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Children of the Seven-Headed Snake: The Sacred Waters of Cambodia cover image

Children of the Seven-Headed Snake: The Sacred Waters of Cambodia 2002


Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th St., New York, NY 10016; 212-808-4980
Produced By Ampersand
Directed By Didier Fassio
VHS, color, 52 min.

Anthropology, Asian Studies

Date Entered: 11/09/2018

Reviewed by Kate Merrill, Literature & Media Division, Rochester Public Library

Didier Fassio’s documentary examines the myth and ritual of the Tonle Sap River, located in the heart of Cambodia, running from Phnom Phenh in the south, to Lake Tonle Sap in the north. This film explores the connections between the Cambodian people, food, nature, religion, and the river. Many of the Cambodian people who live along the river are peasants, and the film explores the festivals and celebrations these people observe to pay tribute to the river and to Naga, the Seven Headed Snake, who dwells there.

One of these traditions is the Water Celebration which involves whole villages and is given in honor of Naga. Each village contributes a canoe and participates in a race, some villages traveling several days to reach Phnom Phenh and the river. The Cambodians celebrate these rituals involving religion, cultural traditions, and mythology to honor those deities who protect and provide for them. Another example is the yearly harvest. After the rice harvest, as the film shows, thousands of peasants converge on the river to trade rice for fish, an annual event which may involve days of preparation and travel to reach the river. The film also shows the symbiotic nature of trade and its benefits to all the participants.

The river is a cultural and physical necessity in the lives of the Khmer people and Fassio’s film is successful in its exploration of river myth and ritual as an important aspect of modern Cambodian life. The program content is well organized, as the narrator leads the viewer on a journey up the Tonle Sap, using examples along the way to dramatize ritual in the lives of Cambodians. The photography and editing is superb, allowing the viewer to actually see and experience these rituals in the lives of Cambodians. A fascinating and well-done film.

This documentary would be of special interest to anthropology collections, especially those students studying Southeast Asian culture. Recommended for a college audience, but may appeal to a general audience seeking videos on Southeast Asia.