Cambodia's royal oxen signal worry for rice harvest

Cambodia's royal oxen signal worry for rice harvest
Praying for good blessings: A Cambodian woman prays during the Visak Bochea at the Oddong mountain in Kandal province on May 2, 2015. Thousands of Cambodians celebrate 2,559 years of Buddha, called 'Visak Bochea', that is the date of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death on the day of the full moon.

A Cambodian woman prays during the Visak Bochea at the Oddong mountain in Kandal province on May 2, 2015. Thousands of Cambodians celebrate 2,559 years of Buddha, called 'Visak Bochea', that is the date of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death on the day of the full moon.

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's royal oxen refused to eat any rice grain Wednesday during an ancient ritual to predict the country's agricultural fortunes, raising fears of a poor rice harvest among superstitious citizens.

Thousands of people gathered to observe the animals at the live televised royal ploughing ceremony, presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni, in a football field in northwestern Battambang province.

After a symbolic ploughing of a portion of the field, a pair of decorated royal oxen were led to seven dishes -- rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and alcohol -- laid out on trays.

The rice, corn, beans and sesame represent the harvest -- the more the oxen eat the better.

If they go for the grass, it predicts illness, while drinking water signals floods and sipping alcohol warns of war.

On Wednesday the oxen ate only beans and corn, prompting the palace's chief astrologer Kang Ken to declare that this year the "beans and corn harvests will be bountiful".

"This is just the prediction in accordance with the ancient royal ploughing ceremony," he added.

The astrologer did not spell out to the crowd the implications for the rice harvest -- but some observers voiced concern.

"Older people say that when the royal oxen do not eat rice, the harvest will be small," said Svay Sophoan, 56, a driver who watched the ceremony from a restaurant.

While still taken seriously by many rural Cambodians in this deeply superstitious country, ploughing ceremony predictions have been called into question in recent years.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who did not attend the ritual, rebuked the royal astrologers for failing to predict deadly floods in 2001 that claimed 59 lives.

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