Food plays a fundamental role in Thai culture and rice is its main soul.
Growing rice has been the main activity of Thai farmers since ancient times. Rice has always sustained people in Thailand and formed a close bond with their way of living for over 5,000 years. Rice usually appears on the table at every.
Thailand, one of the world’s largest rice exporter, cultivates more than 3500 varieties of rice including the Jasmine rice which is the finest one.
It not only feds people throughout the land but also plays a very significant role in the history, culture, society, and economy of the Thai nation.
This article uncovers the use of the word rice in beliefs, custom, ceremonies and sayings which reveal the essence of Thai culture.
Rice in Thai people mouth
Rice is such a mainstay of the Thai diet that the verb for “to eat,” kin khao, literally means “to eat rice”; Kin means ‘eating’ and Khao means ‘rice.
Also, the verb for ‘hunger’ Hew Khao litterally means ‘being hungry of rice’.
A common greeting is “Kin khao rue yang?” (“Have you eaten rice yet?”), which can be translated as our greeting expression ‘How are you?’. This saying reveals not only that in the past the farmers were not used to have regular meals but also that Thais are extremely welcoming.
The expression ‘Khao Yak Mak Phaeng’ used to refer to times of famine during difficult financial situations means ‘a phase without rice’
Rice is regarded as a sacred plant with a breath (spirit), a life, and a soul of its own, just like that of human beings. For this the word Rice is used to refer to specific human traits in expressions like ‘Kin khao tom krajom klang’or “start eating rice congee from the centre of the bowl (instead of from its rim)”. Since the rice congee in the centre is hotter than at the rim, the person who does so is considered careless. The saying is used to criticize this kind of person.
Rituals and Predictions
Over the centuries Rice has always played an important role in religious ceremonies, festivals and other rituals.
In Thailand the royal ploughing ceremony marking the auspicious beginning of the rice growing season is celebrated every year. This is a pre-Buddhist ceremony, revived in 1960 by the king Bhumibol Adulyadej. This ceremony, usually performed in May, is intended to honour farmers and bless the plants, ceremonial start to the new growing season. During the ceremony the Bramini predict the level of rainfall to come and the strength of the upcoming rice harvest.
Mae Posop is the ‘rice goddess’ in Thailand, worshipped by farmers to ensure prosperity and good health. It is a common habit in South East Asia, where rice farming is so important, to worship the goddess of rice, who assumes different features and names in relation to different traditions. Thai farmers worship the goddess during each step of rice farming: ploughing, planting, harvesting and storage.
Rice farming has influenced Thai culture in every aspect gaining several qualities such as brotherhood, kindeness and trust. During the centuries, the mechanisation of processes have brought to a fragmentation of the field work which once was incorporated by family members, neighbours and people from the same village.
In our society we often tend to take food for granted, but even a bowl of rice, consciously tasted, can awake lost values.
Journal article “Rice and milk in thai Buddhism: Symbolic and social values of basic food substances”
Penny Van Esterik – Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies