USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘thai’
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Scholar and the Boatsman

Context:

The following informant is a 60-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as S

Item:

S: This story is uh, this story is about a student and a person who is a boats man for hire. Like a boat driver but they use an oar. The boat driver and the student. In Thailand there are rivers, big rivers that you need to pay to get across. You pay them money and they will ferry you across the river. From one shore to the next shore, because the river is very wide. When they row the boat on the river there is a very strong current, and the person who rows the boat, the boat driver, has to be very careful. So, the student is sitting on the boat reading and studying, he’s studying on the boat. And, the student asks the boat driver if he’s ever read any history books.

“You ever read the history book at all?”

The boat driver responds, never.

The student responses, “So you missed a lot of opportunities because the history books have a lot of history about rituals and war, to let us know how people in the past lived their lives, how they dressed.”

So the student asks, “Why you never read history book?”

And the boat driver responds, “I never… uh I never went to school.”

So the student goes on as he listens to the sound the water being paddled, “Have you ever about geography before?”

The boat man replies, “No never.”

The student explains “Geography is a subject that lets us know about the world and different countries from mountains, rivers, and so on. Geography is a very interesting subject. You’ve never heard about this subject?”

The boat driver goes “Never.”

The student shakes his head and says. “If you don’t know about this stuff, your life, it means nothing.”

So he goes, “How about science? You ever read a science book?” The boat man replies, “No, Never.”

The student says, “What happen to you? Science book help explain the why things happen in our everyday life. Everything has to do with science. Scientist are the most important people in the world. If you don’t know about science your life is very low valuable.”

At this point there are clouds come over the sky, big clouds come over the sky, because it is about to rain. The wind is also getting rougher. There is a thunderstorm in the distance which shows a storm is coming. And the boat still has a long way to go, it is not even across half the river. Now the boat man looks at the sky and is surprised. He says “You, look, look at the clouds the storm is going to coming very soon. And you, do you know how to swim?”

The student is completely surprised and says, “Swimming? I don’t know how to swim.”

The boat man then looks at the student with a bemused face and says “Why, you don’t know how to swim? You have so much knowledge. You know about history, geography, and science. Why didn’t you also learn how to swim? Soon you know that you life means nothing.”

C: Damn.

S: So. the winds are getting rougher and the waves are getting higher. The boat is only a small boat so it is blow left and right by the wind. And, so the boat capsizes. The boat capsizes, and only the boat man manages to swim ashore. And the student, the one who was pitying the boat man got drowned in the water.

C: And what is the importance or meaning of this story?

S: The meaning is … if you have only knowledge you won’t make it. Meaning even if you know everything you need to know how to survive. You see?

Analysis: I think the analysis that the informant comes up with sums up the main message of the story. What I find very interesting is that the boat man never bothers to try and save the scholar and instead lets him drown. Either the currents were too strong or maybe he found the scholar that annoying.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Chick Constellation

Context:

The following informant is a 61-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid in the Issan region of Thailand. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as U

U: If you look up at your sky there are seven stars together, I don’t know what they are called in English. They’re very small and there are seven of them they are easy to see in the sky. This is a history of where these stars come from. In the past there was, there was a small cottage with an old man and an old lady living together. The grandmother would cook and the grandfather would bring rice to the military and also to a mother hen and her six chicks. Every day the mother hen takes her six chicks to the forest to walk around and find stuff to eat. Once it is in the evening they return back to the cottage with the old couple. Now the grandmother and the grandfather are eating together and there is a rumor that there will be a monk coming to the village they are living in. So, they decide they should kill the mother hen and so they can provide an offering to the monk. They’re doing this because they want to receive good karma. The mother hen is sleeping with her six chicks and hears this, and when she hears this she says, “Oh my children it is time for your mother to die. It is time to repay my debt to the grandfather and the grandmother who raised me by giving me rice from when I was a chick to now.”

Once the six chicks hear this they all start crying and stay with their mother hen crying. The mother hen then says, “You six children need to take care of each other. The younger siblings should listen to their older siblings. Even after I’m dead don’t play too far away from the cottage in case you can get lost.”

The mother hen and the chicks hug each other all night crying. When the morning comes there is a strange feeling, so the mother hen doesn’t walk her chicks to the forest from the cottage like usual. Instead she stay with her chicks all day waiting to die at the cottage. Right before the mother hen is going to die to pay back her debt to the old couple she feels like she doesn’t want to leave her children and stays at the cottage hugging her children. Sometimes she thinks about escaping with her chicks but is worried it will be difficult for them to live outside the cottage. So, she accepts her death so her children can get raised by the old couple. The old couple come out of the cottage at this point and easily grab the mother hen. Normally when you capture a chicken, they don’t want to be caught. You have to help each other by running after the chicken like you’ve seen in movies. You understand?

C: Right.

U: But in this case, in this case, the mother hen let the grandfather grab her because she was willing to die to repay her debt for being raised. Tear are flowing uncontrollably from the chicks and the mother hen. They won’t stop and the chicks all run after their mother but there is no way to stop the grandfather from killing her. The mother hen then starts getting her feathers plucked out by the grandmother. She’s plucking the feathers off around her neck and the mother hen is screaming from the pain of having her feathers plucked. They have to pluck the chicken before they can kill it. You understand?

C: I thought they killed the chicken first then plucked it?

U: No, they don’t kill the chicken first, they have to pluck it before killing it. This is how they do it in Thailand. Once half of the chicken’s neck has been plucked the old man grabs a knife to cut to the throat of the mother hen. The mother hen squeezes her eyes shut and the chicks are bawling. Once the knife cut her throat blood runs out slowly and the grandmother bring a bowl to collect the blood. Once all the blood flows out of the hen’s body all the strength has left her body. Even though she is in pain everywhere she doesn’t have any strength left. She shudders twice and dies. And the chicks have been watching the whole time and they start crying and saying “Our mother is dead. How are we going to be able to live? Now that our mother is dead were going to be mourning her and calling for her.”

At this point the water is boiling so they can blanch the chicken, they blanch the chicken first before removing the rest of the feathers. The mother can no longer show the pain of getting plucked and her children want to die for their mother after seeing all the pain she’s been in and seeing her killed like this. So, the chicks start saying, “We’re going to die for you mother. No matter where you go we will follow you. No matter what you are reborn as we will be reborn as your children. So, we can be mother and child forever.”

At this point the grandmother has removed all the feathers and is going to bring the chicken to the grill to burn off down. This is a technique to remove the down to clean up the chicken before cooking. In the fire they have for the grill the mother hen the six chicks come to a decision to jump into the flames to die with their mother. Because of the determination of the mother and her chicks, the mother and her six chicks became the Chick Constellation. There is the mother and her six chicks in the sky.

Analysis: I did some research the the stars that this legend refers to is the Pleiades. It is a vert gruesome tale, but also I think it emphasizes how repaying ones debts is very important in Thai culture.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Small Sticky Rice Pot

Context:

The following informant is a 61-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid in the Issan region of Thailand. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as U

U: This is story from around where I am from in the Issan region of Thailand. This is the story, uh, the story of the small sticky rice pot. There this one family with no father, the father died and they only have a mother. When it is time for them to go to the field, because they are farmers, the son goes to work and he goes to plow the field. He gets very tired because the Issan region is very hot. It is hot all day, and he get exhausted and are very hungry. Normally the mother, the mother even though she is very old, will come and bring food for her son every day. She will bring a lunch box for him every day. But today she comes later than usual because she’s also tired. The son is throwing a fit and complains, “It is so hot, I’m so thirsty, and so hungry.”

He’s frustrated because the Issan region is so hot. The mother, when she approaches the field he only sees a small sticky rice pot hanging from her stick. And he’s unhappy. She’s carrying the rice on a stick and put the stick on her shoulders. And he sees how small the rice pot is and he’s not happy. Because the pot is so small and he is extremely hungry, hungry to the point of being angry and frustrated. He’s in such a bad mood from this and starts thinking “The rice in that pot definitely won’t make me full.” And he says to his mother, “Old lady, what have you been doing to bring my food to me so late, and the food that you brought is just this small rice pot. How do you think I’ll be full?”

The mother responds, “Even though the rice pot is small. I pushed the rice down into it until it was tight. It tight all the way to the lid. Try eating it first.”

But because the son was angry, and hungry, and angry no matter what his mother said he was still frustrated. So, he took the stick and hit his mother so she would fall and he took the rice pot to eat. The son didn’t like what his mother had to say. He eats the rice until he is full but there is still more rice in the pot and he thinks, “I was in wrong because I was angry, I hit my old mother so she would fall.”

So he ran over to check on his mother and held her crying but she had already died.

C: What he hit her until she died?

U: Yes. Now the son is crying thinking, “I killed my mother when I was angry and not thinking.”

He’s frustrated and doesn’t know what to do so he goes to the temple and explains to a monk what he did. The monk tells him, “Killing your mother or your father is an extremely heavy sin. Once you die you will never be reborn as a human again. If you want to lighten your sin you need to build a stupa.”

You know what a stupa is right? They’re the big towers in temples. So, he needs to build this stupa and place his mother’s bones in the stupa. He needs to build the stupa as high as doves can fly. Now the son begins building the stupa by shaping clay and wood, until it is tall and huge and he names it Stupa Small Sticky Rice Pot that Made Him Kill His Mother (เจดีย์ กล่อง ข้าว น้อย ฆ่า แม่, Cedīy̒ kl̀xng k̄ĥāw n̂xy ḳh̀ā mæ̀, Stupa Box Rice Small Killed Mother). And in the stupa, he has depictions of what happened. The end.

C: So, once he built the stupa he was okay?

U: He built it so everyone would know what he did. That he killed his mother over a small sticky rice pot. In a fit of rage and hunger.

Context: This tale is very interesting because it brings up the idea of reincarnation is which part of Buddhism and is Thailand’s main religion. Also it reinforces the values of respecting ones parents.

Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Prince Toad and Fireworks

Context:

The following informant is a 61-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid in the Issan region of Thailand.The informant is performing the piece from memory to me, her son. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as U

“Prince Toad and Fireworks”

U: This story is also from where I’m from in Issan. Do you know what toads are? They’re kind of like frogs that have bumps on them. In this one country in Issan there is, uh, a queen in the country who gave birth to a prince who’s skin was yellow like turmeric. And had skins just like a toad. Because of this everyone called him Prince Toad. Once the prince grew up he wanted to have a beautiful wife. So he asked for a blessing from an Indra. A similarity would be Jesus with the Greeks or something. What do they have in Greek myth?

C: Zeus.

U: So he prays to the Indra who is like the Zeus of Thailand. And Indra creates a castle and a beautiful wife. The Indra also removes Price Toad’s skin turning him into a handsome young man.

C: Why? Why did the Indra do this?

U: The Indra did it because he prayed.

C: And the Indra just gave it to him?

U: Its because Prince Toad prays, “Because of all the good karma and goodwill that I’ve accumulated over my life and my many lives before this, please Indra help me have a beautiful wife.”

And the Indra granted his wishes by giving him a castle and beautiful wife. The King hears this and is happy with the Prince and lets him become the new king. The new king has a good sense of how to rule and takes care of his kingdom very well until small countries come asking to become colonies of the new king’s country. Beside Indra there are also Mara. Which are another god, bad boy gods that live in the earth. The Mara sees that the Prince Toad is so great and people just give offerings to him and there are no offerings for the Maya. Now the Maya is angry and orders a water dragon, which is like a big snake, which is the god of water and responsible for rain. The Maya orders the water dragon to not send rain to Price Toad’s country. This makes it so there is no rain. Now the people in his country get worried because there is no rain and go talk to Prince Toad who is now the king. Prince Toad sets up an army made up of animals, it has ants, bees, termites, and scorpions, all the animals and takes his army to fight the Mara. He orders his ants to take the Mara’s weapons before the fight and the termites to chew though all of the Mara’s wooden weapons. So when they go fight the Mara has no weapons. When the Mara tries to use special spells instead to fight them it gets drowned out by the frogs, the cicadas, the chickens, and the snake. Making it impossible for the Mara to chant a spell.

The Mara tries to fight by making snakes manifest to kill the frogs and the other small animals. Prince Toad then transforms the rainbows in eagles and orders them to catch and eat the snakes that the Mara is making. And the bees and the scorpions bite the Mara until he gives. The Prince negotiates with the Mara to make sure that it rains every year and that the Mara cannot order the water dragon to not make it rain. And any year if the Mara pretends that he forgot the Prince Toad will tell the people in the village to shoot fireworks into the sky to remind the Mara to not forget to make it rain. That is why every year they light fireworks in Issan to make sure that it will rain.

Analysis: I find it interesting how the themes of karma and reincarnation also play a role in the story. I also think it is interesting how the informant compares Greek mythology and Thai mythology.

Annotation: Another version of the story can be found here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_Festival#The_Myth_of_the_Toad_King

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tumeric and the Hidden Village

Context:

The following informant is a 60-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as S

S: This story, its kind of similar to the Amazonians. In Thailand near Chiang Mai, where I am from, there a place called Muang Laap Lae, which means it is invisible. Like if you look at it you wouldn’t be able to see there is a country there. It is a country that is so hard to get to and the path is so difficult to get there to that if you don’t know how to get there you can’t. this is why people call is Muang Laap Lae (Hidden Country) or Muang Mong Mae Hen (Invisible Country). Only people who are very good persons are able to see the hidden country. Mong Mae Hen means invisible.

There is a one good young man who enters into the forests and sees a bunch of beautiful women in the forest. At the end of the forest the girls hide large leafs. The man takes one of the leafs and wait there. Later the women return and start looking the leaves that they hid. Once they get their leaves they immediate disappear back into, into the forest. But one of them cannot find their leaf because the young man took the leaf. This one woman is very frustrated and annoyed and the young man gives the leaf back in exchange for, uh, in exchange for being able to follow the woman because he wants to see the invisible village people have been talking about. The woman agrees and takes the man to the hidden village. Once he gets to the village he realizes that the village only has women. The beautiful woman who took him to the village tells the young man, “The people who live in this village, are people who have a lot of merit and they never lie. If anyone does anything bad or lies they have to leave the village. And a lot of men tend to lie so that’s why all the men had to leave the village.”

Do you understand?

C: Yes, I understand.

S: So the young man is smitten with the woman who brought him to the village and asks if he can stay there and marry her. The mother of the woman agrees to the marriage on the condition that the man has to have merit and doesn’t lie. They get married and live together until they have one child together. And one day when the wife isn’t home and the man is taking care of the kid. The kid is crying asking for his mother non-stop. So the man playfully lies to his child “Your mom is here! Your mom is here!”

Now the mother-in-law hears this and is angry that her son-in-law is a liar. When the wife gets back she’s very, uh, disappointed that the husband did not keep his word and tells him he has to leave the village.

The pack the man a bag with stuff, his own stuff, stuff he needs to live, and also gave him a lot of heads of turmeric. A lot of turmeric because the husband cannot stay in the village. The wife takes him to the edge of the forest and points to the path to leave the village and the wife returns to the hidden village. The man has to follow the path that his wife pointed to. As he is walking the more he walks, the bag they gave him gets heavier and heavier. And the path is so long. So he eats the food and the drinks the water that they gave him. But all he can find in his bag is the turmeric. The turmeric that his wife gave him. So he starts throwing away the turmeric because it is heavy. When he finally gets back to his village his family and friends ask him where he’s been gone for so long. The man tells the story of the hidden village and also how his wife gave him a lot of turmeric that he threw away because it was heavy. There was once piece of turmeric left and he took it out to show them, and it turned out the turmeric was a bar of gold. It was a bar of gold. The man is surprised and feels regret for having thrown away all the turmeric he was carrying. Because he threw it all away, all the turmeric they gave him. And when he went back to look for the turmeric he threw away, he found it had grown into turmeric plants. And when he dug it up its just normal turmeric not the bars of gold they gave him. When he tries to find the hidden village again he cannot and just gets continuously lost in the forest. So he returns home back to his old village.

Analysis: I think there are two messages in this tale. One is to not lie, something which is important in Buddhism, and also to not take things for granted. The man in the story does both, but it seems like kicking him out for telling his kid a white lie is a little extreme.

Legends
Narrative

Mouse and Cat Island and Dog Mountain

Context:

The following informant is a 60-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as S

Item:

S: When you go traveling in the south of Thailand, where there is a lot a sea. Like Pattaya, Hua Hin, and whatever there are islands named Mouse and Cat, and so forth.

C: Right.

S: Okay, I will tell you how those places got their name. So there’s this merchant, a Chinese merchant. Who is carrying merchandise. A Chinese merchant with merchandise from China brings his merchandise on a boat to Thailand. After selling all his merchandise, before he leave the merchant sees a beautiful cat and dog and brings them with him on his boat. Now once the cat and dog are on the boat it is very boring for them and they want to go back to Thailand. They want to go back to the sea and their house that is next to the sea. They want to go home and go back to being home. So they start trying to figure out how they can make their way back home.

So, the dog, the dog says to the cat that the merchant has, uh, a special glass. This mean a special crystal that whoever holds the crystal will not drown. They will be unable to drown, do you understand?

C: Yes, I understand.

S: Now the cat starts thinking about how it can get the crystal so it starts talking to a mouse and, uh, orders the mouse to steal the crystal in exchange for being able to join them on their journey back to Thailand. So the cat, the dog, and the mouse. When the boat starts going back to Thailand again the mouse sneaks in and steals the crystal, the special crystal, the magic crystal, and holds the crystal in the mouth. So the three of them, the mouse, the cat, and a dog, escape from the ship near Thailand.

When they’re swimming the mouse is swimming in front and starts thinking that the crystal, the one that it is holding in its mouth, is worth a lot and the cat and dog will probably try to take the crystal from the mouse. So the mouse starts thinking it should escape the cat and dog and then crystal will be the mouse’s forever. The cat is also thinking that it should take the crystal for itself so it swims up towards the mouse. When the mouse sees the cat it freaks out and swims away and when it does it the special crystal falls out of its mouth and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Now when it’s at the bottom of the ocean, the uh, the mouse and the cat can’t swim anymore and the cat and the mouse drown. This is why the there is a Mouse Island and Cat Island in Songkhla Bay. The dog is able to keep swimming but since the land is so far away, once it gets to land it dies immediately. This is why there is a Dog Mountain in the Songkhla Bay. And the special crystal broke up in the ocean becoming glassy sand that is white beautiful sand that looks almost like glass.

Analysis: It is very interesting to hear a story about how these islands and locations go their name and also an explanation for why the sand in the south of Thailand is so fine and white.

Annotation:
A different version of the story can be found here. It is printed on a plaque of a statue depicting the mouse and cat in the story. Interesting the mountain is not called Dog Mountain in this version but Tangkaun Hill.

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMBWWY_The_Sculpture_of_the_Mouse_and_the_CatHat_Yai_Thailand

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Hungry Fox and the Sacred Tree

Context:

The following informant is a 60-year-old Thai immigrant who heard the following story growing up as a kid. This interview was carried out in a mix of Thai and English. In this I will be denoted as C and the informant will be denoted as S

Item:

S: This story is, this story is … uh the fox … uh (in English: the fox) and the sacred tree.

C: I see.

S: There is this fox, it is skinny, hungry, it hasn’t eaten, it is very skinny. So it went and it prayed, in other words it went to ask the sacred tree. The fox asked, it asked to become an ox. An ox that people would take care of and become big and healthy. Strong, and had things to eat all the time. Do you understand?

C: Yes, I understand.

S: And now the fox, whose body was very skinny, became an ox. It became an ox and the people around there started to take care of it. Once they took care of it until it was large and healthy they took it to chai naa.

C: What is chai naa.

S: chai naa (in English) means to work in the field.

C: I understand.

S: After having to work in the field the fox goes back to the sacred tree and says “I can’t take this. Once becoming an ox, they took me and used me in the fields. Can I become a horse or something? At least I’d have someone taking care of me.”
But once it became a horse, the king, uh, the king that lived in that country saw how beautiful this horse was and ordered his soldiers to capture it and make the horse his personal horse. Do you understand?

C: What do you mean personal horse?

S: He used the horse to ride around for fun.

C: Oh, to ride around for fun.

S: He also used the horse to ride for work, for religious events, stuff like that. The King’s working horse. After becoming a working horse, the fox felt bored and realized being a king was betterthan being a horse. You understand?

C: Right.

S: The fox felt the kings used horses and were better than them. So, the fox went to the sacred tree and asked to if it could be a king instead. Now once the fox was a king, it wanted to travel on a boat. It wanted to, uh, wanted to travel on the ocean. So, it ordered its soldiers to go cut down trees to, uh, make a very large boat. And the soldiers ended up trying to cut down the sacred tree too.

C: Uh oh.

S: So now the sacred tree was very angry, that it, that it had helped the king, had helped the king since way before when it was a fox, and fox’s soldiers were trying to cut it down. So, it ordered the soldiers to tell it’s king to come cut the sacred tree itself. Once the king came to the tree, the sacred tree blamed the king that “You don’t know, you don’t appreciate, you don’t, you’re a bad person who got whatever they wanted and it wasn’t enough.”

From being a fox to becoming an ox, from becoming an ox to becoming a horse, from becoming a horse to becoming a king, becoming a king and even trying to cut down the sacred tree that helped it. So the sacred tree cursed the king and turned him back into a hungry fox.

C: Uh oh.

S: The end.

C: Okay.

Analysis: This tale is serves as an example of how someone should conduct themselves and to appreciate the things that people, in this case a sacred tree, would give them. There seems to be a greater message to this tale than just the story itself.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Protection

Thai Spirit Houses

Not sure if it is a Buddhist thing or just a general thing, but a lot of Thai people have little miniature houses on a pole or a stick called spirit houses. The Thai belief is that every house or every dwelling has a spirit who inhibits the house, so the Thai people build a house which they keep outside in which the spirits may reside. It is where spirits live, usually right on the property in front of the house, and they give it food and water and take care of it so that the spirit of their house may be kept happy. This is also so that the spirit of their house may protect them from outside threats.

This tradition may also be found in an article by Michael Pearce, who writes about it in The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief in Volume 7, Issue 3, 2011.

Michael Pearce (2011) Accommodating the discarnate: thai spirit houses and the phenomenology of place, Material Religion, 7:3, 344-372, DOI: 10.2752/175183411X13172844495939

http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175183411X13172844495939

Background: I had first heard about the spirit houses from my mom, who did not know too much about them. But then she reached out to her aunt (my great aunt) and told me a little bit more about the tradition of keeping spirit houses, which can be seen all over in Thailand. This interview was conducted live; this story was given to me in person. I thought this was a really interesting combination of folk beliefs and folk objects — mainly a folk belief carried out through the implementation of a folk object. I really enjoyed hearing about this and how it really is believed in Thai culture and that is why so many people have spirit houses outside their own houses, apparently usually out front. This is also something my mom remembers really well from her childhood in Bangkok because she said that she would see them everywhere — in front of every house.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Arab Belief: Soles of Shoes

“For a lot of Middle Eastern people, you can’t- you can’t put them so that the soles are facing up because the bottom of your foot is the lowest part of your body, the most dirty, the um..and if you put your shoe facing up, it’s like an insult to God.”

The informant is a Middle East Studies major at the University of Southern California. She says she learned this folk belief within the last year while studying various beliefs of people in the Middle East. This was a response to the belief in Thai culture that the feet are considered dirty and the head contains knowledge. This Middle Eastern belief as the soles being dirty and as an insult to God is an oicotype of the Thai belief, but adapted to its own culture. While the Thai belief believes that it is rude to other human beings in general to point one’s feet at, pointing soles of shoes towards the sky does not offend other humans in the Middle East, but God. It is a regional variant on the folklore that reveals the nature of each culture.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Thai Culture: Head and Feet

Transcribed Text:

“In Thai culture, the head is the most important part of your body, and the feet are considered dirty, cuz that’s on the ground all the time. So it’s very disrespectful if you point your feet at somebody’s head, or if you point your feet at somebody in general. And also, if you step over books, or like, put your feet on books, or put books on the ground, because books are considered knowledge from your head.”

This is a Thai folk belief about knowledge and dirt. The informant says that she learned this belief from her mom when she was a child. She says that she remembers pointing her feet towards the prayer room at Buddha in her house and she remembers her mom reprimanding her for doing so and explaining why it was wrong to do so. It makes sense that the feet are associated with dirt and the head is associated with knowledge, so this is a folk belief that is tied a lot with logic. Furthermore, books are also associated with the brain in Thai culture, because books contain the knowledge that people have in their heads. Therefore, stepping on books, or even stepping over books is considered offensive, as it is considered to be stepping on somebody’s knowledge. This also branches out to temples and houses as well. A person is not allowed to enter a temple or a house with shoes that one would wear in the outside world, because they are entering an area of holiness and family.

This folk belief is also an oicotype of the folk belief in India. In India, people are not allowed to wear their shoes into a temple or a home. Often times, it is even encouraged for people to wash their feet before they enter, to cleanse the dirt that they may have. Both Thai and Indian culture have such a similar folk belief because there was a lot of interaction between the two cultures over the past hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is extremely plausible that many pieces of folklore exchanged between the two countries and developed along in similar fashions.

 

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