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«Field notes in this document were primarily written in Mahasarakham Province (Changwat Maha Sarakham), Thailand, although the last few pages were ...»

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Charles F. Keyes Field Notes, Thailand

March 1 through April 25, 1964.

Field notes in this document were primarily written in Mahasarakham Province (Changwat Maha

Sarakham), Thailand, although the last few pages were written in Bangkok. This document is

preceded by field notes written in Mahasarakham in Febuary 1964. This document is the last of

the field notes organized chronologically for fieldwork conducted from 1962 – 1964 in Thailand.

Mahasarakham In Mahasarakham. March 1, 1964 Mahasarakham March 2, 1964 Traditional Marketing Patterns in Mahasarakham Today I had a discussion with Mr. Cheunchai and Khrū Bunloet concerning the traditional marketing practices in Mahasarakham. The discussion was rather informal and Mr.

Cheunchai did most of the talking.

Traditionally, Mr. Cheunchai said that there were very few items which were sent from MK to Khorat or Bangkok in exchange for goods to be resold here. The goods which were brought back here by Chinese merchants were such things as clothes, books, and other items which could not be produced locally. These goods were purchased almost exclusively by the local elite for the villagers were nearly if not completely self-sufficient. Obviously, in order for people to buy anything they must either have things to trade or else they must have money. Mr.

Cheunchai said that after the fifth reign, cao müang (เจ้าเมือง) officials were salaried from Bangkok [note - very important point!] Before that, certain items (which were also used to make up tributes - see below) were used as trading items.

Merchants and tribute carriers at least as long as 100 years ago moved only towards Bangkok and not toward Vientiane or any other center. The routes for their trade and tribute payments were originally through Phayakaphum onto Khorat (skirting the "Plain where the Burmese Cried"). Afterwards, the railway was carried to Surin and the route changed to through Roi-et, Thātūm and Surin. Other changes occurred as the railway came on up to Khon Kaen.

Before the railway was laid, goods were carried from Khorat down through the passes by oxcart to Bangkok in the same way as they had been carried to Khorat. Though traders and tribute 1 carriers from MK have during the past 100 years moved with sing1e-mindedness along routes which eventually connect with Bangkok, there were traders who came from other places to trade in MK. These traders were walkers who carried goods in the traditional hāp (หาบ) style. Khorat traders would bring dyes and Burmese would bring "diamonds”. These things and others were traded usually for silk thread.

Bunloet identified the traditional tribute of MK, which Bunchuai has called phonreo (ผล เร่ ว) as not applying to a type of fruit at all, but being a Lao word phonreo, a categorical term for wealth or items of wealth in general. Thus, the tribute of MK consisted of those items of wealth which could be obtained locally and which had currency within the ‘nation.' Mr. Cheunchai later said that this was not correct, but after discussing it with many people, had learned that phonreo is, as Bunchuai had stated, a fruit known in Lao as maknāēng (มักแนง) whose dried seeds are used for a medicine and was sought after in Bangkok. [Note: I have later discovered that Mr.

Cheunchai was correct and phonreo is a name for ‘wild cardamom’. CFK 20/9/64].

The following is a list of things which may have been used traditionally at least as trade and perhaps as tribute from the MK area: silk (especially silk thread); elephant tusks (used to be many elephants in the area); lac (Thai khrang; L khang, ครั้ง); silver ore; copper ore; peacock feathers; deer antlers; dried venison. Other things which I asked about, but which according to my informants were traditionally neither items of trade nor tribute included kapok (it existed but was not used), tamarind (also existed but not used), leather, and rice.

–  –  –

sugar or with water in which a root known in Lao as tot mā (ตดหมา) have been soaked. (These stalks have the property of sweetening, in the same way that beet sugar does).

"Once pounded into a sticky paste, the paste is placed in a container and taken away to be made into patties. To prevent the mixture from sticking, banana leaves are coated in grease first (in this case fish grease into which the yolk of a hard-boiled egg had been blended). After similarly greasing one's hands thoroughly, lumps of the rice paste were pulled out of the container, patted into balls in the hand and then pressed down on the greased banana leaf. The rice patty is then pressed outward continually until it forms a flat round. These are then placed on a straw mat to dry, and then the process repeated until all the rice mixture is used up." These patties are then kept until time to be used. Then they are toasted over the fire and while being toasted they expand and the rice puffs out. They are toasted until browned and crisp and then are eaten. Most, however, are put aside and stored until the morning of the bun when they are taken and presented to the wat."

The priest is in charge of the ceremony and it is he who arranges for invitations to other wats for their priests to participate. I visited him at the kuthi this afternoon and he showed me a list of different sections of the phra wēt story, and the names of the wat or the priest who read/ chant that section. The list was broken down into the following categories: (1) Number (consecutive); (2) name of part of Bun Phra Wet story; (3) section of each part by number (6 sections to a part); (4) name of wat, priest, or novice in charge of the section; (5) finally, a column for those who will "sponsor" or "receive the sermon" of the specific section.

The way of selecting a sponsor or recipient of the sermon was as follows: on slips of paper had been written the name of the part of the sermon, the number of the section, the name of the wat who will send the priest or novice to read the section (in about half the cases, the person in question would be a priest or novice from BNT and in those cases, the name of Phra Mahā Seng, Phra Thôngsai, or Nēn Mai was written instead of the name of the wat). These pieces of paper were then rolled up into small cylinders and placed in a bāt. When a person came to volunteer to sponsor a section, he would draw one of these from the bāt, and then his name would be written in the appropriate column. As of today, the following people had already 3 agreed to sponsoring a sections Phô Hô, Phô Sīhā, Phô Bunsī, Phū Chuai Chasi, Lung Lāē, Nāi Hōm/ Nāi Lāē (KY), Lung Sao, Nāi Nan (the barber). There are a total of 78 sections to be sponsored and all will be allotted before the time arrives. This means that about 75-80 percent of the households in the village will participate in this part of the bun. The priest showed me the bailān that will be used for the ceremony. It is interesting that the version which is being used, entitled lam mahā chāt (ลามหาฮาติ) is the Northern rather than the NE’ern version though both would be published in Bangkok. He also showed me some traditional bailān (in Khōm script) which he said were also the Bun Phra Wēt sermons. I asked him if anyone in the village can still write this script and he said that Phô Sīhā can and does.

Books and Literature In the wat there are several types of books: (1) printed books in Thai script in Thai/Isan concerning religious practices, chants, and sermons; (2) printed bailān in Thai script in Thai/Isan (priests style) which are usually sermons; (3) written bailān in Khōm script, in Lao/Isan which are either sermons, or (the older ones), nithān.

The following is the book which the priest used for sermons connected with bunbān and ways of doing things: เทศนาอนิ สงส์สมัยใหม่ (เล่ม ๔๔ อน่ ส่ง)โดยพระอาจานย์ ทองดีอินโท (ตรวจแก้โดย มหา เถือน อุชุกโร) (พระนคร ร.พ. วัฒนาพานิชา). The book contains the sermon, for ex., for bunkhāocī.

Ranks, Statuses, Titles

I was noticing on Bun Phra Wēt list that the priest had written and used several titles:

phônjai (L) /phôyai (T) (พ่อใหญ่) ("grandfather") for Mr. Hô; phôcan (L) (พ่อจันทร์) for Mr. Sīhā;

lung (L, T) (ลุง) (“uncle”) for Mr. Lāē; Nāi (L/T) (นาย) ("mister") for Mr. Hōm and Mr. Lāē

–  –  –

Nôi’s Wedding I asked Nôi when his wedding was going to be and he replied that he didn't think that there was going to be one. It seems that the father of the bride feels that he can't afford the food, drink, etc., incumbent on him at a wedding and so he requested that Nôi just move in on an auspicious day and dispense with formalities (other than the presentation of the sommā). Since Nôi also comes from a poor family, he will probably agree to this.

Mr. Ngao says that Nôi’s mother is not too pleased with the new wedding as she was quite partial to the first wife by whom Nôi had one child.

–  –  –

Bān Mī thēt (บ้านหมี่เทศ) What this meant is that we would "receive the sermon" of Section 2 of the part of the wētsandon chādok known as kummānratan which would be given by a priest/novice from Bān Mī. The implications of the sponsoring of a section of the sermon were that we would provide a tray full of gifts for the priest/novice reading that section. This tray would be a kanthēt. Mr. Ngao says that in former days when priests came from a long way away, the "sponsor" of the section which the priest was to give must meet the priest as he enters the village, provide him with blankets, mattresses, water, cigs., etc. In addition they must make, as the practice still is, a present of the kanthēt when the priest had finished his section of the service. For priests who came from long distances, vestiges of this hospitable treatment still exist. Also, in the morning, a delegation composed of Fa Hô, the headman, and his brother, Hōm, went around the village gathering donations from each household in the village. Donations ranged from ฿5-25 (insofar as I could see) and we gave ฿15 whereas Mr. Ngao gave ฿10 for his own household and ฿10 for Mother Hōm's. The money collected in this way would be used first to pay the expenses of the bun – the rental of loudspeaker equipment, the môlam fee, etc., and secondly for the Burmese gong. All donations were merit-making devices for the donors.

During the day families were engaged in making (and eating) khāo phūn and khāo tom.

This was also a time when relatives from other villages came to help in making the festival foods and to participate in the fun and food. Usually, such relatives were young bāo-sāo who saw the 6 festival as a time for meeting members of the opposite sex. For example, Mr. Ngao's younger unmarried sister from B. Nông Khā came. The units making the foods were extended, usually matrilineal kin related groups. For example one such unit was composed of the family of Mo.

Hōm, Mr. Ngao (son-in-law) and Nuan, but also with Mr. Ngao's sister and Jane thrown in for good measure.

In the wat the priests and other people, esp. the men most closely associated with wat activities, were busy decorating the wat. For several nights previous, young sāo and some bāo had gone to the wat to make wooden flowers, colored shiny decorations known as "spider webs" because that is what they resemble. These occasions of decoration making had been especially sanuk time for the young girls. The following is a list of the main important and significant

decorations for the ceremony:

thung wētsandon (ธุงเวศสันดร):‘Vessantara Flags’: these are pieces of specially woven 1.

material which are about 20’ in length and which are strung from long bamboo poles.

Nine of these poles are placed around the sālā. At about 3 1/2' up from the ground on each pole is constructed a small bamboo basket which will be used for holding food offerings for the phī.

hô-utpakhut (หออุดพะกุด): a special shrine dedicated to the saint/ god utpakhut. Mr.


Wichian says that this god/saint will protect the ceremony against all evil and bad things such as, for example two people falling into a fight with one another during the processions around the wat.’1 The shrine is made of bamboo and is on stilts. It is placed at the southeast corner of the sālā. This is the same position as it occupied last year for 1 In the original version of my field notes, I had written (4/9/64) that in trying to trace down the meaning of this word, I have discovered that khūt is the Lao for the Thai word khrut (ครุ ฑ), "Garuda". The word pha is obviously the Thai word phra (พระ) and goes with khrut to indicate the divinity of the being. ut here is obviously a misspelling for up which possibly is a prefix "conveying the meaning of above, over upwards, beyond, further" (McFarland, p. 1007). In any case, the meaning of this set of words is "a shrine dedicated to the Garuda". This turned out to be totally spurious. The term actually refers to Upagupta, a disciple of the Buddha. “Upakhut is an important figure in local belief in many areas of Burma, northern Thailand and Laos. The stories of his origins are numerous. (For those interested, The Legend and Cult of Upagupta by John Strong has a wealth of detail.)” [Andrew Walker, “Uphakhut – Saint and Spirit,” http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2007/04/25/upakhut-saint-and-spirit/.

–  –  –

container called in Lao khiang hôi khiang phan (เครื่ องร้อยเครื่ องพัน ), lit. "100 items, 1000 items". According to some people this is supposed to contain 100 pieces of betel, 100 cigs, 100 pieces of food, etc. totaling 1000 pieces. Why, no one could give me a good reason.

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