“Neak” is the Khmer pronunciation of the Sanskrit word “naga”. (See the article at Wikipedia). Neak are spirits, associated with water, storms, the monsoon season, and with lightning. And with snakes. Presumably the lightning of the monsoon storms is taken for supernatural serpents. According to a medieval Chinese visitor, the king of ancient Angkor slept each night in a temple with a neak-spirit – my guess is that this was a girl who in some sense had taken on the role of a neak, but that’s just my guess.
And the power of the neaks lives on. In Kompong Cham, a python in a pile of logs in a sports centre has given a lucky local some dream-advice on lottery numbers. ” I prayed to it and then I won the lottery draw.” Note that he prayed before any supernatural event – he knew about the naga/neak, the dream and the lottery win merely confirmed what he already knew. The snake has become so popular that the owner of the sports complex has asked the police to take it into custody for its own safety.
My point isn’t to laugh at gullible Cambodians: I’m interested in the survival of ancient beliefs, something I find fascinating.
From 2012 comes this piece about a little boy and his lucky 16-foot python. “In the village of Sit Tbow, 50 kilometres east of Phnom Penh, Sambath Uon, reportedly refuses to go to sleep without the company of his pet, Chamreun, or Lucky, in Khmer.” Oh Gawd! More photos here. I have no idea how this story has played out in more recent years, but I’ll go out to the village and have a look.
Meanwhile, do you know anything about Cambodian beliefs in snakes (what about cobras?) and spirits? If you’re willing to share, let me know, and if you’re in PP I’ll buy you a coffee. Or a beer – it’s cheaper.