1) A Fast-Moving Cosmos: Multiplicity and Fluidity in Contemporary Thai Buddhist Cosmology / Edoardo Siani
2) Creating Community: “Secure Housing” and Social Order in Thailand / Hayden Shelby
3) Apollonian and Dionysian Religious Forms in Thailand: Imaging as Social Agency / Joseph Rotheray
4) Historical Narrative, Synecdoche, and Pong Lang / Kurt Baer
5) Pact-Making Within a Material Nodal Network: Ethnographic Findings on Accessing Buddhist Potency / Kelly N. Meister
6) The Political Craftiness in the Demolition of the Patani Kingdom between 1584 and 1711 in Southern Thailand: A Study of Hikayat Patani / Lutfiyah Alindah
This article brings attention to the multiplicity of contemporary Thai Buddhist cosmology and to the fluidity of cosmological notions. An ethnographic focus on divination practitioners (mo du) in Bangkok suggests that Thai Buddhists are constantly involved in the construction of new and highly personal cosmologies, resulting in great cosmological multiplicity. Diviners’ usage of cosmological notions additionally suggests that these cosmologies are fluid, their meanings changing in time and in different contexts. The findings problematize understandings of Thai Buddhist cosmology and cosmological notions as being static and uniformly-shared.
Keywords: Thai Buddhist cosmology, cosmological notions, creation of cosmologies, cosmological narratives, cosmological multiplicity
(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 12/2019 (Number 1), Page 1-8)
Community has long been considered an important form of social organization in many parts of the world. At the level of governance, communities, loosely defined, are often the targets of “outreach,” “engagement,” or policies aimed at “development.” On an individual level, people forge identities according to places or characteristics around which they feel a “sense of community.” But what happens when “community” is not just as a sense or a looselybounded social construct, but a formal legal entity? This research investigates a slum upgrading policy that operates by forming just such entities. The Baan Mankong [“Secure Housing”] program provides urban residents facing eviction with access to home loans and legal land tenure, but only as communities. To take part in the program, residents must be part of an official chumchon (“community”). Residents are often aided in forming these chumchon by two very different organizations: (1) the government-sponsored agency that administers the policy, and (2) an activist network made up of other chumchon, which facilitates the arduous process of organizing households to go through the many stages of Baan Mankong upgrading. Once formed, the chumchon is the unit through which households negotiate with landowners, take out loans for physical upgrading, and gain rights to occupy land collectively. Through Baan Mankong, thousands of households have become bound to chumchon financially, spatially, and politically. My proposed dissertation project looks into the origins and effects of these chumchon in terms of the deologies and discourses that underlie them and the individuals that comprise them.
Keywords: Thai Community, Western words in Thai context, a case study of the Secure Housing program
(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 12/2019 (Number 1), Page 9-21)
This article is concerned with statue-worship and its social meanings and functions in Thailand, interpreted from a historical and anthropological perspective as opposed to a Buddhist Studies one. The article identifies “imaging” as the strategic design, installation and dispensatory deployment of statues or images for social and political ends, and gives a brief historical account of this practice in the Southeast Asian context. The article also suggests the categories of “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” for the purpose of interpreting the aesthetics, meanings, values and social functions of Southeast Asian religiosity, as opposed to the usual denominational religious distinctions that this article argues have had an obscuring effect. A case study of a contemporary local spirit cult in northern Thailand is then given, in which these concepts and phenomena are exemplified and analyzed.
(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 12/2019 (Number 1), Page 23-50)
This article examines two particular narratives about the Northeastern Thai musical genre pong lang [โปงลาง] that rely upon the rhetorical strategy of synecdoche – the substitution of a part of something for the whole – to link the pong lang ensemble with Northeastern Thai history and culture. In the first of these narratives, the history of the pong lang xylophone serves as a means to historicize the entire pong lang ensemble and contextualize it within Northeastern Thai history and culture. In the second, individual instruments within the pong lang ensemble serve as representations of different provinces of northeastern Thailand, allowing the pong lang ensemble to symbolize the Isan region. Although the pong lang ensemble and its associated genre of music are relatively new, people have employed rhetorical strategies, such as synecdoche, to highlight important connections between pong lang, Northeastern Thai history, and Northeastern Thai culture, helping to establish the genre as one of the most wellknown types of Northeastern Thai cultural performance.
Keywords: Northeastern Thai music, pong lang, Thai traditional music, music and culture
(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 12/2019 (Number 1), Page 51-64)
Kelly N. Meister
According to the chronicles of Nakhon Si Thammarat, stormy seas and Buddhist fate auspiciously marooned the bearers of the Buddha’s left eyetooth on the shores of Siam. Eventually, the relic would become the treasure of Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan (hereafter: Wat Phra That), a Buddhist monastery beloved by locals of the bustling city in Thailand’s upper south, and renown throughout the country and beyond. This article argues that the Buddha relic functions as a nexus, infusing nearby objects and people with its potency, to create a material nodal network. Importantly, while the relic is enclosed in the principal chedi, and is the figurative and literal center of the monastery, the relic is but one component in a complex space and does not necessarily function as the focal point of devotion. Therefore, we must also look to supplemental, material nodes of this potency and potentiality. To do so, we move outward from the relic in all directions – to the diverse structures, statues of local historical and legendary figures, and countless objects and images – which make Wat Phra That an ideal site for the study of how material culture shapes and is shaped by the practices of its visitors.
It is further argued that as the nexus and nodes mutually reinforce each other, an expansive network is created, sustained and then utilized; not all components of this network contribute equally, but they all actively participate in and reinforce the nodal complex. While the relic has innate power because it was at one point physically connected to the Buddha, people who practice dhamma within the space sustain the network itself. Based on ethnographic findings, how practitioners variously conceive of this Buddhist power is explored – manifest through the nodal material complex – as multifaceted (e.g., understood through the dynamic concepts of amnat, itiphon nai chai, saksit and sirimongkhon) and accessible for personal use.
For example, one’s proximity to the relic or a node, and the more effortful a relationship one has with a material object, the greater the potential for them to reap personal benefits. As such, devotees may form long-lasting, personal relationships with various images and enter into what can be called pacts (kho bon kae bon). Thus, through exploring lived practices that are situated within the nodal network of materiality, we can see how contemporary practitioners conceive of and utilize this monastic space.
Keywords: the chronicles of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Buddhist potency, a material nodal network
(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 12/2019 (Number 1), Page 65-84)
The Political Craftiness in the Demolition of the Patani Kingdom between 1584 and 1711 in Southern Thailand: A Study of Hikayat Patani
The spread and development of Islam in the archipelago cannot be separated from the merchants and navigators and also ulama. The arrival of the traders and ulama not only brought the Islam religion, but also Islamic literature, such as Hikayat Patani, one of the classic pieces of Malay literature influenced by Islamic thought relating the prosperity of the Patani Kingdom (presently in southern Thailand) for the period between c.1584 and 1711. Pattani’s golden age was during the reign of its four successive queens from 1584 where the kingdom’s economic and military strength was greatly increased. However, by the middle of the 17th century, the Patani kingdom fell into gradual decline because of political intrigues and craftiness.
Most studies regarding the history of the Patani kingdom focus on the glory and the greatness of the kingdom. Only a few researchers have endeavored to describe the collapse of the kingdom and also the fall of the empire. By applying Critical Discourse Analysis, this research will investigate the political intrigues and the craftiness within the Patani kingdom and the gradual declination of the kingdom. This article describes the intrigue conducted by the treasurer of the kingdom. The first intrigue was agitating the king’s sons to rebel against the Patani kingdom. The second was the manipulation of the Patani nobles to destroy all of the descendants of the Patani dynasty. The third was an attack on the palace. On the other side, the queen of Patani used her yellow shawl as an intrigue to show her supporters implicitly that she gave up the palace for the unity of the kingdom.
(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 12/2019 (Number 1), Page 85-100)