Shrines of Cambodia: the mrieng kong veal

_DSF2018I’ve always been fascinated by these. They’re called mrieng kong veal shrines. You see them all over the city, usually hanging from a tree or bush, sometimes from a nail in the wall, but never directly in contact with the earth.

The mrieng (name of the spirits that live in the mrieng kong veal shrine) are  are child spirits – the word mrieng means small children, and kong veal means cowboys. (I suspect it might mean something related but slightly different, but this is as much I have so far).

There’s some disagreement about just how these mrieng originate – some say they were always spirits, but others say that they’re the spirits of dead children. The red cloth or paper objects hanging from the tray are clothes for them to wear, since the  mrieng are naked. The bamboo tubes hanging from it are called glasses, and are for water. Apart from the clothes and water, the mrieng should be offered sweets and toys – boy’s toys, like toy cars, because the mrieng are always male. (Possibly because looking after livestock was always the job of the boys in the village, but that’s my own guess).

If a house has no mrieng kong veal shrine the mrieng will appear in a dream asking if they can come and stay. The shrine can then be purchased from the market and hung in an appropriate place, and the mrieng can be attracted to their new home with incense and sweets and toys. Their new host can then ask them for things such a new car, or a new laptop, or promotion at work, or prosperity for his business.

The shrine in the photo is standard-average, and probably cost about five to ten dollars. More elaborate ones have up to three floors and festooned with balconies and little latticed windows, and a custom-made shrine can be as much as a thousand dollars.