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Local Cultural Center (Tai Dam Ban Nongneon)  
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By: (1127) | Date: 9, 2017

         Ban Nong Noen and Ban Si Kak are two Tai Dam ethnic communities in Tambon Hua Thanon, Tha Tako District. The Tai Dam groups living here have tried to sustain and revive their cultural and traditional legacy, against the current trend of the younger generation leaving the villages for schooling or jobs. Some attempts made to retain their traditional values are significantly seen in the sen ruean (veneration of the spirits) and the rituals related to the deceased. These occasions serve as times for family reunions. I myself had not attended before these important events.

         However, during my recent visit to a Tai Dam class, initiated 3 years ago by the community itself, what was obvious to me was the people’s genuine effort to conserve their own Tai Dam language, as it is part of their legacy.

          President of the Tai Dam North Club Ajarn Wichian Chueamchit was present in the interview we did with some locals regarding this Tai Dam class for the children. “Back in 2002, 3-4 senior folks who shared the idea that we needed to conserve our Tai Dam culture gathered at a Tai Dam village Ban Pho Pratapchang. I was given the honor to be the Tai Dam Club president. We started from there, from only a few of us. Our members were asked to help spread the news of the Club and to invite more people to join.

          “In later years, through the club activities we got to know more people in some other villages. So now we’ve over 30 member clubs in the north following the same rules and regulations. We hold a meeting every 3 months. The most recent gathering was at Ban Wang Yuak in Nakhon Sawan, which saw over 100 members coming, 3-4 from each club. Those who came all wore our traditional costumes. Now there is no need to remind them so because we don’t find it strange to be seen not wearing some modern days’ things. Also we no longer need to teach them about the rituals. So for me, I’m paying more attention to the conservation of our written language now that I myself am quite comfortable speaking it.”

          Visiting the Tai Dam class at Ban Nong Noen, we saw the children walking in line to the Tai Dam house, a replica one. The spacious area under the elevated house was converted into a classroom with a long table/desk for the students. The teachers were Ajarn Wichian and some senior fellows in the community. I met Uncle Thailand Petchtom and Uncle Ploy Sae Hui. They helped taking me around the center.

          The Tai Dam Center stands in front of the replica house. Both are in the same front yard of Ban Nong Noen School. Like the Tai Dam Conservation Center of Ban Wang Yuak, the Ban Nong Noen Center received financial aid from Nakhon Sawan Province. So the building plans were the same. The Ban Nong Noen one was built before – in 2010. The entrance is at the middle. Inside, there are a few rooms enclosed by partitions. No exhibitions are in these rooms. A washroom is available for visitors. The displays are put in the right and left wings of the building.

          During our visit, the museum renovations were going on. Previous heavy rains had caused a few leaks. Nevertheless, Po Thailand and Po Petch were eager to take us around and to talk about the origin of their people and how they had come to settle down in the present 2 villages. We were told an interesting story about Phraya Maha Kasatsuk, when he heard about the Lao Song minority in Vietnam wishing to become Siamese citizens because it was a vast land here but with a small population. At that time the Tai Dam minority could not live independently, and were under the Vietnamese control. So the Siamese and the Lao Song communicated, in the sign language. The message conveyed was that the Lao Song wished to come to Siam because our land was fertile. And so they did move to Siam.

         Despite the lack of proper means of transportation at that time, they were able to make it here, carrying their little ones in baskets. Sometimes some small children fell down from the baskets. The first batch to arrive was over 100. Unfortunately Bangkok turned out to be the wrong choice because of the fact that these were really hill folks, who were not accustomed to living in a flat plain. So they had to move, first to Tha Raeng in Ban Laem District of Phetchabun, then again to Khao Wang, Khao Yoi, hilly areas with streams and other waterways similar to their original place. They were home at last.

          “In King Rama III’s and Rama III’s reigns, Siam arranged to have more Lao Song brought in and put in a detention camp. There we didn’t have any headmen. But the babies born were considered Thai and when they grew up they studied the Thai language. We didn’t pay taxes, but had to send tributaries to the Siamese ruler. A lot more Lao Song arrived in King Rama IV’s time. We eventually gained our freedom when King Rama V initiated a government reform, which granted us the right  travel freely and to earn our living anywhere we liked. So some journeyed to Nakhon Pathom, to Suphanburi. We intended to go back home. But once getting to the fertile land in Phichit and Phitsanulok, we decided to settle down instead, therefore never making it back to the old hometown.

          The Ban Nong Noen population, or our grandparents’ generation, came from Petchaburi. There aren’t any historical records about this, only words of mouth passed down.  I myself wasn’t born here. My father was born in Phetchaburi.  I was born in Bang Lane, Nakhon Pathom. I moved over here in 1951. His (Uncle Petch’s) grandpa Own and grandma Prue came here before me. We moved here because we heard that the Bueng Boraphet land was so rich that ‘you can eat fish scales with rice. Rice grains fallen to the ground will spring up and grow so fast that before long we’ll have rice to eat.’ Our first place was in the fields, which naturally were prone to floods in the rainy season. So we were forced to move uphill, so then came the name ‘Nong  Noen’ (nong means a swamp, and noen is a hill).”  The story from Uncle Thailand Petchtom was a very good explanation about the early settlement and the origin of the village name.

          Inside, the way the  display was presented reflected to a certain extent the effort behind it. The main contents focused on 2 topics, very much the same as the stories told  by the 2 elderly men. First was the funeral rite. “We need to get things prepared before we die, things that will guide us back to Thaen, land of our ancestors. But if you can’t prepare these things by yourself, you can buy them. Here, for example, is a man riding on a swan. He’s your nephew, or your ritual performer, who will direct you to Thaen. Here’s a house (displayed in the building’s right wing). For a woman, here are a banana flower and an umbrella.” The rite related to a deceased person somewhat indicated the complexity and relationship within the family, as the living members were obliged to do the job of sending the deceased back to their original homeland.

          The other focus was on the cult of paying homage to the house spirits by having a place in the house for them (the kalor hong). A 6x4-meter space was marked off by a flattened bamboo partition. Here a paan phuen (food tray, similar to a flat woven bamboo basket) for offerings was put. Food would be offered to the spirits during the sen time when they did the ritual of ancestral spirit veneration. The offerings usually consisted of pork and fruit. Mo sen conducted the ritual. Uncle Thailand pointed to the tai, symbols of the male members, and the hor ya the women’s symbols. The tai looked like a shaved bamboo stick the size of a meatball one, and tied to one end of which was a string attached to a small round bamboo chip. One tai represented one male. So 10 males, 10 tai. They did not have any samples of the ho ya.

          Uncle Thailand further explained that the sen was not done every year as it depended  on the family’s means. “Each family’s ancestral spirits can be 10, or can be 100. Therefore the sen can be quite costly if we’re to do it every year. Every 2-3 years is okay. A sen costs at least some 30,000 baht.”

          The display itself was not all that striking. But after having listened to the community’s 3 old wise men, I understood better how the age-old culture was truly the pride of the Tai Dam descendant groups. Despite the fact that this heritage might have changed overtime and so differed from the original one their forefathers had clinged to ever since leaving  homeland Thaen to settle down in Siam, the proud Tai Dam folks of today’s obviously keep trying very hard to preserve their identity.

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  Local Cultural Center (Tai Dam Ban Nongneon)  
: Ban Nongneon School, Moo.4 Ban Nongneon, Tambon Huatanon, Thatako District, Nakhonsawan
: 0-5636-9238
: -
: please contact in advance
: admission free
: -
: -
: 2010
: Tai Dam class, Tai Dam tradition, replica of Tai Dam House
Management : community
Story : ethnic
local wisdom
Status : Open
Update Oct 11, 2018
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Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre 20 Baromaratchachonnani Rd, Taling Chan, Bangkok 10170
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