Cover illustration from Trude Jacobsen’s “The Lost Goddesses”
Steven Prigent’s paper UN FŒTUS HUMAIN POUR AMULETTE (in French, obviously), is divided into three parts, preceded by an introduction. This is a summary of Part I, “La rumeur de l’enfant fume”:
LA RUMEUR DE « L’ENFANT FUMÉ » (KUN KRAK)
- Koan kroh can be obtained either from a woman who has died in childbirth, or from a living pregnant woman. The woman in the second case will end up as dead as the woman in the first.
- In the first case, the man “awakens” the corpse of the woman (who has been buried with the fetus) by magic. He must then ask and receive the dead woman’s permission to take the fetus. This will be difficult for him, because the awakened corpse will cause great fear. (See the material from Trude Jacobsen below).
- According to Ang Choulean (says Prigent – I haven’t found Ang’s paper on the subject), a fetus obtained from a woman who is already dead in childbirth is less powerful than one obtained from a living mother. Prigent believes that the preferred course is to obtain a living fetus, which is to say, a fetus from a living mother.
- The word krak (which is how Prigent gives it – others have “kroh” or “kroach” or other variants) has been explained by Ang Choulean as “to grill, smoke, dessicate.” Prigent says that the word “kun” should be translated not just as “child” but as “child of….” There seems to be no exact parallel in English. The point is that the term implies the forging of a filial link between the fetus and the man who takes it. (Takes, that is, from the mother). The man becomes not merely its father, but its sole family, since the mother dies.
- The kun krak is thus not just the possession of the man who possesses it as an amulet, but also his son. (The amulet is regarded as masculine, and indeed most often is).
- The man (owner of the amulet) is usually a soldier; the woman (mother) may be his mistress or wife; the fetus must be a first child (and as the mother is either dead or, more often, about to die, also an only child).
- If taken from a living mother (wife or girlfriend), the man spends “an intimate moment” with her (presumably Prigent means they have sex); he then asks jokingly if she will give him the child in her belly; the woman, believing this is a game, says yes. The man immediately cuts her open and takes the fetus. The willing and verbal donation of the child by the mother is essential to the power of the amulet.
- The fetus itself is between two worlds, a soul caught “crossing the river” from unborn to born; this presumably accounts for its psychic potency. (Consider how ghosts also come at late evening or early morning rather than midnight or midday).
Trude Jacobsen in “The Lost Goddesses” has a little on the procedure and dangers if the fetus is obtained from a woman who has died in childbirth:
Women who died in the third trimester of pregnancy or in labour without having given birth were said to have been killed by brai (a kind of witch-spirit) and could become brai themselves if, three days following the burial, a man “sufficiently audacious and resolved” carried out a certain ceremony. After establishing a sima (boundary of holy stones) around the corpse, he was to place an image of an eight-headed brai in the centre of the room and recite magical incantations. The woman would rise from the dead as a brai after the third repetition … making horrible faces, lolling an enormous tongue, rolling her eyes, and taking on the forms of a serpent, tiger and elephant. If the man showed any fear he would be consumed…
…but if he didn’t the woman would give up her unborn child. Elsewhere Jacobsen mentions that the KR obtained koan kroh in order to guard against enemy bullets etc, and a rumour that Hun Sen possesses a number of them. This is not to say that Hun Sen really has these things, but the existence of the rumour illustrates that the belief in their power still continues.