Cambodian Beliefs about Death
There is a belief in Cambodia that when a person dies, they wander around the village as a spirit until the proper rituals have taken place. If the proper rituals are not performed, the deceased will not be able to move onto their next life.
When a person dies, the family brings the body home and washes, dresses and places it into a coffin. Dissection or removal of the organs is a big no no, as this would affect the rebirth of the deceased person. From the very first day of the person dying, a ceremony is held at the deceased’s house. Villagers will come and give money to the family, pray and eat food. For the next three days, the body remains at the house, and that is when creepy things happen.
Generally, the neighbourhoods I lived in were quiet, apart from the chickens squawking in the early mornings, and the occasional fight between husband and wife. Once every few weeks, however, this was a different case. The dogs in my neighbourhood would go rabid in the evenings. For hours on end, they would bark mercilessly, to no avail. I had many sleepless nights in a row, and I never understood why.
Until one day, a workmate explained to me that the reason the dogs were barking so ferociously was because someone had died, and their spirit was wandering around aimlessly until they were to be cremated. From then on, I made a conscious effort to listen out for funeral music in my neighbourhood. And guaranteed, every time there was a funeral, the dogs at my house and in my village would be barking all night for three nights.
After those three nights are over, a funeral procession is held to carry the body to the pagoda for cremation. Hundreds of people walk down a road, stopping traffic, with the coffin places on a moving vehicle surrounded by Monks. Once the group arrives at the pagoda, the coffin is cremated, usually by shooting an arrow with fire at it. The cremation is believed to allow the soul of the deceased to part from the body and go to heaven or hell while they wait to be reincarnated. And after that, the night time barking stops. Until another person dies, which is quite often.