Friday, February 08, 2013

The Deification of the Late King Sihanouk

A strange tale from here in Cambodia:

A few months ago, back in late October, I was leaving my apartment in Phnom Penh, when I saw lots of my neighbors standing on the street gazing up and looking at the moon, and many of them talking excitedly on their cell phones.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. But I took a motorcycle taxi to the other end of town to meet my friends, and the exact same thing was happening there. Cambodians were standing in the street looking up at the moon, and calling their friends to come out and look at the moon with them.

Eventually we discovered what was going on—they believed they could see King Sihanouk’s image in the moon.

King Sihanouk had died only a few days before, and the night of the moon the rumor spread through the whole city (and I believe all of Cambodia) with amazing speed. They really believed they could see King Sihanouk’s face looking down on them.

It was amazing. My expat friends and I eventually went outside to look ourselves, and we saw the same moon we always see. And yet, despite the fact that we and they were looking at the exact same moon, the Cambodians saw King Sihanouk’s image there.

(When a Cambodian asked him if he could see King Sihanouk in the moon, my British friend decided to just tactfully say his eyes weren’t very good.)

Since then there have been several miracles attributed to the late King Sihanouk. Clouds have magically formed into his image (or images symbolizing Cambodia, presumably by his doing). In front of the funeral palace, incense smoke burned in his honour has magically formed into strange shapes.

Last week we finally had the funeral and cremation ceremony, resulting in more miracles attributed to the late King. It’s rumored that as his body was being burned, his image arouse from the smoke.

As someone who takes an active interest in religion versus rationality, the origins of mythology, and the extent of human credulity, I’ve found it fascinating to be in this country and watch these myths originate.

Below I’ll try to provide a list of links about this phenomena, but realize that much of the discussion and rumors are taking place orally, and not on the Internet. To the extent it is on the Internet, it is mostly taking place:
a) on facebook, where it is closed off from the rest of the web, and
b) in the Khmer language.

Comparative to how popular these rumors are in Khmer, very few English language websites mention the phenomenon.

But here are a few websites I could find:

Here is a blog by another expat in Cambodia who observes the same phenomena about the king in the moon.
And another expat blogger on the King in the moon here.
And another expat blogger on the same subject here.

The Phnom Penh Post's story is no longer on their website, but can be viewed here:
Cambodians across the cou​ntry rushed from their houses last night in the hope of catching a glimpse of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s face in the moon.Word spread fast that the revered former monarch, ​who passed away last Monday, could supposedly be seen on the crescent-shaped moon’s surface.Residents, including some in the capital, rushed to see if it was true, holding up incense to the sky or clasping their hands together in a manner of prayer.

From the Global Post
Sharp-eyed mourners remained on the look-out for posthumous portents of Sihanouk, who has been credited with near-supernatural powers by some.
The Internet is abuzz with rumors that the fallen God-king is now looking down at his subjects from the moon, and on Wednesday, many were craning their necks up at the sky in an effort to catch a glimpse of the supposed phenomenon for themselves.
Even incense smoke was catering to the King's whims, some believed: a curl of perfumed smoke rose up into the air from the endless little altars that were lit for Sihanouk, and arranged itself for a minute or two into the shape of a face in the early evening near the river — hundreds of passers-by stopped in their tracks, exclaiming out loud.

From Voice of America:
“I really saw him, although some people say it is an illusion,” said Pich Lamey, 73, from the city’s Dangkor district, who held one of the illustrations in her hands. So too with Thou Phal, 62, from Battambang province. “It’s not so clear, but you can see the king’s face,” he said. “You can’t see it if you aren’t paying attention. But if you truly pay attention, you will.”

The late king’s visage has appeared in other places, too. “I didn’t believe in the pictures of the king in the moon,” said Touchyim Vannith, a 23-year-old student. “But it was unbelievable to me when I saw the face of the king father in the smoke of the candles.” Others say he has appeared in the clouds.
For social scientist Somchan Sovandara, a lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the appearance of the king’s image in inanimate objects is “an illusion.” “It happens when people feel like they miss or love someone so much,” he said.

On the Cambodian side, most of them are understandably taking to the Internet in their own language--Khmer.  (A language which I don't read.)  We expats here that this a big deal on Khmer websites through our Cambodian friends and students, but I can't vouch for it myself.

There are a few websites where Khmers are writing in slightly idiomatic English attempting to describe their opinions to a wider world.
Here, for example, is a comment board that begins with the observation
King Sihanouk face appear on the moon is being report all over khmer news and this is the only english website i can find that talk about it.  If you follow the website down, you can see photographic evidence of miracles in cloud formation.

In slightly idiomatic English a Cambodian attempts to explain why, although he's a rational scientific person, he absolutely believes in the miraculous images of the late King.
Whatever controversy might be, I could not reject those miracle event as I witnessed my own eyes and one may suggest that it is because my feeling was mixed up with regret or concentration on the recent news of the King’s death. However, how can the rest of population beyond myself would see the same thing or how can our feeling be mixed up at the same time? How can a thing we see through our both eye be an illusion while many could see the same?

He concludes...
Anyway, these two miracle as I witnessed myself did exist in my life time-span and this inspired me to write this post to keep as a record for next generation who may wonder on the controversy surrounding the miracle during the mourning of our late King Father, Norodom Sihanouk. Believe it or not, it is one’s rights! Whatever explanation maybe on this miracle, may this show a sign of peace, prosperity and great Kingdom of Cambodia.

Here, on what appears to be a comment site for Cambodians with broken English, the phenomenon of King Sihanouk in the moon is debated, as well as other miraculous acts attributed to King Sihanouk in his lifetime.

Here is a Khmer website which, in slightly idiomatic English, attempts to explain scientifically just what caused the mass hallucination with the moon.

Link of the Day
Empiricism and Rationalism by Noam Chomsky

1 comment:

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