A Neak Ta on the cliff-edge above Anlong Veng
I find Neak Ta
fascinating. You only have to see some of my previous posts on the subject to understand why. Their diversity is intriguing. And now I've found what could pass for an official explanation for this important cultural heritage in Cambodia. Whilst leafing through the books on offer at Bohr's bookshop yesterday I came across a booklet entitled Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Cambodia, produced by UNESCO and the Fine Arts Ministry in 2004. Amongst its pages, which listed classical dance, folk and popular dance, music, circus, languages, oral literature and artisan skills, was a section on oral folklore. This is what it had to say about Neak Ta.Neak Ta and Animist Beliefs (Local Guardian Spirits)
Along with a rich oral tradition are beliefs in the natural world. Supernatural tradition has deep historical roots in Cambodia, as primitive religious elements preceded both Brahminism and Buddhism in Cambodia. In this way, animistic spirits and Buddhist deities play a part in virtually every aspect of Khmer social life.
Neak Ta are primarily local guardian spirits. The cult of Neak Ta rests in nature. Local spirits inhabit mountains, rivers, trees, rice paddies, swamps and forests; even an odd shaped tree or rock can be inhabited by a local spirit. For Khmer, they are living, watching spirits of the land. Several types of supernatural entities are believed to exist, that make themselves known by means of inexplicable sounds or happenings. They are frequently asked for protection, as some are compliant, others are merciless against those who fail to show proper respect.
There is belief in spirits, those of the dead, who are to be found in any locality and who may be hostile. Among these phenomena are khmoch
(malevolent spirits who have died violently, untimely and unnatural deaths), arak
(evil spirits, usually female), Neak Ta
(local guardian spirits, usually male), mneang pteah
(guardians of the house), Meba
(maternal and paternal ancestral spirits) and mrinh kongveal
(elf-like guardian of animals, mainly found in tigers and naga snakes).
Khmer people often have stories of personal encounters with these spirits. The wilderness or forest has always figured prominently in numerous legends and folktales warning them of these spirit powers and the potential dangers possible. It is for that reason, that all spirits must be shown proper respect. An important way to avoid misfortune is to show respect by numerous rituals and providing fruit, food and alcohol to appease them.
Respect for Neak Ta also includes famous people that were known for protecting their village. After their death, they became worshipped as a 'commander', in which offerings are made to respect and commemorate their special powers. Well-known Neak Ta that are worshipped today include Neak Ta Krahorm Kor, Neak Ta Mesa, Yeay Mao (Sihanoukville), Dambung Dek (Battambang), Khleang Moeurng (Pursat).
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