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Burying The Placenta - A Gift of Blessing

THAILAND IS DEEPLY rooted in the Buddhist religion, yet this most flexible of faiths allows the proliferation of animistic beliefs whose origins lie far in the past. Although some of these customs have faded through disuse, a great many are as fervently practised today, in the world of computers and the Internet, as they were in ancient times.

Ceremonies of this kind may be simple, or most elaborate, but they all have a common theme: to ensure good will befall in life and to ward off evil forces. Thus their intention is to impart the blessings of good luck, longevity, happiness, health and wealth to an individual, a family or a community. Many of these ceremonies may seem strange to visitors' eyes, but are they any less peculiar than western traits, such as not walking beneath a ladder, or carrying a lucky talisman? We all need a bit of fortune. Why else would we enter lotteries we will probably never win ?

While some of these ceremonies, like the kwan duan ritual taking place when the infant is one month old, are rather commonplace and practised by most families, others require far greater preparation and call for the participation of lore-masters well versed in myth and mystery.

One such ceremony is that of burying the placenta. Following the birth of an infant, the parents will ensure that the placenta, or afterbirth, is set aside. It is then treated with salt to preserve it, and it is placed in a special earthenware jar. On the day deemed auspicious for burying this clay pot, a site suitable for its burial is prepared and the placenta is laid to rest. This is no simple task for there are strict rules that govern the precise location in which the container must lie.

Firstly the month of the infant's birth must be considered, for the mouth of the jar must point to the compass bearing deemed appropriate for that month. If the child was born in April, May or June, the pot must open strictly in a northerly direction, yet if the birth took place in the months of July to September, the mouth of the container could point to the north or northwest. If, however, the baby came into this world between October and December, the container's opening must be directed to the south or northeast. The placenta of an infant whose birth was in January, February or March must lie in a jar with its opening pointing south or southwest.

More complicated still are the botanical rules governing the burial site, for a plant of a certain species, having affinities with the year of the child's birth (in the Asian 12-year cycle) must be present there. Sometimes these plants might have very unusual growing requirements, or be quite rare, making it difficult to find an appropriate location, or necessitating the planting of the auspicious species.

Children of the years of the ox and the pig are best matched to the sugar palm or the lotus, while the lotus and the jackfruit tree are the guardians of the tiger and the dog. Only the wild jackfruit suits infants born under the signs of the monkey and the rooster, yet the ironwood tree and the wild cotton both protect the child born in horse or goat years. The coconut palm stands watch over the progeny of the rat,the rabbit and the dragon, but babies arriving in the year of the snake must associate with the Siamese sal tree if fortune is to be their friend.

Burying the placenta is clearly not to be undertaken lightly, but for the Thai family concerned over the future well-being of their sons and daughters, the expense and time involved are well worthwhile. The Asian philosophy that fate will happen come what may is reinforced and balanced by the numerous strategies employed to make that destiny as good as possible for the individual, the family, the community and the nation.

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