Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Buffalo Racing in Cambodia

VIHEAR SUOR VILLAGE, Cambodia — Residents of a village near Cambodia's capital staged a"Formula 1"race Friday to mark the end of the annual honoring of deceased relatives. The contest wasn't between cars, but water buffaloes.

Each year, millions of Cambodians visit Buddhist temples across the country to honor deceased loved ones during a 15-day period commonly known as the Festival of the Dead.

But in Vihear Suor village, about 22 miles northeast of the capital, Phnom Penh, citizens each year wrap up the festival with a water buffalo race to entertain visitors and honor a pledge made hundreds of years ago.

Pok Thiva, an organizer, said there was a time when many village cattle _ which provide rural Cambodians with muscle to plow their fields and transport agricultural products _ died from an unknown disease.

He said the villagers prayed to a spirit to help save their animals from the disease and promised to show their gratitude by holding a buffalo race each year on the last day of P'chum Ben _ the festival's name in Cambodian.

"I've seen the real Formula 1, but this buffalo race is the Formula 1 we have in our village every year,"Pok Thiva said.

"Car or motorcycle racing was never written into the village's history,"he added jokingly.

The race drew some 1,000 spectators who saw 28 riders and their animals charge down the racing field, the racers bouncing up and down on the backs of their buffaloes, whose horns were draped with colorful cloths.

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