Khmer Spiritual Beliefs Brought to Life in a New Novel

Anthropology Professor Ang Choulean has published his first novel titled “Sat Lok” or in the English language “Animals and man.”
  • Ky Soklim
  • April 21, 2021 3:01 AM

Anthropology Professor Ang Choulean has published his first novel in which he aims to highlight the spiritual beliefs of Cambodia that ended up being a journey of self-discovery into his own creativity.

This is the very first time that Anthropologist Pro. Professor Ang Choulean writes a novel book titled “Sat Lok” or in the English language “Animals and man.” The novel describes the world of “Ak Mornus” or “nonhuman”. Ak Mornus is a collection full of spiritual and supernatural beings such as divine characters, ghosts and many other types of monsters. Sat Lok are everything that falls into the scope of human beings and animals. Normally, Choulean mainly works on research around the field of anthropology and archeology. What is so special about it is that the narrator of the book is actually the ghost. Cambodianess’ Ky Soklim interviewed Choulean to discuss more about his newly-published book.

Ky Soklim: Quite recently, you have published a book titling “Sat Lok,” this book title, to me, sounds really mysterious, so what’s in the name?

Ang Choulean: Well, it is actually a novel. A short fiction book to be exact. I mainly do research in the field of anthropology and archeology, so I don’t really create fictional content and because of this, there are two reasons which allowed me to write this novel. Firstly, I have been asking myself for so many years now—I just wanted to find out if any kind of artistic trait or creativity existed in my blood. Some people can compose music. Some can create paintings. I know that I am not a painter. I am neither a singer nor a musician. However, I have written a lot during my career. So, I wanted to know if I can create something quite fictional. I have been asking myself this kind of question along the way, yet I did not really pay too much attention to it. Secondly, several people were suggesting I work on this. In 1982, I wrote a doctorate thesis describing a world of “non-human” [or “Ak Mornus” in Khmer language] which covered the belief systems and Ak Mornus is a collection of spiritual beings, monsters and ghosts.

It was suggested that I do this thing again since I have observed the evolution of this particular topic. I have spent a lot of time in the countryside directly observing the events and ceremonies of the local population. This is why I also want to update the work of my thesis. In relation with my first reason, I realized that I simply cannot redo my past work again. It is too large. So, I selected the parts with the most interesting meaning and turned them into this novel. Although the content is fiction, it does have some elements of truth within it.

Ky Soklim: What does “Sat Lok” actually mean?

Ang Choulean: In this novel, “Sat Lok” [“Animals and men” in English] describe any living things within the scope of human beings and animals. For the book, the narrator is actually the ghost and claims that they, as well as plants, should also be considered to be within the scope of Sat Lok.

Ky Soklim: In terms of the content, what do you want to show to the audiences?

Ang Choulean: I do not really want to show anything in particular. I simply just want to show some of the Khmer spiritual traditions. There is simply no hidden messages inside it.

Ky Soklim: What does the ghost narrate about? Could you provide more detail into it?

Ang Choulean: Well, ironically you have to go and read it by yourselves. Normally, some novels are narrated by their own authors. For plays, there will always be narrators who help narrate the scenes, however, for my book, there is a ghost inside a house who narrates back to the readers. On the other hand, I also want to know whether people will enjoy reading my novel or not. I do not really have any experience in writing fictional content. I only conduct research.

Ky Soklim: How can the audiences find and purchase this book?

Ang Choulean: The book is published by the Yosothor organization. Through other’s support, the profits from selling this book will be all channeled back to the organization. There is no any exact location in which the book will be put on sale. The purchase can be done by contacting the organization online or on the phone.

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