I have grown up with the story myths taught and non-stop misconceptions explained throughout my entire childhood and teenage hood (and even after having kid). I’m sure I’m not the only one because all these things have been passing down from generations to generations. Some make sense and other don’t, but as Khmer kids, we simply got used to it. We seemed to believe in almost everything that was passed down, as science was not widely known or been broadly educated or advanced. Now, all those things become naked to me, and when I look at some of them, I sometimes laugh about how weird they are. Let’s have a look those myths and misconceptions and how it may or may not scientifically be explained.
1. Don’t eat lying down like crocodile: But seriously how do elders know crocodile can sit up and eat?? That’s totally non-sense, isn’t it? It’s scientifically revealed that eating lying down is worse than eating sitting up or standing up – a vertically correct posture. Eating lying down can lead to bad indigestion, slower absorption of carbohydrates and increase the risk of developing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Though it was believed to be fashionable in ancients, but it was also pointed out the laziness within the powerful and wealthy people. How comes Khmer elders couldn’t never tell us the truth in direct words/ways?
2. Don’t sleep higher than elders, or Ta Phrum waters (hot) congee water over your head, and you become bald: In Khmer culture, we have a lot of norms around elder people. I believe this is just a lying norm that elders want kids to respect them. Traditionally, sitting higher than elders are considered to be rude or misbehaved. Thus, same goes to sleeping manner.
3. Eating chicken wings will make you fly, (or eating fish tail will make you swim): To my assumption, at that time chicken wings were simply considered just small tips of bony areas, which were not much nutritional. Imagine if we had the whole chicken with family, I wouldn’t happy either to have just only wings – I would expect at least for a drumstick. In that sense, if I’m not wrong, elder people were working hard outside the house or taking a majority of responsibilities in the house, while the kids were staying home learning or helping bits of pieces in the house. Rather than having food fight with kids, elders simply came up this lying to trick them to eat those wings in peacefully calm manner. I still remember in the past, chicken was like a luxury meat for food – expensive and not commonly available. I’m sure that’s because we didn’t have any sort of large scale farms or import yet, but we only had family-size scale, where my family raised them too. People also didn’t have much creative recipe with chicken wings, which are now the best parts for me (like KFC wicked wings 😋, YUM). This misconception or superstition is similar to the one in Korea saying ‘giving your husband wings to eat will make him fly away’. Yeah, the fish tails are considered the same thing to chicken wings.
4. Lightning, thunder and rain are the fighting between Mekhela and Ream Eyso: that sounds like a real epic! As kids, we enjoyed sitting down and listen to what elders told us a story and that was really interesting. Believe me or not? I would still enjoy telling this to my kid about this myths and the truth. This myths tales doesn’t only happen in Cambodia, but in other countries around the world like United Kingdom, and Africa. The fighting in the tale started when Mekhela received a crystal ball from her teacher, while other two – Vorachhun and Ream Eyso – received a magic dagger and a diamond axe. As a revenge out of jealousy of Mekhela, Ream Eyso killed Vorachhun by pushing down from mountain. He intended to kill Mekhela but realised Vorachhun wasn’t dead yet and he fought the two. The lightning occurred when Mekhala’s crystal ball flew into the air while Ream Eyso’s Diamond axe made rumbling noises which became thunder. When they made the sounds and flashes, water began to fall from the heavens and this became known as rain.
5. Reahu swallows the moon (known in Khmer as Reahu Chab Chan): it’s a Hindu myths but also a Khmer myths tale about eclipse. Reahu is spelled in the way Khmer calls it, but you might see it as Rahu in other sources. In the tale, Reahu drank the sacred milk called Amrita, and the sun and the moon reported it to Visnu. As a consequence, he was beheaded; however, to revenge, Reahu kept attacking the sun, while Ketu (Reahu’s body) attacked the moon. Therefore, the result of eclipse in this tale is the the revenge of Reahu to the sun and moon. As a matter of fact, the eclipse occurs as lunar eclipse – when the earth passes directly between the sun and moon and as sun eclipse – when the moon casts two shadow: umbra and penumbra.
6. Don’t eat sour food or fruit after giving birth, or you’ll get bladder leakage when getting older: In the past, elders just didn’t understand how their bodies get weaker and weaker for a number of children they carried, especially their pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, and commonly never had less than 6 children. I could tell this by looking at my great-great-grandparents down to my grandparents line. I believe that’s also because there was no any contraceptions available at that time and the common conceptions of ‘having more kids were more helpful than having one or two’. Almost all the elders I know experience bladder leakage when they get older and all of them told me the same reasons for eating sour food/fruits. Of course, none of them had done any exercise related to pelvic floor (but they didn’t even know what pelvic floor is). In fact, women require nutritional foods and fresh fruits full of vitamins, proteins, healthy fats and carbs after birth. Sour fruits are high in vitamin C, which is a part of compulsory nutrition for body. Doing exercises for pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are great support for preventing bladder leakage when getting older.
Some myths are still interesting to me up to now and some are just too ridiculous to carry on to my next generation. Anyhow, those becomes memories for me to sit down with family and friend and joke about it.