The other day I attended a Khmer-Chinese funeral. My neighbor’s father-in-law had died at the ripe age of 96. Courtesy required that we pay our respects and extend our condolences. There is not much to be said about the funeral itself. A pig is roasted; food and fruit are prepared so the deceased has enough to take him/her over to the afterlife. The priest utters chants and incantations in Chinese.The family who kneel before the casket on command by the priest raise their hands with incense sticks wishing the deceased a good journey. This is done in turns beginning with the more removed family until finally it is the children’s turn. They also proffer the food by raising it several times, again in turns. Remarkably, for those who don’t know, the color of mourning in Buddhism is white. So the family are dressed completely in white, the guests wear a white blouse or shirt, preferably with a black skirt/pants.
Altogether, what struck me was the absence of solemnity. It all had more of a practical character. Each step in the procedure was carried out swiftly and rather unceremoniously – at least at this funeral. This ceremony lasted about an hour. The casket is then lifted onto a hearse which is taken to the designated pagoda in a long procession of guests’ cars. My neighbor is a rather prominent person in Sihanoukville so the procession was impressively long. I would estimate at least a hundred cars and SUVs. A tent had been erected at the pagoda where the guests take a seat. The pig is carved up and offered on bread to them.
The deceased in Chinese funerals is interred whereas Khmer cremate them. There are no headstones but rather large vault-like tombs. The size depends on the wealth of the family.
In the last couple of pictures you can see that in typical Khmer fashion they don’t pay particular attention to keeping a holy site clean. Trash is everywhere here too.
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