Legends Of Bondat Protib & Ak Ambok
By: M. Veassna..Picture by: Sem Vannjohn ( November, 2002 Volume 2 No.11 )

It is an ancient tradition that Cambodian people who live in the countryside make Bondat Protib, or 'floating boats,' during the Boon Chenh Preah Vossa festival, the end of Buddhist lent which falls on 21 October this year. But people who live in Phnom Penh prefer to celebrate the Water Festival, Sampeah Preah Khe (full moon salutation), and Ak Ambok (Swallow Flattened Rice). The celebrations will be held on November 18,19 and 20 this year. All these traditions are based on ancient Khmer legends.

The Story of Bondat Protib, or Ceremonial Floats:

Once upon a time, a male and female crow made a nest in a tree by the seaside. The female laid five eggs, as is normal for these birds. One day, a big storm came, and the wind blew the nest into the sea. That evening, when the crows came back from finding food, they saw that their nest had been destroyed by the storm, and the five white eggs lost. The crows cried with regret about the loss of their eggs, until they died and went to paradise, where they took the name Preah Etrea Thi Rach. Meanwhile, the five eggs were separated, and each was blown ashore in a different place. One was found by a chicken, one by a cow, another by the King of the dragons, one by a turtle and one by a tiger. Each animal picked up their egg and took it home to take care of it. Soon, the eggs hatched, and out of each one came a baby boy. The five animals that looked after the boys realised they were very special, and took good care of them.
When the five young boys grew up, they each wondered, "If I am a person, why are my parents animals?" Each animal made sure their boy studied hard, and saved up merits for himself. All the animal parents said the same thing to their sons: "If you are ever successful in this world, please put my name with yours." That is why, in modern times, there are five Buddhas called Kakothour, or chicken; Kovnea Kommanor, or dragon; Kasakbor, or turtle; Kot Tamo, or cow; and Siri Acharmattayor, or tiger. Later in their lives, the five men became Buddhas in sequence, the oldest first. Each Buddha took the name of the animal that raised them. When the five men left their animal parents, they all met each other. They soon realised they all had the same life-story, and were the same age, so they regarded each other as siblings and decided to live together. One day, when the five men were talking about who their real parents could be, their parent's spirits, called Preah Entrea Thi Rach, turned themselves into white crows like they used to be, and flew to sit on a tree near their sons. Then the birds said, "The crows that talk to you are your real parents." The five men knelt down and prayed to them, to show how much they regretted not being able to look after them. The crows answered, "If all of you miss us and want to give something to us, you must draw our legs on things that you want to dedicate to us, we will receive them." Then the two white birds disappeared.
The five men remembered what their true parents had said, and went together to study art and become priests in the forest. Whenever they did a good deed, the five men would dedicate it to their parents, to say thank you. And on everything they dedicated to their parents, they draw the legs of a crow, and then sent them floating away on flowing water. That is how the tradition of Bondat Pratib, or the floating boats, was born.

The story of Ak Ambok and Sampeah Preah Khe (The festival of full moon salutation):

One day, long ago, a Buddha was born as a rabbit called Pouthesat. Every full moon, this holy rabbit dedicated his life to someone who wanted to become a Buddha. One full moon, the god Preah Ean found out about this. He became an old man, and asked Pouthesat if he could eat him. The rabbit agreed to give his life to the old man for food. But the old man said, "This rabbit has observed moral precepts for a long time, so he cannot be killed."
Then the rabbit told to the old man to make a fire, and then jumped into the fire to kill himself, so that the old man could eat him. But before he jumped into the fire, he quietly wished that he could stay in the moon forever after his death. According to this legend, we can still see the rabbit in the middle of the moon today. This is why, when people celebrate the Ak Ambok and Sampeah Preah Khe festivals, they remember the life of Pouthesat the holy rabbit, and offer fruits that are popular with rabbits, such as Ambok, banana, coconut, yam or sweet potato. Cambodian people celebrate these two festivals around this time also because this is when bananas, coconuts, yam and sweet potatoes are in abundance.