Residents of Puok district in Siem Reap province continue to perform the Leang Memot ceremony, an animist ritual held once or twice a year, in the belief that it will help protect the health of community members while helping those who are ill to recover.

The rituals have been conducted for many centuries, and feature music and offerings, according to the Apsara National Authority (ANA). 

The ANA explained on February 19 that the ceremony is very important for many of the residents of the Angkor Archaeological Park, who believe that many illnesses are caused by spirits, or “Memots”. In other parts of the Kingdom, such spirits are known as “Arak”.

Prominent historian Sambo Manara said many members of the local population in the Angkor park and the surrounding hills have long-held beliefs that the ceremony will help keep them free of weariness and offer relief from loneliness.

He added that in the past, because Cambodia was poor and lacked educated medical staff, many people thought that when they developed a disease, it was because they had wronged their ancestors or had been placed under a spell, or curse.

Residents of Puok district in Siem Reap province perform the Leang Memot ceremony on February 19. ANA

“The Leang Memot ceremony provided spiritual relief to many rural members of Khmer society in the past, as they believed they needed to supplicate the spirits before they could recover from illness or feel at peace,” he said.

“However, we need to remember that there is no strong scientific basis for this, so it is important to educate people of the need to seek out modern medical treatment if they fall ill,” he added.

He warned that seeking out traditional treatment could delay access to appropriate treatment. If a patient has symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea or fever, they should be taken to a hospital, even if they insist on begging the spirits to restore their well-being.

Residents of Puok district in Siem Reap province perform the Leang Memot ceremony on February 19. ANA

Din Hean, who performed the ceremony in his home on February 19, explained it took the form of a “party”, held to entertain the Memots which could cause illness, but also aid in recovery.

“In this ceremony, music is important and cannot be omitted, because it must be played for the Memots to dance and have fun. There are several types of Leang Memot Ceremony: private ones with food offerings with the goal of recovering from illness or finding something which has been lost, and ones held to thank the Memots for assisting you,” he said.

“We perform this ceremony to show our gratitude for the recovery of the sick, and to supplicate the spirits and placate our ancestors so we can enjoy peace and prosperity and take care of our family members,” he added.