8 SOUTHERN THAILAND FOLK TALES
It all started a few years ago in a discussion with our English Major Students. We were talking about regional differences; how perceptions of people differ. I explained how people in the north of England view the folks from London and the south, and vice-versa. “It’s the same here in Thailand” one bright student chimed, “the folks in Bangkok and the north think everyone down here in the south are stupid, ignorant and to be viewed with extreme suspicion. But we have a very rich cultural heritage” she went on to explain. “We have history and stories that have been passed from father to son, from mother to daughter, for centuries.”
So, it was agreed, the students would mine the Southern Thai Culture for the myths and legends that go to make folk tales. These would be documented and translated into English. This was to be a useful extra-curricular activity in the student’s quest for better English usage and understanding.
The project ‘grew like Topsy’ and before long we had plans afoot to publish a small book that could, with a bit of luck, help to narrow the cultural divide between north and south Thailand. And, of course, educate and amuse us poor, ignorant, foreigners! Together with my friend and former colleague, Ajarn Kevin Marshall, we agreed to edit the student’s submissions, bring the often-archaic language up-to-date and inject modern usage and idioms whilst retaining the spirit of the original.
It was a big idea but one that, ultimately, came to naught. Students became involved in the imperatives of finals and left to make their way in the world. I moved on and the whole project gathered dust, if that’s the right expression, on the hard drive of my laptop. Gathered dust that is, until a few weeks ago while in conversation with Dennis Peacock on one of his welcome visits to the Province of Songkhla…
I hope you enjoy reading these unpublished stories from what is a very rich and largely unknown, cultural heritage…
- Rod Norman
Note: Rod Norman is currently a Lecturer with the Faculty of Management Sciences at Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai. Kevin Marshall lectures at Rajabhat Songkhla University and the dozen or so unnamed students who did all the hard work, are now spread far and wide throughout the Kingdom and overseas… (originally posted in 2006)
1. It’s All in the Stars…
You may find this hard to believe, but once, the planets we see sparkling in the heavens, all lived as real people. It’s true! The planet Jupiter was born a hermit, and the Sun was born a prince of a large city. The prince studied with the hermit who was a wise and learned man. He learned everything he thought he needed to know and much more, and he graduated with honours.
After the graduation ceremony, the Sun prince prepared to return to his palace in the city. But before he could begin his journey, hermit Jupiter called him over to where he sat, congratulated him on his academic achievements and presented a gift. The gift was a beautiful young lady called Jan. She was the Moon.
The Sun prince and the Moon lady returned to the city and were married. The years passed happily for the heavenly couple in the palace. The Sun prince often thought about the hermit Jupiter and one day he decided to pay him a State Visit. Naturally, he took his wife Jan, the Moon lady, with him too.
On their very first night at Jupiter’s house, an evil and unscrupulous character called Mars sneaked into the Moon lady’s chamber and using all his considerable wiles, seduced her. The next day, the hermit told the Sun prince about the union between the Moon lady and Mars. Understandably, the prince was very angry and challenged Mars to a duel to the death. A fearful battle ensued and after what seemed like forever to the watching people, Mars threw down his sword and fled never to be seen again!
This sad story of evil and betrayal is why Jupiter and the Sun are forever friends, and the Moon and Mars are friends. But Jupiter and the Sun are never seen with Mars and the Sun never talks to the Moon. Check it out, ask anyone and they’ll tell you the same.
2. Good Breeding…
When the world was new, no creature knew anything about reproduction. They all recognized it was important but didn’t know when they could and should breed. After a good deal of discussion it was agreed that each species should send a representative to the great God and ask him when they could reproduce. The dogs’ representative arrived first, followed by the cows’, the buffalos’, mans’: all the creatures formed an orderly queue and waited their turn to see the great God.
The great God told the dog that they could reproduce about the ninth or tenth of the month. He told the cow and buffalo that they could reproduce on or about the fifth or sixth of the month. He was just about to talk to the snakes and lizards when there was a commotion and the man came barging to the front and asked when mankind could breed.
God was a little taken aback by this effrontery and demanded to know why the man had jumped the queue. “Because I am very busy, said the man, “and I cannot afford to waste time standing in line with all these lowly creatures. All I want to know is when we humans can reproduce.”
“You are busy all the time,” said God, holding his temper, “perhaps ….”
But the man had gone! Without waiting for God to even finish his sentence the man had rushed back and told everybody that God had said we can breed ‘all the time’!
And so it is, to this very day, people have been reproducing all the time.
3. Soft Rice…
Pohnae was a dim-witted man but his wife, Mohnae, was very smart. It was the time of planting but they didn’t have any rice to sow. As was usual in cases like this, Mohnae asked her husband to go and borrow some from a neighbour. “But only get soft rice” she said, “because it will grow quickly and we can repay the debt sooner”.
Carrying a large jar, Pohnae went from house to house in the village asking to borrow rice. But, everyone he spoke to only had the hard species. He continued his quest without luck until he came to his old friend’s house a few kilometers outside the village centre. Pohnae’s friend was threshing last season’s crop in preparation for new sowing.
“What species is that?” enquired Pohnae.
“Soft” replied his friend.
“May I borrow some?” asked Pohnae.
“Of course” said his friend, “but you’ll have to help me finish the winnowing so we can fill your jar.”
With a jar full of soft rice hoisted on his shoulder, Pohnae set off for home. On the bridge crossing the stream not far from home, Pohnae stumbled, fell and the contents of the jar spilled into the water. He looked in dismay and then he saw that some grains were rising and floating on the surface. Quickly he scooped as many as he could, put them into the jar and set off, once again for home.
“How can you be sure it’s the soft species of rice?” asked Mohnae peering suspiciously into the jar.
“It’s the soft rice for sure,” said Pohnae and he told her about his accident on the bridge and that he had managed to collect all the grains that floated. “It must be soft,” he said with a knowing grin, “all the hard rice sank!”
Mohnae looked at her husband in astonishment and, shaking her head, muttered under her breath, “You are probably the silliest man I have ever known. But you have a good heart.” And with that, she set off to find a more soft rice for the planting.
4. Cows & Buffaloes…
Long ago when the world was new, the god, Isawara, thought it would be a good idea to have some ‘practical’ animals in the world. He decided to make cows to give milk and meat, and buffaloes to add strength to the many menial tasks that lay ahead for the folks of the ‘new’ world.
Being of a practical turn of mind, Isawara thought it prudent to make scale models of the new animals. He’d seen some of the oddities already living on the earth. The Duck-billed Platypus for example, constantly made him smile. “It must have been designed by a committee” he thought, “good job it’s confined to that place they call Oz where the Wizard can look after it! I’m not having any sort of design foul-ups with my cows and buffaloes.”
So, Isawara painstakingly drew plans, made alterations and went through many design concepts before he was satisfied. Then he made exact scale models of each animal. He made the models of the buffalo from bee’s wax which was a handy local commodity and the bees didn’t charge much! The cow however, began to pose problems; the udder arrangements with the drooping bits didn’t work in wax because it was just too soft and pliable, and wouldn’t hold shape. After several attempts, Isawara abandoned wax in favour of clay which offered more rigidity. And clay was free!
Before long he had two magnificently detailed models and he was satisfied. But the design and building schedule was way behind and summer had arrived. It became too hot to do any serious work like creating new animals for the world. “It will have to wait until the cooler weather” said Isawara settling down for a nap in true Thai style.
He was just nodding off when a nasty thought occurred to him. “If it gets too hot the buffalo will melt into a yuckie blob: can’t have that!” So, he put the model of the buffalo into the pond where the water was cool. He was just about to do the same for the cow when it struck him that the clay would melt in the water and he’d have another yuckie mess on his hands. The problem was simply solved: Isawara built a shelter. It was so simple, the clay cow would keep cool in the shade and be sheltered from any unexpected rain.
When the cooler weather came, Isawara put his new animals into production. They worked straight out of the box!
And that’s how it happened. To this day you’ll see buffaloes wallowing about in muddy ponds and cows taking shelter anywhere that’s dry.
5. The Adventures of Nai Raeng…
A long time ago, there was a couple who lived in a small village near Pattalung on the northeast shore of Songkhla Lake. They had been married for many years but remained childless. They loved children and so wanted one of their own. They prayed every day for God to grant their wish. Nothing happened. In desperation, they went along to the temple and asked the Abbot for his help.
“Take a small pebble from the edge of the lake,” said the Abbot who was a very wise man, “wrap it in white cloth, make your wish and put it under your pillow.” The couple followed the Abbot’s advice, religiously. They prayed very hard.
Finally, the wife became pregnant and the couple were so very happy. As the baby grew inside her she began to eat and eat and eat. “You must remember, dear husband, I am eating for two,” she explained. But even so, she was eating much more than the average person and for nine months she ate and ate and ate!
When she came to term, she gave birth to a big, healthy, baby boy. In fact, he was very big indeed; so big they named him Nai Raeng (raeng means strength or power). And he had a huge appetite just like his mother when she was carrying him! He ate one pan of boiled rice; ten bunches of bananas and drank milk all the time. He always seemed to be eating and his parents began to despair for they simply couldn’t afford to feed him. The situation became so serious that his parents began to wish the unthinkable: they began to wish he had never been born! He ate and ate and ate; and grew and grew and grew.
When Nai Raeng was about ten years old, his father asked him to cut down the biggest tree in the forest. “We need firewood for the winter,” his father explained, “see what you can do.” To his shame, his father secretly hoped his huge son would meet with a tragic accident. Instead Nai Raeng felled the tree safety, chopped it into suitably sized firewood and carried the bundles back to the cottage. Still he ate and ate and ate and the more hard work his father asked him to do simply increased his appetite.
One day a Chinese trading junk moored close to the village. “This is our chance,” thought the parent and persuaded the trader to sign Nai Raeng as a deckhand on the junk. “Look,” said the father, “he is a big strong boy. He will be able to do the work of ten men.” The trader agreed and took the boy aboard. The junk sailed away with Nai Raeng aboard.
It wasn’t long after the junk had put to sea, the trader realised his mistake: the boy was eating all the food and the crew began running out of supplies. “The boy simply has to go,” the trader confided to the boatswain. “Let’s challenge him to catch a dolphin,” suggested the bo’sun, “when he’s in the water, we can simply leave him.” And that’s exactly what happened. Just as soon as Nai Raeng dived into the sea, the junk hoisted sail and left.
Nai Raeng began to swim towards the shore; he could swim very well. As he began to wade ashore he spied an old, sunken, fishing boat. Using his enormous strength, he dragged the wreck ashore and set about repairing it. It wasn’t too difficult and after a few days he had a seaworthy craft and set sail for home. When he arrived, his parents were truly glad to see him and, regretting their earlier bad thoughts, agreed to take him back into the family home. Nai Raeng quickly found himself a good job and earned enough money to feed his considerable appetite and have spare cash to help his parents. Everyone was very happy.
As the years passed, Nai Raeng became older and wiser, and much respected in the community. So popular and well liked was he that he was asked to become Governor of the region: a great honour and one that Nai Raeng relished.
Some time into his tenure, Nai Raeng received news that there was to be a great festival in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat, a city in the very north of his fiefdom. This was to be an important occasion for some relics of the Lord Buddha himself were to be interred in the ancient pagoda. Every village, town and city in the South arranged to have money and gifts sent to the pagoda to pay respects. Nai Raeng, himself, personally loaded a boat with 900,000 Baht in gold and he and his entourage set sail up the coast to Nakhorn.
On the way north, a great storm blew in from the northeast. It raged and raged and Nai Raeng’s boat was pushed south and closer, and closer, to the shore. Suddenly a huge wave swept the fragile craft aground and smashed it against the rocks. It was badly damaged and needed some serious repairs. They would certainly miss the ceremony and the honour of paying respects to the remains. Nai Raeng was deeply saddened and ordered his men to carry the gold ashore and bury it somewhere safe. He then ordered his own death and instructed that his severed head be placed atop the treasure. Naturally, the Governor’s orders were obeyed to the letter and so ended the adventures of Nai Raeng.
Editor’s note: there are, indeed, relics of the Lord Buddha in Wat Phra Mahathat, Nakhorn Sri Thammarat and visitors to Songkhla may care to visit a small fishing village on the southern end of Chalatat Beach called Khao Seng, a corruption of gow saeng or 900,000! Also, there is a large boulder on a rocky outcrop; this is called Hua Nai Raeng (Nai Raeng’s head). Local legend has it that Nai Raeng’s spirit still guards his treasure. Perhaps there’s more than a grain of truth in folklore!…
6. The Malicious Daughter…
Once, long ago, there was a couple who had three beautiful daughters. The oldest daughter was lazy; the middle daughter was careless and had many boyfriends while the youngest was very talkative and loved to gossip. She loved gossiping so much, she loved to start arguments by spreading rumours.
All the local people hated the daughters and the youngest in particular because of her fondness for creating malicious rumours. The parents were very embarrassed by the behaviour of their children; so embarrassed were they that they decided their offspring should leave the home and move away from the village. Naturally, the daughters objected and refused to leave. In desperation the coupled begged the neighbours to help capture the rogue females, tie them up, put them on a raft and send them down the river into exile. All the villagers willingly helped and before long the daughters were launched downstream.
After a few hours adrift and at the mercy of the current, a renowned local pirate spied the raft. He rescued the girls and, in true pirate fashion, made them his ‘wives’. The pirate was quickly able to adjust to the behaviour of the eldest and middle daughter but he couldn’t stand the gossiping of the youngest. So, again in true pirate fashion, he got rid of her by throwing her into the ocean. Fortunately a pair of sea eagles saw the girl’s plight and, while one circled overhead, the other went ashore, picked up a log, returned and dropped it for the hapless girl. She clung to the log and the current took her to land.
Once on dry land the eagles swooped down and picked up the girl and flew high into the sky. Naturally, as was her way, the daughter needed to chatter, She teased the male eagle and whispered to her mate that her husband was cheating on her. The female eagle became furious and very jealous and the girl relished the trouble she was causing. It was an impossible situation and so, reluctantly, the eagles dropped her. She died in the sea and fed the fishes.
Some years later a monk saw a skull that had been washed up on the beach. He picked it up and thought it would make an ideal incense holder for the Chanting Room. Before long the monks began to argue amongst themselves. They suspected the newly installed skull was the problem so they removed it from the Chanting Room and made it into a water scoop for the bathroom. All at once the monks became ill and broke out into rashes all over their bodies. It was clearly the skull causing all these problems. One brave individual picked it up and threw it with all his might into the cemetery where a gang of thieves quickly found it. Just as soon as they started examining the skull, it began exerting its evil influence and the thieves fell to fighting amongst themselves. They made so much noise, an old monk threw them out of the cemetery, grabbed the skull, burned it and scattered the ashes to the four winds.
It was truly the end for the malicious young daughter. So be warned, those of you who enjoy gossiping ….
7. The Man Who Didn’t Sell Earthen Pots…
Once, long ago, there was a man who lived in a small village. He was a very lazy man, lazy in every way. He was so lazy that he was unmarried and alone because no woman loved him or wanted to be with him.
He had a little money left to him by his parents and that sustained him in his oh-so-lazy lifestyle. He never planned for the future, never bothered with day-to-day housekeeping and certainly never cared for anything except eating, sleeping and generally relaxing his life away. He was, however, destined for a very rude awakening.
One morning, as the sun rose high in the sky, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stumbled into the kitchen for his breakfast. There was no food; all the pots, bags and baskets were empty. Worse still, the pouch were he kept his money was empty too! It lay on the floor where he had carelessly dropped it, limp and shriveled.
“Oh, dear,” he thought as he stifled a yawn, “what am I to do?” He sat for a while and contemplated the situation. Finally, he decided to stroll to the market to clear his head and see if the hustle and bustle of normal daily life gave him any clues as to what to do next. As always, the market was a hive of activity: people jostled, bargained, wagered, smiled, laughed and scolded. The fruit and vegetable stalls were busy as was the meat counter. Money, that precious commodity he unexpectedly didn’t have on that day, was changing hands everywhere. Even the old pot seller was doing well. There he sat on his haunches stroking his pots as though they were living things and describing each item to an attentive and appreciative audience. Pots were exchanged for coins every few minutes. “Now, that’s something I could do,” thought the lazy man, “not much effort for a reasonable return. I could stroke pots!” So, with unaccustomed energy and enthusiasm, he ambled off to the pot factory on the outskirts of the village.
After protracted negotiations with the potter who didn’t believe the lazy man capable of anything, least of all selling pots, they agreed on a sale-or-return arrangement. The pot maker would advance the lazy man a quantity of pots which he would pay for at the end of the day. There wasn’t much risk for the pot maker. In truth, the thought of the lazy man actually working for a living caused him great amusement and that was worth every satang he risked. The pot maker loaned the lazy man a cart, loaded it with pots and, trying to suppress a chuckle, wished him luck and waved him off.
On the way back to the market the lazy man became very tired. “This is harder work than I expected,” he muttered, “I simply must rest.” He stopped at an abandoned, broken-down shelter, went inside, lay on the floor and immediately fell sound asleep. After all his exertions, he had a troubled sleep: he dreamt he sold many pots to many people. He was a great success. With all the money he made he dreamt he bought a big elephant. A fine beast! He rode in state to market every day to sell his pots, and every day the people would gasp in awe at his success and riches. “It is a fine lifestyle,” thought the lazy man consumed by his own self-importance. Suddenly, one fine morning as he rode to work, a mouse ran in front of the elephant! Now, everyone knows elephants are afraid of mice, and not unexpectedly, the elephant panicked and charged to the left and charged to the right and reared and bucked! The pots fell from their baskets and the lazy man had the greatest difficulty in holding on.
The lazy man awoke from his dream with a start to find the hut falling down around him! There were beams crashing down, dirt, dust and debris everywhere! He ran from the chaos and saved himself. But he couldn’t save his pots; they lay shattered on the floor! His pots were broken and his dream of riches was broken too.
“Oh well,” said the lazy man as he settled down on the ground, “something will turn up.” And with that happy thought, he fell sound asleep.
8. The Miser…
Many years ago there was an old man. He lived in a hut close to the forest where, every morning, he went in search of large tree branches and logs. He was a wood carver by trade and a very good one at that. His expertise, honed over many years, was in great demand particularly for his amazing likenesses of animal’s heads. Buffaloes, deer, dogs, cats, and squirrels – his talents knew no bounds. He was in great demand and he made a good living. Every coin he earned was carefully put away in a bag and hidden in a very safe place in the granary. He was very, very careful with his money.
At the end of every day he would retrieve his money bag, empty it, count the coins, count them again just to make sure, and return his stash to it’s secret place. Although he was very, very careful with his money, there came a time when his expenses exceeded his income. Inflation began to bite even in the backwoods and the old man became seriously worried. So worried did he become that every minute of every day was consumed by his anxiety. He even dreamt about his dwindling money supply.
One particularly windy night he had a dream; a nightmare would be a better way to describe it. He dreamt his coins actually talked to him! They told him they were bored with being counted and recounted every night; bored with being hidden away in a smelly old bag and, above all, bored with each other’s company. They told him they would go off, see something of the world and meet new coin friends.
The old man woke in a cold sweat. He rushed to the granary, retrieved his moneybag and counted the coins and recounted them just to make sure none of them has escaped to find new friends. All was as it should be but the old man believed his dream and he didn’t trust his coins. He pushed the moneybag into a hole in an old log and, as a precaution against any of his precious hoard escaping, he sealed opening with clay and put the log under his house.
The following night there was a storm. The wind blew even harder and the rain lashed down. It was the worst storm in years, so much rain had fallen that the river burst its banks and flooded the whole area. Everything was swept up by the torrent. Everything that could float, and some things you would never believe could float, was swept away including, of course, the old man’s secret log ‘bank’.
When dawn broke the old man couldn’t believe his eyes. The whole area was devastated and most seriously his secret log was gone. He searched high and low in every nook and cranny of the neighborhood and further afield. He never did find the log for the flood and carried it far, far away.
Who knows? Perhaps the coins found some new friends after all.
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