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12 Nov 2011

Tragedy at the Lake (Rattanakiri Part One)

Algae at Yeak Loam

[This blog post is in two parts because of the significance of events during our visit to Ratanakiri.  Part one is about the lake, part two is about my adoption by a Tampoun family...]

Almost exactly one year after our first visit to Ratanakiri, we went back this water festival with Gilly's parents.  This was just two months after my most recent trip where I learned more about the indigenous Tampoun communities that live there and reacquainted myself with swimming in their beautiful lake.  We were therefore shocked to discover that the lake has been afflicted with a deluge of algae and that swimming is strictly prohibited until a solution is found.

Samples of the algae have been sent to Phnom Penh for testing and despite our obvious disappointment at not being able to go swimming it is clear that this problem is of huge significance.  Not only is the lake a spiritual place for the Tampoun people, it is also an important source of tourist income, both local and international.

We were lucky enough to be shown around the lake by my friend and namesake Sam (see previous blog post, and part two of this one).  He is a member of the committee who oversee the management of the lake.  We met the elder in the picture above and in all his years he had never seen anything like this algae.

By chance, the day we visited was designated for making a sacrifice (a pig had been killed earlier), holding a ceremony and making an offering to the spirits of the lake.  Part of this offering was the boat pictured above.  It was constructed with banana plant and bamboo, filled with food and incense for burning.

Three of the elders made prayers in front of the additional offerings which were set on a small bamboo table in front of a large tree.  See video here, and another here.

 Offerings for the spirits.

 Inside the boat.

After the prayers two candles were placed on the boat and it was taken to a jetty before being released as an offering into the lake.

After being released into the lake most people lost interest in the boat and returned to the shore.  It felt like a solemn moment for me, the boat sitting alone on the lake which I am used to seeing people swimming and playing in.

Back on shore.

I was introduced to 'jar wine' on my last visit and it is an important component of any Tampoun ceremony.  Here the elders returned after the releasing of the boat for a jar (literally) and some food.

I can't help feeling deeply saddened by this news and then witnessing the reality of the situation.  I hope that the offerings and the scientific efforts combined can help to clear the algae and bring back the beauty of the lake for locals and visitors alike.

We continued our planned tour after we left the lake but the ceremony continued with music and dancing until sunset.  We had been lucky enough to see the rehearsals earlier in the day so here are some videos to show what is involved.

Read more in part two...

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