Thailand has been known for centuries as Siam and it impressed the world in the 17th century through reports and drawings from Frenchmen who sailed there. They were amazed to see the views of mountainous and hilly regions characterized by forests, ridges, valleys, and tropical beaches. Thailand’s characteristics come from Indian and Chinese influences and includes a rich ethnic diversity, natural and human resources, and more than 700 years of independence. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to have never been colonized by Westerners. (Siamweb Cyber Culture, 1995-2001, http://www. siamweb.
org/content/Thailand/131/index_eng. php) Thailand’s traditional culture is a unique culture with a strong Buddhist view, and with a mix of history, geography, spirituality, food, dance, language, and rites of passage. Today, Thailand’s cities are modern and highly industrialized due to economic development and Western influences. However, presently and in the past, there are hundreds of rural villages scattered throughout Thailand that follow the traditional Thai culture and are not industrialized and not influenced by the modern world. (Siamweb Cyber Culture, 1995-2001, http://www. siamweb.
org/content/Thailand/131/index_eng. php) This report will focus on the culture of these rural villagers through the following topics: history, geography, family structure, religion, food, religious and spiritual rules, communication, agents of socialization, and rites of passage. HISTORY It is unclear who the first inhabitants were in what is known as Thailand today. Most historians believe that the Thais began migrating from southern China during the early part of the Christian era. The Thais migrated further south to the broad and fertile central plains, and dominated much of theIndochina Peninsula.
Recent archaeological discoveries around the northeast suggest that the world’s oldest Bronze Age civilization was booming in Thailand about 5, 000 years ago. (ThaiWorldView, 1998-2003, http://www. thaiworldview. com/culture. htm) The history of Thailand is normally divided into four main periods: 1) Sukhothai Period (1238 – 1350 A. D. ); 2) Ayutthaya Period (1350 – 1767 A. D. ); 3) Thonburi Period (1767 – 1782 A. D. ); and 4) Rattanakasin Period (1782 – present). During the Sukhothai Period the Thais established small northern states in Lanna, Phayao, and Sukhothai.
In 1238 two Thai chieftains created the first independent Thai kingdom – a kingdom that would have a great cultural importance in Thai history. Sukhothai saw the establishment of Theravada Buddhism as the main Thai religion and it was in this period that the first evidence of written Thai was left as well as Thai styles of art such as paintings, sculptures, architecture, and literature. The Ayutthaya Period saw Ayutthaya as the capital for 417 years and was under the rule of 34 kings. The Thais brought their culture to full bloom, and fostered contact with Arabian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and European powers.
Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and it remained the Thai capital until it was invaded and burned by the Burmese in 1767. In the Thonburi Period, the Burmese were ousted by King Taksin and he made Thonburi the capital. In 1782, Rama I (the first king of the current Chakri dynasty) established a new capital called Ban Kok (“Village of the Wild Plums”). The Tattanakasin Period saw the saving of Thailand from Western colonialism, mainly from two Chakri monarchs, King Mongkut (Rama IV) and his son King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Today, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a population of about 53 million people.
(Siamweb Cyber Culture, 1995-2001, http://www. siamweb. org/content/Thailand/131/index_eng. php) About 95% of Thais identify themselves as Theravada Buddhists and statistics show that there are more than 30, 000 temples throughout Thailand. (ThinkQuest Inc. , 1995-2003, http://www. thinkquest. org/library/lib/site_sum_outside. html? t name=50055&url=50055/thailand/thailand. htm). GEOGRAPHY Thailand is located in Southeast Asia and covers an area of 513, 115 square kilometers. The country is bordered by four countries, which are Laos (northeast, Myanmar (north and west), Cambodia (east), and Malaysia (south).
Thailand experiences a warm and a humid tropical climate and is monsoonal due to the rainy season that lasts from May to September. For the remainder of the year, the climate is relatively dry. Temperatures are highest in March and April and lowest in December and January. The average temperature ranges from 23 to 32 degrees Celsius. (ThaiWorldView, 1998-2003, http://www. thaiworldview. com/culture. htm) Thailand is naturally divided into four topographic regions: 1) the North; 2) the Central Plain (Chao Phraya River Basin); 3) the Northeast (Korat Plateau); and 4) the South (Southern Isthmus).
The North topographic region consists of mountains, natural forests, ridges, and deep narrow valleys. The Central Plain is where the most rice is produced in the country and the region is also known as the “Rice Bowl of Asia. ” The capital of Thailand, Bangkok, is located in this region. The Northeastern region is an arid region that has harsh climatic conditions that often result in floods and droughts. The Southern region is described as hilly and mountainous, with thick forests and rich deposits of minerals and ores (solid rocks). (Siamweb Cyber Culture, 1995-2001, http://www. siamweb. org/content/Thailand/131/index_eng.
php) The lowest point in Thailand is the Gulf of Thailand at 0 meters and the highest point is Doi Inthanon at 2, 576 meters. (Yahoo! , 2003, http://www. yahooligans. com/reference/factbook/th/index. html) FAMILY STRUCTURE In a typical Thai village setting, the family is an extended family with many generations living in one house, or in several houses within the same area. The household is a very important and powerful unit in Thailand, it is where the Thai children will learn the codes of behaviour and manners that are essential for life in the villages and beyond (more information can be found in Agents of Socialization in this report).
(Sriwittayapaknam School, 2003, http://www. thailandlife. com/) Larger extended families include unmarried adults, and married sons and daughters. The male (father) is regarded as the head of the household, and the female (mother) plays a role of managing family finances and cooking. Thai youth have the freedom of choice in choosing their own spouses since Thai parents hardly arrange marriages and usually accept their children’s choices, because Thai parents believe that the couple may have been together in a previous life. If a couple gets married, they do not move into another house right away.
The couple begins their married life as part of the wife’s household, and usually remains there for two or three years. Their first child is often born during the years in the wife’s household. After several years with the bride’s parents, most married couples move to a new household that is usually close to the husband’s family. The wife has a choice of taking her husband’s family name or keeping her own, but all children will bear the father’s family name. Strong relations with both the husband and wife’s families continue after marriage.
Divorce is very rare in Thai villages, but the two common reasons for divorce/separation are laziness and adultery. (Bello, 2000, 5) In the villages, houses are built on posts that do not allow animals and insects to come in. The whole family lives in one room, and there is very little privacy. Also, the houses are built on stills because of the tropical monsoons that bring heavy rain into the villages that would flood the houses if they were built on the ground. The houses consist of woven bamboo walls, wooden floors, and thatched roofs that are made out of palm leaves. When entering the houses, people use ladders or stairs.
Underneath the living quarters, domestic animals such as dogs, cats, chickens, etc. are kept as well as other storage. In the houses there is hardly any furniture, family members sleep on the floor on mats and store their belongings in baskets and chests. The kitchen is separate, but close to the house. Instead of having a dining area with a high table and chairs, many houses have low tables for eating meals. When eating, people sit on a mat on the floor and the food is placed on the low table. Women bend their knees to the side and men sit cross-legged. (Sriwittayapaknam School, 2003, http://www. thailandlife. com/)
RELIGION Buddhism plays a very important part in the life of Thais. Most Thais are followers of Theravada Buddhism and the religion spreads throughout their way of life from birth through death. (Madihol University, 1996, http://www. mahidol. ac. th/Thailand/religion/Buddhism. html) Buddhism is based on the teachings of the Indian prince Gautama Siddhartha, who was born in about 566 B. C. He later became known as Buddha, which means “enlighted one. ” (USMTA Inc. , 1998, http://www. usmta. com/Buddhism-1. htm) Thai people follow the rules and teachings of Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path in order to become enlightened.
The Eightfold Path consists of right thoughts, right goals, right understanding, right speech, right conduct, right effort, right attentiveness, right concentration, and living the right way. Theravada Buddhists do not believe that Buddha was a god, but he was a man. Theravada Buddhists also believe that people must reach salvation without the help of others. People gain merit for their afterlife by giving food to the monks, by celebrating holy days and by visiting the shrines of Buddha. More about the religion can be read in Agents of Socialization and Religious and Spirituality Rules in this report. (Bello, 2000, 12)