|The old Governo's residence built in 1907|
City of the Lost Stick. Battambang. Cambodia
City of the Lost Stick - a History of Battambang
Stick in the mud. Once upon a time, eleven hundred years ago in fact, there lived an impoverished farmhand, whose responsibility it was, to take care of the cows. One day, while herding his cattle he found a fine staff made from rosewood ( Cher Kranhoung ). As time passed, it became apparent that the staff he had luckily discovered, possessed a special power. He merely had to throw the stick in the direction of his cattle, and he could control their movements with great skill. As years passed by he grew thoroughly bored of tending the cows, and began to daydream. He determined he should be the king, and leaving the cows to tend for themselves, he set off to overthrow the then monarch.
With the help of his magic stick, he was victorious in deposing the king, and he settled down to ruling the land. The deposed kings son, the prince, sought retreat in the woods and joined the monk hood, but during his long days of meditation he fell sick and nearly died. In the meantime, the newly self appointed king Dambong, had a dream ( dambong = stick ). His vision stated that his reign would last no longer than seven years, seven months and seven days, and that a holy man riding a white stallion would overthrow him. Obviously worried for his future, he planned on gathering all the holy men in the area with the intention of killing them, and sent a notice inviting them all to his palace.
The sick prince, who was still living in the forest, heard news of the order to attend the court of the king, and as he was now a monk, decided to be present. While travelling to the Capital he met a religious hermit, who insisted that the prince use his white stallion to continue his journey.
The prince rode the horse and soon discovered that his sickness had left him, further to his amazement, the horse took flight, and dressed in his orange robe the prince flew to the city on his new found steed. On seeing the stallion and rider approach, King Dambong anticipated his days of rule were over, with some trepidation he threw the magic staff at the threatening advancing duo. But mystical intervention prevented the sticks power from performing, and King Dambong, knowing he would be conquered, escaped and was never found. The prince took the throne, and all was as it should be. The magic stick was lost, but is said to have landed on the riverbank of the O’Dambong River, near to where the city known as Battambang is now located, ( bat = lost and also disappear, and dambong = stick ).
The English spelling should be Batdambong, as this is how it is pronounced. Strangely enough, this mythical villain is now affectionately known as Ta Dambong ( grandfather stick ), and revered by locals, who sometimes place incense at the foot of a large statue of Ta Dambong, which greets travellers as they arrive in Battambang on the Phnom Penh road. Between 1795 and 1907, both Battambang, and Siem Reap Provinces were under Siamese control. Battambang was governed by the Chavfea Baen family, who were appointed by the Thai king. During the early 1970s, Tauch Chhuong, a young Cambodian school teacher, interviewed many of the senior citizens living in and around Battambang about the years of forced occupation. This research resulted in the publication in 1974 of – Battambang during the time of the Lord Governor, published in English in 1994. The following, details a few of the facts gathered by Tauch Chhuong.
Towards the end of the 1800s, the then Governor held an auction for the rights to sell alcohol, it was bought buy a Chinese man named Tang Sea, also known as Sri Piphotti. He bought the right to have the only bar in town, and he was also able to arrest and punish anyone who produced liquor that he felt would cause him to lose profit. He produced a brew made from rice and palm sugar, this was the commoners swill, while the wealthy drank imported French liquor. In those days, Battambang had an abundance of fish, so people never ate small fish as they do today, small fish were used to make fish oil, or fed to slaves, the wealthy land owners had many slave workers. Crocodile meat was as popular as pork is today, and easily found in the markets. Beef was not eaten, as the oxen and water buffaloes were used for farming, and the penalty for stealing these working animals was instant death upon arrest. Much like today, dirt roads connected the villages, these and the canals/rivers were use for transportation. There were no cars, and people traveled by foot or boat, ox or buffalo cart, horse, and elephant. Ox cart was seven days to Bangkok, but two days by elephant with a boat connection from Prachinburi. People rarely traveled to Phnom Penh by road as the trip was easier by boat. It is recounted that there were only four bicycles at the time, with wood rimmed wheels and solid rubber tires, and they were owned by traders who would draw large crowds whenever they road them.
There were many types of punishment, these included a ladder type device up to two metres in length, that was strung around the neck, preventing someone from traveling too far. For interrogation, a lever was gradually tightened around the head, until a persons eyes popped out, unless they confessed. Flogging was common, and so was a seven kilo iron ball and chain attached to the ankle. Execution was beheading by sword, it is reported that the governor owned a extremely sharp sword, named the Black Lady. Once this sword was drawn from its scabbard, it had to be use to execute no less than two people. One man who was sentenced to rendezvous with this sword was allowed to stay with his family, until such time that another victim was found to join him. He was repairing the roof of the family house, when a messenger arrived to deliver the fateful news that an equally unlucky individual had been found. The unfortunate man was so terrified that he fell of his roof, he was then taken to have his head chopped off, on the east side of the river near the present railway.
The Lord Governor lived in a fortified compound which has since been demolished. He had dozens of beautiful topless dancing women, who waited on him hand and foot. Over thirty of these women became his secondary wives, including the daughter of Piphotti, who had the concession to sell alcohol.
Throughout this oppressive feudal system, the commoners dealt with their despair by creating entertainment. They had their singing, dancing, theatre and many popular games, gambling was legal and included boat races, cock fighting and turtle fighting. In 1907, the French colonialists secured control of both Battambang and Siem Reap provinces. Article by Kevin Bolton.