7 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 this handful of stories from what is a very rich and largely unknown, cultural heritage…
The secondary plan to publish a hard copy is, of course, still an option. Any readers’ comments on the idea would be most welcome. Illustrations would be needed…Any artists out there?
We could get sponsorship to meet printing costs and proceeds from sales could be used to help educate youngsters from the poorer families in the area. A worthwhile cause indeed! Just a thought…
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…
1. The New Sheriff…
Sheriff Chalerm was a man who was very talented at catching thieves and solving crime of all hues. So talented was he that his boss moved him to a ‘high crime area’. “See what you can do about the problems there,” his boss instructed him.
The very first night he arrived in the village, someone stole Grandmother Cherm’s betel leaves. New Sheriff Chalerm was immediately called in to solve the case. The first thing he did was to ask the Headman of the village to call a meeting of all the villagers at the local school.
At the meeting Sheriff Chalerm stood in front of everybody, introduced himself and asked the betel leaf thief to step forward and confess. No one stepped forward. He then promised not to punish the perpetrator but, still, no one stepped forward. Sheriff Chalerm was disappointed but not dismayed. He then said something very strange: “I would like each and every one of you to step forward and rap Grandmother Cherm once, on top of her head”. Everyone thought this was very odd indeed, especially Grandmother Cherm who thought it very silly but went along with the pantomime in any case. Each person in the room approached the old lady in turn, paid deep respect and gently rapped her once on her head.
Then a man stepped forward and he was obviously distressed. He quickly rapped Grandmother Cherm on the head, not once but three times! Sheriff Chalerm, being a sleuth of amazing insight, recognized guilt when he saw it and immediately arrested the man. Grandmother Cherm rubbed the top of her head, thanked the new Sheriff for his wit and wisdom and asked if he would arrange for the return of her betel leaves as soon as possible. Sheriff Chalerm smiled, promised he would do all he could to have her property returned and carted the thief off to gaol.
2. The Ring & the Husband…
Once, there was a family who built its house close to the southern border of Thailand. The husband and wife had one son and a couple of cows, and although they were very poor, both parents desperately wanted their boy educated in the big town nearby. So, to meet the cost of their son’s education, they decided to sell one of the cows.
Father put a halter on the cow and led it away towards town and the slaughterhouse. When he arrived he was disappointed to find the place closed: it was a national holiday. “We really must get a decent calendar,” he muttered and turned for home.
On his way back he met a man feeding a horse, a man feeding a goat, a man feeding a pig and a man selling Khao Yum – a delicious rice salad. After a few minutes discussion, the father decided to exchange his cow for the horse and then swap the horse for the goat. Then he traded the goat for the pig and finally, struck a bargain with the food seller to take the pig in exchange for some Khao Yum.
The father was just leaving the foodstall when he met a good friend from the same village. He showed him the bag of Khao Yum and proudly related how he’d changed the cow for a horse, the horse for a goat, the goat for a pig and finally the pig for the bag of food. “What!” said his stunned friend; “ I think that is the stupidest deal I’ve ever heard of. What are you going to tell your wife when you arrive back with just a bag of food? She’ll do her pieces!”
“No she won’t,” said the father, “she is a good and reasonable woman. We have been together for years and never had an argument; she will understand how successful I’ve been.”
“Rubbish!” said the friend, “I know women. She’ll curse you for a fool and you’ll be lucky to escape with all your body parts! But, if you’re right, and she doesn’t call you a worthless idiot, I’ll give you the price you would have received for the cow had you sold it properly in the first place.”
“Done!” said the father, “let’s go back to my house.” So off they went together, the father clutching the bag of food and his friend shaking his head in total disbelief.
When the husband arrived home, he greeted his wife, handed her the bag of food and proudly told her the whole story. His wife listened quietly and patiently without saying a word and, when the tale was over, she calmly opened the bag and tasted the food. It was good. Very good indeed. She beckoned her son, her husband and his friend to join her and they all sat down to enjoy the simple feast.
When the wife was clearing away, the friend turned to the father in amazement: “I simply don’t believe it,” he said, “how could she remain so calm after what you did?”
“Ah!” said the father knowingly, “she really is a good woman and she proved the old saying – a ring is only good if it has a precious stone, and a husband is only good if he has a precious wife.”
True to his word, the friend paid cash to the value of the cow and the son received a good education.
3. The Stupid Man…
Once upon a time there was a young man who lived with his mother. He was sheltered, unaware and sometimes a very silly young man. Young men are often very silly indeed. One fine, spring, morning, his mother suggested it was high time he went out and found himself a wife. “But” she said, “make sure she’s a good woman. And” she continued, “make sure she’s a neat and a peaceful woman.” He listened to his mother’s wise words because he wanted very much to please her and make her happy.
He quickly packed a small bundle and left his house to find a suitable wife. As he walked he saw a woman picking vegetables. He looked at her carefully. She certainly was attractive he thought but then he remembered his mother’s words. “No” he thought, “she’s not neat and peaceful, she’s much too active and hard working. She won’t do.” Then he saw another woman washing clothes in the stream. She was moving quickly, scrubbing, rinsing and wringing. She was certainly not still and neat and so was rejected as unsuitable.
Another few hours of walking brought him to a small house in a clearing. There were many people around the house, milling around in groups, talking in hushed tones. He walked closer and saw a beautiful woman lying down and looking very peaceful indeed. “Ah” he exclaimed, “this is the woman for me!” He picked her up; she was very light and fragile, and carried her home. He put her in his room and rushed off to tell his mother that he found a wife who was very neat and very peaceful. He so wanted to please his mother and she seemed pleased by his news.
Three days later, the man’s mother smelled a very unpleasant odour coming from her son’s room. Puzzled, she asked him to open his room so that she could have a look inside. She immediately saw the dead body! Horrified, the woman told her son that the person he took to be his wife was dead. “It’s obvious she’s dead” she exclaimed, “if nothing else, you can tell by the way she smells. Living people do not smell like that!” She explained that dead people must be buried and not kept in houses with the living. “Go and bury her at once!” So, with a heavy heart, the man took his wife outside and buried her.
When he came back into the house, he felt very sad. He thought he had found a good wife, but it was not so. How disappointed he was for both himself and his mother! He so wanted to make her happy and be proud of him. So, he went to her to talk and seek comfort in her words. When he approached her, he smelled a very unpleasant odour. The odour was not unlike the way his wife had smelled. He remembered his mother’s wise words that you could tell dead people by their smell and that they should be buried, not kept in houses with living people. He knew what he had to do. So, he picked up his mother, took her outside and buried her alongside his wife. With both women deep in the ground, the unhappy man was alone but content that he had followed his mother’s advice. He slowly walked back to the house and busied himself clearing away the remains of a plate of cabbage and beans his mother had eaten that morning.
4. The Lampu Tree and the Firefly…
Long ago, a young boy and a young girl grew up in the same, small, village. They saw each other every day and as the years passed they grew to love one another. They loved each other very much and wanted to marry. But, as is so often the case, their parents did not want them to be together. The girl’s parents in particular, did not care for the young man believing their daughter could do so much better for herself. “She could marry into a landowning family, or even royalty,” they agreed. “She’s a pretty girl, she could go live in a city, find a good job and be certain to meet many more suitable young men.”
It all became too much for the young lady. All the bickering. All the unpleasantness. In a mood of desperation she ran away from home. Her parents were very angry and demanded the young man tell them where their daughter was. But the young man didn’t know; she hadn’t spoken to him for days and he knew nothing of her plan to run away. Reluctantly the young woman’s parents believed him and mounted a search party.
All the villagers joined in and for days they combed the paddy fields, the jungle and the nearby mountains. On the third day they found her. She had hanged herself on a tree near the canal.
When the young man heard the tragic news, he became distraught. He decided to join her and, with a sigh, fell on his knife. As he was dying, he made a wish that he and his love should to be together for all eternity. His wish came true. The young lady was reincarnated as a willow tree and he was reborn as a firefly. They still live happily together. Take a look outside on any Summer’s night, near any canal and you’ll see them.
5. Why Cats Hate Rats…
Once upon a time, there was a cat and a rat. They were good friends and lived together on a small island not very far from here. As happens from time to time, it had been a bad year. The fishing was not good and the rice harvest had failed. The people on the island had, slowly, drifted away in search of a better and more stable life. Pretty soon there was no one left on the island except the cat and the rat. Soon, they too, ran out of food and, like the people, decide to head for the mainland. But how to get there?
The cat and the rat puzzled over the problem for some time. Eventually, in true Thai style, they decided to form a committee to examine the viability of forming a sub-committee with a view to establishing the perameters within which the main committee, which was yet to be established, should operate. Several sub-committees were formed but unfortunately they neglected to circulate the minutes of their various and many meetings. The right paw didn’t know what the left paw was doing and organisational chaos ensued! Finally, common sense prevailed. All the committees were dissolved and replaced by a working party that unanimously voted to accept the Mission Statement penned by one of the earlier committees; it said, “Escape to the mainland is the first priority.” And, with these wise words ringing in their ears, the cat and the rat set to work.
After some searching they found a suitable log and chewed at it until it resembled a kind of boat-thing, which the cat and the rat had seen the humans using. They pushed it into the water and it floated! So, with spirits soaring, they waved a fond farewell to the island and set sail.
They made good time and soon the mainland was in sight. But the wind and the tide were not kind. After several days aimlessly drifting about, spirits sank and hunger began to set in. The rat became so ravenous, it began gnawing at the wood and, before the cat could step in, the boat sprang a leak and quickly sank. Fortunately, rats can swim very well and, although they don’t care for water, cats can swim too. After a while they crawled up the beach to safety. The cat raised an angry claw and snarled: “You are such a stupid rat, you nearly drowned us. I’ll get you ….!” His threat faded as the cat fell sound asleep, exhausted by the long swim. When he woke, the cat was alone; the dirty rat had slunk away. So, with vows of vengeance heaped upon his former friend, the cat set off to make a new life for himself.
And that, dear readers, is why, to this day, cats really hate rats.
6. Why Cockerels Crow Every Morning…
Long ago when the Earth was new, there were ten suns in the sky. The ten suns all rose at the same time, so the Earth was a very bright place. But it was also very hot; very hot indeed! It was so unbearably hot that people, animals and plants suffered and died. The people who were left wanted to find a way to kill some of the suns to reduce the light and the heat so it was more comfortable. Eventually, they found a man who they thought could do the job. He was an archer, a very famous archer. His name was Dan.
Every day, Dan would shoot at the suns; he shot one arrow at every sun, on the hour every hour. As the days passed, Dan became more and more accurate and the suns became more and more nervous. They didn’t want to be punctured! One day, the suns decided they had had enough of dodging arrows and took themselves off to a world where their light and warmth would be better appreciated.
Of course, without the suns’ rays it was very dark and very cold on the Earth. Nothing could live in the darkness and the people, animals and plants began to die. The people realized how stupid and selfish they had been and were very sorry. They begged the ten suns to come back and shine their light and heat on the Earth. But nothing happened. Day after day, the people shouted, prayed, set off fireworks, sang songs and lit bonfires. Still nothing happened; the suns stayed away.
One day, a cockerel thought he would try his drumstick at bringing the suns back. He began crowing as loudly as he could. He crowed and crowed and crowed. Now, it’s a well-known fact that suns have very sensitive hearing and the racket that was coming from the Earth did nothing for them. Nothing at all except for one sun. It was tone deaf and was strangely attracted to the noise the cockerel was making. The sun peered over the eastern horizon to better hear the cockerel’s calling. The closer the sun crept the more the sun liked the sound. Eventually the sun rose completely in the sky and it listened and it really did like the cockerel’s song!
The light melted the darkness and the Earth warmed up. The people were amazed and, there and then, made a bargain with the cockerel that he should start crowing early every morning to attract the sun into the sky. In exchange, the people would look after and feed the cockerel and his hens forever or, for as long as the cockerel sang for the sun.
And that, ladies, gentlemen, and children of the world, is why cockerels crow every morning. Not just to attract the sun, but to ensure there’s an ample supply of corn. Once a cockerel makes a bargain you can be sure it’ll be kept. Thankfully.
7. Young Girl or Widow?…
Long ago, an old woman advised her nephew, that when he chose a wife, he should opt for either a young girl or a widow and to make sure she was good-hearted and honest. “Never choose a woman who has divorced her husband and never choose a girl who doesn’t obey her parents,” she advised sternly.
When the time came for the young man to take a wife, he remembered his old aunt’s advice but couldn’t decide between a young girl or a widow. He solved the problem by selecting two of each from a shortlist of eligible women in the area. Then of course, he had to test them for honesty and he devised a very, very, cunning plan!
The young man stole four ganders from his Lord and caged them in a secret hideaway. He then killed four of his own chickens, prepared them for the pot and showed the carcasses to his prospective wives. “These are four ganders I have stolen from our Lord to feed you,” said the young man, “but don’t tell anyone or I shall certainly be put to death.”
One of the widows and one of the young girls grabbed the food, cooked it and devoured it hungrily. Later that day the two women just couldn’t resist going to their neighbours and telling them they had just eaten the Lord’s ganders. They told everyone they met! It was while relating their story the women heard the Lord had posted a reward for the return of his ganders or information leading to the arrest of the thief. “There’s money to be made here,” decided the women, so they took themselves off to the Palace and told their story.
The Lord was very angry and had the young man arrested and brought before him. When asked if he had anything to say, the young man explained his plan to test and expose any weaknesses in his prospective wives and immediately arranged to have the four ganders returned. The Lord was impressed for he well understood the young man’s need to prove honesty. He forgave the young man, had the two women arrested and presented the young man with a gift of gold. “This is for your future,” said the mighty Lord, “but how are you going to decide between the other girl and widow?” The young man just smiled …
Join us & Escape to Thailand…The Land of Happy Smiles…