As worries over the global COVID-19 pandemic began to grow, some Cambodians turned to an old belief to help
ease their minds.
MARCH 31, 2020: Let’s face it, other than a few feel good stories, this global COVID-19 pandemic has been brutal - triggering fear, confusion, sadness, financial ruin and emotional chaos around the world, including right here in Siem Reap, Cambodia - home to the world famous Angkor Wat archeological complex, which in recent years has been visited by millions of tourists annually.
Unlike recent memory, when the vibrant streets of Siem Reap were bustling with masses of wide-eyed selfie-snapping tourists from around the world, this charming little city resembles a ghost town today - with the majority of the people here (who rely heavily on the tourism industry) now struggling profoundly.
But as the city began to empty some few months ago now, an increasing number of humanoid creatures began to appear in the city’s rural areas.
Known as the Ting Mong, these seemingly fearless scarecrows, often wielding weapons ranging from super soakers, wooden rocket launchers and machetes, to replicas of grenades have certainly made their presence known along the dirt roads I frequently travel along.
“Guardians need their weapons!” explains my dear friend Maden with a slight chuckle as I set off on a mission to learn more about these fascinating creatures.
“They’re used to ward off evil spirits, for protection” I’m told.
With various tales and stories pertaining to their exact origin, I also turned the head monk at my neighbouring Wat Bo Buddhist pagoda. “They’ve been around for at least a hundred years” said the poised spiritual leader, “in the past, to protect families against illnesses and diseases, like leprosy for example…but people use them for emotional comfort.”
I’ve seen and learned a lot about many traditional practices, beliefs, rituals and superstitions around the world since the beginning of my profound interest in human cultures and my many expeditions - all of which fascinate me to the depths of my core!
“Your Grandmother tied a red ribbon on the edge of your crib when you were born” I was told by my Mother when I called to tell her about my fascination with the Ting Mong. “Why?” I asked. “I’m not quite sure where that practice originated from in our family, in Poland” she replied, “but it was for your protection.”
I then thought about all the unique rituals I took part while visiting the indigenous communities I met with in various parts of the world and remembered that upon arrival in Siem Reap a few years ago, I visited a family who had just welcomed a newborn son. On the wooden turquoise window frames of the family’s home were finger painted white “X”s. Those too, I was told, were for protection against harm, illness and evil, painted specifically by the child’s grandparents.
There are clearly numerous things that we do as humans, even those like myself who do not subscribe to any organized or established religion, that provide us with that mystical and at times needed additional sense of comfort. And from what I’ve seen and heard from numerous families here, the Ting Mong is another beautiful and welcome example. What it comes down to is “the feeling of peace” says Maden…and during dark times like these, I have the utmost admiration and respect for these amazing Ting Mong warriors.
FACE TO FACE WITH THE TING MONG: