We’d call these life-size dummies scarecrows – once a familiar sight on farms and allotments – yet, while the idea may be similar, the intended target is very different. The purpose of these Ting Mong, as they are known in Cambodia, is also to scare away unwanted visitors but you’ll find them in front of a garden gate or entrance to a house, rather than a cultivated field, as the intent is to frighten away evil spirits instead of scavenging birds.
Harking back to animist times a sickness afflicting a household or village was considered to be the result of the presence of bad spirits. If you wanted to avoid or preempt the problem then you needed to banish the cause – said spirits – so you’d create the scariest figure possible and place it in front of your dwelling. The theory being that any evil spirit would then think twice about crossing your threshold.
They are still seen regularly in Cambodia – particularly in rural areas – and would probably indicate an outbreak of dengue fever or malaria for example, but with the current problem of COVID 19, the old scarecrows have apparently made a strong comeback.
Our Ting Mong photos are old ones, taken a few years ago in Rolous Village near Siem Reap, as we’re currently unable to travel to Cambodia. The effort put into making them must have indicated a serious outbreak of something nasty. We’d imagine there are some crackers to be found at present in remoter villages as Ting Mong are still perceived by some as an important weapon in the fight against the perfidious virus.
Whether one puts it down to extremely effective scarecrows, diet, climate or just pure chance the country’s record in this respect is undeniably remarkable. Yes, we’ll accept limited testing and perhaps somewhat inaccurate statistics (whose aren’t) but according to figures we’ve just checked, Cambodia stands at 124 confirmed cases and zero deaths. (Figures do of course vary.)
So, if you’ve too much time on your hands during lockdown – you know what to do.
The above photos were taken near Prei Monti Temple, Rolous on a cycling tour during a free afternoon on our Cambodia Overland tour.