วันเสาร์ที่ 3 เมษายน พ.ศ. 2553
Hom mali strain of rice, silk, and elephants are all valuable resources that have brought fame to Surin province in Thailand and throughout the world. However, developments over the past four decades have seen elephants being rounded-up at the Surin Annual Elephant Round-Up Show every December, before the huge mammals break up to face a life on the streets, generally in tourist destinations throughout the country. Some stray along traffic-clogged, city streets forced to breathe polluted air hoping that someone will be kind enough to buy them food. For the elephants, such an existence can become life-threatening.
On January 8, 2006, the people of Surin declared their intention to bring home their elephants in an initiative knows as `Returning Elephants Home for the Development of Native Surin Campaign', a joint effort undertaken by the Provincial Administration Organization and parliamentarians from Surin constituencies.
Accordingly, elephants from Surin and Buri Ram are returned to the Elephant Village in Surin where mahouts are paid to grow vegetables in the community forest for elephant feed. This initiative serves several purposes including pre-empting elephants from straying, elephant conservation. and the promotion of the Elephant Village. Of equal import is the revival of the culture pertaining to the way elephants are raised by the ethnic Kuai that gives people an opportunity to participate in local development and generate supplementary incomes.
Ban Taklang in tambon Krapho of Tha Turn district in Surin has long been home to the ethnic Kuais or Kuis who are highly adept at catching, training, and tending wild elephants, a cultural heritage passed from generation to generation as evidenced in existing documents.
According to Thai archives, Phraya Surin-phakdi-sinarong, head of the Thai Kuai Elephant Keepers, was made the first governor of Surin in return for capturing an auspicious white elephant belonging to King Ekathat of the Ayutthaya period. The prized elephant, which had escaped from captivity, was duly returned to the royal court.
Because tambon Krapho boasts a relatively large population of more than 300 elephants, it is referred to as 'Elephant Village', a place that enables us to understand the close relationship between local folk and the giant pachyderms in terms of local beliefs, rituals, dress code, language, and the lifestyle of its people unique to the community. If its importance is recognized by elephant experts, then its international status, in terms of its elephant-related culture, is well deserved.
Prior to 1957, the ethnic Kuai people caught elephants as an occupation; farming was only a supplementary undertaking. There were two or three elephant hunts each year, each lasting two to three months and sometimes up to five.
Seventy-four-year-old mochangMio Sala-ngam, an elephant expert, said he started off as an apprentice with an experienced mo changwhen he was only 14 years old. Hunting for elephants meant leaving home, living rough in the jungle for 15 nights before the hunters reached the target area where wild elephants would gather. On those occasions, the hunters would be led by a kamivang. Each expedition resulted in a catch of 50 elephants; one me chang and a mahout to an elephant. The expedition was always accompanied by a khruba, a revered senior member aged around 70 to 80 years old. Each of these expeditions would last three months, although the longest mission meant five months from home. And on an average, a domesticated elephant would be able to attract up to seven wild elephants.
Mo chang Bunma Saendi, another elephant expert, ventured into the wild when he was 14 years old. He explained that elephant hunters who were out hunting were barred from wearing, anything, except a single piece of fabric; not even shoes were allowed. For their meals, they had to refrain from eating rabbits and snakes; the only staples allowed on those trips were grains, chili and salt as they were supposed to look for food in the jungle. Herbs found in the wild were used if they fell sick. For example, plant roots were boiled to reduce fever.
Khruba Mak Suksi who is 84 years old is the eldest khruba still living today.
By definition, mo chang is the mahout assigned by the kamluang, or senior mo chang, to join the hunting expedition. The most senior mo chang is known as kamluang or khruba yai. Next in order of seniority is mo sadam, mo sadiang and mo cha. A young mo chang was generally new to the trade and had to make his own mark before being promoted to a higher rank, which could only be substantiated, first, by demonstrating his skill in capturing elephants and, second, by the promotion criteria associated with each rank.
Just as they prepared themselves for the hunting expedition, the mo chang had to perform a ceremonial ritual to pay homage to Pakam Shrine. The language used was the Ktraidialect. PakamShrine was widely revered among the ethnic Kuais similar to the way they regarded a divine being. On these occasions, no females were allowed to enter the shrine or take hold of the blessed whip.
A veteran mo chang normally had a shrine built in the
compound of his home to keep his blessed whip that was made of strips of intertwined buffalo hide and other kits essential for his trade. In principle, the buffalo-hide whip had to go through sacred blessings. Then, deep in the jungle, they conversed in the language of the wild; no names or status of members of the team were mentioned. Rather, they would be called by the name of the elephant they regularly tended.
Regional wars that erupted throughout Southeast Asia after 1957 brought an abrupt end to elephant hunting in the wild; a state of affairs compounded by the fact that fewer elephants were needed for labor.
To make a living, ethnic Kuais turned to farming as their primary source of income, while still tending to elephants in the community. At that time, elephant feed was still plentiful in the vicinity with Saito forest to the east of the village and Phudin forest to the west. North of the village is the Moon river that converges with the Chi river in an area known as Wang Thalu where elephants feed and bathe.
A deteriorating environment, and the pervasive spread of eucalyptus farming that encroached on the area formerly used as elephant feeding grounds, resulted in a substantial decline in vegetables and plants for the elephants to the point where they became quite scarce. Elephant keepers who used to take up ordination and other religious commissions in Surin and neighboring provinces were forced to venture further afield with their elephants, working in tourist destinations or straying into suburbia that eventually called for solutions to protect the beasts from potential danger.
The emergence of 'Returning Elephants Home for the Development of Native Surin Campaign' at the Elephant Study Center of Ban Taklang, tambon Krapho, in the Tha Turn district of Surin province represents a concrete step forward; a step jointly taken by the province of Surin, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways International, and tour operators' associations both at home and abroad after years of futile attempts towards a similar goal.
The Elephant Village presents two shows a day: one in the morning and the other in the afternoon at the show site at We Elephant Study Center. Visitors are able to meet Kamivang Phuct or Khruba Yai, and other elephant experts who formerly spent time catching elephants in the depths of the jungle prior to 1957. Visitors also learn the history of the Elephant Village; about elephant bone structure; the lifestyle of the ethnic Kuais; elephant training, and methods used for capturing wild elephants by riding on trained elephants to round up the wild ones.
In the afternoon, around 04.00 p.m. to 06.00 p.m., the elephants take their daily dip at Wang Thalu where visitors are welcome to lend a hand. There are also elephant rides to enjoy the natural surroundings by the Moon river, and a visit to the village with a chance to learn about the livelihood and training of mahouts as well as make use of the home-stay service.