sangkum meanchey village, Takeo province – Could it really be a dragon?
The bones of what might be a large reptile, dug up during a construction project, have sparked dragon fever in this tiny village in the southeastern tip of Takeo province.
It is an isolated spot seven km from the border with Vietnam, accessible only by boat up a shallow tributary to the Bassac River. About 100 families scratch a meager living from soil that is flooded half the year.
The normally quiet village has been in a ferment since May 5, when work crews digging dirt to raise the foundation of a new pagoda uncovered an old, hollowed-out log.
Beneath the log were bones, unlike any they had ever seen.
“The people here, both Vietnamese and Cambodian, believe these are the bones of a dragon,” said Yoan Yin, the 23-year-old chief monk at Sangkum Meanchey pagoda. “But the researchers must decide.”
Villagers say they have compelling evidence. First, the bones themselves: about two bucketfuls of fragments, including very large vertebrae, ball joints, and ribs. Some have a strange shiny black coating, as if they had been burned.
There is also a handful of black, glossy scale fragments, like something from a very large fish.
And the bones have mysterious powers, the villagers claim. Sok Dany, 42, took a few of the scale fragments home with her after they were first dug up.
“I thought some part [of the creature] would bring my family good luck. Plus, they were pretty, and I wanted to show other people,” she said. “But it was bad luck for me.”
Sok Dany and her family were plagued by headaches, fever and general restlessness. “That night, I awoke 20 times, convinced there was something abnormal present,” she said.
Villagers quickly took the fragments to the pagoda, where mysterious ailments began to plague the monks and lay people. A number of people reported dreaming of dragons; one woman was reportedly possessed by a spirit, which said the bones belonged to a dragon.
Then Yoan Yin dreamed of a powerful king, leading a multitude of men to the temple.
“They told me the area [where the bones were buried] had never been disturbed before,” Yoan Yin said. Rattled, the monks decided to hold a Buddhist ceremony to bless the bones, and to send some of them to the provincial capital of Takeo for analysis.
The night of the ceremony, May 19, people in the surrounding countryside reported seeing a dragon shape flying south from the pagoda to nearby Chhlam Mountain in Vietnam.
“They said it was white, and looked kind of like a cloud,” said Suos Chhorn, 65, a lay priest.
People began feeling better right away. Suos Chhorn’s neck stopped hurting; Sok Dany slept normally; Yoan Yin’s fever fled. Some of the blessed bones were stored carefully in a pagoda cabinet, the door of which used to stick but now, miraculously, works perfectly.
The rest arrived in Takeo on May 21, where they remain locked in a glass-fronted cabinet in Nou Sangva’s office. He is a colonel with the Minister of Interior police, and a man of scientific bent.
“I’m not a scientist, but I think this is something like a crocodile,” said Nou Sangva, who is waiting for experts from the Ministry of Culture to come and examine the bones.
“Those vertebrae look bigger than a water buffalo’s,” he said. “But only scientists can tell us what it is.” He said he has told villagers not to dig at the site any more, in case it is of scientific interest; he thinks the bones, which were about two meters underground, may be prehistoric.
For what it’s worth, he said, the police are all sleeping well and feeling quite healthy. “We have had no bad luck or illness at the police station.”
Meanwhile, dragon fever continues to spread. Every day boats arrive at Sangkum Meanchey bearing pilgrims and the curious, eager to marvel at the mysterious find.
One recent boatload included monks from a half-dozen locations as well as assorted tourists. The Sangkum Meanchey monks brought out the bones, neatly piled on a red plastic tray, and displayed a silver chalice of water blessed by the bones.
“If you spread [the water] on your face, you’ll feel better,” Suos Chhorn said. The monks would like to build a shrine to the bones, and there is talk of trying to get back the sample at the Takeo police station.
Nou Sorng, chief monk at Wat Norriey in Chhuok district, Kampot province, traveled six hours to get a look at the bones. At first, he seemed disappointed.
He had heard via walkie-talkie from another temple that the dragon bones were 2.5 meters long. In fact, the largest fragment is less than a third of a meter long.
“These look like crocodile bones to me,” he sniffed. “I’ve seen one in a zoo.” Then he appeared to reconsider.
“You know, you can definitely make some money off this,” he told Yoan Yin. “Can we have a piece to take back with us? Maybe just one of the scales?”
Yoan Yin thought about it, long and hard.
“No, I cannot,” he said finally. “If I give one to you, all the other temples will be jealous.”
(Additional reporting by Dave Bloss)