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Pratupa Monastery

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Date published: Friday, 30 March 2012 08:24
Date modified: Friday, 30 March 2012 08:27

Working Group Participants: Ms. Putsadee Rodcharoen, Mr. Apichat Tichai, Mr. Bunthoeun thong, Mr. Nata Alui Duha, Dr. Kate Hennessy (Resource Person), Ms. Chunbo Xie (Resource Person), Mr. Tiamsoon Sirisrisak (Resource Person)

Background of Pratupa Monastery

Pratupa temple is located in Pratupa Subdistrict, Muang District, Lamphun Province. It was built in 1758 by a group of Yong who fled from the war during the period of Burmese occupation of Lanna. When the war ended, it was the period of King Kawila’s restoration of Lanna during the late 18th- end 19th century. Many ethnic Tai Yong were forcibly resettled from Muang Yong in Burma to Lamphun in that period. One group of Tai Yong came with a monk name Kru Ba Lek who was highly respected so they invited him to be the abbot of Pratupa temple. Then they planted many mango trees around the temple and village using the seeds from foodstuffs that they had carried on their journey. This act of planting was a way of commemorating the village which they left behind.  Tai Yong in Lamphun mostly named their new villages using the same names as the villages which they left. When the mango trees had grown, the resettled villagers called their new village Pratupa-muang, which means mango forest. Nowadays, some of these early mango trees still remain in the north of temple, which is now located in front of the Pratupa school.

Pratupa temple has magnificent Tai Yong architecture. A building where the monks assemble for rites (ubosod) was built in 1878 and recently restored in 1984—it represents a classic Tai Yong style. It was constructed using an old technique where bricks are laid with thick clay. It enshrines an ancient image of a Buddha. A teakwood scripture hall (hor trai) was built by Tai Yong craftsmen in 1894. It is a two-storey building and has 24 pillars. The second floor is a place for keeping Lanna palm leaf scriptures, which are kept in nine scripture chests. Each scripture chest is differently elaborated with a graceful golden flower painting. These palm leaf scriptures have already been registered, cataloged and converted into microfilm from Chiang Mai University in 1992.

Salak Yorm and Ham Kalong (Text from English language Working Group Brochure)

“ The Ton Salak or Salak offering ceremony is a significant Buddhist tradition and has been upheld since the earliest time. It is celebrated from the end of August until November. There are several types of Salak, distinguished by size.The smallest Salak called Kuaykhipum is a bamboo basket containing food and small items used in daily life. A slightly bigger Salak than the first is called Kuaysamrab. The third size, no more than 13 meters tall,is a Salak with a bamboo base and bamboo structure covered with hay strolls called “Salak Chok‟. Salak Chok is decorated with banknotes, utensils, paperwork, etc., tied with one meter long bamboostick called “Maihuaw.‟

Salak that are taller than 13meters are called “SalakYorm.” The top of Salak Yorm is decorated with an umbrella with hanging motifs at its edge.The most valuable items,such as gold rings and necklaces, are usually put on the umbrella with a small piece of paper with wishes,so that the monk who receives the Salak Yorm will readit.This piece of paper is called “Salak.”

In the past, the Salak Yorm offering ceremony was regarded as a way of merit making for a young woman in the family who had reached 20 years old. It demonstrated her readiness for adulthood and marriage. However, today’s Salak Yorm has become a community activity of merit making.

Kalong or “Kamham‟ or “Kawham” in the local language is a type of Lanna poem. Therefore it is crucial for a composer of Kalong to be a scholar who has local knowledge of culture and traditions. Likewise, Kalong singing requires Lanna language literacy. “Ham Kalong‟ or Kalong singing is one of the most important activities of the Salak Yorm festival. Kalong is a distinctive marker of Yong identity and culture in Lamphun province.

In “Ham Kalong‟ the singers describe the history of the person who sponsors and makes Salak Yorm, other contributors, the making process, and decoration of Salak Yorm called “Da Salak‟. Buddhist teachings, stories, and dedications are also included in the Kalong. Today, Salak Yorm is not created by one family; instead, the whole community makes Salak Yorm together. Ham Kalong is usually performed by 3-5 singers chanting Kalong together. The way of chanting Kalong is generally taught by experienced singers or monks. The Pratupa Community is working to safeguard this tradition.

To date, Lanna language and Ham Kalong have already been included in the curriculum of some primary and elementary schools in Pratupa district. Pratupa Temple plays an important role as the learning center of crafts and Salak Yorm in the community. The temple has established “Association for the Conservation of Culture and Tradition of Pratupa Community‟ to conserve the culture and traditions for future generations.”

Fieldwork Process and Key Findings

On the first day of fieldwork, the working group interviewed the Abbot, Assistant Abbot, and several local informants to learn more about the history of Pratupa and the forms of intangible heritage found in the community.  Pratupa monastery  does not have a physical museum structure. Nevertheless, the monastery is the center of cultural activities and is actively involved in documenting and revitalizing many aspects of Yong cultural identity, ranging from Yong language to handicrafts. In their inventory of ICH, the working group discovered eight domains of cultural practices, including: food; local dress; local traditions; Yong language; performance; beliefs; traditional occupations (i.e. farming); and traditional leadership and problem resolution.

In consultation with the temple abbot and assistant abbot, the working group chose the Ham Kalong for their project. As described above, the Ham Kalong sung verse is a central component of the Salak Yorm ritual offering and festival. Traditionally sung by a group of 3 or 4 specialists prior to the offering of the “salak,” the lyrics of the Kalong recounted the biography of the female donor and her family, and all those in the community who helped to contribute in the construction of the Salak Yorm offering. Moreover, the Kalong verse is also a record of the ethnic Yong, their way of life, and the origin of the Salak Yorm.

As explained by the Abbot and Assistant Abbot, the Salak Yorm festival is distinctive to the Northern region of Thailand, and is a festival found widely among the region’s ethnic Yong populations. It takes place every year around the end of September/early October, and the ritual centers on the giving of alms offerings to monks in the form tall colorful “trees” made of dyed bamboo topped by an umbrella. In the past, and to some extent today, these offerings were dedicated to deceased family members. Moreover, historically, the Salak Yorm offering was prepared by one household as part of a daughter’s coming of age prior to marriage. In recent decades, however, this ritual practice began to disappear as it had become too costly for individual families. In order to keep the practice alive, the preparation and production of a Salak Yorm offering was adapted into a community merit-making activity, as can be found today. Furthermore, in order to support the ritual tradition, the municipal office provided funding (15,000 THB) to villages that collaborated to produce a Salak Yorm offering for the annual provincial festival held at Wat Phra Thaat Hariphunchai.

However, with the transformation of the context and significance of the Salak Yorm festival in recent years, the Ham Kalong has begun to disappear. Following the revitalization of the Salak Yorm festival which began in 2003, some features of the ritual were highlighted (i.e. the colorful decorated towers), while other features (kalong) were neglected. Whereas the colorful towers are relatively easy to reproduce with the support and participation of the community, the kalong is far more complex, requiring special skills both the compose and sing the verse. Furthermore, whereas the Salak Yorm are visually stunning and thus can attract wide audiences, the kalong is a lengthy verse sung in the Northern Lanna language, making it difficult for many in the audience to comprehend. As such, in spite of recent support for the revitalization of Salak Yorm, the Kalong has continued to disappear.

In their research and documentation of Kalong and Salak Yorm, the working group interviewed a total of thirty three informants, including monastic and cultural leaders of Pratupa village, members of the lay community, teachers at the local school, students, and Kalong singers. In terms of existing documentation related to this element of ICH, they found that there were already textbooks written by the Pratupa Cultural Council, a website featuring old photographs and information about Salak Yorm, brochures, an archive of Lanna script, and a collection of Ham Kalong lyrics.

The community was also already involved in a number of activities to support Ham Kalong and Salak Yorm revitalization. These included: research by teachers in collaboration with students (at the Pratupa school); collection of old Lanna scripts; collection of old photographs; annual Salak Yorm festival; inventory of Kalong singers and composers; creation of the Wat Pratupa website (watpratupa.com). The latter website is regarded as a tool for establishing interaction and communication among ethnic Yong, not only in Thailand but also living in neighboring countries and around the world.

In terms of strenghths of the community for supporting the revitalization and transmission of ICH, the working group found that community members, especially elders, have a very strong desire to continue the tradition. They are very enthusiastic to prepare for the Salak Yorm Festival every year and work together and share knowledge with each other and other community members. In addition, community members volunteer money and time to support Salak Yorm and Kalong, and they become resource persons and practitioners.

They also found that the community is organizing kalong singing teams, practicing kalong at home and attending Salak Yorm festivals and performing Kalong in other regions. All the kalong singing teams attended the Kalong singing contest, which is a promotional activity held last year.

In terms of challenges, the working group identified the following issues. Firstly,  economic conditions, particularly the changing economy, had affected Salak Yorm, as fewer and fewer families could afford to sponsor a Salak yorm offering. Secondly, also tied to economic changes, there was more limited time and labor for participating in the Salak Yorm. Third, the group identified a generational gap regarding the knowledge and cultural practices, and interest among the younger generation is generally low toward Kalong (not lucrative, limited time). Another challenge with regards to the Kalong competitions was that the selection criteria on judging the winner of the Kalong competition is complicated and sensitive, particularly since each group or village has distinctive characteristics.  Finally, the working group found that there were few composers in the region, and few singers in the region.

The question that the community had to address, therefore, was how to make Kalong more attractive to the younger generation and school students, perhaps by making it more contemporary and appealing.

Project Outputs (Museum Plan and Recommendations for Safeguarding ICH)

In terms of recommendations, the working group suggested that the Pratupa monastery and the community could support the transmission and revitalization of Salak Yorm and the Kalong verse in the following ways: 1)Maintaining Wat Pratupa Community’s distinctive relationship between Kalong and Salak Yorm, 2) Gathering existing Kalong texts and encouraging community to share and exchange, 3) Continue to restore, preserve, copy and translate existing Kalong texts.

In terms of promotion and enhancement of Kalong, the working group recommended that the community could do the following: 1) Hold a regular Kalong competition for young generation as well as older generation, 2) a government or supporting agency may award scholarship for community member of Wat Pratupa to attend Ethnomusicology at the university, 3) government policies that encourage and support more school classes focused on cultural heritage and living cultural practices, including Kalong, 4) Establish Temple Youth Group and create an interesting activities for Cultural heritage preservation, 5) Exhibition of historical and contemporary photographs, 6) Continue to develop the Wat Pratupa website and document local people to make the website appeal locally, not just to Yong people and Buddhist monks far away (Videos of life histories of community members/Youth message boards and social media/Allow people to contribute media related to Kalongand Yong cultural heritage online).

Intergenerational transmission of knowledge could be achieved through the followign activities: 1) Continued community research and translation of results into school curriculum 2) Regular Kalong competition for young generation, 3) Kalong singing course for all interested community members (sing in Thai if not Lanna literate), 4) Regular capacity building for teacher regarding Kalong and Salak Yorm, 5) Establishment of Kalong Singer and Composer Group, that also connects to Youth Temple Group, 6) Development of a ‘Yong Ethnic Cultural Center’ and Library in the Pratupa community, 7) Ongoing development of the Pratupa Website  School, community, and Temple classes in Yong language and Lanna script.

In sum, the working group found that the Wat Pratupa Community has strong desire to preserve, to revitalize, to transmit and to promote their cultural heritage. Temples are pro-active in safeguarding the cultural heritage of Wat Pratupa community, and there is a  strong enthusiasm and collaboration among the stakeholders. Wat Pratupa’s community members are generally proud of their cultural heritage and itsdistinctiveness, and school is key for promoting Kalong and motivating theyoung generation by using local text books and developing local curriculum. School is an important and appropriate agent for keeping local culture alive.

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