Toys are foundin every society often telling us a lot about the people and how children occupy their play time. In Thailand, toys are as important a part of a child's life as they are in any society, and in Thailand toys take on the distinctive feature of Thai culture. These features most often exhibit the rural lifestyle of the Thai people, although today one sees more evidence of electronic toys in the city.
The term Thai folk toy refers to the made-at-home recreational toys for children. The toys are composed of an interesting array of gadgets, musical instruments, practical toys that help children understand the responsibilities of life, and games of contest. Many Thai folk toys are made of simple paper or wood. This adds a whole new dimension to this realm because a Thai child could create almost anything as a toy of his own. Toys in Thailand become even more interesting, and more telling, when we consider the Thai emphasis placed on the concept of Sanook, or Fun. This is a concept that is ingrained in Thai children from the time of birth and the young population is highly creative when it comes to having fun.
The revolving folk toy exhibition at the Chiangmai Arts & Cultural Center present various Lanna folk toys in a cultural point of view and the basic fun aspect. The types of toys on view are Musical Instruments, and Practical Toys. A video (in Thai) focuses on a small village in Mae Wang where senior citizens still produce all types of handmade toys. (It's a beautiful drive to Mae Wang and the seniors would be delighted to meet visitors interested in the crafts.)
These are particularly interesting folk toys because they represent a great deal about the old way of life for most Thais. The Kha Yaang shows how ingenious the traditional farmer was in creating walking aids to cover extremely muddy areas under the Thai house where the animals were kept.
It is important to remember that Thailand was once a veritable bamboo forest and that this wood and its leaves were one of the most common resources available to the people of the area. This source has brought Thailand a long and diverse tradition in bamboo products designed by the farmer for his own use. Today we see how very important bamboo is as it continues to be the subject of decorative art pieces.
Throughout Southeast Asia, the water buffalo has been the primary work animal for the farm since before recorded history. When this animal, along with the buffalo yoke, was introduced to Thailand from Vietnam more than 1,500 years ago. It gradually developed into a symbol of Thai agriculture, and very naturally became a centerpiece for toys and games played by Thai children. Today, the folk toys making use of the water buffalo concept are indicative of this old culture, and they are also indicative of how important the water buffalo still is today in the rural areas of the North. A cuddly buffalo made of paper mache is in the exhibition.
Leaves of various tropical plants in Thailand have played an important role in Thai folk toys. Like coconut shells and bamboo, the use of leaf has made some toys possible and others more interesting. Many different types of leaf can be used, but the most usual have been palm and banana leaf. A well-known folk toy made of either palm or banana leaf is the Bpee, a pipe or flute.
One toy made always of banana leaf is the Mah Gaan Gluay, the banana horse. The Mah Gaan Gluay was made by cutting a banana leaf so that only the midsection was left with a small leafy part on the end to form the tail. The midsection was the horse's body. The head was formed by slicing the upper end of the midsection in two and bending the pieces outward. A string was tied loosely to the horse head and tall area and the rider placed the string over his shoulder to keep the banana leaf midsection in place. A child then straddled the midsection and made believe he was riding a horse.
Puppets are an important part of Thai culture, and while larger wood puppets have always been for professional puppeteers and for house decoration, and the shadow puppets have been more of an art form in a religious context, toy puppets were created for play by children. The puppet exhibition from the carvers of Chiang Rai depict fascinating vignettes with movable miniature carvings. Gazing for a few minutes will transport you back to the time of simple innocence watching the intricate movements.Chiangmai Arts & Cultural Center behind the three King Monument, Propokklao Road. Call for information. Tel. 053-217793, 053-219833. Monday closed. Entrance fee.
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