Rice Heritage

Cambodia: Spirits of the Rice Fields

Although most Cambodians are Buddhists, farmers still practice forms of folk religion—which is filled with supernatural beings and magical rituals—and believe in its power.

Niakta and Yiey Tep are the male and female guardian spirits of ancestors, who control resources, objects, and the well-being of the places they inhabit. Ariak is spirit that can cause illness in both humans and crops. It looks like a giant human with long hair.

In some rural villages, people believe Yiey Tep stays in the rice fields. Rice farmers show their respect to these spirits by praying and offering food. (Her favorite offering is sweet rice porridge. Ariak, on the other hand, likes bananas and music.) Ignoring Yiey Tep will lead to illness or a life doomed to failure—just like Ariak.

Although today’s rice farmers still offer food at the corners of their fields, they are very much open to modern innovations.

Source: Solieng Mak, Rainfed Lowland Rice and Agricultural Change in Cambodia,
Ph D dissertation, 1998.

Photos: Solieng Mak

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