem Chhorng says her promises are full of hot air and wants to know where the money is going to come from to build the pledged projects when the national budget offers the commune scant funding.

What she says is just to attract, for her pride. She looks pretty but she is young, she does not have experience and she cannot do. She has never been a commune chief,” he said.

“Since 1979, I have never lost any time an election for commune chief so far. If I threaten people for money, they would not vote for me,” he said, adding that in that time he had built four schools in four separate villages.

He added that he was old and would agree to leave politics if he lost, but said he was 100 per cent confident he would win the seat, and that the CPP would gain two more councillors in O’Char commune.

Currently, they have seven councillors in O’Char compared to the SRP’s four.

Out on the campaign trail, Sin Chan Pov Rozeth is winning supporters, at least at face value, including 90-year-old Om Heb, who assures her he will be voting SRP on June 3.

“Women work well. I would try with her once. The men are [too] busy looking at the road,” he said, after hearing her confident campaign pitch, which sometimes includes a portable, stand-mounted flat-screen TV blaring out SRP campaign videos.

The CPP are taking a less personalised approach to campaigning in Battambang, driving through town in huge convoys of hundreds of flag-waving supporters on motorbikes and dozens of cars blurting out their campaign slogans from loudspeakers.

Sin Chan Pov Rozeth faces an uphill battle against this show of force, and once again this campaign, there have been widespread allegations of political intimidation.

Just yesterday, the SRP announced they would file a criminal complaint over an alleged assault on their Battambang district councillor, Khy Meng Lynh, by a CPP member – an attack they say resulted in a dislocated collarbone.

Another problem, said political observer Son Soubert, was the division between the SRP and smaller opposition parties such as the Human Rights Party and the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which yesterday announced plans to merge with Funcinpec.

Well, I just wish that they get better, but I doubt it, because when the opposition is not united, the people will be divided, and some will go to the Sam Rainsy and some to the HRP."

In the battle for the O’Char seat, the SRP is also contesting the soon-to-be-merged NRP and Funcinpec.

More important than the influence of an emerging, politically aware younger generation, is the reaction to the continuing escalation of land disputes at the ballot box, Son Soubert said.

And there is another factor that might work against Sin Chan Pov Rozeth’s campaign – the mass migration of young people in the area seeking jobs in Thailand, which has escalated amidst the Thai government’s pledge to raise the minimum daily wage to 300 baht (US$9.50).
Most people in Battambang town are understandably reluctant to say who they will support in the election, but they unanimously agree there has been at least one positive democratic sign – far more vigorous campaigning from all parties.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


The Citizens of Battambang and indeed, the whole Country, vote today for candidates for Local Government election.

Here is a message from His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni:

“I publicly appeal for compatriots, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren not to be scared of oppression, intimidation or threats by any individual or political party,”