Cambodia’s Pchum Ben

In my home country, the USA, ancestor veneration is unconquered territory.
Most WASP American families grieve in private. Talking about death is taboo, and one might be considered crazy or suspect if they celebrated during or after a death. Our national holidays are ruled by capitalism, false sentiment, and alcoholism.
Spirituality often equivocates to religious extremism or fads.All of this to say, I’m enamoured by cultures with authentic, strong, and vivid traditions, particularly those who openly mourn and honour their dead.

Credit: FestivalinCambodia.blogspot

My song pick for this entry is the “Pchum Ben Song” by Meas Soksophea.

Cambodia, Pchum Ben (Ancestor’s Day)
Cambodians celebrate Pchum (a gathering) Ben (ball, of something) somewhere near the end of September to early October, depending on the lunar calendar each year. They gather to honor their ancestors by offering food and gifts via Buddhist monks and to the monks themselves.

It is tradition on Pchum Ben to make balls of rice and set them out at dawn to appease passing spirits, and to visit seven (but no less than three) separate pagodas.

Related image

Credit: Global-children.org

Pchum Ben origins predate even Buddhism; back to when people observed Animism, the belief that all creatures and objects, living otherwise, have a spirit. The first 14 days of this 15-day religious holiday are known as Kan Ben, the observation period of sacrifice and prayer.

The final 15th day is known as Pchum Ben Day, where villages come together to cook, eat, drink, play, and dance together. Music and traditional arts take place throughout the entire period.

Image result for pchum ben

Credit: Whatsonphnompenh.com

Pchum Ben stands out in comparison to other remembrance rituals I have written about because in addition to giving offerings to ancestors, the Khmer people also give to offer solace and good karma to the spirits of victims of the Khmer Rouge, when over a third of the population was brutally murdered.

The pain and suffering still sits heavily within the Khmer people, who have not fully recovered, in any sense of the word. Here is a good place to start if you are interested in reading more about the Khmer Rouge genocide, and check out the video below:

Khmer people have a really beautiful way of cooking meals and making desserts by boiling dishes in bound banana leaves. Below is a video that shows how to make the traditional Num Ansom Chek (banana cakes) to celebrate Pchum Ben.

Nom Ansorm is another type of dish:

In the Khmer language, the word Ben means to collect, to cup, or to mold something, and the word Pchum means to gather together. It is a beautiful combination of words to describe the festival of congregating over endless tiny bowls of Cambodian delicacies to venerate ancestors.

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