Anger of Spirits


© Thomas Weber Carlsen

The Drum

(from the film “Anger of the Spirits”)

The old skin on the spirit drum has long been broken and the drum has been silent.

Now the Lon villagers have found a suitable lizard skin and their old arak Lon Dom is preparing herself for the evenings ceremony.

Fitting the skin on the drum is taking all day and several skilled volunteers to accomplish.

Anger of the Spirits

a film about an indigenous people on the edge of globalisation

The film Anger of the Spirits deals with the topic of indigenous people, ethnic minorities, marginalised cultures – the names are many – who are under increasing pressure from the ongoing globalisation.

Anger of the Spirits focuses on the Tampuan people around the vulcanic lake of Yeak Laom in Ratanakiri in north-eastern Cambodia and the various events that have influenced the tribe during the last thirty years.

Anger of the Spirits was recorded in Ratanakiri from August 2001 to January 2002. It depicts an arbitrary period of time in the tribal life of the Tampuan community during the later part of the rainy season into the harvest and dry, cool season and follows certain events taking place in the lives of five selected persons from the community. The five persons are:

Lon Dom – “bajou” (in Tampuan), “arak” (in Khmer) or simply spirit medium from Pum Lon,

Pra Njok – her husband and a village elder (for both this is their second marriage),

Bai Keng – prominent (sometimes controversial) leader in the Tampuan community, former Khmer Rouge commander, now residing in Pum Lapo,

Duin – young man from Pum Chree village with family problems, now studying at the high school in Ban Lung,

Venai – young man from Pum Chree village with family problems, now studying at the high school in Ban Lung.

These five “characters” have been chosen to represent the old generation, the middle generation, and the young generation but can not be said to represent the Yeak Laom community any more than, say, five randomly chosen persons from a provincial town in Australia of about a thousand souls can be said to represent the entire town.

Through several episodes the film follows these five persons and their interrelations with the community around the Yeak Laom Lake as well as with the inhabitants, authorities, and NGO’s of Ban Lung town.

Along with scenic depictions of the lake and a “ghost story” the film is centered around the following main themes:

Duin’s story – Duin is working in the chamka (farm) of his family and tells about his problems with his sick mother and not having time for school because of his sense of duty to the family. His mother later dies and Duin’s dilemma is not getting any easier.

Venai’s story – Venai is from a somewhat more well situated background. His father is a strong character in the community as well as in the family but he is getting old. We meet Venai in the family chamka too, and a very tense situation arises between him and his parents when they sit down to talk about the future, the farm, and the family. Venai is having a hard time defending himself.

The old generation (Pra Njok & Lon Dom) – how does it feel to be old in a closely knit, subsistence oriented, traditionally based community which is nevertheless beginning to fall apart? The old couple is looking back on golden moments of the past.

Lon Dom, the arak – we follow Lon Dom at work on several occasions acting as a link to the spirit world, particularly during the inauguration of the new spirit drum. But in her ordinary life she is just another little old Tampuan woman walking to the market to sell her sparse harvest of vegetables at a ridiculously low price.

Bai Keng – he is here, there and everywhere. He is studying English just to show the others that he can do that, too! He is arranging meetings with the village elders to discuss how to prevent individual villagers from selling off the communal farmland and how to protect the villages from landgrabbing and lack of legal recognition of their traditional lands.

Anger of the Spirits is also the story of a community held together by its belief in the power of the spirits and their control over everyones health and fortune. And how this belief can be turned around against its believers and further deteriorate their situation in a culture already severely disrupted by external events beyond its control.

Finally Anger of the Spirits is a film which invites a western audience to reflect upon its own development and what may have been lost along the way from a tribal community in harmony with nature to the present day’s rational and materialistic welfare society.

Anger of the Spirits was edited at the Danish Film Institute’s Videoworkshop in Haderslev and at the Aarhus Filmworkshop between February 2002 and September 2002. The film is produced in two parts of 33 minutes each. It is available in a Danish and an English version. It is furthermore the intention to produce a version narrated in the Tampuan language and possibly other hill tribe languages in Cambodia for educational purposes in connection with the DRIVE Project.

The film was produced in cooperation with the Danish Film Institute’s Videoworkshop in Haderslev, the Aarhus Film Workshop, and Danish International Human Settlement Service/DIB, Aarhus. It was funded through donations from the Danish Center for Culture and Development/ DCCD, Danish Metal, and Danish Film Directors.

In Cambodia it has been supported through the kind cooperation of The Non Timber Forest Products Project/ NTFP, CARE Cambodia, Cambodian Medical Support and Services Organization/CMSSO, Mr. Graeme Brown, Project Manager of the DRIVE Project (Developing Remote Indigenous Village Education), the entire Yeak Laom community, and last but not least my good friend Mr. Bai Keng, Commune Councellor and Vice Chief of the Yeak Laom Lake Management Committee.


After the Trance

(from the film “Anger of the Spirits”)

Lon Dom has finished her official duties as arak (spirit medium) during the inauguration of the new skin for the spirit drum and the drum has been properly presented to the spirits.

The villagers are packed in the darkness of hers and Pra Njok’s little hut and as usual the ceremony turns into a drinking party. She and Pra Njok has had a row. He claims that she missed out an important step in the ceremony.

But now they are being reconciled over the rice brandy.