About 20 ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese men and women dressed in colorful traditional clothing on Sunday performed the first portion of the three-day Heir Nak Ta ceremony in Phnom Penh, to ward off evil for the year.
Participants, chosen by spirits of Chinese Buddhist gods, pray to the deity Nak Ta, asking it to enter their bodies and bring good fortune to true believers.
The annual ritual, which features believers entering into trances and cutting their tongues with swords, begins about two weeks after Chinese New Year’s celebration ends. After blood is drawn, the participants lick yellow pieces of paper called Yantra, which people hang on their walls to ward off evil spirits.
“Nak Ta paints his blood on the Yantra to make it sacred,” said Ung Vang, 38, the leader of one of several small groups involved in the ritual.
Ev Thoeuk, 55, was seen dancing and cutting his tongue with a sword Sunday as the group was in Daun Penh district.
He said he has participated in the ritual since he was 15-years-old and claimed that a spirit of Nak Ta possessed him on Sunday.
“I feel normal now,” he said at his home in Tuol Kok district. “I do not feel any pain from my cut tongue. I eat and drink as usual.”
Ev Thoeuk said that he felt tired when his body was occupied by the spirit, which he identified as the Chinese mountain god, “Keo San Sin Chang.”
“Normal people could not do it,” he said. “I was chosen, and every god chooses their own body.”
Chin Bopha, 58, a believer of Nak Ta who was following the procession around Phnom Penh, said that she had been participating in the ritual since the 1960s. The rituals stopped during the Khmer Rouge regime, but started up again in the early 1990s, she said.
“We are volunteers and we just want to get good luck and success in business,” she said.