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A Day at Sun’s
On the day of Sun’s house dedication we were up fairly early and dressed, waiting for his phone call. He came by a little after 6:45 and took us out to the family compound.
Sun’s parents raise shrimp, crab, and catfish on their land outside of Nakhon Si Thammarat. There is also a store and a gas station for boats along the river. They are assisted by seven of their (eight) children along with the families, all of whom live on the compound. Sun is the eldest child and only recently moved back here after living for several years in central Thailand with his wife and six-year old son. He will largely give up his previous profession as a driver in order to help run the family business as well as adding his own contribution — a motorcycle repair shop. He intends to continue driving for Kasma.
As part of his move back to the familial home, Sun had been building a house for his immediate family (wife and son). Of course, the house needed to be properly dedicated, which is what would happen today. The day was one of three consecutive Muslim holidays, necessary so that the men of the Muslim community could come for the dedication ceremony.
After we arrived we were fed (we were, after all, in Thailand). Before we were really aware what was happening, we noticed that the men were leading a bull over to an area close to the dock and beginning to wrestle it to the ground.
Both Kasma and I were a little squeamish, thinking about seeing a full sized bull killed in front of our eyes. It turned out not to be so bad. The animal was actually treated with a great deal of respect. After he was wrestled down there was a ceremony where the men gathered around him and chanted for several minutes. Aside from a little bit of struggling as they pulled the bull to the ground, he was actually very calm. He did not struggle much as Sun (presumably as the principle participant) slit his throat.
I was interested to see that several of the children, who could not have been much older than 4 or 5 years old, stood and watched as the animal was killed and then butchered. Here in the United States some children aren’t even aware that food comes from living animals — they think it is something you get at the supermarket in packages. These children certainly know where food comes from. The killing and the butchering were performed by the men in a matter-of-fact fashion, no fuss or bother. It is somewhat hard to imagine a similar gathering of Americans. I think this way is a much healthier acknowledgment of the natural cycle, of which we are a part, where in order for one organism to live, another must die.
The meat was not the only food that was created “from scratch.” In a nearby location coconuts were first husked, then split in two, enough to fill two fairly large baskets. The meat was then shredded in two machines designed to do just that and subsequently pressed into fresh coconut milk (which, I regret, I did not witness).
The men and the women were pretty much separate throughout the day. The men killed the bull and cooked the curry and the rice while the women did most of the food prep (including the chile paste) and cooked pretty much everything else. The younger children, for the most part, stayed around the women, when they weren’t playing or watching the activities. After a certain age the boy children begin hanging out with the men or playing games by themselves.
It was a relaxing, interesting day. Kasma and I took pictures and acquired a following of children, fascinated to see their images on the screen of the digital camera. We were fed a brunch around 10:00. I spent some time with the men and some with the women. We were most likely the only non-Muslim people there and I was the only non-Asian, yet I felt accepted as part of the gathering and part of the day’s events. Spoken language is not always a barrier to communication when there is good will on both sides.
The house dedication took place later in the day. About 40 or 50 Muslim men arrived and filed into Sun’s partially built house. They burned some herb or incense in the middle of the room and chanted for some time. While this was going on, the women were dishing out the food and the final part of the ceremony was feeding the participants. As non-Muslims, Kasma and I had expected not to be included in this part of the day but were welcomed in and ate with Sun’s parents in the back of the house. The gaeng prik (chile curry) was somewhat incendiary! I understand from Kasma that Sun’s parents were quite impressed that a fahrang such as myself was able to eat such spicy food. (I owe at all to Kasma. I was a wimp, spicy-food-wise, when I met her but it was a case of adapt or not eat!) One dish was a soup made largely from the skin of the bull, the skin having quite a chewy texture somewhat reminiscent of tendon — very good.
This was the highlight of this year’s trip to Thailand, for me. I felt touched that Sun included us in his day and felt completely accepted by his family and the people there. We were somewhat dressed up (for us, in Thailand) and I felt a bit overdressed, at first — if you are going to slaughter a bull or prepare food for over a hundred people, as everyone else there was going to do, you don’t put on your best clothes! — but later, at the ceremony, everyone was fairly dressy — It’s the only time I’ve seen Sun that dressed up, and it didn’t last too long after the ceremony!
It is fascinating to be accorded such an intimate glimpse of a completely different way of living. I imagine every man there could have participated in butchering a freshly killed bull. It was a joy to watch the way the children were cared for and, obviously, loved. Perhaps the main impressions were how much closer to the real world these people are; along with the (ongoing Thai) lesson of how people who we might regard as fairly poor can be so open-hearted and welcoming.
Copyright © 2004 Michael Babcock. |
Last updated 27 August 2004.