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The Golden Bough

Chapter 25. Temporary Kings
IN SOME places the modified form of the old custom of regicide which appears to have
prevailed at Babylon has been further softened down. The king still abdicates annually
for a short time and his place is filled by a more or less nominal sovereign; but at the
close of his short reign the latter is no longer killed, though sometimes a mock execution
still survives as a memorial of the time when he was actually put to death. To take
examples. In the month of Méac (February) the king of Cambodia annually abdicated for
three days. During this time he performed no act of authority, he did not touch the seals,
he did not even receive the revenues which fell due. In his stead there reigned a
temporary king called Sdach Méac, that is, King February. The office of temporary king
was hereditary in a family distantly connected with the royal house, the sons succeeding
the fathers and the younger brothers the elder brothers just as in the succession to the real
sovereignty. On a favourable day fixed by the astrologers the temporary king was
conducted by the mandarins in triumphal procession. He rode one of the royal elephants,
seated in the royal palanquin, and escorted by soldiers who, dressed in appropriate
costumes, represented the neighbouring peoples of Siam, Annam, Laos, and so on. In
place of the golden crown he wore a peaked white cap, and his regalia, instead of being
of gold encrusted with diamonds, were of rough wood. After paying homage to the real
king, from whom he received the sovereignty for three days, together with all the
revenues accruing during that time (though this last custom has been omitted for some
time), he moved in procession round the palace and through the streets of the capital. On
the third day, after the usual procession, the temporary king gave orders that the elephants
should trample under foot the mountain of rice, which was a scaffold of bamboo
surrounded by sheaves of rice. The people gathered up the rice, each man taking home a
little with him to secure a good harvest. Some of it was also taken to the king, who had it
cooked and presented to the monks.
In Siam on the sixth day of the moon in the sixth month (the end of April) a temporary
king is appointed, who for three days enjoys the royal prerogatives, the real king
remaining shut up in his palace. This temporary king sends his numerous satellites in all
directions to seize and confiscate whatever they can find in the bazaar and open shops;
even the ships and junks which arrive in harbour during the three days are forfeited to
him and must be redeemed. He goes to a field in the middle of the city, whither they
bring a gilded plough drawn by gaily-decked oxen. After the plough has been anointed
and the oxen rubbed with incense, the mock king traces nine furrows with the plough,
followed by aged dames of the palace scattering the first seed of the season. As soon as
the nine furrows are drawn, the crowd of spectators rushes in and scrambles for the seed
which has just been sown, believing that, mixed with the seed-rice, it will ensure a
plentiful crop. Then the oxen are unyoked, and rice, maize, sesame, sago, bananas, sugar-
cane, melons, and so on, are set before them; whatever they eat first will, it is thought, be
dear in the year following, though some people interpret the omen in the opposite sense.
During this time the temporary king stands leaning against a tree with his right foot
resting on his left knee. >From standing thus on one foot he is popularly known as King
Hop; but his official title is Phaya Phollathep Lord of the Heavenly Hosts. He is a sort of