Volume 2 No.2

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The Legend of CHUMTEAV MAO
Information Courtesy of Ministry of Cults and Religions,Translated by : Moul Jetr. ( February, 2002 Volume 2 No.2 )

Along National Route 3 in Kampot Province, on the way to Kep as you near Chakrei Ting District, a large mountain looms into view. This is Phnom Tvear (Door Mountain), and it is home to a famous neakta, or spirit, called Neakta Chumteav Mao (Her Excellency Mao). Travelers passing her shrine must be wary, for locals believe that if the spirit is not treated with the respect that she expects, sickness and even death will be the punishment for the foolhardy souls who have ignored her. This is the story of how Neakta Chumteav Mao came to be, and how she became so powerful. Once upon a time, many years ago, the jungle around Phnom Tvear was very wild, and filled with dangerous animals. Villagers took their lives in their hands going into the jungle but go there they must as they needed materials to build homes, fuel for fires and meat to eat.

One day, a villager called Krahom Kar (Red Neck) and his wife Mao journeyed to the edge of the jungle with some friends. Before entering the wildest area, they decided to have lunch and sat down to unwrap the rice and banana leaf packages they had brought with them. But no sooner had they settled down than a herd of wild elephants stampeded out of the jungle ready to gore them to death. Krahom Kar fled one way and Mao another, but her path was not a lucky one. A tiger leapt from the bushes, and although she screamed and shouted, it tore her to pieces and ate her. Her husband never looked back but kept running to safety. For years, everyone remembered the death of Yeay Mao (Grandmother Mao) but because of the remoteness of where she was killed, few people passed. Those who did began to speak of a powerful spirit in the area who rewarded them if they paid her homage. At first, people made offerings of umbrellas if they prayed for the rain to hold off until they got home and it did. Then people began to make offerings of food and incense, praying for good luck and good health. When National Route 3 was built in the late 1800's, more people began to pass the territory of Neakta Chumteav Mao, and as offerings grew in number, so did her power.

Local people approached her with gifts of steamed chicken and money to ask for health and good luck. If someone lost something, they would make offerings of joss sticks and candles to ask the spirit to act as a medium to help them locate it or find out who had stolen it. Thieves who stood before her altar and lied about their misdeeds were struck down. If someone became sick, a gift of traditional Khmer music performed at her shrine and an offering of a pig's head on a hook, one tale of gold and two meters of white clothing would usually entice her to enter the body of a medium, spit betel leaves on the invalid and either feed or chase out the spirit which was making the person sick. Even if she did not succeed in this, she could tell the family what spirits were behind the illness and what they wanted in return for the patient's renewed health.
But for all her good deeds, Chumteav Mao was a vengeful spirit, and often wreaked havoc on local residents. This reached a climax when a Chinese man, greedy for the money that littered the neakta's shrine, tricked her into playing cards with him for it. At first, he pretended to lose, and the neakta became careless and arrogant. Then, at the very end, he suddenly revealed his skill, winning the game and taking all the spirit's money. Angry at being tricked, Chumteav Mao snapped the Chinese man's neck. After that day, many local people became sick as the spirit took her revenge on innocents. Two things happened to end her reign of terror. Firstly, a French battalion leader stationed in the area (for this was 1944 and Cambodia was at that time a French protectorate) heard the pleas of the people for help and brought a squad of men to her shrine. They shot into the shrine, thereby depleting her power considerably.
The other was that a man named Oung a corporal stationed at the site of her shrine realized that the spirit needed to know she was respected. He built her a newer, larger shrine in the form of a house. Chumteav Mao entered the body of his wife, Sao. "You are a local man," she said through the voice of Sao. "Do you know and fear me?" "Your excellency, I do, and I recognize your power, but why do you cause such suffering to your people?" he replied. "What you witness is my strength. I use it to punish those who do not respect me or are insolent," she said. "I bow before you and ask your forgiveness. We have not known you well enough to truly appreciate your power before," the clever Oung said. "But from now on, we will look after you like you deserve, in return for your protection." The man’s answer satisfied Chumteav Mao and the villagers were safe once more. Chumteav Mao visited Sao many times more to use her as a medium to help the people. Some time later another Chinese man, happy that she had helped him to win the lottery, built her an even more elaborate shrine, and this still stands today. And travelers along National Road 3 still stop to bow before this powerful but moody neakta, to make offerings and ask her blessing before continuing their journey. It is, after all, not safe not to.