Felled Angkor Rosewood Tree Reborn as Sacred Sculptures

Wood from a revered rosewood tree that Apsara Authority employees cut down in November has found new life as five sculptures depicting historical and folk spirits, appeasing villagers upset by the felling of their sacred tree.

Five employees for Apsara, which manages Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap province, were arrested under orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen following a national outcry over the fate of the centuries-old tree from Siem Reap City’s Kokchak commune.

Sculptures of religious figures made from a holy tree that was controversially cut down in November near Wat Thmei Domrei Sen Chey pagoda in Siem Reap province (Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice)

Nokor Krao villagers said they believed the 200-year-old tree to be inhabited by a spirit they worshipped, and accused the employees of plotting to sell the valuable wood, which can fetch thousands of dollars per cubic meter.

Monks at Wat Thmei Domrei Sen Chey pagoda, where the timber had been taken, paid craftsmen to sculpt the wood into 1-meter-tall statues of Angkorian King Jayavarman VII, as well as sister deities Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm, village chief Meuk Rith said on Monday. Two other statues have also been made.

Villagers “are fine now. They aren’t angry anymore,” Mr. Rith said. “They came to give donations to help the monks with the fees charged by the sculptors.”

Commune police chief Rin Von estimated 10,000 worshippers had come to the pagoda, where the statues will remain, over the course of a three-day ceremony that ended on Monday.

Mr. Rith said the tree itself was showing signs of a rebirth, sprouting a 1.5 meter shoot where villagers went to offer food. He said he wasn’t sure what would be done with the remaining 3.5-meter-long, 1-meter-wide chunk of wood.

Meanwhile, the five arrested Apsara employees remain jailed, Yin Srang, spokesman for the Siem Reap Provincial Court, confirmed on Monday. He said the investigation was complete, but he was unsure when their hearing would take place.

Two senior employees were arrested for ordering the cuts, while three others were charged for chopping down the tree as about 300 villagers looked on.

The employees claimed they had merely finished bringing down a tree that had already been cut by unknown loggers, leaving it a danger to locals.

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