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In the northeastern provinces of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, hill tribes practice bloody animal sacrifices for better harvests, to cure the ill, to banish bad spirits and attract the good. This is the Kap Krabei Pheok Sra (literally, Cut the Buffalo and Drink Wine) feasting ritual.

The Kap Krabei Pheok Sra ceremony is performed by the Phnong, Kreung, Breov, Tampuan, Jarai, Lunn and Steang tribes.

Rann Say Loeun, 52, is a member of the Lunn tribe (from the Bar Keo district of Ratanakiri province). Rann says the feasting ritual is usually held as part of other villages ceremonies, like the Bon Dar Phum ceremony (when a village is newly created) or  the Bon Loeung Neakta ceremony (in which food is offered to the village spirits). A buffalo will also be sacrificed when chieftains pray to the spirits of the rice fields for a plentiful harvest. He says the ritual is  seldom held privately by

a single family except when a family member falls sick and cannot be cured by traditional medicine. The village spirit medium may then suggest a buffalo be sacrificed and offered with wine to the village spirits or the forest spirits in order to pray for recovery of the ailing person.

To begin the sacrifice, a buffalo is tied with rope to a wooden post planted firmly in the middle of a field. Those skilled in killing animals are ready with long swords to sever the nerve endings of the buffalo’s hind legs, while others rush forward to cut its front legs making the animal collapse. Then the most experienced, will cut off the animal’s head. Other men holding knives, axes, spears and tridents surround the buffalo to prevent it from escaping. There is a belief that if the sacrificed animal is not killed on the spot, bad luck will descend on the village.

Once the buffalo is decapitated, the host of the ceremony, or the chieftain, will take it and place it on a shrine fixed to a wooden post; then they will pray for the sick to recover from illness (if the sacrifice is for a healing ritual). If the head is offered to the spirit of the rice field, they will pray for a better harvest. For Bon Loeung Neakta, the chieftain will pour wine on the buffalo’s head and pray for their village to be safe from any harm done to the villagers and their animals by bad spirits.

If it is Bon Dar Phum, when the chieftain builds a new village at a new location, a rokar prey (a kapok tree) is always planted at the same moment the buffalo is slain as a symbol to prove that their ancestors were wealthy and strong. 

Rann says the feasting ritual is held with a very good sense of communal solidarity.

“Every villager … is invited to participate and they each bring from their respective homes, a jar of wine to share with the group. Everybody has to make an appearance even if they are busy at work. In the evening a bonfire is lit and the elders sing songs … beat gongs or blow horns … while the young ones, the boys and girls, dance. [The ceremony] lasts for as long as three days, or until there is no more wine and meat left.” He says that some hill tribes take the blood from the sacrificed buffalo to mix with wine for drinking and cut off meat from the buffalo’s head to serve as food for the second and final day of the ceremony, leaving only the skull and horns on the shrine. “The skull will not be removed … until the horns come away from the skin … and it can be left there forever,” he says. “But no one dares take [the head] because it is considered as belonging to the spirits. It also serves as a sign that a village with many shrines of buffalo skulls is a wealthy and prosperous village.” He says cattle are the hill tribes most valuable possession. Sometimes, Rann claims, hill tribes will buy a buffalo worth tens of thousands, or even millions of riel, from their Khmer neighbors to be sacrificed even though their daily income is often less than 1,000 riel. “Because unlike the Khmer, hill tribes do not raise [buffalo] to be used as draught animals for help with farming, but rather to be offered as sacrifices to the spirits, or for meat to serve at feasts.”


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