Mass Faintings: The Revenge of Cambodia’s Neak Ta Spirits

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Just over two years ago, at the Anful Garments Factory in Kompong Speu Province, a young worker named Chanthul and 250 of her colleagues collapsed in a collective spell of fainting. They had to be hospitalized; the production line shut down. Two days later, the factory was back up, and the mass faintings struck again.

Peace, and production, resumed only after factory owners staged an elaborate ceremony, offering up copious amounts of food, cigarettes and Coca-Cola to the spirit.

In the past few years, Cambodia has experienced a slew of mass faintings among garment workers: One after the other, hundreds of women have fallen to the floor of their factories in a dizzy spell called duol sonlap in the Khmer language. [T]wo-thirds of these episodes are associated with accounts of possession by local guardian spirits, known as neak ta.

These days, when neak ta appear on the factory floor — inducing mass faintings among workers and shouting commands at managers — they are helping the cause of Cambodia’s largely young, female and rural factory workforce by registering a kind of bodily objection to the harsh daily regimen of industrial capitalism.

Where brutal conditions are coupled with few, if any, rights for labor to organize, the mass faintings have become an effective tool that invites no reprisal. After all, it is not the workers demanding better conditions, but the neak ta.

Much as the “blue flu” of various United States police departments throughout the years, the mass faintings have come to be a fascinating leverage as existing cultures collide with modern industrial practices.

Via New York Times for the full article and fascinating story.

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About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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