Cambodia’s coronavirus scarecrows

In Cambodia it’s not uncommon to see scarecrows, called ting mong in Khmer, propped up outside people’s houses or gardens. Ting Mong aren’t there to protect the crops from birds, rather, they are there to frighten away ghosts and evil spirits. You often won’t see any ting mong for months at a time in Cambodia, but in times of difficulty they start to multiply. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, ting mong are everywhere.

Ting mong guarding a house in Chreav village, outside of a Siem Reap.

These photos were taken by Christopher Schoenbohm of Kulen Outreach, an NGO that provides education to children from the rural Phnom Kulen region Cambodia. The photos were taken in Chreav village, just south of Siem Reap. “Illness effigies are popping up everywhere in the Cambodian countryside,” Schoenbohm wrote. “They’re meant to fool the spirits into making the effigy sick instead of the household.”

Although Cambodia is a Buddhist country, ting mong are part of a pre-Angkorian animist belief structure. It is believed that these figures, dressed up to look like humans, will scare off ghosts and evil spirits from entering the home. They often hold guns or weapons and traditionally have scary features that are known for making children cry. Last year, villagers in Kratie erected ting mong when several people fell ill in the village during what was believed to be a cholera outbreak.  So it’s not surprising, then, that the spread of COVID-19 in Cambodia has seen the arrival of a new wave of ting mong.

This 2011 article from the Phnom Penh Post explains more about the practice. “People were getting sick and at night the dogs were whimpering a lot,” [a villager in Banteay Srey district] confided. “All of my neighbors and I went to a fortune teller in the next village who told us it was happening because ghosts were going into the village and causing illness. It’s an old tradition that if you put a ting mong in front of your house the ghosts will see it and be afraid of it, but it has to wear clothes like a human, or have weapons, so the ghost thinks the house is being guarded by a person.”

Thank you to Christopher Schoenbohm of Kulen Outreach for allowing us to reproduce these wonderful photos on Move to Cambodia.

Cambodia News English also has a gallery of ting mong.

15 Responses to Cambodia’s coronavirus scarecrows

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    Nic Richards says:

    The Ting Mong article was fascinating reading for me. So many other countries have similar practices in bad times and to ward of the bad spirits. In the rural areas of the Philippines, people worry a lot about witches coming to the house to steal children and babies. They often put up decoys, hang garlic and so on to distract them.
    I shifted to Phnom Penh early in March for work, and now am stuck here. Continuing my writing to divert my attention from the troubles, and hopefully cheers up others.

    Kaarin Kaaihue says:

    As beautiful a country Cambodia is, the amount of widespread superstitions believed by the people is sad. (I am not religious, and I am not talking about praying, going to temple, being blessed by monks, etc.) The undereducated portion of the population here believe many things that not only do not HELP them in any way but often are actually harmful. A lot of con artists taking advantage of gullible people is dangerous, especially with fake “medicinal” cures.
    We do love living here (in Phnom Penh) overall and the people here are by far some of the kindest in the world. Thanks for this article on the scarecrows and their cultural meaning.

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