Gory spirit festival lights up Cambodian capital

Phnom Penh (AFP) –


Spirit mediums in headdresses and lurid make-up, their cheeks pierced by needles and tongues cut by knives, led a striking procession Tuesday through the Cambodian capital to mark the end of Chinese New year.

Hundreds of people poured through an alley for the colourful annual festival, known as the Hei Neak Ta, or the spirit parade.

The procession mixes Chinese ritual and local folk traditions in a country where beliefs in the spirit world run deep.

Believers invite spirit-possessed mediums into their shops and homes to bless them with good luck or to banish illness or bad fortune.

The mediums forced needles and spears through their cheeks and cut their tongues, using their blood to write mystical diagrams known as yantras on paper slips before distributing them to the crowd.

"It is a ceremony to invite spirits to bless people so they could make more money from their business, have prosperity and live with happiness," medium Pov Pheakna told AFP, taking a break from the raucous proceedings.

"This is a superstition. Some people believe in it, some people don't... I believe in this ceremony."

As did many of the festival-goers crammed into the tight alley.

"I believe this ceremony will bring good luck to my family and business. We do it every year, 15 days after Chinese new year," Y Ghek, 51, said.