Murder and black magic: Cambodia’s modern-day witch-hunts

« Murder and black magic: Cambodia’s modern-day witch-hunts » by Paul Millar, 06/07/2017, Southeast Asia Globe

A single word from one of Cambodia’s traditional healers can turn a whole community against outsiders in their ranks – often with fatal results.

… With the country’s feeble healthcare system struggling to keep up with the undiagnosed death and disease plaguing rural Cambodians, kru khmer or lou kru – wide-reaching terms describing traditional healers ranging from fortune tellers to spirit mediums – continue to play a central role across the country. Men and women, monks and laity, these healers call spirits into their bodies, ink protection spells onto their patients’ skin and root out black magic within the community – sometimes to devastating effect. In Kong Pisei alone, which has a population of just under 113,000 as of the 2008 census, two other alleged sorcerers have been beheaded in the past two years. Others accused of witchcraft have barely managed to escape with their lives.

On the second day of Khmer New Year in April, Prak Kong and his wife were forced to flee their home in Kong Pisei’s Prey Vihear commune just hours before a mob of villagers tore their house apart with hammers and rocks. As the crowd swelled to more than 600, the most violent attackers splintered the family’s spirit house and splashed petrol around the inside of the house, hoping to set it ablaze. According to Kong’s brother-in-law, who now lives there, the violence was unleashed by a local kru khmer who had accused the man of using sorcery to murder his newborn nephew-in-law.

“The problem started before the water festival [last year],” he said. “[His relative’s] child died after surgery. They wanted to find out why their child died so they went to see a lou kru. The lou kru gave him Kong’s name. They said he was responsible for the child’s death.”

Fabienne Luco, a social anthropologist in Cambodia who has done extensive research on the killing of people accused of being sorcerers, said that kru khmer often used accusations of witchcraft to provide a scapegoat for suffering or chronic disease within the community.

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