Volume 2 No.7

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Phrase Of The Month

Overheard





Thanking The Buffalo
By: Pi Bunnin..Picture by: Pi Bunnin. ( July, 2002 Volume 2 No.7 )

Bang Sakol is a Buddhist ceremony that is celebrated as an act of gratitude and merit making. Traditionally, people always honor the oldest buffalo in their village. They do not kill it for food but they keep it and perform Bang Sakol to repay the good deeds and to thank the buffalo. There is not a fixed date on the calendar, but villagers would pick any auspicious day and invite a monk to their village to preside over the ceremony in honour of the buffalo. The same ceremony is usually done for human beings.
Most of the Khmer people are farmers and the buffalo plays an important role in their lives. It could be said to be a crucial role at that. They pull the carts and they drag the plow to till the fields. Each and every night or day, under sunshine The seemingly lowly buffalo is at the end of its life revered as the true packhorse of or rainfall they are there. Some people fight or torture them through long hours of hard work. They work without a salary or any demand for reward and they do not eat food as we do, but simply the grass in the field.
Villagers in the district of Pearorng in Prey Veng province believe that if someone changes beasts or sells the older buffalo, they would be considered to be ungrateful. So if they want to change or sell a buffalo they have to do so while the animal is still young. Villagers normally keep their buffaloes until they are old and perform the Bang Sakol; this gains them merit and hopefully enhances luck.
Before the arrival of Buddhism, Cambodia was animistic and Khmer people worshipped mountains, big trees, old animals, big rivers and huge rocks. People regarded these things to be their gods and that the spirits in these things need to be placated. They believe that if someone destroys an old tree or a big rock, he or she destroys the property of the gods so accidents will befall and he/she will be sick or has problems.

Khmer people believe that the way one treats these objects is the way one would be treated by the gods. Bang Sakol for the older buffalo is not celebrated when the animal actually dies but before, to give thanks for the hard work and faithful service the animal has provided.
At first the family would gather the oldest buffalo - the aged that do not have much time left, and bathe them. (This is carried out even when the buffalo is too old to stand on all four). Then they place a bowl of water and three incense sticks on the head and apologize for the life of toil. An Acha (Buddhist layman) then takes the bowl and sprinkle the water on the buffalo and ties the buffalo's horns with one end of some twisted cotton yarn and hands the other end of the yarn to a monk who would then recite prayers while the entire household sit quietly in attendance.
When the praying is finished, the monk removes the yarn from the horns of the buffalo and that ends the ceremony. The seemingly lowly buffalo is at the end of its life revered as the true packhorse of Cambodia. The animal, that without their tireless work, the country might not be the same as it is today.