Cambodia magic tattoos become rare

November 16, 2009 – It’s much harder to get a magic tattoo in Cambodia than it used to be, laments Chey Cham.

“I do have one tattoo of a python on my right upper-arm but it’s for beauty, not magic,” says the 30-year-old from the outskirts of Cambodia’s capital. MAGIC_TATTOO_492723379.jpg

“That’s because I can’t find anywhere in my town to get a magic tattoo.”

Over centuries, Cambodians have endured hours of procedures to obtain hand-drawn mystical tattoos believed to give them magical powers, but the tradition appears to be fading in this increasingly modern country.

Miech Ponn, advisor on mores and customs at Cambodia’s Buddhist Institute, says magic tattoos are believed to bring good luck or popularity but are mostly used by soldiers seeking to become invisible to enemies or repel bullets.

“Tattoos were really popular among Cambodian men in the past. Almost every Cambodian male was tattooed,” Miech Ponn says.

These days, he adds, superstitious people in rural areas are usually the ones who believe in magic.

“Until now science can’t break this superstition. I don’t know why it cannot.”

Tattooist Chan Trea notices the number of customers seeking him out in the belief they will obtain special powers has dwindled over the past decade.

“Usually, the Cambodian customers are police, soldiers, and fighters like boxers and martial artists,” Chan Trea says.

“But there is a decrease of people coming for magical reasons. I guess, in the future, things like magic will be very rare in this country.”

The tattoos usually feature images of supernatural creatures, Hindu gods or characters from Pali and Sanskrit. Cambodian fighters are often adorned with intimidating images of a dragon, tiger or the monkey king Hanuman.

Chan Trea notes the tattoos can be administered by any traditional healer or Buddhist monk who has strong spiritual beliefs, but only a few remain alive who know how to use traditional long needles and recite magical spells.

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  1. KhumunduStrong August 22nd, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Hey people, come and listen to Joseph JJ Kamotho give a saintly lecture on democracy and serving national interest.

    Yes, that’s right. I said Joseph Kamotho, the former KANU Secretary General.

    For the third time, let me say it – Joseph Kamotho is lecturing Kenyans on democracy.

    Did Kenya just send a man to the moon? Because this story sounds like it would rank in the same category of incredulity.


  2. njau August 22nd, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Why do I suddenly feel aggravated?  Why do I feel like punching this man in the face? This man is delusional trying to lecture us about democracy while he spend most of his time in government subverting civil liberties of others. Our memories are intact; so Mr Kanu ni baba na mama; crawl back into the hole you came from you sloth.

  3. Otieno Mbare August 22nd, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    JJ makes a lot of sense in his blog. Those who are accusing JJ for being a status quo fellow should tell us who among those in government today are not status quo individuals!

    1. KhumunduStrong August 22nd, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      Kamotho is akin to a practicing village harlot dressing down the rest of the village for its lack of abstinence. 

      Who would have ‘thunk’ !!

  4. Abdy August 23rd, 2011 at 3:43 am

    JJ is far more better and convincing that most of the so called ‘democrats’. What happened to the young turks? At least this gentleman stands for something.

  5. Anonymous August 29th, 2011 at 10:21 am

    It is good to see that after retirement from politics jj kamotho was able to take a vocation in which in his own way is able to influence is a good piece.It is true that alliances is what caused post election violence and as such we should avoid them like plague because if we don’t it will never be a new dawn for Kenya unless we fight ethnicity


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