Villagers Call on Spirit to Curse Officials, Company Behind Dam

Villagers in Stung Treng province displeased local authorities on Saturday by holding a traditional ceremony calling upon a powerful local spirit to curse those behind the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 dam.

During the ceremony, some 300 members of the Lao and Bunong ethnic minorities marched about 10 km to a shrine dedicated to the local deity Neak Ta Krahomkor, or “Red Neck Spirit,” in Sesan district’s Srekor commune, asking him to protect the villagers from harm and curse the officials and investors behind the dam.

Villagers in Stung Treng province who oppose the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 dam march on Saturday to a shrine where a powerful local spirit is believed to live, in advance of a ceremony they held to curse the officials and businessmen behind the project. (Matt Walker)
Villagers in Stung Treng province who oppose the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 dam march on Saturday to a shrine where a powerful local spirit is believed to live, in advance of a ceremony they held to curse the officials and businessmen behind the project. (Matt Walker)

“The villagers…prayed to the spirit of Neak Ta Krahormkor to use magic to stop the construction of the hydroelectric dam,” said Bun Thann, a program coordinator for the 3S River Protection Network, which has been campaigning against the dam.

His and other environmental groups say the 400-megawatt dam, which is being constructed on two tributaries of the Mekong River, will deplete fisheries and displace about 5,000 people living in the Mekong River basin.

After praying to the Neak Ta spirit, promising to sacrifice two buffalos for him if he stopped further construction of the dam, the villagers set up four effigies known as “ting moungs,” representing Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, construction company owner Chip Mong, Hydro Lancang company officials and local authorities who helped green-light the project.

“The villagers cursed all the people involved with the construction, saying they are going to die without being buried in the land,” Mr. Thann explained.

Vuth Khoeun, one of those who participated in the ceremony, said villagers ritually stabbed and burned the effigies, which were made of clothes stuffed with rice.

“We stabbed the ting moungs with a sharp stick, meaning that we killed the people involved with the construction of the hydroelectric dam, then we burned the bodies of those people,” he said.

Deputy provincial governor Doung Pov said he was not happy about the spectacle, and blamed villagers for failing to inform local authorities about the ritual cursing, as well as “violating the rights of investors.”

“I understand that it is a right of the villagers to celebrate a Buddhist ceremony, but they violated the rights of investors because they cursed them,” he said.

“We will find out who is…behind the villagers and then I will report to the upper levels,” he added.

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Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly identified Doung Pov as the deputy governor of Sesan district. He is the deputy governor of Stung Treng province.

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