How many times we have been looking at a beautiful piece of art or hand- made craft or textiles, while wondering how, when and where it or they have been made, and that particular element has had a role, if any, in daily traditional Thai life…and what was it .Sometimes we’ve got a response from the shop attendant, and some, for not saying many, we haven’t.
For that reason, we thought that it might be a great idea if we include in this section a little bit of information of the most common Thai crafts, including a short historical and social context of their use , so you could get an idea of their impact in Thai life, while having them on your hands, before buying them. Now, happy shopping…
Thai traditional Ceramics
Some of the finest ceramics from Southeast Asia were produced in Siam between the 13th to the 15th centuries, at the apogee of Sukhothai period. The most famous was known as “Sangkhalok” ware, produced in kilns located a few kilometers from Si Satchanalai, the twin city of Sukhothai.
At that time, the ceramic market was dominated by the Chinese thanks to its quality , but when the emperor of the Qin dynasty, in the 1370s established restrictions for the exportation of Chinese goods, the Sangkhalok ceramic, produced in the Sukhothai Kingdom, started to fill that gap.
It was in the cities of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai, where a considerable range of ceramics, both earthen-ware and stoneware were produced, but as the clay of Satchanali was the finest, ceramics coming from those kilns were superior , both in quality and quantity.
In relation with the patterns, the design of Si Satcahnalai’s pieces, are dense and well organized, while the exports from Sukhothai had a more limited repertoire, often with a chrysanthemum, a circular ‘chakra” or fish in the center. But it was this simple and rapidity executed lines of the Sukhothai fish, which predominates in modern production in this under glazed style.
For those who love etymology, we are giving you a tip: the name Celadon came after a character in Honore d’Urfe’s 1610 play, L’Astree, a shepherd who wore a light green cloak with grey-green ribbons. Nowadays, the name is used to describe a particular type of stoneware, which is mainly… green. Although the hue most popularly associated with Celadon is a pale willow green, it could range from dark jade to white.
In China, where it was originated, is still called green ware, and those pieces produced during the Song Dynasty ( 930 to 1280 CE) are considered, by some experts, to be the finest ever made, on both technical and aesthetic reasons, therefore, they were difficult to reproduce exactly… However, it was one specialty of the Sangkalok kilns, which their best product is a beautiful sea-blue-green, with a characteristic crazed glaze.
In Thailand, the center of celadon production is the northern city of Chiang Mai. In current Thailand, i those times was Sima, originally celadon was made by one of Burma’s ethnic groups, the Shan, who, in turn, are believed to have emigrated from Yunnan, South China. In the latter half of the 19th century the Shan ( “Tai Yai”, as they are known in Thailand) migrated into Northern Thailand , mainly into the area now occupied by Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang , Mae Sai and Lampang, where they settled and built their own communities what included beautiful Lanna- Shan Burmese style temples which are a “must go” when visiting the area.
The Shang potters began producing basic ceramic wares for daily use, as pots and basins, with a rather dull grey-green celadon glaze. Later, in the 1940s, when Chinese celadon ware became difficult to find, factories in Thailand began producing it taking advantage of the skills and kilns of the Shan potters.
Celadon is very easy to recognize, due to its cracked look. The story behind it, is that since the time of the Song Dynasty’s green ware, it was common for this ware to have a slight crazing in the glaze, and even though this could have been corrected, it was this cracked look what contributed aesthetically to the depth of the glaze, and to its fame…
The range of colours that the several factories now offer has expanded to include blue-and-white, and also white, brown and bright blue monochromes, but the core of modern Chiang Mai production remains the traditional delicate green – cracked celadon. Remember, when going to Chiang Mai, ask for a Celadon factory, you won’t regret of coming back loaded with packages!
Bencharon ware ( or Benjaron)
Bencharon, a distinctive variety of enamelled porcelain made primarily in China for Siamese royalty of the Chakry Dynasty between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, never fails to amaze people for its brilliant colours, wide selection of motifs and kaleidoscopic compositions which were distinctively Thai. Highly valued among the nobility and wealthier commoners and then , slowly and gradually , were incorporated in Thai life.
Now, again a tip for those who are interested in etymology. Dawn F. Rooney, a scholar and art historian specialist, explains that ‘ the name of Bencharon derives from two Sanskrit words- panch ( five) and rong (colour)- and relates to the number of colours used on a single piece: red, yellow, green, blue and black. However, not always is five as it differs from three to eight .There is a variety which adds gold, particularly to the rims of bowls or cups, named ‘Lai Nam Thong‘.
The cause of this variance is undetermined but it may be that the number five is significant in Buddhism, which has been the dominat faith in Thailand since the 14th century. It also indicates the five elements ( wood, fire, earth, metal and water) all of these used, except metal, are used for making ceramics: water mix with earth produces clay and wood ignites making fire to harden the clay.’
Bencharon wasn’t and it is not a cheap ware, and one of the reasons for this is that it requires several firings, because the coloured enamels must be added over the glaze one color each time. We were privileged witness of this, when visiting a small hand -made celadon factory during one of our trips.
The main motifs, set against backgrounds of vine and other vegetable patterns, were mainly praying divinities and mythological beasts such as lions, the mythological half human, half bird Kohinoor and Kinaree ( male and female) and the Garuda .
During 19th century, Rattanakosin period, the use of Bencharon flourished, reflecting a real fascination with China and Chinese products that blossomed in the reign of Rama II. But during Rama III’s reign there was a reduction of foreign trade that led to a decline in Bencharon imports. Adding to that, during the reign of king Rama V relations with the West were stronger, and that was the signal for starting the import of European items, which, along with the collapse of the Chinese empire, marked the end of imports of Bencharon, and the beginning of local production.
Nowadays, Bencharon is deemed too ornate for most contemporary tastes, so the production is mainly oriented to the tourist market . The actual Bencharon, while beautifully and painstakingly hand-made painted, pales in comparison to the genuine old article. But for us, foreigners,who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing the original and imported Bencharon, it is an item of extreme and delicate beauty. And one that we gladly buy to take home.
“In what was until recently a high structured society, the most skilled artists and craftsmen were requestioned for working at the royal court, and a clear distinction existed between these specialists and those who worked in the villages. They were known as chang sib mu, meaning artisans of the ten types, and while they may have originally been drawn from the same pool of craftsmanship, they specializations were in courtly productions, including draughtsmen and guilders, lacquerers, wax- modellers, fret-workers and fruit and vegetable carvers. To this day, a few have their ateliers within palace grounds…” *
* We found this note in this interesting book, really worth reading: “Things Thai, Crafts & Collectibles”, by Tanisha Dansiip, Michael Freeman
The highly developed technique of gilded black lacquer was brought by the Chinese into the capital city of Siam, Ayutthaya, when it was at its best in the 16th – mid17th centuries where the Thai artist learnt from their Chinese counterparts developing a Thai style. When Ayutthaya was attacked and burnt by the Burmese, this technique survived because was brought by those artisans who could fled by the end of 16th century and settled in Thonburi . When Bangkok, the new capital of the kingdom were founded by Rama I, people followed , among them artisans, allowing this technique to flourish during the Rattanakosin era. Some of the finest examples of gilded lacquer work could be seen on manuscripts cabinets.
When visiting Thai temples, it is really worth inverting some time admiring the guilded lacquered temple window panels, which are examples of the extraordinary skills of Thai artisans.
The manufacture of lacquer receptacles is among the most important traditional crafts in Thailand, being part of an almost 3,000-year Asian tradition which most likely originated in China. In basic form,Thai lacquerware is undecorated and highly functional.
Well- applied lacquer has a remarkable range of characteristics, as it is light, flexible, waterproof and hard; it also resist mildew and polishes to a smooth luster. Actually, it has many of the qualities of some plastics, but with the great advantage of being a naturally developed product of local materials.So, looking at these charming, beautiful lacquerware, we sometimes ask ourselves why we, as many others, use their plastic replacements…
Thai history tells us that after the re-capture of Chiang Mai from The Burmese, the new ruler forcibly moved entires villages (among then, the Tai from the Shan State in Burma) to re-populate and revitalize Chiang Mai, the southern capital of Lanna kingdom.This kind of re-settlement after a victory was a common practice when craftsmen were particularly valued.
Although the lacquer is often applied to wood, its original use was over a carefully-made wicker-base structure because it was much light and flexible. The natural color of lacquer is black, the red finish, characteristic of Shan-style lacquerware, is derived from ground cinnabar, which has the best quality, but it is nowadays very rare, so the use switched to the less intense red ochre, which tends to flake.
A craft that probably developed in Ayutthaya as early as the 14th century, and which the Thais perform in a unique style, is the mother-of-pearl inlaid into black lacquer. It is a painstaking work that needs an extremely skilled artisan’s hand , because the individual elements are so small and adding to that, the lacquer – embedding involves many applications. However, the best Thai craftsmen have gone to extremes, and we are referring not only to the intricate designs, but to the scale of the final work. An amazing example of this, are the doors of Wat Phra Kraew, the temple of Emerald Buddha, at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which is very well worth spending a good time admiring. Extraordinary.
What it is really admirable, is the material that Thai artisans had chosen for doing these extraordinary works. The favourite among ,Thai artisans, is the green turban shell found on the west coast of Southern Thailand not only for their characteristic bright colours , density of their accretions but because the shell is naturally curved, so it must be cut into small pieces in order to assemble into flat inlay work. Even then, the pieces must be ground and polished to flatten their edges. Working with large numbers of small pieces of shell, although complicates the assembly process, increases not only the intricacy characteristic of inlay work, but its beauty.
We would like to share with you some pictures of this highly delicate craftsmanship, in order for you to get an idea of what we are talking about.
Thai traditional Silverware
If you really love silver jewelry, well, you really came to the right country. Silversmithing in Thailand follows an ancient tradition, proof of this are the votive plaques from the 8th century that have been found in the Northeast and silver miniature stupas from southern Thailand date to the 11th century.
Now, if we are talking about the origin of silversmith in Thailand, as we have seen happing with many more craftsmanships, technical influences reached the country from all directions at different historical periods, the strongest stylistic influences being those which came from Burma and China.
The Burmese influence, has its origins in late 18th century when Shan silversmith villagers, as well as happened with Shan lacquerware villages, where re-settled in Chiang Mai area. Since then, the Wua Lai road area of the city, named after the original Shan villages from the Salween River, has maintained a silver-working tradition. Important to remember when going to visit Chiang Mai.
It was about at the same time, in Rattanakosin period, the mainstream of precious-metal working took place in Bangkok under Chinese influence, as consequence of a strong immigration that took place during the 19th century. The Chinese quickly dominated the silversmithing trade bringing into Siam new skills and techniques, particularly repoussee work, where the sheet of metal is punched and hammered from inside to produce a relief decoration.
Over the years, as the Chinese assimilated into Thai society through intermarriages, different artistic expression as well some architectural details and styles, Chinese and Thai styles blended, becoming virtually one.
If only I’d known..,
When going to buy jewelry, it is advisable to avoid stalls selling all kind of jewelry that you will find in the corridors of some shoppings malls and markets, and go to shops where you could get the guarantee documents. You will pay more, but you will get the real thing.
When walking into a souvenirs shop, or jewellery, you will see masks for covering the whole head, not only the face, on the top of a wooden stick, and each one might has a different face, size, colour. Some look as being human beings, another monkeys and others ferocious monsters or demos, very similar to those that we had seen in the Grand Palace, guarding the gates.
So, we look for the attendant asking for some explanation, receiving the same answer: they are khon masks, and this is Hanuman, or Rama, or one of the demons, generally Thotsakan…and there your are, left without knowing exactly what you were just told. Because this happened to us, we will try to tell you a short summary of what a khon mask is, and which is their use.
Masked dance drama, is at the heart of Thai theatrical tradition. It derives from Indian ritual temple dancing, and it is believed to have originated in the south of the country, Nakhon Si Thammarat, which has early contacts with Indian culture, and from there spread north to Sukhothai and Cambodia.
Khon is the most stylized form of Thai dance. It is performed by troupes of non-speaking dancers, and the story is being told by a chorus at the side of the stage. The choreography follows traditional models rather than being innovative as well as costumes that are dictated down generation after generation. Most khon performances feature episodes from the epic story of the Ramakien. If you still are not familiarised with this name, we give you a help: it is the same tale that is represented on the mural paintings on the walls of the galleries surrounding Wat Phraew Khao, or Emerald Buddha temple, in the Grand Palace.
The exquisitely painted Khon masks are essential to conveying not only the characters but also their moods in a Khon performance. Because the dance was considered strenuous for women, men played both male and female roles, and the complex narrative was aided by a set of masks which identified each character.
These masks ( Khon in Thai) because they were of great importance in establishing each character in the whole play, became an art form in their own right. Their form and styles were decreed both in old manuscripts and by information handed down from master craftsman to apprentice. The process of making khon masks is a painstakingly task and is based on papier-mâché layers. In Bangkok, we still can found places where khon masks are made, another place worth visiting.
Khon masks are really beautiful and with a delicate design , because of that they might be used as decorative items, so it is easy to find khon masks of different characters of Ramakien on shelves of jewelries and souvenirs shops; they are made in various sizes, and we could find some ornamented with small jewels. Khon masks, make a beautiful memento from Thailand.
Lets meet some of the most common characters of the Ramakien that you easily may find:
To help you choosing a mask, we thought that it would be useful if we give you a short and general description of the most common characters of the Ramamkien , that you might find in shops:
Celestial and Human Beings
Celestial and Human masks are much simpler in design than those of the demon and monkey masks. They are also more refined in appearance, especially the representations of gods or the humans with incarnations of gods, and their color varies, according to the role in the story.
Phra Ram, reincarnation of Vishnu, the hero of the story, is usually painted deep green and with a slight smile, signifying his benevolent nature, and wears a multitiered gold crown. His purpose in the Ramakien is to defeat the demons, who threaten the god’s power.
Most celestial masks have closed mouths and the important deities display a jewel between their eyebrows. Crowns also vary among characters but like the other types of masks, the more important characters are, the more elaborate are the crowns they wear.
Like other masks, demons masks are painted in different colours, as red, white, blue or green, etc, with contracting colours for highlights around the eyes, mouth and nose. Demons may have two type of eyes: bulging, wide open or crocodile type, partially closed. Also, they have two types of mouth: clamping or snarling; and both types of mouths display , in turn, two types of teeth: curving, tusk-like canines or straight, fang-like canines.
Demons’ crowns could be in fourteen types. In general, the most important characters wear crowns, and then again, the more important the character, the more elaborate the crown. Some of these include a crown with multiple tiers, one with a cock’s tail top, or a gourd top.
The most important demon, who at the beginning of the story abducts Phra Ram’s beautiful wife Nang Sida, is the King Thotsakan, whose mask, in relation with his wicked nature, is demoniac with miniature demon faces on his crown. Thotsakan’s green face is highlighted with blue and gold lines and bright red lips. He has bulging eyes with a snarling mouth and curving, tusk-like canine teeth.
His crown is his distinguishing feature. He is the only one character with a three tiered crown.The first level is a gold leaf cap complete with jewels and flower designs. The second level contains a face identical to the proper mask. This face is repeated on all four sides and represents Thotsakan’s ten faces. The top level of the crown is the face of a celestial being. Possibly, this reflects the fact that some people consider Thosakan a descent of Pra Phrom ( Thai name for hindu god Brahma); or just it might be that Thai people do not consider Thoksakan completely evil, and that before being born on earth, he was associated with the gods.
These masks are easy to identified, because all have a monkey’s face, of course. But what it is not that easy is to identify who is who, because there are around thirty to forty different monkeys’ masks distinguished by their colour, facial expressions and crowns.
The other hero of the epic story, is the monkey general Hanuman, the great favorite of audiences during the performances, son of the wind, devoted to and main ally of Phra Ram’s in the quest to rescue Nang Sida. We could recognize him due to his white mask highlighted in green and pink.
Hanuman wears only a red coronet with gold markings on the top of his head, when represented as a warrior, (but eventually would wear different headdresses according to each episode of the story). Hanuman’s gaping mouth displays his canine teeth which are usually just features of the demons, but as great difference with them, he has in the roof of his gaping mouth the jewel that is a symbol of special powers which is not the only symbol of Hanuman’s special powers, because he has also another jewel between his eyebrows, possibly representing inner energy.
Back at home, when we mentioned the word silk, the image that came along was the fine and smooth – satin appearance of the Chinese silk. To our surprise, we found that the Thai silk has a relatively coarse texture with uneven, slightly knotty threads. This imperfection gives it a special beauty, and it is the immediate and first evidence of its hand-made nature, a welcome contrast to the machine-woven silk.
Thai silk production, has a captivating story. In 1902, king Rama V decided to improve the quality of Thai silk, for that, invited a group of Japanese sericulture experts to help raising the production of raw silk, but the project was abandoned when the Thai villagers couldn’t overcame their own conservatism…do not forget that the process of producing raw silk means to boil the cocoons, what means killing them which is not allowed in Buddhist precepts.
But, shortly after World War II, an American former intelligence officer, Jim Thompson, settled in Bangkok and started to work to revitalized the nearly – moribund Thai silk industry, setting up a commercial operation based on the hand made skills of weavers living in the Bankrua community, just crossing the klong from where Jim Thompson lived.
With his natural flair for design and colour, and driven by his single-minded dedication to reviving the craft, Thompson soon gained worldwide recognition for his success in rebuilding the industry, and for generating international demand for Thai silk. His company, was asked to make the costumes for the original Broadway production of “The King and I”. The boom in Thailand’s tourist industry ensured and ever-growing demand.
“ Jim Thompson and the Thai Silk Company he established, saved a dying craft and transformed it into a world-class designer brand. For Thompson, “the real measure of the success of the Thai silk industry was not so much in the profits of his own company as in the rival companies that began to spring up all over Bangkok”. Thompson’s development of the Thai silk industry is often cited as one of the great success stories postwar Asia.”
You could read more visiting this website: www.jimthompsonhouse.com
If only I’d known..,.
Be aware that you will find many, many places selling Thai silk , because it already became a souvenir, synonymous of have been visiting Thailand, but not all of these stalls or shops sell the real Thai silk. So, how would you know which is the real one?
We’re giving you a few easy test that you could try before buying any silk piece or cloth:
- Do a “Touch” test. This is a quick spot test that one can do especially before buying a silk cloth. The idea is to rub the silk with your hands. If you feel warmth on rubbing it, go buy it! It’s real. With artificial or synthetic silk, it is impossible to experience warmth on rubbing.
- The rule of the three P: Price, Place, Packing. This norm is valid not only for silk, it goes for everything you buy in Thailand. Do not believe the infamous” it is original ,Madam” when the seller intents to put that beautiful silk dress you would buy into a plastic bag with the name of some supermarket, in a stall of the street in Bangkok or in any market or corridors of shopping malls and worth at the tenth time the price that you just saw in the official shop. Be sure, go to the shop.
- Look at the Weave. Hand woven silk boasts of uniqueness. There are minor variations in the evenness of the texture that are natural and expected and it is exactly these imperfections what lend distinction to the product. Machine woven silks look perfect, they are flawlessly even in texture. Further more, synthetic fibres look perfect too even though sometimes slight imperfections are deliberately included so that they could pass off as real silk.
- See if you can perform a Burn Test. This is perhaps the best and most definitive test to find genuine silk. You can take a few threads from the material and burn it with a flame. In genuine silk the flame is invisible and it will stop burning as soon as the flame is removed and the ash produced is black, crispy and brittle, turning into powder when twisted in fingers. With the artificial silk, it is quite the opposite. When synthetic silk is burnt, there is a flame and smell of plastic and no ash is produced. Needless to say, you might need to exercise caution with this test, you don’t want to end up setting fire to the silk showroom. We have seen in some silk shops that it is the same vendor , as proof of the quality of the product, the one who burns one or two threads of the fabric.
Now, happy shopping…
“In many instances no less sumptuous than the items produced for royalty and the nobility, religious art in Thailand formed the foundation of all secular art, architecture and decoration. Therevada Buddhism, the traditional and to its adherents the pure Buddhism, inspired a form of art that was much more restricted in its focus of devotion than the more eclectic Mahayana cult that spread north to Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. Nevertheless, given the Thai passion for decorative art, the ornament lavished on sacred architecture, icons and paraphernalia was as rich as each community could afford – be in the village, town or palace”… *
* We found this note in this book which is very well worth reading, if you are interested in Thai crafts : Religion Paraphernalia, “Things Thai, Crafts &Collectibles”, by Tanisha Dansiip, Michael Freeman
Although in Thailand there is freedom of religion, it is easy to see that the ample majority of Thais are Buddhist. Buddhism supports daily life and culture, and because Buddha’s images represent his presence , they are highly sacred objects playing an unique role. Just thinking that almost all 30,000 temples existing in the country has, at least, a major Buddha’s image, many of them have more than the main image, adding to this that any devote house-hold also maintains it own altar with at least one image, therefore, easily we could say that there are innumerable Buddha’s images supporting Thais’ daily life.
We must have present at all times that the image of any part of the Buddha ( the most commonly seen are his head and hand ) represents the entire Buddha, so we should pay the expected respect.
But we shouldn’t forget that Thailand is a touristic country, so adding to all Buddha’s images existing for religious purposes, there are countless more in souvenir shops for tourism reasons which are beautifully made, and could be found in different sizes and materials which make difficult to resist the temptation for buying one.
If only I’d known…
We should have this in mind at the time of buying a Buddha’s entire image or just a part of it. It is prohibited by law to buy a Buddha’s image for using it as an ornament and whether the intention is to take it outside the country, there are strict regulations that movers companies have to follow. So it is highly advised to check all details before buying one.
Thai traditional Votive tablets
Although it is not known with certainty which was the use of the votive tablets in times when they were made, what it is known, is that many were carried home by pilgrims visiting sacred sites. They might be considered the earliest souvenirs, though within a sacred context, and were made from baked or unbaked clay, silver, gold or pewter.
One of the most interesting aspects of votive tablets is that it seems that they were replaced, through the pass of years, by the modern amulets. The distinction between both it is not clear enough, to the point that some think that the amulets sold on the market now, are , actually, ancient votive tablets.
Thai Magic Amulets
Several hundred years ago, votive tablets were considered, as was mentioned above, as sacred mementoes taken by worshippers to holy sites, acquiring, through time , in the mind of the believers, the ability to protect. So, if it is true that the modern amulets are actually those old protective votive tablets, it is not rare to see Thais having more than one amulet , just to accumulate more and more protection…
In the streets around Wat Mahatat, and in other areas of Bangkok, especially Rattanakosin island, it is easy to see stalls where amulets are being sold. Amulets collection in Thailand is now a significant business, with the rarest and ancients items being much appreciated and looked for, so, they might be sold for millions of Bath.
Monks’ Alm bowls
Each day, very early, before dawn, if we were “early birds”, we might see barefoot monks walking in silence , along the sois and roads stoping only at the houses or shops where they would be offered food, which is put by people inside the monk’s alms bowls.
According to tradition, the alms bowls in Buddha’s times, were made from clay, and were simple in form. These days, although they are still simple, but due to the fact that are, in many cases, are given by devotees to the monks as a way of making merits, they might be fine and elegant, and made from expensive materials.
The alms bowl is composed by three parts: the stand, the bowl and the lid. They could be made of lacquered bamboo, being the black more commonly seen used by novices, while the red and black are for high-ranking monks, or could be the hand made iron alms bowls using a technique from Ayutthayan times, but also could be made from aluminum, which are more cheaper.
It would be interesting to include in one of your tours to Bangkok, Ban Bat , on Bamrung Mueang Road the village where hand -made iron alms bowls are made, still following the tradition of Ayutthaya times. It is located in Rattanakosin island and not so far from Grand Palace.
Rice seed baskets and scoops
“Functional vernacular craft is at the heart of the Thai Tradition. The adornment it carries, as for example in the floral lintel designs for Northern houses, has a function rooted in spiritual and social necessity. Artifacts such as the Thai farmer’s hat, the rice and seed basket, and shuttle for the loom are each a marvel of economy in design. Not only does form follows function – a Western 20th century ideal that in Asia is more of a natural than a considered philosophy – but by virtue of the Thai aesthetic , such objects as these also a display an elegance of line and shape that qualifies them as works of art.” *
* We found this note in this book worth reading for finding further information about Thai crafts : “Crafts of Daily Village Life , “Things Thai, Crafts & Collectibles “, by Tanisha Dansiip, Michael Freeman
Going into a souvenirs shop is getting lost amid a myriad of Thai souvenirs, and we mean it. Among all of them, you will find scores of a particular basket with a square base and a round section in its body, beautifully made of woven bamboo strips and painted in different colours. Their size could range from small to a big ones, starting from ten to sixty or seventy centimeters highest.. While still wondering which would be its use, you will buy one while thinking in that particular corner of your home that needs a Thai “touch”. Excellent choice.
But now, we would like you to know which is its real use in Thai life, and as you will see, it is an important one. As rice is central to Thai life, also it is primordial its storage. For that purpose, in any Thai house there is a punt , which is a sturdy basket, square at the base and round at the top. Originally from the north of the country, the pung’s very important function is that of storing and protecting rice seeds , which is reflected in its fabrication.
Having in mind that the two enemies of rice are moisture and insects, we will see how the punt’s shape respond to it: the square wooden base is a defensive measure against both, raising the basket some 5 cm ( 2 inches) off the ground or shelf. As a round section gives more volume for storage than any other shape, and is, in basketry, easier to make, the body of the punt is… round. But, in wood working is much easier to cut four straight sides than to turn a circular piece, so the base is just square.
For being waterproof and sealed against insects, the container has a light black layer of lacquer applied inside , while the outside is lacquered in several layers with decorative motifs.
The neck and lid are both deep for a secure fit. The square base is strapped tightly to the outside of the basket with strands of rattan, which are secured to a ring, just below the neck and through holes drilled into the wooden base . In this way, the pung is a secure container for the rice seeds that will be used for the next season’s crop.
For serving the rice is used a coconut wood spoon that with its simple lines and pleasing construction, displays the ability of the Thais to create utilitarian objects that also shows grace and beauty.
Thai food is just delicious what makes difficult to find a dish that we would say that we don’t like, but its spicy side might make some people be aware of it. But there is one dish, dessert to be more specific, that everyone who had tried once, became automatically a devoted eater: sticky rice with mango and coconut milk. Well, that is the sticky rice, where “sticky” is not only a name, this rice is sticky. Nowadays is served on a plastic or styrofoam small trays or on a plate for touristic reasons, but that traditionally was eaten in a different way: family and close friends may simply take the rice from a central plate, or served in individual woven bamboo containers directly from the huad, a kind of conical basket used to steam it. Also, you will see on many tables, individual round bamboo containers, not configured for carrying, but only for serving which has a lid attached by a cord.
Thai Water Dippers
Water plays a central role in Thai life. In the past, most houses were close to, floating or settled on stilts on the water; as long as water was flowing, most of the family’s needs could be served by simply reaching down from the terrace.
But, in some areas of the country, as the northeast, where droughts are more common than floods, most of house-hold’s supply of water would be collected and stored in huge earthenware jars placed under the eaves of the house to receive rainwater from the roof and then would be apt for using .
It is in the use of water, a primordial element for maintain life, where we can see once more, the strong influence of Buddhism over Thai daily life. According to Buddhist teachings, Thais distinguish the upper and lower parts of the body in terms of moral ranking. High parts are superior to the low ones as head is superior to feet.
This belief affects many aspects of Thai daily life, but particularly the way in which water was used , in the past, in the house, although it could still be seen in rural areas, where Thai traditions are still very well alive. This is one of the main reasons why we highly recommend you to plan a trip to any of up-country towns or villages, or, just go a little bit east Shukunvit Road, here in Pattaya, and you will find pockets of the old Thailand.
We know that because the floor area in a Thai house is used for sitting, eating and other activities, shoes are left outside in order to avoid bringing dirt inside. So, when Thais lived on stilted traditional houses the footwear was left at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the elevated terrace, and a jar of water with a dipper was provided for washing the feet.
Therefore, following Buddhist teachings, as this water is used to clean the feet , it is considered to be lowest “ level” of water used in the house, the highest being the one used for drinking. For this purpose, a jar made from a porous earthenware (the porosity helping to cool the water by evaporation) would be placed in a high position, on the elevated terrace.
Accompanying this water jars are water dippers or ladles, made from a small young coconut cut to slightly more than half, and attached to a long, carved, wooden handle.
As we have seen, a traditional Thai house wouldn’t include seats, because life was lived on the floor, and this, had influenced customs and etiquette. But it should be emphasized here that this is traditional custom rather than modern, and that there is a decline in this lifestyle, especially in cities . There is no practical way of successfully combining floor seating with chairs, in Buddhist societies in general, and in Thailand in particular, where the head is considered the highest part of the body, so nobody should be seated above the level of others’ heads, although this custom has two significant exceptions: the nobility and monkhood.
In times before the arriving of the use of chairs in Thai society, traditionally daily life , as mentioned above, was lived on the floor, and for that reason, mats are placed on it, and raised surfaces that were needed for eating, writing, or just applying make up, were low. And so, for reasons of comfort, low cushion that would not slide were used; the Thai invention is functionally perfect while at the same time aesthetically pleasing: the man kwan or the triangular cushions.
The farmer’s hat, or ngorh, could be said to be one of the “classics” of Thai basketry design. With a upside-down basket look, it offers excellent protection from sun and rain, is light , well ventilated and comfortable what make it to be a great choice for Thailand’s climate.
Made from the most accessible materials, as bamboo and palm, and in average measures between 20 to 30 cm in height, but the hidden success of its design is that the hat doesn’t sit one one’s head, but on top of a light, expandable cylindrical frame, as a cap, which fits neatly on the wearer’s head. This separation keeps the points of contact with the head to a minimum, while allowing air to circulate underneath the proper hat, a necessity while working in the fields or paddling a canoe under the merciless Thai sun.
Hand- made Thai textiles
When talking of Thai textiles, we shouldn’t think only of silk, which was reserved for the court, nobility and the wealthy. It was hand woven cotton fabrics which was used by the common of Thais which were of a sublime beauty and delicacy.
We could not but mention all the valuable work of the Support Foundation under the Royal Patronage of Queen Sirikit to try to revive this old tradition that was, essentially, a women’s art conveyed and materialized in the The Queen Sirikit Textiles Museum.
The museum is located in grounds of the Grand Palace, just next to the main entrance, in the recently renovated European classic style Ratsadakorn Bhibhathana building, and was created to collect, display, preserve, and serve as a learning center for all who wish to learn about textiles, especially those related with the royal court.
There is a section that is really interesting to see, in which is related how Her Majesty Queen Sirikit has helped turn Thai silk from local handicraft into a symbol of Thailand. The museum also has an area for shopping, giving the visitors an opportunity to acquire hand woven fabrics or cloths using this traditional technique while helping Thai women, because all money that comes from the sales go directly to the weavers, many of them single mothers.
If you are interested in going, it would be useful to gather information in advance visiting the official website: www.qsmtthailand.org/about_qsmt/70/#sthash.lIYcyGQZ.dpuf
Weaving in Thailand is traditionally a female skill. Men make the weaving equipment, but the operation of the loom was strictly the women’s domain. The relationship between weaving and success as a wife and householder was clearly recognized in traditional village society where young women known to be skilled weavers were prized as future brides. Girls were taught to weave by their mothers or female relatives and from early childhood watched the many processes of cultivation, spinning, weaving and dyeing taking place at home and around the village.
Patterns for weaving are not written down, here lies the importance of Queen Sirikit’s effort in rescuing this old tradition, but passed down by example from one generation to the next. If the pattern was complex, then, samples might have being kept as reference. After a childhood spent watching adults, and increasing her skills during adolescence, by the time she married a girl would know how to weave a variety of textiles for use at home and for ceremonial occasions.
Traditional Tube skirts
How many times walking into a hotel or traditional Thai restaurant have you observed the beautiful attires of the young Thai women welcoming you at the entrance? And how many times have you asked yourself how it is that that skilfully folded skirt was really fixed in place? ..And how many times have you asked yourself watching Thai women wearing this clothes simply as uniforms, if Thai women really used them in some part of Thailand’s history?
Well, as it happens with traditional dress in other cultures, the pha sin, which is the name of the skirt, is fast disappearing from daily life, and apart from the most rural areas, is more or less left only for formal occasions or hotels and restaurants staff, as you had seen.
The pha sin is the principal item of a traditional Thai woman’s attire. It is a long, tube-like skirt similar to a Sharon, but with a big difference: the cloth in the pha sin is always sewn together at the vertical edges. At the waist the skirt is tied either by folding the fabric from left to right , or vice-versa, or by making two folds that cross over at the front. In both cases the cloth is then tucked and rolled over, sometimes with a silver belt worn over the fold.
The pha sin has three parts: the waist band, the main body and the hem piece. The most common designs for the main body are either plain or with horizontal stripes. Because of the way in which the pha sin is worn, wrapped around and sewn into a tube, its length is determined by the width of the loom. The separate pieces of waist band and hem make up the difference.
The difficulties of operating a wide loom had influenced the structure of the tube skirt, as the standard width of cloth woven in rural communities would not cover the full length of a woman’s leg, but tradition dictated that it should be ankle length.
So, while the waist band was separately attached, a hem was necessary at the base. One advantage of this is that the main body could have been made from a fine yarn-like silk , while the waist and hem could be made with tougher material and could be replaced when frayed.
Beyond this functional requirement, however, the Thai weavers made the hems, or tin chok, as a way of showing theirs aesthetic skills, resulting in beautiful pieces of art. It is a kind of embroidery performed while the cloth is still on the loom, and in textile terminology is known as discontinuous supplementary weft technique. With time, care and a good pair of eyes, it allows for extremely intricate detail and individual designs.
Traditional Thai Loom Shuttles
We have included Thai loom shuttles because it is highly possible that you find one of them in any shop where traditional Thai items are sold, and if you are not a weaver, well, you just won’t know what those beautiful, wooden – canoe like items are.
The wooden shuttle, or kra suey, with its simplicity and elegantly tapering at its turned ends, is a symbol of both the important, fundamental role of weaving in traditional Thai rural society and the ability of Thai craftsmen of giving an aesthetically pleasing form to even the most basic practical items of Thai life.
As we have said, the content of this page is the result of our research plus some comments of our own. We gathered and just put together interesting information that we thought it would be of help, which, in turn, we had found while reading the books listed below or visiting the websites that are also included in the list . So, you could find all this information ,and more, reading:
- “Things Thai, Crafts & Collectibles”, by Tanisha Dansiip, Michael Freeman
- Exhibition : ‘Bencharon Journey: From China to Siam’, held at River City Bangkok, December 2018- January 2019
Or visiting these websites:
We just hope that you had enjoyed reading this page, and that we had been of help. If you have some comment, please, lets know. In this way, we would be able to keep linking Pattaya together.