Tag Archives: thai

Water on the Hands


“Ok, this is semi-ritual, semi-ceremony in Thai culture, like with the festival I mentioned earlier, water is really important and so I guess on the Thai new year and also just other sometimes random special occasions water will be used to like give–bless, bless your elders. So what happens is like you normally have this golden or like silver bowl, I’m forgetting what it’s called, but you have like a bowl and you fill it with flowers and water, and you take like a smaller little bowl. Oh I remember its called a

Phonetic: K̄hạn
Transliteration: Water dipper
Translation: Bowl

and you just scoop a little bit and your elders (your parents and your grandparents) would hold their hands out and you would pour water over their hands. And when you do that you are supposed to say good things like ‘I wish you good health,’ and with the Thai new year obviously you would say ‘I wish you good luck or good health for the next year.’ And the water is representing like forgiveness and you’re also asking for their forgiveness for, like, all the bad stuff you may have done to them in the past year. So there’s that. And it also becomes relevant during like a funeral when like you will similarly pour water onto the deceased hands when they’re in like the casket. And similarly, when you approach them you are supposed to ask for forgiveness for any wrongings you’ve done to them throughout their entire life and you just kinda pray for them and wish them good luck whatever happens to them after their death.”


Informant (WP) is a student aged 19 from Chino Hills, California. Her parents are from Thailand and Laos. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview in the informant’s apartment. She learned this from her parents and her extended family. She interprets it to represent forgiveness and cleansing.


Water is used to represent the cleansing of a moral sense in different cultures’ beliefs around the world. Where this one differs is in the belief that the person washing is being forgiven, not the person being washed. The water in the ritual does seem to represent forgiveness and cleansing, and when it’s done seems to align with the amount of time associated with the forgiveness. At the new year, it is used to forgive a year’s worth of wrongdoing. At a funeral, it’s used for a life’s worth.

The Scholar and the Boatsman


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 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.

Chick Constellation


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.

Small Sticky Rice Pot


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.

Prince Toad and Fireworks


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: