Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Death of Durian

Granny and Grandad sit in splendour at the door of our spirit house

Mama, Papa and Cat make offerings for Durian

What exactly are their prayers I always wonder.

Mama makes her offering.

If only Durian were still with us, enjoying the busy life of the family.

Mama has had a dream.

Durian, her eldest daughter who died a few years ago came to her a few days ago in a dream and said she was hungry. Something must be done about it.

In my recent book, "My Thai Girl and I", in a chapter called 'Living with the Spirits' I wrote about how the spirits are all around us in our lives here in our village in Isaan and how we therefore set up a spirit house for them at the front of the house.

I felt it was too intrusive though to write about the death of Durian as this was just too recent and raw to be a part of the book.

Durian was much older than my wife, Cat, and in a family of seven siblings brought up in a poor family in rural Thailand, she was almost like a mother to the younger ones. When she became sick with kidney disease a few years ago, it was a terrible time as the family faced the inevitable parting.

Once a year we remember her and go to the temple, but this recent occasion was something a bit special, a response to Mama's dream.

In the relative cool of the morning,offerings of food were prepared and we then all went out to the spirit house and performed a brief ceremony. As always it was low key and dignified, with emotions kept well in hand, even though the loss of a first born is one of the worst possible traumas. In fact it seemed comforting as they remembered Durian and prayed for her spirit.

How their belief in the spirits coexists with their belief in Buddhism I have no idea but coexist it certainly does. In Thailand the belief in animist gods remains strong and it would be fascinating to know precisely what these beliefs are. Does anyone really know?

The trees and the land have spirits and the spirits of the dead are everywhere. They are much to be feared and so must be humoured with offerings.

As Durian was such a good person, I cannot imagine her being anything but benign. At least Mama Papa now know she will not go hungry and will not again disturb their dreams.

Andrew Hicks

Written from Petersfield, Hampshire, UK. Cat and I have just come back from visiting Maria and Janna in Stockholm and on Saturday will be on the boat from Portsmouth to France. Normal blogging service will be resumed as soon as possible.

The "Thai Girl" blog. May 2009


The FrogBlogger said...

Nice story, written with feeling and respect. No matter what we might think about superstition, there's something to be said for the Asian way of ensuring family elders and loved ones are increasingly treasured into their twilight years, even after death. Almost in direct contrast to the scorn or indifference with which Western children are increasingly treating their parents, in fact, sadly :-(

Ben Shingleton said...

Like you Andrew my Thai family here experienced the loss of their eldest born, although it was a long time ago and he was very young when he died. My wife (his younger sibling) often has dreams about him, even though she was only very small when he died. I find it very interesting how the Thai's seem to dream so vividly about their ancesters & family, they have a much stronger connection with such emotions.

Ben Shingleton said...

.and very sad to hear about your loss.

Thai Girl said...

Thanks for these thoughts with which I fully agree.

In the West with our dismal nuclear families we lack a connection to the past and even to family members who are still living. We lack the rituals that could bring us together to think about our family losses and we lack a general spiritual side to our lives.

Life is a mystery and the Asian way has much to commend it.

Andrew Hicks

PS Tonight I shall be on the ferry to France!

Rick said...

No matter the reason, the fact that Thai families get together often is something that I admire greatly, which makes me feel sad how my family behaved. While there was no animosity among siblings or parents, the kids, me included, would leave within minutes of getting up for the day and only return briefly. We never spent any time with our parents for most of our lives. Somehow you felt it wasn't something one did. No point in analyzing it now. It sure made for a rather distant relationship. It was the same among friends in my part of Canada.
Shame really. One can't go back, but I resolve to encourage a different behaviour should I inherit/start a family in SEA.

Talen said...

The family and community aspect of the Asian lifestyle would do the western world some good...too bad it's very hard to export.