In the week after a stampede on a crowded Phnom Penh bridge killed 353 revelers celebrating the annual water festival, both the people of Cambodia and the country's government have been struggling to put hundreds of troubled ghosts to rest.
According to Khmer custom, the deceased believe they are merely asleep until the seventh day after their hearts stop. When they realize the truth--that they are dead forever, that they will never go home again--they grow terrified and angry.
The solution is the "seven-day ceremony," an hours-long funerary ritual to soothe the souls of the dead and placate them with offerings, speeding them on their way to the next life. On the seventh day after the stampede, the country was awash in these ceremonies, with mourners offering their dead everything from pigs' heads to fake bars of gold.
Although Buddhism is the state religion here, ancient animistic beliefs are just as important. Spirits lurk everywhere, predictable in their habits but terrifying once their anger is aroused. The ghosts of those who died in violent accidents are said to be especially restive.
The country's superstitious prime minister, Hun Sen, has already staged several traditional ceremonies designed to appease the stampede's unmoored dead. But he has been less proactive in the physical realm, presiding over an open-and-shut investigation that yielded no significant findings and refusing to concede any wrongdoing by anyone.