teachings are at the root of the typical Thai villager's sincere
consideration for others, embodied in the virtue known as
namchai, "water of the heart," a concept encompassing
spontaneous warmth and compassion that allows families to make
anony mous sacrifices for friends and to extend hospitality to
strangers. For example, a stranger visiting a village will
rarely be seen as an intruder and a subject for suspicion and
distrust. Much more likely, the villagers will have the namchai
to take him in, feed him, offer him a bed in one of their homes,
and generally treat him as a friend. Buddhism also lies behind
such common expressions as mai pen rai (or "never mind, it
doesn't matter") when something unfortunate happens,
reflecting the feeling th at one must gracefully submit to
external forces beyond one's control, such as the effects of
highly individualistic and resisting regimentation, Thais
nevertheless realize that inner freedom is best preserved in an
emotionally and physically stable environment. Therefore, they
believe that social harmony is best maintained by avoiding any
unnecessary friction in their contacts with others. From this
has grown the strong Thai feeling of krengchai, which means an
extreme reluctance to impose on anyone or disturb his personal
equilibrium by direct criticism, challenge, or confrontation. In
general, people will do their utmost to avoid personal conflict.
expressions of anger are also regarded as dangerous to social
harmony and as being obvious signs of ignorance, crudity, and
immaturity. Indeed, during normal social intercourse, strong
such a behavioral framework, Thais share very definite views on
what constitutes friendship and enjoyment. Sincere friendship
among Thais is extremely intense; the language is rich in
expressions which reflect the degree of involvement and willin g
self-sacrifice. Such relationships are found particularly among
men. A "phuan tai" -literally, "death friend"
-is a companion for whom it would be an honor to die. Should a
friend become involved in difficulties, his friend feels an
obligation to hel p him, regardless of the danger to himself,
because "tong chuai phuan" - "One must help one's
friends." This requirement is a sensitive point of honor
and explains many circumstance that often baffle outsiders.
displays of dismay, despair, displeasure, disapproval, or
enthusiasm are frowned upon. Accordingly, the person who is , or
appears to be, serenely indifferent (choei choei) is respected
for having what is considered an important virtue.
the level of acquaintanceship, politeness predominates. When
greeting people, Thais will usually show their concern for
others' health by remarking how "thin" or "fat"
he or she has become. The remark is intended as a gesture of
Thai baby officially becomes "someone" after its name
is chosen-frequently by the village abbot-and entered in the
village head's records. Soon after birth the child will be given
a nickname, nearly always of one syllable. Intimates will
continue to call him or her by this nickname for the rest of his
life and may in deed have to think for a while to remember the
is a carefree, cossetted time. By the age of four, children
regularly meet to play beyond the family compound, with boys and
girls generally segregating and roaming freely throughout the
village. Boys play make-believe games, fly kites, plow imaginary
fields, and hunt insects and harmless reptiles. Girls nurse
makeshift dolls, "sell" mudpies in make-believe
markets, play games emulating their mothers, and look after
younger brothers and sisters.
the children are drawn into work patterns. Around eight years of
age, girls give increasing help with household chores and boys
assume greater responsibilities such as feeding domestic animals
and guarding the family buffalo as it grazes or wa llows.
attend the government village school to be taught from a
standard nationwide curriculum. They acquire varying degrees of
literacy and study Buddhist ethics and Thai history. All receive
a comprehensive education and by coming into contact with
neighboring villages' children and visiting the provincial
capital on school trips they enjoy a broadening of social
assumed ever-increasing workloads and responsibilities, youths
of 15 and 16 are already regarded as fully mature adult laborers.
Between graduation from school and marriage at around 20, most
village males go into the monastery, usually for the d uration
of one rainy season, in order to make merit for themselves and
their parents; in some areas a man who has never been a monk is
avoided by marriageable girls, who regard him as a khon dip,
literally an "unripe person."
village girl's entrance into adolescence is a gentle one.
Courtship is confined initially to communal work groups during
planting and harvesting and at monastery-centered festivals and
activities. There may be extensive banter between boys and girl
s but, individually, young people tend to be shy and "whirlwind
courtships" are exceedingly rare. Emotional relationships
mature slowly and customarily involve chaperoned meetings at the
young people select their own marriage partners. Rarely is
parental disapproval voiced since marriages often take place
between families within the same village, further strengthening
and widening communal ties. A marriage is sometimes presented a
s a fait accompli by children who work in towns or cities and
are thus beyond parental control. In many parts of the country
it is the custom for the groom to move in with the bride's
family, thus providing extra labor for the family fields and
also avoi ding friction between mother and daughter-in-law.
in the moring, in accordance with traditional Thai belief that
married life should begin with merit-making, the bride and groom
feed village monks and present them with small gifts. In return,
the monks bless the couple and the house or room where they will
village marriage ceremony bestows no official validity on their
union but is merely a public proclamation that the two people
will live together as man and wife. The young couple's wrists
are ceremoniously bound together in the presence of village e
lders and they are led to the marriage chamber as guests feast,
drink, sing, and dance. Later, their marriage is officially
registered at the district office and becomes a fact of law.
Daily tasks are generally divided equally between husband and
wife. Women normally do the household chores, but they work in
the fields during planting and harvesting. Men perform heavy
tasks and fieldwork, fetch water, and occasionally clean their
own clothes. Thai village men are often very good cooks and
sometimes h elp prepare the food for festivals.
a couple decide to marry a beautiful ceremony is held to
mark this turning point in their lives.
marriage, every couple eagerly awaits the birth of its first
child, which usually comes during the first year. Children have
a high position in rural and cultural values, since there is
strength in numbers, a vital sense of continuity is ensured, and
many hands make farming activities easier. Often there exists an
unspoken preference for boys since they alone may be ordained as
priests to gain merit for themselves and their parents, but no
love is witheld if the child proves to be a girl.
village dress is simple. Men generally wear shorts, a simple
shirt, and their versatile phakhaoma -- a checkered rectangle of
cloth loosely worn around the waist which, at a moment's notice,
can serve as a turban for protection against the sun, a
loincloth to preserve modesty during public bathing, a sweat-aborbing
towel, or a hammock.
wear the phasin (the Thai version of the sarong)and a simple
blouse or bodice. Children wear similar clothing as their
parents except when they are dressed in their school uniforms.
rice planting season usually begins in April or May. Rice is by
far the most important of all Thai crops and the principal food
for people throughout the country. Whether boiled and eaten
plain, distilled into al liquor known as lao khao, or transf
ormed into sweets and noodles, rice and its cultivation comprise
a central pillar of Thai life. Kin khao, the Thai expression for
"to eat," literally means "to eat rice." The
grain provides major government revenues and for centuries has
been Thailand's leading agricultural export.
Puja, the year's greatest religious holiday which commemorates
the Buddha's birth, enlightenment ,and death , comes during
seeding and plowing. Village elders attend temple celebrations
and sermons during the day, while those who have been working
all day in the fields return at dusk to join the solemn candle
or torchlit procession tha t circumambulates the monastery
chapel three times. Each person carries flowers, three glowing
incense sticks, and a lighted candle in silent homage to the
Buddha, his teaching, and his disciples.
after transplanting is completed, usually toward the end of May,
the first of the annual monsoon rains arrive to inundate
farmland. Daily rainfall replenishes the fields and while the
rice is growing much of the family's time is taken up with Ra
ins Retreat observances.
this annual three-month period (Phansa in Thai), Buddhist monks
are required to remain in their monasteries overnight, a
tradition which predates Buddhism. In ancient India, all holy
men, mendicants and sages spent three months of the rainy seaso
n in permanent dwellings, thus avoiding unnecessary travel
during the period when crops were still new for fear they might
accidentally tread on young plants. In deference to popular
opinion, the Buddha decreed that his followers should also abide
by thi s tradition. This initiated a move away from an itinerant
life to a more or less settled existence since the advantages of
communal living became apparent.
represents a time of renewed spiritual vigor. The monk meditates
more, studies more, and teaches more. Laymen, too, traditionally
endeavor to be more conscientious, perhaps abstaining from
liquor and cigarettes and giving extra financial and phy sical
support to local monasteries. Phansa is also ordinarily the
season for temporary ordinations. Young men enter the monkhood
for spiritual training, to gain merit for themselves and their
parents, and to conform to the widespread feeling that a man who
has not been a monk cannot be considered a mature adult.
Buddhist ordination is a mixture of religious solemnity, merit-making,
and boisterous celebration reflecting the Thai belief that the
three most important events in a man's life are his birth, his
ordination, and his marriage. The ordination ritual itself
originated over 2,500 years ago as the Sangha (the Buddhist
monastic order) took shape and has changed little to this day.
Socially, it is something in which the entire village
participates. Local monks comprise the presiding chapter and
precepto rs, while villagers gain merit by accompanying the
tonsured, white-robed candidate for monkhood (known as the nak)
in a colorful procession to the monastery, often marked by
joyous dancing and the infectious throb of long drums.
permeates every aspect of the ordination ceremony. The nak's
white robe connotes purity and the royal umbrella held over his
head reminds participants of the royal heritage Prince
Siddhartha Gautama renounced during his spiritual quest to beco
me the Buddha. The nak leads the villagers in a triple
circumabulation of the monastery chapel to evoke the Buddhist
Triple Gem -- the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha (the
Teacher, the Teaching, and the Taught.)
the rains have ended, the daily rhythm of field work is
increasingly concerned with keeping birds away from the ripening
rice. During this time fish are abundant in rain-swollen streams
and fields. methods and equipment for freshwater fishing vary
from region to region and depending on where the fish are being
sought -- canals, rivers, ponds, or rice fields.
early November, one of the most beautiful of Thai festivals, Loy
Krathong, takes place. Loy means "to float," and a
krathong is a lotus-shaped vessel traditionally made of banana
leaves. The krathong usually contains a candle, three incense
sticks, some flowers, and coins. By the light of the full moon,
people light the candles and incense, make a wish, and launch
their krathongs on the nearest body of water. The Goddess of the
water who plays such an important role in rural life is thus
honored, and it is also commonly believed that the krathongs
carry away the past year's sins as well as the hopes of the
launcher for the future. Moonlit waterways throughout Thailand
are covered with tiny, flickering lights representing millions
of silent aspira tions.
late November or early December, rice in the north and the
central plains is ready to be harvested. Wherever possible,
water is drained to allow fields to dry. Harvesting schedules
are determined by common consent within each village. Early each
mo rning, cooperative work groups go into the fields with
sickles to harvest each farmer's crop. Around noon, the host
family sends food to the fieldworkers, and after lunch work
resumes until dark when the host family provides another meal.
cut rice is spread in the fields to dry for several days before
being bundled in sheaves and taken to the family compound, where
it is threshed and winnowed. Except in the south, where later
monsoons arrive late in the year, harvesting usually ends in
January to February. Then the farm family turns its energies to
activities neglected during the rice harvest. Buildings, tools,
and fences are repaired and secondary crops are either planted
hot dry season after the rice harvest is marked by the important
Songkran festival, which celebrates the traditional Thai New
Year. At this time people from rural areas who are working in
the city usually return home to celebrate. Songkran is obser ved
with special elan in the north where, because it occurs during a
time of relative leisure, it becomes a three to five day
festival of entertaining and socializing.
thorough house cleaning, sprinkling of Buddha images with
lustral water, memorial ceremonies, merit-making presentation of
gifts to monks, elders, and spirits, the release of caged birds
and fish, pilgrimages to holy shrines, parades, dancing, and
unin hibited, good-natured water throwing are all features of
the Songkran celebration.
this time, showers signal the dry season's approaching end, and
villagers once more prepare for rice planting as one annual
cycle ends and another begins.
taken from Sawasdee Magazine.
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