After pounding on her chest and demanding a pig’s head, fruits and flowers to be offered to the angry spirit that she believed had taken over her body, garment worker Srey Mom collapsed on the floor of the Global Factory in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district.
Exhausted from the “nak-ta”—or spirit—Srey Mom had fainted, setting off another 30 factory workers who also fainted on Thursday over a two-hour period.
All of the women were taken to the local hospital, and while the Free Trade Union blamed the latest mass-fainting on hysteria and bad air circulation, the factory workers disagreed.
“The nak-ta was very angry and took possession of Srey Mom,” 32-year-old Touch Ream, who witnessed the incident, said.
According to the widespread belief in animism, nak-tas are spirits of people who have done good deeds while alive, said Sotheara Vong, an expert on Khmer traditions and history with the Center for Khmer studies.
“After passing away, [people] still believe that the spirit of the figure remains concerned of the protection of followers,” Mr. Vong said.
The workers, however, said the spirit that they believe is inhabiting the Global Factory was angered over the disrespect shown to it by the factory’s Chinese owners and a previous lack of food offerings.
“Nak-ta pointed his finger at the factory administrator…and told the management to hold an offering ceremony,” which was planned for today, Ms. Ream said.
Minister of Cults and Religion Dork Narin was skeptical about the workers’ theory behind the fainting.
“I think they don’t have anything else, so they turn to this belief,” instead of directly addressing bad working conditions, he said.
The worker’s superstition, Mr. Narin said, can also be used by the management to their own advantage.
“Instead of improving the working conditions, the management can just hold an offering ceremony and forget about everything else and get away with it,” Mr. Narin said.
Thursday’s mass fainting was the most recent in a spate of incidents at garment factories, widely believed to be due to bad ventilation, chemical odors, bad worker nutrition and mass hysteria.
According to the Community Legal Education Center, a legal aid organization that advocates for factory workers, more than 2,300 workers fainted in 2011, and more than 1,100 fainted last year.