The village has always been the center of Thai life. The Thais call it "Moobaan", which means "the village where home is", and this is an accurate term because the family, the home, and the village are basically one and the same. The village is a close knit working and living unit where the majority of Thai people are born and raised. It is the central feature of countryside living and even those who live in the large cities of the country hold many of the village values in their hearts.
As a predominantly agricultural country, 75 percent of the population of Thailand lives in rural areas and the larger proportion of these reside in villages. A typical Thai mailing address reads something like this: House no. 24, Moo 7, Tambon Khalang, Amphur Muang, Changwat Chiangrai; where Moo is village, Tambon is district, Amphur Muang is city, and Changwat is province. Notice there is no street name or number but there is a house number, and the second part of the address is Moo, or village.
The above address and village name is created, it does not exist; but throughout Thailand's rural areas and even in parts of cities such as Chiangrai and Chiangmai this address system is used. The towns and cities of Thailand are surrounded by vast stretches of farmland where the majority of people live in villages. Thai villages usually consist of about 100 homes and about 500 people, but many are much smaller and some are a little larger. They are nearly all farming communities and they have been there for generations and some even for centuries.
Because of the close-knit nature of the Thai village and the emotional security that the lifestyle generates, village culture is deeply ingrained in the majority of Thai people. In a village, everyone knows each other and all are friendly with each other. They cooperate, help each other, protect each other, and develop human bonds which take the already extended Thai family out further to include non blood relatives whom urban people would simply call friends or neighbors. If you're at all familiar with the Thai language, you'll hear younger Thai people address friends and coworkers with the endearing term of 'Pi'. Pi means brother or sister, as in 'Pichy' or 'Pisow', and when Thais use this term to address another there is an automatic bonding that tells the person addressed "we are close and we have the same goals''. This occurs even in situations where two people barely know each other, and the familiarity of this term and its use stems from the closeness of people that exists naturally in the countryside Thai village.
Another example of this closeness can be seen in young Thai people who might, at different times, refer to three different older women as 'Mae' or 'mother': On the surface this is a relatively loose use of the term, but in reality it is sincere. It comes about because as young children in the village a number of women care tor the children while the real mother is out working, with other villagers on the farm. The relative free use of pi' and 'Mae' are but two examples that show how the village, the family and the home come together in a traditional Thai village.
Children growing up in a Thai Village are among the most cared for and secure children in the world. They are smothered with attention, both from immediate family members and other members of the village. They grow up in an environment where they receive the love of the community and at the same time learn the responsibilities within both the family and the village community. They have the trust of their elders and therefore a freedom which is perhaps unmatched in most of the world. There is always someone to look after them, always someone to talk with them, and always someone to guide them. These factors form, over the growing period, a clear perception of the people and life around them and a solidarity with their fellow villagers that makes them virtually inseparable. There is often a sharing of work, of food, of families and of homes.
The center of the village community today is the Buddhist temple or Wat. Each village has one and they were traditionally built by the Villagers themselves. This is now not the case since professional builders are available, but the older wats that were constructed through the cooperation of the villagers and their materials and manual labor were another feature that created such a close-knit Community. Today, in most Thai villages, you will see most houses in wood, having been built by the villagers, but the wat is most often in a whitewashed concrete, stone or brick. This has not detracted from the role of the wat in the village community. In addition to Buddhist Offerings and traditional religious practice, villagers use the wat for their meetings and social events as well as for some of the education of their children. Before the recent construction and staffing of public schools in Thailand's countryside areas, wats were the center of education also. Many village wats still provide essential elementary education.
The wat as meeting place functions as much more than just a convenient location. On Thai holidays, villagers usually gather on the wat grounds where they can socialize and have fun, and often these grounds are set up with games, contests and for food. Entering the monkhood, if only for one month, is a extremely important event in the life of a Thai man. In the village where traditional Thai culture remains as strong as it was 20 years ago, most of the boys enter a wat at the age of 20 and it is an important festive occasion for all village members. Villagers will always ask the abbot of the wat to intervene on their behalf in asking the spirit of the land for permission to build a new house and even purchases of automobiles, trucks and motorcycles are brought to the abbot for a blessing. So much of village life is community oriented that from birth to death, including illnesses nearly all matters are village affairs.
Two of the many characteristics that distinguish Thai from other peoples originate in the traditional village. One is the concept of 'Sanook' or 'fun'. The Thai tendency to seek out fun whenever possible stems from the community socializing and sharing of the village and its people. The second Thai Characteristic that has resulted from rural village life is Called 'boon koon' and 'torbtaen boon koon', or doing and returning favors. This comes from the villagers helping with a new house, growing crops on others land, helping with harvests, and providing help in illness or times of trouble. In Thai villages where people are basically poor and life and nature often come together to make things difficult, these two concepts of 'fun' and 'favors' are very important.
The traditional Thai village house is a microcosm of the village itself. It is a large, one-room wood structure raised from the ground, where all members of the immediate extended family live and function. The one room is used as kitchen, bedroom, living and dining room, and corners are set aside for storage, and for some privacy. But there is no real privacy in a Thai village house, and this lifestyle which begins in the family home breeds a familiarity with lack of privacy and a communal form of living. This is perhaps why the average Thai values cleanliness so highly, tends to share all information with everyone within earshot maintains an uncanny tolerance for others and their habits, simultaneously pursues his or her own highly individualistic path without reference to others, and hardly ever presumes to tell another what he should or should not do.
The Thai village house is generally comfortable and functional. There is a place for everyone, other villagers don t hesitate to walk in and sit down, and when people want to go to sleep they do. On ground level, below the raised house, is a work area and space for farming, animals, or machinery.
The Thai Village is often seen as a beautiful depiction of simplicity and tradition. The rice fields spreading out in all directions are lush green, the rivers flow and form the central irrigation system, people farm and people fish. The village is a communal unit which has always been strong because of the need for people to get along and to work together. People from the village take their values with them to Thailand s cities, and whenever possible they always do go back to the Villages. One can say that even in cities like Bangkok and Chiangmai, the village and the values and concepts it breeds are still the center of Thai life.
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