This post is about Merenang Kang Veal, the memorials and offerings to those who’ve passed into the next life while still very young (from the aborted to the stillborn to those who died at a very young age). The relationship with nature and all living things whether still on earth or physically gone is still very tangible and real in Asia and the Khmer’s Buddhist tradition. These shrines and offerings are an effort by those still alive to pay respects and appease the wandering and lost spirits. Notice the toys and miniature clothes, food and water given as offerings. We’re doing some research into these to find out more about them. Stay tuned!
Check this video out. The Asian Century has never been more real, yet it’s still surreal for those of us used to a western-centric world. Presented so compellingly by Hans Rosling, the public health infographic brains behind the Gapminder, this modeling sends home a message that isn’t new but is quite amazing even for the rapidly changing times we live in.
When people move into a new home they create a disturbance in the natural world. In a gesture of deference and to re-balance the natural surroundings, it is tradition to appease the displaced spirits. Bribes of various sorts ranging from incense, fruits, vegetables, water and rice etc are regularly placed in these houses, sort of like an eviction compensation. It isn’t that the spirits will actually eat them, and in fact some of these houses can be left in such a state as to seem that the spirits are expected to clean their little abodes. They will not. These are symbolic acts of respect towards the earth and to divine beings who live alongside us.
See the bananas and bottles of water in the first photo? On the road down to Koh Kong there are a few spirit houses placed along the sides of the road. Sometimes people will stop, leave a lagniappe and ask the spirits in that area to look over them in their travels and keep mischief and danger away. If many accidents have occurred on a specific road a spirit house will be placed there, to allow travelers to pacify the tormented spirits.
It’s interesting to note that I have never seen birds nesting in these houses, nor eating the plentiful fruits left at them. I hadn’t had a drop of clue or curiosity yet to ask my Khmer colleagues and friends why this is so. I guess it satisfies my sensibilities that it really does have to do with an otherwordly presence.