USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘thai folklore’
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.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Tales /märchen

Nang Nak

Nang Nak (Nang meaning Mrs. in Thai) was married to her husband when he was sent off and had to go away to war. she was pregnant and she died they say when the woman died with baby inside the spirit is very strong and she loved her husband very much. She died and no one told her husband that she had died and when her husband came home she was there to welcome him, but it was actually her spirit. The Asian houses are very tall, and one day she was making curry and pounding the chicken and she dropped the tool all the way down. The husband offered to get the pounder but instead she extended her arm unnaturally and got it. The husband ran away and she cried and cried but at the end he ran away. Everytime you say it in Thailand people will know what you’re talking about. People make it into a movie and people like to go see the movies.

 

Background: This is a fairly well-know story in Thailand, according to my great-aunt. There have been several movies made about it. She said she used to get really scared as a child because people would circulate this story. She knows it just from hearing it from many different people as a young child. I conducted this interview live at my uncle’s house, so I heard these stories in person, but it was still sometimes fairly hard to understand because my aunt has a very thick Thai accent which is sometimes hard for me to hear, so I have to ask her to repeat certain things. I think this story is a great piece of folklore, especially as it is well known in Thailand and there are a few different versions of the story – regarding what she is cooking specifically and what she drops and picks up with her extended arm, and what happens after the husband runs away. I really enjoyed this piece even though it was kind of freaky.

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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