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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Cambodia's oxen predict drought
By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh

Royal oxen eat during the annual ploughing ceremony in Phnom Penh on 16 May 2006
The oxen ate eagerly but refused to drink any water
Cambodia's royal soothsayer has declared that a drought will hit the country in the coming year, following a ploughing ceremony in Phnom Penh.

Kang Ken bases his predictions on what the royal oxen choose to eat and drink at the annual event in the capital.

Last year's pronouncement turned out to be uncannily accurate. The oxen scoffed everything in sight, and Cambodia enjoyed a prolonged rainy season.

Some farmers are now demanding improvements to irrigation systems.

Superstitious nation

Rarely have beasts of burden been so eagerly observed.

An audience - including King Sihamoni - watched intently as the royal oxen mulled over which dishes they would devour and which they would spurn.

It seems like a whimsical way of divining a country's agricultural prospects.

And of course it is, for many people, just a bit of fun.

It is also a chance for farmers from around the country to come to Phnom Penh and show off their produce to the king.

But many Cambodians are extremely superstitious. And when the oxen ate eagerly, but turned their noses up at the water dish, people knew what was coming next.

The royal soothsayer predicted a plentiful harvest - but a lack of rain.

Last year, the rice harvest was the best on record.

But droughts have become a serious problem in recent years - and farmers are anxious that dry times will soon return.

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25 Nov 04 |  Asia-Pacific
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29 Oct 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Cambodia
06 Apr 06 |  Country profiles

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