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Animal Folk Tales, Part 2

Many Thai folk tales seek to explain why animals are the way they are or do what they do. The animals generally exhibit human foolishness greed or problem solving abilities to become as they are now. To enjoy these tales we must try to imagine the animal world before the intervention of Man when all animals roamed freely and they had only each other to contend with. Here are explanations for how some of the animals came to be the way we see them today.

In the distant past elephants wandered about the forests of Northern Thailand (not even Siam yet) foraging for food but they did not have long trunks as they do today. Their snouts were rather short and unremarkable by elephant standards. At this time also bees did not live within trees as they generally do nowadays. Instead they built nests on branches in the open air.

Elephants casually grazed on grasses and bees leisurely gathered pollen for food. But one year the rains were extremely meager and the land became dangerously dry. The elephants especially lacking a long appendage to reach leaves found it very difficult to find enough withered greens to feed themselves. The bees were also having great difficulty collecting enough food as the flowers were dying and produced no pollen.

Finally one day due to the draught the forest caught fire and began to spread wildly. The elephants at first tried to outrun the flames but they grew tired and the fire spread unchecked. The elephants called for help and the bees offered to lead them to safety in return for safe transport. The elephants opened their mouths and the bees flew inside to escape the superheated air and choking smoke. They settled in the elephants snouts and from there directed their companions to a nearby lake. The bees instructed the elephants to wade into the middle of the lake and to stay there until the fire had swept past them. A few days later the fire had spent itself as the trees brush and most of the wildlife had been consumed.

It was now time to leave the lake and resume their hunt for food but the bees had become accustomed to the cool dark interior and had begun building hives in the elephants snouts. The elephants began to bellow and trumpet in rage and fear that the bees might not be dislodged. As they trumpeted and exhaled their snouts began to stretch but still the bees refused to be evicted. After several hours of trumpeting and blowing the snouts had stretched into full sized trunks of one and a half to two meters but the bees still remained intact.

They decided that since the bees had flown inside to escape the smoke then that was the best way to get them out again. So the elephants walked onto the beach and into the smoldering ashes. There they inhaled deeply and held the smoke in their mouths and trunks until the bees fled. The elephants could now reach the water without stooping thanks to their enhanced appendages so they returned to the lake to drink and cleans their palate of the smoke and bee remnants. Afterward they found their trunks very effective for bathing and keeping themselves clear of insects.

The bees on the other hand had become very comfortable building their hives inside cool dark places. They searched about looking for something similar so they could rebuild their homes. They found the next best thing to an elephants trunk to be the hollow trunk of a tree. This is why an elephants nose and the body of a tree are called trunks and why the bees who build their honeycombs in trees are called Phung Phrong bees or elephants mouth hole bees. This also explains why the best way to get at a bee's honey is to chase them away with smoke.

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