Two Years in the Kingdom- The Khmer Funeral Ceremony

April 11, 2019

Hello All, and thanks for following me. Todays topic is The Khmer  Funeral Ceremony

Hello All, Todays topic is Khmer Funerals. Last weekend I was traveling back to the village from a weekend in Phnom Penh. I travel in vans called turihs. These vans are unregulated and the drivers want to make as much money as they can so they pack them with as many people as possible. The vans have bench seating so if you have an issue with maintaining personal space then riding turihs may be problematic for you. As you might imagine, they aren’t the safest either. Most Cambodians  ride motos, small motorcycles, that they use without any type of head protection. There are no hard and fast rules for driving safety. Red lights are often ignored. On a 2-lane road you might see a moto passing a car that is passing a bus all at the same time. Needless to say, traffic fatalities are a common occurrence.  So, as we were leaving Phnom Penh the traffic stopped and was backed up for a very long way. When we finally passed the accident scene, I could see that it had involved an elderly woman who was most likely traveling on the back of a moto without a helmet.

All cultures have a way of dealing with the death of a loved one. Cambodians view death differently than Westerners. In Buddhism, there is the belief that death is the end of a life cycle. Buddhists believe in reincarnation so the end of a life cycle evolves into another of birth, sickness, old age, death and rebirth. In the event of death, there are certain rituals that must be performed to ensure the person is able to move from one cycle to the next. The Buddhist monk plays a key role in many rituals including death. If at all possible, the monk will be in attendance as a person is dying because this is the time when the soul leaves the body but is still present. It is believed that the soul is in a state of confusion after leaving the body and the monk provides needed comfort to the soul.

Following the death of a person, they are placed in a coffin. The body is not dissected or embalmed but kept at the house of the family for up to 7 days, in the structure that is pictured, before cremation. The funeral procession to the crematorium consists of the monks, family followed by friends.  Mourning loved ones may shave their heads. White is the traditional color for mourning as opposed to wearing black in Western culture. The coffin is carried to the temple crematorium. Cambodians are cremated because it is believed that cremation allows the soul to part ways from the body. The crematorium that I have pictured here is at Wat Opot Childrens Community. The ashes and bones are placed in a stupa that is usually on temple grounds. Each stupa is designated by family. I have pictured some of the stupas at Wat Opot.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Cambodian Government.

This is a book review I had received from my one of my young adult novels “The Gift of Phineas Lake”. Kirkus is well known for their high standards in regards to book reviews since the 1930’s. Needless to say, I was very pleased with their review. Please take a moment and read this review. All ordering information is on this website.

A quick, compelling historical novel with a magical touch.

Rizzo uses historical figures and facts as the foundation for this suspenseful story within a story about the Underground Railroad and racial tension in antebellum industrial Pennsylvania. The book begins in 1897, when Jake and Gordy, two boys, get curious about an abandoned house in town—the former home of the titular Phineas Lake, who disappeared 50 years ago under mysterious circumstances. Though most adults discourage the boys from inquiring further, Gordy’s grandfather Cooper reveals that he was Phineas’ childhood best friend, and he’s just the first of many who begin to tell the boys about Phineas as they piece together the true story of what happened. Phineas had been blessed with a miraculous healing touch—able to cure any wound or illness with his hands alone—but he did his best to keep his gift a secret, since Rev. Davis, the village preacher, was quick to condemn such a thing as witchcraft. During the night,

however, Phineas would heal the freed slaves—the closest doctor refused to treat them—who worked at the iron furnace in town. After a nearby Underground Railroad conductor realized how Phineas’ skills could be used to help the exhausted and sick fugitives, Phineas (along with young Cooper) became a fugitive himself, only returning to town after a terrible storm brings on a deadly fever among the locals. The racist, magic-fearing Rev. Davis, however, hardly gives

him a warm homecoming; it isn’t long before he’s calling for Phineas to be killed. Rizzo’s story has plenty of momentum, and the boys’ eagerness to listen to each of Cooper’s tales works well, keeping the reader as enthralled as Jake and Gordy are. Though there’s not much historical nuance here, the book has an unassailable moral message that would be a great choice for YA readers with an interest in the history of American slavery.

A well-paced, engaging reimagining of antebellum Pennsylvania.


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