Cambodia: Details are Sketchy
September 4, 2009
Writing for the Global Post, John Maloy explores the secrets of magic tattoos. They are predominantly the mark of resistance fighters who opposed the Khmer Rouge, and their power is derived from how much you believe, your nationalism, and your adherence to “the rules.”
These rules are typically based on morality and religiosity: Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, regularly burn incense and pray, recite magical mantras, etc. The rules establish a Buddhist grounding for the magic, taking what could be thought of as a selfish act to empower oneself and changing it into a promotion of moral behavior and faith. Of course, to the more cynical-minded, the rules also provide reasons why a man covered in protection spells might be killed on the battlefield: “If only he hadn’t been so forward with his neighbor’s wife,” for example.
However, some of the rules might appear more arbitrary. [Tattoo magic man] Reut Hath forbids the men he tattooed from eating dog meat. In addition to dog, Lay Virak must also shun snake, turtle and pork, and in perhaps the most unusual limitation, he will sacrifice his protection if he urinates and defecates at the same time.
In addition, former resistance fighters say, the end of warfare in Cambodia has done much to reduce both the strict morality and magical potency associated with the tattoos — with easy living comes temptation.
“During the fighting, most of the fighters were powerful — the magic worked,” Reut Hath said. “But with peace, many came to the cities and starting drinking, sleeping with girls and the magic has faded away.”
Some things never change.