EPISODE TWENTYFOUR – THAILAND PASTIMES
My new research assistant, Pueng, has excelled herself again. Following my discovery of the bird singing contest she, assisted by Wikipedia, has come up with some very interesting information on that and other pastimes or sports that are not commonplace but found in Thailand.
Muay Thai started way back in the medieval ages when wars were fought with bows and arrows, swords, and pikes. And in hand-to-hand combat arms, legs, knees, and elbows were also used as weapons. This sport which was included in military training was made famous by King Nareusan 1560 A.D. During one of the many battles between Burma and Siam he was captured. The Burmese knew of his prowess as the best unarmed fighter in the realm and gave him a chance to fight with their best for his freedom. On his return to Siam he was hailed as a hero and Siamese-style boxing, as it was called then, was soon recognised as a national sport. Boxing in this style reached the height of popularity about two hundred years ago in the reign of Prachao Sua (King Tiger), when it was widely practised. Fighters, particularly those in provinces, used horsehide strips and later kelp in lieu of gloves. It was also a practice at one time to grind pieces of glass into the kelp if both contestants agreed. Since these practices were obviously dangerous to the fighters’ health, regular boxing gloves were introduced around 1960 and have been used ever since. Muay Thai is regarded by Thais, as a prestigious national sport. Thai boys will, intentionally or unintentionally, learn how to box Thai style and even girls will know enough of the basic principles to be able to use it for self-defence when necessary. Muay Thai, called Thai Boxing by foreigners, is the national sport and is now getting more popular in many countries, especially in Japan where a large number of young Japanese are now being trained to fight professionally. But in Japan this fighting is called ‘Kick Boxing’. At present ‘Kick Boxing’ is internationally known as a Japanese martial art. Many believe the true name, ‘Muay Thai’ should be retained internationally as the Japanese terms Kendo, Judo, or Karate have been. There is no clear evidence to show the time of origin of Thai-Style boxing and it can only be assumed that Thai boxing existed since the Tai peoples emigrated from the South of China.
The Tai tribe immigrants had to hide from attackers and met with resistance from local people. In short, they had to fight endlessly for their survival. By the time they managed to settle the Tais had gone through many battles and many lives had been lost. The ancient weapons consisted only of spears, swords, pikes or bows and arrows. But in hand-to-hand combat weapons become clumsy, and elbows, knees, feet and fists became more practical. This must have been extremely successful, as it was then developed into a form of martial arts used in battle, and this was the origin of Muay Thai. When the Tais finally settled down and built a city, and extended their territory to become a large country, there was a need for an army to defend the country. Soldiers in those days had to learn Muay Thai along with the use of traditional weapons. Thus there was also the need for Kru Muay or teacher of Thai boxing. Various tactics for attack and defence were developed, called “boxing tactics”. Later, laymen began to take up this form of fighting, as a form of self-defence, and as a handy qualification to become a soldier, which would also lead to further advancement depending on their ability and talent.
Cock-fighting is a popular gambling sport but it is outlawed in Bangkok. Since only a few people know where the action is taking place, visitors who are interested will have to travel to the country to watch this gruesome sport. I’m really sorry I couldn’t get a copy of the photograph I found in the local press with the following caption.
‘A Thai man holds his cock on his farm in Pathum Thani province, central Thailand Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2006’.
In Thailand cockfighting was already popular at the time Ayutthaya was established as the capital of the Thai Kingdom in A.D.1350. In 1562, When Crown Prince Naresuan was seven years of age he was taken captive by the Burmese to ensure the fidelity of his father, who was already a prominent prince, as the Ayutthaya Kingdom was under Burmese occupation. During his stay in Burma, Crown Prince Naresuan was trained by the Burmese King Bayinnaung in martial arts, literature and military strategies, and was reared as one of the princes in the Burmese Palace. As a young boy Naresuan enjoyed watching cockfights when staying in Burma.
The fighting cock was a subject of religious worship. According to Diodorus Siculus, the Ancient Syrians worshipped the fighting-cock as a deity. The Ancient Greeks and Romans associated the fighting-cock with the gods Apollo, Mercury and Mars. Magellan claimed that in Borneo, the bird was so sacred that no one could eat its flesh. In South Canara, the bird claimed to ward off evil demons. In Sumatra, the gamecock was worshipped, a temple built to it, and rituals performed to honour the deity. Cock fighting occurred in the temples and the dead bird which lost the battle was prepared to be presented to the deities. The bird would be placed in a gold cauldron, soaked in gums and spices. Then its body was burned on an altar and its ashes were placed in a golden urn.
Dove Cooing Contests. – Cooing doves are popular among Southerners, particularly residents of the five Southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and Songkhla. The most sought after birds are from breeding farms in Chana, the famous bird-culture area, some forty kilometres from Hat Yai on Highway 408, where dove lovers from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore come to the district to purchase the birds. Dove cooing competitions are held annually between January and July. Criteria used in judging the quality of dove’s sound is based on pitch, melody, volume, and continuity in its singing.
Khao Java Birds are the favourite domesticated bird in the south. Singing birds are judged by their tone, voice, beat, loudness, and continuation. The winners are highly priced.
Bull fighting has long been a popular sport among the people in the South. Unlike bull fighting in Spain where a matador fights with a bull, the bull fighting of Thailand features a bull fighting another bull. A pair of fighting bulls is led into the arena where spectators can bet. During the fight, specially trained bulls lock horns until one decides to call it quits and runs away. Each bout normally takes between 15 to 30 minutes and the bulls are trained, so it’s not entirely natural. However, it is a recognised form of gambling and it appears from what I’ve heard to be harmless and has been a local favourite since the time of Phraya Mueang, in the Srivijaya Period. After the harvest, owners would bring their bulls to fight as a gesture of solidarity and festivity.
Nang Talung (shadow puppets) – This Southern folk art is shown to the general public in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, Trang, and Songkhla. A temporary platform is usually built for the performance and the puppets, cut from animal hide, are placed against the rear of a white screen in front of a bright light so the audience can see their shadows. The story is told by narrators.
Kite flying and fighting. – During the hot season months, particularly March and April, opposing teams fly male Chula and female Pakpao kites in a surrogate battle of the sexes. The small, agile Pakpao kite tries to fell the more cumbersome Chula, while the male kite tries to ensnare the female kite and drag it back into male territory.
Boat races. – Regattas are featured as part of country fairs in many parts of Thailand to celebrate the end of the annual rains retreat. The long, narrow, low-slung wooden boats are decorated with flags and flowers, manned by oarsmen and raced with great excitement. The most noteworthy boat races are at Nan, Phichit, Nakhon Phanom, Surat Thani, Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani near Bangkok.
Fish-fighting is a favourite traditional pastime in Bangkok. A breed of fish, known as ‘Pla Kat’ instinctively fight one another whenever they meet. Apparently watching fish-fighting can be very exciting. I can’t comment as I’ve not witnessed any of these events. Two Brightly-coloured male fish are put into a big bottle or a jar in which they attack one another. The battle ends when one fish swims away or dies. However, since this sport is illegal, the event is usually confined to small, private groups.
Cricket fighting. – There is still occasionally cricket-fighting in some areas of Bangkok. It is a game for children. Two crickets are placed into a box and the children tickle the insects’ heads with straws, stimulating them to fight one another. During the battle, the crickets often produce their clacking sounds by rubbing their wings together. The fight is usually short with one running away or being devoured by the other.