Tuesday, 28 July 2009
The Spirits Are Calling Mama Home
Older sister and older brother light the joss sticks.
Then they all make an offerings to the spirits.
It seems that the spirits like lao khao and Fanta too.
The faces are all serious though because Mama really is ill.
Her luck for the future can be divined by examining a chicken's gizzard.
And older brother says it's looking better for her.
Mama firmly believes that she is about to die.
The spirit of an ancestor has come to her in a dream and has been calling her to come over to the other side. She now is in a state of collapse and seems to have given up all hope.
A few days ago we’d packed up the car and were about to go to Peter and Laylai’s for a few days as we hadn’t seen them since getting back to our Surin village from England. I backed it out of the drive and Cat locked the gate and went to say goodbye to her mother who wasn’t looking too perky. She was complaining pitifully of a distended stomach, so we abandoned our trip for the moment and instead took her off to the local hospital in Sangkha.
We were received by two nurses wearing white gauze masks who quickly found her name on the computer. Though was this really right because although she now looks well into her sixties, their records were showing her as aged forty four? There then followed some banter with the nurses about another possible cause for her swollen stomach during which I discovered that almond eyes can laugh without any help from the rest of the face.
There followed a long wait before Mama saw the doctor and eventually came away with a bag of about six different medicines for treating a gassy stomach. At least we were assured that she wasn’t at death’s door, even if she persists in thinking she is. She’ll almost certainly fail to take the medicines and nature will take its course in any event.
Sadly though Mama has continued to decline and has been sitting doing absolutely nothing all day long in a state of abject depression. Which, let’s face it, is how anyone might feel when the spirits say you’re are about to die.
In the West we’d dose her up on Prozac, but here they go to see the ‘mor doo’, the soothsayser, the village spirit ‘doctor’ who can foresee everything. He tells them that out in the spirit world granny is hungry and is pining for company. The family should therefore hold a ceremony to keep her sweet and offer her chicken and alcohol and some sarongs and maybe then she’ll be happy and not call Mama home.
So early this morning a chicken was killed and cooked and everyone gathered at the front of the house. Mama’s older brother and sister and her youngest sister were there and also Mangorn her oldest son, Yut her oldest surviving daughter and of course me and Cat.
The offerings were displayed on a mat and a long ceremony began in which each of them was blessed in turn and offered up to the spirits, accompanied by low chanting. Then older brother broke off the chicken’s head and tore out the gizzard. If the forked tendons are nice and straight (they always are) everything will be okay.
We then move off to the wooden house to tell Mama that all is well and to tie white threads round her wrist in an age old traditional gesture of solidarity. Mama had been unable to make it up the garden for the ceremony and was sprawled flat on the floor in the uncomfortable way people in Thailand often do. She looked distressed and ill. Apart from the usual aches and pains and an arthritic knee, she’s in reasonable health with normal blood pressure but a long and hard life has left her in a fragile mental state. I only hope she now rallies.
Once again on watching this ceremony I was struck by the power of the spirits over peoples’ minds. There’s no question that the people here strongly believe in their malevolence and that this must quickly be countered with the necessary ceremony. I only hope Mama thinks this one will work for her as it’ll be immensely damaging if it doesn’t.
All societies hold a range of beliefs, whether in the spirits of nature and the ancestors or in the delusion of a monotheistic god. We do all have to ask ourselves about the meaning of life but for me it’s better to draw a blank than irrationally to build my life around the wrong answers.
In the meantime I can only look on and say nothing and of course pay for the alcohol and the other offerings to the spirits. I only hope it does the trick and that Mama is soon well again.
Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog July 2009