Cambodia’s coronavirus scarecrows

In Cambodia it’s not uncommon to see scarecrows, called ting mong in Khmer, propped up outside people’s houses or gardens. Ting Mong aren’t there to protect the crops from birds, rather, they are there to frighten away ghosts and evil spirits. You often won’t see any ting mong for months at a time in Cambodia, but in times of difficulty they start to multiply. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, ting mong are everywhere.

Ting mong guarding a house in Chreav village, outside of a Siem Reap.

These photos were taken by Christopher Schoenbohm of Kulen Outreach, an NGO that provides education to children from the rural Phnom Kulen region Cambodia. The photos were taken in Chreav village, just south of Siem Reap. “Illness effigies are popping up everywhere in the Cambodian countryside,” Schoenbohm wrote. “They’re meant to fool the spirits into making the effigy sick instead of the household.”

Although Cambodia is a Buddhist country, ting mong are part of a pre-Angkorian animist belief structure. It is believed that these figures, dressed up to look like humans, will scare off ghosts and evil spirits from entering the home. They often hold guns or weapons and traditionally have scary features that are known for making children cry. Last year, villagers in Kratie erected ting mong when several people fell ill in the village during what was believed to be a cholera outbreak.  So it’s not surprising, then, that the spread of COVID-19 in Cambodia has seen the arrival of a new wave of ting mong.

This 2011 article from the Phnom Penh Post explains more about the practice. “People were getting sick and at night the dogs were whimpering a lot,” [a villager in Banteay Srey district] confided. “All of my neighbors and I went to a fortune teller in the next village who told us it was happening because ghosts were going into the village and causing illness. It’s an old tradition that if you put a ting mong in front of your house the ghosts will see it and be afraid of it, but it has to wear clothes like a human, or have weapons, so the ghost thinks the house is being guarded by a person.”

Thank you to Christopher Schoenbohm of Kulen Outreach for allowing us to reproduce these wonderful photos on Move to Cambodia.

Cambodia News English also has a gallery of ting mong.

15 Responses to Cambodia’s coronavirus scarecrows

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    alistair nicoll says:

    I am a regular visitor to the village of Chi Phat and on one visit I came across these outside the houses in one part of the village never having seen them before or since(although I am unfortunately in the UK now and not in the village to enjoy the Khmer new year where I would guess they are out)

    Thank you for a more detailed explanation than I was able to obtain at the time

    David Smith says:

    No intent to spread fake news Mr. Lennox just saying what she read as she is in Russia I would imagine she read it in the newspaper or on TV As for the neutral Bombs in Cambodia I was told by my friend who helped spray those chemicals not just agent orange but agent purple and agent white that the then Cambodian government gave permission to the USA to bomb only the supply route the Viet Cong was using Now again he was only in Vietnam for three tours so I can not prove the words he told me. But you are right and I am sorry this has nothing to do with what your post is about I was just trying to find out if the rumor was true Because I had plans to move to Cambodia I think it is a very beautiful country and I have read great people Sorry I won’t post any more fake news.

    Vincent says:

    You are drifting way off topic but I’ll entertain you for a moment. You are doing a good job at spreading rumors or “fake” news in your words.It would be interesting to hear the source of your fiance information.Plus USA created the foundation for the Khmer Rouge through illegal bombings of neutral Countries Cambodia and Laos.Destabilized the government which led to the collapse and the road to genocide.Took the Vietnam Army to put an end to it as we Americans turned a blind eye. Still cleaning up unexploded ordinance and agent orange wrecks havoc on former soldiers.

    David Smith says:

    Hi Mr. Lennox I was just telling you what my fiancé read it may not be true and I pray none of it is true I would rather believe the other things I have read are true that the Cambodian people are very kind and nice people But anything now in these days is possible Lord knows we have worse here in the USA Go to Chicago Detroit Las Angeles and a few other places and if you are white you may not ever go back home. except in a box. So Please take what I wrote with a grain of salt We all know the news can be totally wrong and give fake news. Take care everyone and stay safe The rest of what I said is history the Chinese did let loose the virus and Pol Pot did kill millions of Cambodians sadly

    Vincent Lennox says:

    Thanks for the education.

    David Smith says:

    Hi Lina my fiancé read that the Cambodian people are throwing whites out into the street because they say they brought the virus into the country Is that true ? she now refuses to move to Cambodia. Maybe if it is true they should be told it was the Chinese who unleashed this evil and their President dictator went on a cruise ship that had infected people on it with no protection and his people did too Why did they let Pol Pot kill so many of his own people and they did nothing to stop him. He was Cambodian I believe not white if this is true they can join the ranks of baby Hitler Sorry I am just upset I believed the Cambodian people were very kind But I also read that the only reason they put up with whites is for the money Very sad now I have to find another country that hates white Americans where I can afford to live that’s easy every country hates Americans.

      JS Broadbent says:

      Current residence in PP is a quiet suburban blind alley, close to Russian Market, mainly occupied by Khmer families (so they seem to buy up 6 – 8 houses to make things fit). I’m the only foreigner for ½ a kilometre or so; next nearest is a big contingent of African language teachers. I’m a NZ’er and their elocution and precise diction often beats mine, even to the point of real British RP, ie BBC style (which refers to GB broadcasting network).
      As for any persecution or negative attitude towards foreigners, none at all seen around here. There is some trepidation for sure and everyone wants and is trying to be careful, but we are not being senselessly singled out as vectors, nor ostracised in any other way, other than the usual. All good so far and I expect common sense will continue to prevail.

      Don’t worry about moving here. Under current circumstances, you would likely be hard pressed to identify a better value, safer, friendlier location – if you are looking for a new country.

      Good luck – we always need that!


    Eric says:

    Hello, I have caught a Ting Mong in Kampot where I live with my camera … without knowing all the history – I could guess but now with this article I understand better, thank you :)
    P.S. Too bad there is no way here attach pics, it would be a nice ’social sharing’. But you can see my capture on my Instagram :
    Best Eric

    Melinda says:

    I am fascinated by the history of this method of false security and safety. I think most cultures have methods of false security and safety. Americans sure do, though it looks different than that. What/who do we put our trust in? When we take it upon ourselves, alone, to be safe and secure, we are trusting ourselves rather than the One who has gone before us, will never leave us and not forsake us. We are quick to be defensive, accusatory and place blame. why? Because we only have faith in and trust ourselves.

    JS Broadbent says:

    Thanks, it is helpful to know these things. Sometimes it helps prevent one being blindsided, or worse, eg by GF for being unintentionally ignorant of Khmer culture…

    Pre-Ankorian is pretty impressive.
    Really, even though supposedly I’m a thoroughly anchored (aero) engineer, such things may work. We may well think we know much about the known world, but still very much remains unexplained. And why would Cambodians make and install Ting Mong for 3 millenia or more, if they were not effective? In general, we’re in with a bunch of very pragmatic people here, who are also disinclined to waste time and effort on anything that doesn’t add value. So, there’s the proof, jumping off the page on its own logic.
    Obviously Ting Mong must work. Gonna make one tomorrow. Or preferably, perhaps slightly sneakily encourage dear GF to construct one. Then we’ll be safe for sure.
    Thanks again for an excellent post, and yes, rather timely too.

      Animism is pre-Angkorian, I don’t know if ting mong are. I would love to know more about the practice and I hope any academics who stumble upon this post may tell us more.

      Your comment reminds me of my neighbor who told me that when you cross a duck and a goose you get a ‘sampoah.’ I said (as the owner of both ducks and geese), “it’s not possible to cross a duck and a goose,” and he replied, “why would we have a word for it if it wasn’t true?”

    Craig Etcheson says:

    Nice post. Thanks.

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