Archaic Ceremonial Performances

In the countryside and in the villages of Cambodia there have existed and still exist several types of ceremonial performance, which clearly have their roots in local animistic traditions. Among them are several possession traditions with shamanistic features. Possession or trance can be an integral element even in a ritual performance related to the classical tradition.

Two of these agrarian traditions, Trot and Wild Buffalo Horn Dance, clearly derive from early animistic traditions related to the imitation of animal movement, which, as has been seen many times before, is often a feature of very archaic traditions all over the world.

Trot is a communal ceremony representing a deer hunt. During festive seasons groups of dancers wander from village to village. They erect animistic spirit houses before they enact the deer hunt, wearing painted faces or masks. The dancers represent forest dwellers, various kinds of animals and hunters.

Wild Buffalo Horn Dance is another communal ceremonial dance often associated with the New Year’s celebration in mid-April. Two dancers wearing papier maché buffalo heads or rattan headdresses with buffalo horns enact a combat between buffaloes, and finally their mating, while dancers wearing peacock feather headdresses support the dance. These ceremonies have also been adapted for the stage in the mid-20th century by university-trained choreographers and they often form part of dance shows aimed at foreign audiences.

As in Thailand, in Cambodia there also exists a ritual for honouring the teacher or guru of dance and the mythical founder of the whole art form. In Thailand it is called wai kru, and in Cambodia sapaeh kru. In this ceremony where dancers are initiated an elaborate altar for a statue of the Buddha and dance masks is erected. In front of it the actual ceremony and dances related to it take place. In Cambodia the ceremony sometimes includes possession or trance elements.