Krʊəh: astrology, risk perception, and vulnerability to mishap and disaster in Cambodia

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Abstract

There are strong cross-cultural differences in the subjective judgment of risk perception of hazards or disasters. This article aims to examine the cultural construction of risk perception and who is at risk of succumbing to a disaster, using the 2010 human stampede at the Diamond Island bridge in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as a case study. It focuses on the role of astrology in indicating who is at risk and why. An ethnographic study was conducted in Phnom Penh and nine provinces, involving five survivors and eight of their family members, 34 bereaved relatives of nine people who had been killed, 31 villagers, and 48 key informants including monks, female Buddhist devotees, lay officiants, mediums, and traditional healers. People consulted astrological practitioners, monks, and healers for diagnosis using methods that drew on stories in the Dhammapada and the Jātaka stories. Risk and vulnerability to mishap were believed to arise from the intersection between /krʊəh cɑŋray/ ((Figure presented.) គ្រោះចង្រៃ), or astrological misfortune, and /riesəy/ ((Figure presented.) រាសី), the person’s zodiac house at a given time. Krʊəh was calculated by diviners using from five systems: ‘the exact year’ /kʊət cnam/ ((Figure presented.) គត់ឆ្នាំ); ‘zodiac year treads in the current year,’ /coan cnam/ ((Figure presented.) ជាន់ឆ្នាំ); ‘incompatibility of the current and birth years,’ /cʰoŋ cnam/ ((Figure presented.) ឆុងឆ្នាំ); ‘fatal astrological angle day of week,’ /tŋay ʔɑŋsaa/ ((Figure presented.) ថ្ងៃអង្សា); and ‘tail end of the old and the beginning of the new year,’ /cɑmniə cnam/ ((Figure presented.) ចំនៀរឆ្នាំ). Where indicated, whether by monks or healers, or by common knowledge, people sought ritual interventions to banish their /krʊəh/. The cultural framing of risk and vulnerability in Cambodia seems to be based on ancient Vedic astrology and contributes to the understanding of astrology in contemporary Buddhist societies. There are implications for the development of culturally responsive strategies to effectively communicate with communities about their risk and vulnerability to mishap, and disaster.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1135–1157
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Volume23
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

Keywords

  • Astrology
  • Buddhism
  • COVID-19
  • disaster
  • human stampede
  • Jātaka
  • risk
  • Zodiac

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