Volume 2 No.7

What's New

Place of Interest

Phrase Of The Month

Overheard





To Cup or To Coin
By: Jon Bugge & Suy Se..Picture by: Sem Vannjohn ( July, 2002 Volume 2 No.7 )

Whilst attempting to utilize the naturally occurring medicines within the country, once in a while more proactive measures are needed. These take the form of a variety of medical techniques from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The human body is a careful balance between hot and cold. This system is akin to the medieval concept of humors that affected the health of the body and could be increased or removed accordingly. This hot and cold duality is omnipresent throughout the universe but is only obvious to humans when it affects them and their bodies. When someone is ill, one of these factors increases. This is the reason why when asked what is wrong many Khmers will simply say they are hot or cold inside.
Foodstuffs are a simple remedy for the imbalance - for example coconut juice will remove excess heat from the body. In more serious cases herb lore will be consulted and if this does not work then a final resort will be to turn to Western style medicine.

Within the realm of Cambodian medicinal treatments comes an interesting genre: that of dermal techniques. As the name suggests these focus on the skin and it's role in the health of the body. The skin is actually the largest human organ and as such plays a crucial role in our health. By manipulating the skin one can diagnose an illness and even cure it. These techniques are used to relieve headaches, muscle pains, colds, sore throat, coughs, diarrhea or fever. These techniques include cupping, also known as moxibustion. The air is removed from a round glass cup using a flame or a suction pump. This is then applied to the patient’s skin in various patterns over the body. They are left on the skin for a few minutes. The blood is sucked to the surface and a skilled practitioner can tell from the speed, color and permanence of these markings, the direct nature of the illness suffered. It is a seemingly more civilized version of the barbaric blood letting of the Victorian era in the West. Treatment can also involve further cupping sessions to remove what are seen as poisons from the blood and allowing them to be vented harmlessly into the glass vessels.
Another dermal technique is called coining. Not surprisingly this involves vigorous rubbing of a coin across the body. This may seem strange in a country that no longer has coinage, but the tradition lives on. Normally the coin, if it is that at all (it can simply be a circle of metal), is held in a forked piece of wood. This rubbing as with the cupping produces red raw marks that can be interpreted. Similar in concept of bringing sick blood to the surface of the skin to ensure that the illness leaves. It is not uncommon to see people with what look like horrific welts across their bodies, shocking, as it appears, they are simply undergoing medical treatment.
Superstition provides a failsafe alternative to contemporary medical knowledge, and Cambodia is no exception. Some illness is the result of magic and spells cast by people. Whilst some are malicious in intent, others can arise from forgetting to perform any of the plethora of rituals involved in placating the spirits in everyday Khmer life. "No way can we treat illnesses brought about through magic." said Ly Bunarith, a traditional healer. He spoke not only of the physical symptoms but the invisible psychological effects. To know that someone has cast magic upon you is something that even Western medicine will be hard pushed to alleviate. A monk is probably the best person to consult under such circumstances.