Mr. Cam-nu - At 113 Years Old
One of the North s Unsung Heroes
I knew Khun Cam-Nu for six years, visiting him several times a year with my guests. Of all the fascinating characters I have met in Northern Thailand, he was one of the nicest and most interesting. I am sure stories like his can be found throughout Thailand, but few can compare with his longevity and determination.
He was Karen, a tribe who have lived in Thailand for hundreds of years. He was 113 when he died. Of course, there are no records, but from his descriptions of his past he was certainly around that age. Up to the end, he was still working in the fields, and when at home he made baskets of bamboo with great skill. He founded a village 70 years ago which bears his name, and can be found a few kilometers to the west of Chiangrai and just south of the Mae Kok River. He was born in Lumpoon province, and as a young man worked for a British logging company. He was paid in silver rupees from the British Raj he says that the British always paid on time, and never tried to cheat him, but they were a bit mean. After a few years he had enough money saved to buy his own elephant, and became a skilled mahout. Much later he sold it, making a very small amount of money. He says, regretfully, that he should have kept it longer an elephant now is worth several hundred thousand baht.
When the British company did not need his services, he decided to move to an area he had heard of near the Mae Kok River, where the land was rich and available. He gathered together a group of about 30 Karen people, and they all trekked over 200 kilometers to the present site of the village. As he describes it the land where we settled was perfect very beautiful, with a little valley for growing rice, plenty of timber for building, and an abundance of wild life for hunting. There were hornbills, gibbons, monkeys, deer, bears, and many others. Our only problems were tigers, which ate our pigs, and the occasional flood.
We were happy.
We asked him how things had changed.
Almost all the trees and wildlife have gone, the weather is not as reliable as it used to be and the people are not as content.
When asked how he lived so long without a days illness.
He replied, I never worry about tomorrow, and if somethings needs doing, I do it immediately. I smoke a little home grown tobacco, and drink a cup or two of local whiskey and honey every day.
He was always interested in chatting with guests, and wanted to know about farming in their countries. Once, he was talking to two farm managers from the south of England.
How many pigs, cows, hens, do you have? He asked.
The numbers, in hundreds or thousands, obviously put him in a face losing position.
How many water buffalos do you have?
None, said the farm manager.
Cam-Nu looked much better. I have four, he said proudly. He was a small and very slender man, with a skull like a coconut. He was covered in red and blue tattoos - in northern Thailand, he explained, in the old days if you were not heavily tattooed, it was hard to find a wife. Tattooing was painful, and proved you were a real man if you could endure several days of suffering. Cam-Nu leaves a wife, a sprightly young 98 years old-also active but very shy.
In a day, he died at the right time. Just a few weeks after his funeral the bulldozers moved in and ripped up the valley that the village had farmed. No doubt the villagers will be resettled, but it would have broken Cam-Nus heart to see the end of his village.