The navel of the village

When I was in Cambodia this past July, we visited the site of Lovea (ល្វា), located just northwest of the central Angkor area in Siem Reap province.  Lovea is notable for its shape: a circular mound surrounded by moats.  This habitation type is generally associated with the prehistoric period. Surface surveys at many of these sites have turned up stone tools (see Moore 1998; Moore et al. 2007).

Above: A  Google Earth image of Lovea (center, with thumbtack).  In the lower left hand corner is a square Angkorian period site and baray.

There are actually a few circular sites in northwest Cambodia (and many more in Northeast Thailand).  The sites in Cambodia are unique in that many of them also have a post, or series of posts, marking the center or “navel” of the village (ព្រះភូមិ).  Below is an image of the post at Lovea village.

The archaeologist Elizabeth Moore pointed out that some villages in her survey of circular sites in northwest Cambodia had a series of 5 posts, instead of just a single post. It is believed that the posts are animist representations of the power of the earth. (This page on Lovea on the NASA website says that the post honors the spirit of the village’s founder, although I’m not sure where this information is coming from).

Above: A closer view of the village navel at Lovea

The Cambodian anthropologist Ang Choulean has studied the ceremony consecrating the village navel, which he discuss briefly in his book Brah Ling.  Choulean says that a village can hold this ceremony in order to begin a village cult or after a series of unlucky events when the navel needs re-consecration.  As part of the ceremony, various offerings are made, and then a ritual text is recited and five lead plates with magical inscriptions are dropped in a post hole (below- from Choulean 2004).

Later in the ceremony, a figure made of flower, described as Neang Asamukha, is put on a bamboo  trellis and then penetrated by the central post.  Choulean says that this action makes the village soil fertile (below- from Choulean 2004).

There are many more pictures and some discussion of the complete ceremony in the book Brah Ling, which I highly recommend.

Lovea is undergoing archaeological excavation as part of the Paddy to Pura project that just started a few weeks ago.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about this interesting site!

Further Reading:

Choulean, Ang
2004 Brah Ling. Reyum, Phnom Penh.

Moore, Elizabeth
1998 The Prehistoric Habitation of Angkor. In Southeast Asian Archaeology 1994, edited by Pierre-Yves Manguin, Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Hull, Hull.

Moore, Elizabeth, Tony Freeman, and Scott Hensley                                               2007 Spaceborne and airborne radar at Angkor: Introducing New technology to the Ancient Site. In Remote Sensing in Archaeology, edited by Farouk El-Baz and James Wiseman, pp. 185-216. Springer, New York.

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One response to “The navel of the village

  1. Pingback: Sounding on Cambodia, January 25 2012 « imagining the real world