Proverb- Thailand


“Hen Chang Kee Yaa Kee Tam Chang”

“See an elephant shit. Don’t shit follow an elephant.”

“Just because you see an elephant shit doesn’t mean you have to shit as well.”

The informant states that he learned this proverb from his grandmother while very young, maybe 6 years old, at home. He would use it “to teach little kids that you don’t have to follow your friends” and to teach in general that someone should think that “something is good or bad on their own,” without worrying about “whether somebody else is doing it.” This proverb, according to the informant, is usually “meant for bad action,” and means that “before you follow somebody you should think whether what they are doing is good or bad.” The proverb is a “good” one because it allows someone, especially a kid, to “visualize or understand the abstract thought easier.”

This Thai proverb seems to me to be quite similar to the proverbial question “Would you jump off a bridge if all your friends were doing it?” which most Americans are familiar with and were probably told in childhood by an authority figure such as a parent or schoolteacher to undermine the worth of conformity (as with the behavior of one’s peers; i.e. peer pressure) for its own sake. As it is often assumed that Eastern cultures are more collectivistic than the individualistic West, I find this proverb interesting in that conformity with the actions of others is spoken of just as, if not more, harshly than the American equivalent I have provided. Both use uncommon and extreme examples to make their point, though it is only in the Thai version that we find the repeated vulgarity “shit” which is likely to seize one’s attention, especially if the proverb were directed toward a child.

Interesting as well is the proverb’s use of “elephant” and the specific Thai word meaning “shit” which, according to the informant, are both remnants of older Thai culture—the word for “shit” no longer used often, if at all, and the elephant as a symbol of a less industrialized Thai past. Whereas one would likely see nothing particularly antiquated in the image of a person jumping off a bridge (most likely because the bridges one envisions are works of very modern and sophisticated architecture) that is furnished in the alternative version, the image rendered by this Thai proverb is distinctively old, and perhaps on that account, more provocative and likely to get its point across. Moreover, insofar as it also serves as an ode to, or memory of, the past cultural life of Thailand it is very much a piece of folklore, as that term was originally understood.