Religious Institutional Diversity-Social Structural and Conceptual Unity พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Angela Burr   



                         STRUCTURAL AND CONCEPTUAL UNITY :
                         ISLAM AND BUDDHISM IN A SOUTHERN
                              THAI COASTAL FISHING VILLAGE


                                                Angela Burr


          Although Thailand adheres officially to the Lesser Vehicle or Thera-
vada School of Buddhism, the four southernmost provinces-Naratiwat,
Satoon, Yala and Patani-have large Muslim Malay populations. Fur-
ther up the peninsula too, large towns such as Nakorn Sri Thammarat,
Surat Thani and even Bangkok have Muslim communities. Dotted along
the Thai peninsula, generally on the coast, are also found Muslim
settlements in villages; these rural communities' mother tongue usually
being Thai. Muuthiinyng,1 the village which will provide the data for
this article, is one such rural coastal community, inhabited by both
Thai Buddhists and Muslims. The Muslims however predominate,
making up some 68 percent of the households2. This village is situated
in Songkhla province, an area that is predominantly Thai Buddhist, to
the north of Patani, the Malay cultural heartland in southern Thailand.3

          These Malay communities in the south have their origins in and

are generally associated with Malay culture. Since the rise of Malacca

in the fifteenth century, there has been Muslim Malay influence in the
peninsula, control over it since this period fluctuating between the rulers
of Ayuddhia, Bangkok, the Malay States and local rulers. Nowadays
the four southernmost provinces belong to Thailand; a nationalist move-
ment has arisen and attempts have been made by some sections of the
Malay Muslim community to break away and join Malaysia. Much has
been written on the southern Thai Muslim secessionist aspirations,
nationalist movement and the Malay Communities' relationship to
the Thai nation state, but virtually nothing of scholastic importance
has been written on the actual relationship between southern Thai


 1) Muuthiinyng (village number one) is a pseudonym.

 2) 299 households of which 203 are Muslim and 96 Thai.

 3) I did anthropological field work in Thailand from April 1970-July 1971 under

     the auspices of the London-Cornell Committee for South & Southeast Asia.






184                                    Angela Burr


Muslims and Thai Buddhists at the local level, at the grassroots.4 It
is often assumed that Muslims in the south are very different from Thais,
perhaps because of their associations with Malay culture, and also
because Islam doctrinally is very different from Thai Buddhism. But no
anthropological study has been made of the actual relationship between
the two groups, their forms of interaction, or the way in which Muslim
peasants in any community have adapted to, and come to terms with
the Thai host society. Whilst Muuthiinyng is not a typical Muslim
community, in that it is Thai speaking and situated north of the Malay
heartland in southern Thailand, nevertheless a comparative study of the
Thai-Buddhist and Muslim inhabitants of the village, and the way they
have adapted to each other, may shed some light on the relationship and
also provide a theoretical orientation and the key for further study not

only of Muslim communities further south, incapsulated in a Thai-Buddhist

hinterland, but also for studies of Muslim-Thai Buddhist interrelation-

ships in the Malay heartland in the Patani, Naratiwat and Yala areas too.


           Archaeological finds, generally assumed to be of the Sri Vichaaya

period, at Setingphra (some fifteen kilometres from Muuthiinyng) bear
witness to the antiquity of Buddhist influence in this area. But owing
to the paucity of historical evidence it can only be a matter of pure
conjecture whether the peasantry were ever converted to Mahayana
Buddhism or when the later Theravada school was popularised in this
area and the masses converted. Similarly with Islam, whilst this area
has had contact with Islam and Malay culture for several hundred years,
due to the paucity of historical evidence, it can only be a matter of


4) Fraser's two studies (1960, 1966) of Rusembilan, a Malay village in the Patani
area partly reflects this kind of orientation, an orientation to the supra-local
rather than grassroots level. His is a community study 'the total socio-cultural
organization of a Malay community.' It is centred essentially around the com-
munity itself. But he does discuss Rusembilan's relationships and interactions
with the outside world. However, he gives little space, only a few pages in all,
to interaction with the local Thai peasantry at the grassroots level. Rather he
looks at the Malays in 'the framework of the Thai nation' (1960 : 2) and tries to
determine the degree to which the 'Malay community in Southern Thailand
form(s) part of a regional and national whole and how it may be said to be
discontinuous from such a whole'. This leads him to concentrate on the com-
munities relations with the nation state, the national economic and political
structure and with the bureaucratic administration, as some of his chapter and
section headings clearly reveal : Rusembilan as part of the Thai nation (Chapter
7, 1960), Minority Groups and National security (1966 : 100), District, Chang-
wad and Nation (1966 : 49) and The Government and Planned Change (1966 :











conjecture when Muslim movement north of Patani and the setting up
of coastal communities took place. Village tradition maintains that
the Muslims first came 'two or three hundred' years ago to the village.
But at any rate Muslims have lived in the village for at least a century,
for the oldest Muslim inhabitant, a woman who was born in the village,
is 'one hundred' years' old. Her mother tongue is Thai, which suggests
that the Muslims in the village have been Thai-speaking for at least her

It must be taken into account, however, that the present Muslim
population may be the product not only of migration but also of inter-
marriage and conversion, the offspring of such marriages and converts
adhering to Islam.5 If this is the case then perhaps the ancestors of large
sections of the Muslim population always were Thai-speaking. But
while there is no conclusive evidence to determine the origins of the
Muslims, a study of genealogies does reveal an increase in the Muslim
population towards the end of the last and the beginning of this century
due to migration into the village and intermarriage with local people.
Almost all the cases of conversion that have taken place in living memory
have been the result of such intermarriage : Muslim men marrying Thai
or Chinese local women, with the women converting to Islam. Children of
mixed marriages do not have dual alliance. They affiliate unambiguously
with one or the other group.

Nowadays, due to endogamy and unambiguous group membership,
the Muslims and Thais form separate groups. This 'groupness' is an
expression of social identity, being the product of, and stimulated by,
a boundary situation, being symbolically expressed in cultural terms.
These identity symbols provide distinct clearcut boundaries to each group.

Each group views itself as being separate and different from the
other. Muslims refer to themselves and are referred to by The Thai-Budd-
hist villages as khon khaek (Malays/muslims)6; whilst Thai Buddhists


 5)There have been a handful of cases of conversion during this century. The

    origin myth tends to symbolise and validate conversion too. In this myth, Jee,

    a Thai Buddhist, who was born either in Muuthiinyng or a sister village nearby

    is kidnapped and taken to Kelantan where she marries a Muslim and later returns

    to the village with her family.

 6) Thais in general refer to Malays and Muslims & Indians too anonymously as

    khaek (khon means people or person). This term is synonymous with the term

    'visitor'. But Malays and Muslims alone are referred to by it, never the Chinese

    immigrants. The term has derogatory overtones and the more educated town

    Muslims resent its use. The villagers in Muuthiinyng, however, do not. In

    fact they use the term with pride.







186                                     Angela Burr


refer to themselves and are referred to by their Muslim co-villagers as
khon thai (Thais); a custom which I will follow in the following pages.

Although there is an undercurrent of goodwill and the two groups
co-exist peacefully, friendship across group lines being frequent, each
group's social identity is partially a product of, and stimulated by, their
derogatory views of the other group. Both khon thai and khon khaek
operate clearly defined stereotypes of the other. Khon khaek view khon
as pig eaters, to them an abhorrent and defiling custom, and because

of this, for fear of defilement, they will not eat in Thai houses con-
taminated by pigs. They also consider khon thai as generally being prone
to violence, gambling, drunkenness, dishonesty and usury, all of which,
especially the latter, are an anathema to them. Conversely, they view
themselves as being morally more upright, honest, abstemious and
peaceful. Khon thai's stereotype of khon khaek on the other hand is of a
group who habitually live in filthy conditions, who do not eat pork7 and
perform the (to them, barbaric) custom of circumcision.

Their stereotypes of each others' religion also provide much of the
stimuli for group identity. But generally these stereotypes are not based
on conceptual differences; they do not involve pointing to differences in
each others' beliefs. But, rather, they are based on differences in religious
institutional organisation. Khon khaek, villagers say, perform religious
rites at the mosque, they read 'the book',8 (meaning the koran), whereas,
they maintain, khon thai 'waay phra',—attain merit by providing material
support for the monks and the temples. Khon khaek, they also point out
when stressing the differences, always bury their dead, whilst khon thai
burn theirs.

But this clearly defined sense of social identity of each group is,
in a sense, a veneer. 'Groupness' is a product of social identity alone,
it has no structural substance or content. Neither group forms a boun-
ded distinct on-going group with a clearly defined separate socio-economic
and political structure. Thus social identity is not rooted in separate
social, economic and political groupings. It is surprising that this is so.
One would tend to assume that because each religion is doctrinally so
different from the other, and the origins of the group are so different


7) Pork is highly prized by the Thais and eaten with relish. In a sense it is almost

     a "national" dish. The Thai villagers have great difficulty understanding, and

     find it rather strange, that anybody could not like and not eat pork

 8) an nangsww (to read the book) is a colloquial term frequently used by Thais

     when referring to Muslim version,









too, there would tend to be a correlation between the boundaries of
religious affiliation and socio-economic and political groupings. But in
fact this is not the case; socially, economically khon thai and khon khaek
are not differentiated.

In fact, they share a common social structure. Although Malay
Muslim customary law is utilised in the Malay communities further
south,9 especially in the domestic sphere, khon khaek in Muuthiinyng
have only a limited knowledge of it and it is rarely utilised.10 In practice,
they generally adhere to the Thai social structural pattern. There are
some 'cultural frill' differences,11 but in practice khon khaek and khon thai
have similar bilateral kinship systems, arranged and preferred marriage

rules, systems of bridewealth, residence patterns, inheritance patterns and

                  stem family system.12


9)   Whilst the law, legal system and courts in the Malay homeland in Patani are

       part of, and under the jurisdiction of, the Thai national legal system, Malay

       customary law may be invoked in court cases relating to the domestic sphere.

 10) For instance, khon khaek in Muuthiinyng, are aware that according to Muslim

       inheritance laws, male siblings inherit two portions to their sisters' one. But in

       practice only a few families, the very richest, have divided their landholdings

       according to this principle. Most families, with little or nothing to bequeath,

       prefer to divide what they do own according to the bilateral Thai system so that

       all children should inherit something.

11) For instance although thai and khaek houses are of similar designs, a khaek

       house, can be generally distinguished by the pictures on its walls. These pictures

       generally depict Muslim scriptural scenes, Muslim symbols or sayings in Arabic

       writing. Also, although long hair tied in a bun at the back and short styles are

       worn by both khaek and thai females, generally the thai custom of old ladies

       having a 'short back and sides' style is not followed by khaek old ladies, who

       prefer a bun. Lastly, traditionally khaek women wore sarongs with different

       designs on them to those of thai women. But nowadays it is a matter of

       individual preference. A thai lady may wear a print traditionally considered

       khaek and vice versa.

 12) Some Malay kinship terms are used : m-ma, f-ba, grandparents-chaay, parents

       elder siblings-wa, parents younger siblings-ju. But the underlying ego-oriented

       cognatic kinship structure with its emphasis on age and generation is the same.

       All other kinship terms used are Thai i.e. children-luuk, cousin, grandchildren-

       laan, female in law-saphaay, male in law-khooey.

      For both khon khaek and khon thai, marriage with parents elder siblings daughter
      is proscribed whilst marriage with parents younger siblings daughter is preferred.
      Both khaek and thai marriages are arranged. Often the couple will not meet
      until the wedding day, especially if one of the spouses is from outside the village.
      Khon khaek are believed to coerce their daughters even against their will into
      marriage. Khon thai, maintain that they don't. But there is evidence of cases
      where khon thai have forced their children into marriages. Bridewealth ranges
      generally from 2000-5000 baht for both groups. Matrilocal residence is pre-
      ferred, it being believed that girls can live in closer harmony with their own
      mothers than their mother-in-laws. But expediency in fact dictates actual







188                                     Angela Burr


In the economic sphere all Muuthiinyng villagers consider the
village first and foremost a fishing community; and, in the last ten-fifteen
years, with the introduction of engines, ice for storage, and light weight
nets, cash crop fishing on a large scale has arisen. But paddy at a sub-
sistence level is also cultivated.

Except for a few holdings, notably those of the two village money-
lenders of Chinese descent, most landholdings are small, the majority
being around five-ten rai, and providing the owners with subsistence
only. Of a sample of 80 percent of the household 36 percent were found
to be landowning; about half the thai households and half the khaek
being landholders13. Thus on a percentage basis, land is about equally

distributed between each group. Landholdings being small, labour for
cultivation is generally recruited from the nuclear or stem family,
although if need arises one or two neighbours or friends may be called in
for wage labour, or it may be share-cropped.

Similarly with boat ownership and labour. Both groups have
taken advantage of cash crop fishing with equal vigour. The fifty-six
or so seaworthy boats in the village are primarily of two types : pra-
mong naam lųk (deep sea fishing boats) or rųa yaay (big boats), as they
are referred to by the villagers, generally being over forty-five horsepower
and about fifty fact long, and rųa lek (little boats), open small boats.
Thirty-seven of the small boats and five of the deep sea fishing boats are
owned by khon khaek. Although these figures show that khon khaek own
more small boats than khon thai, it is only a small percentage difference,
difference of little sociological significance. Deep sea fishing boats how-
ever are about equally distributed between each group. Deep sea fishing
boats need 6-8 crew. Khaek owners tend mostly to recruit their crew from
their immediate consanguines and affines. Khon thai, partly due to lack
of eligible relatives, recruit their crew mainly from outsiders.

        All boatowners are heavily in debt to moneylenders from whom

they borrowed the capital to buy their boats; the deep sea fishing boat

owners are in debt to moneylenders in the towns at Songkhla and Na-


13) one rai is equal to two-fifths of an acre.

Muslim            Thai
landowning households        90                  37

landless households             93                 32

unknown                                   20                 27

                                                   -----               -----

203                 96          =  299

                                                                                                    total households.









korn Sri Thammarat, whilst the little boat owners are in debt to
Muuthiinyng moneylenders to the tune of 1-3000 baht. In return for
these loans the borrowers sell their high quality fish to the moneylenders
at cheaper than market price. Economic power in Muuthiinyng in
practice is in the hands of the two or three moneylenders of Chinese

Neither khon khaek nor khon thai form an interest group. They
do not enter into competition with each other for control over economic
and political resources. Whilst factions that cut across religious group
lines exist,14 political groupings have never formed along religious lines.
A number of historical cross-cutting ties (which unfortunately I do not
have the space to describe here) have been a major factor in inhibiting
the formation of political groupings along religious lines. But perhaps
the local economic situation has been a contributory factor too. The
fact that, for all practical purposes, control of the village economy is in
the hands of Chinese moneylenders to whom many of the villagers are
indebted and that the majority of village holdings are small subsistence
units means that neither group is endowed with economic resources
favourable to the formation of longterm large-scale political groupings
based on religious affiliation.

The atomisation of village society is perhaps a contributory factor
too. Since village social and economic behaviour is oriented around the
nuclear and stem family alone, there are no large-scale economic or
social groupings such as kinship or labour units which would facilitate
wide scale political groupings. In sum, socially, economically and


14For instance, although it is now in the process of dying out, factionalism existed

                                     within the khaek group itself : between the "modernists," who are keen on
                               innovation and adapting to the ways of the modern world, and the more tradi-
                               tional conservative elements who place great emphasis on Islam and want to
                               retain the old ways. The former's most politically powerful faction is centred
                               around the kamnan (community headman), the latter around the mosque officials.
                               In the heyday of this factionalism the thai villagers supported the modernists
                               and belonged to their faction, but many of the thais have now turned to the
                               Chinese moneylenders for support.

                                     In the past too, in the days of sailing boats, perhaps political factionalism formed

                                     around the labour units. Sailing boats and heavy nets required a great deal of

                                     manpower (over 20 men or more). Such large economic groupings would tend to

                                     favour factionalism and large scale political groupings. But there is no con-

                                     clusive evidence that such groupings ever existed or that they formed along

                                     religious lines.







190                                         Angela Burr


politically, there is not much difference between khon khaek and khon thai
in Muuthiinyng.

          Culturally, too, they are similar. Although southern Thai Muslims
are generally associated with Malay culture, very different in many
respects from that of the Thai,khon khaek in Muuthiinyng share with, khon
thai a similar view of nature; for instance, they have similar beliefs as
to the nature of the stars and the wind and the ocean. They also share
similar views as to the nature of human physiology—conception, disease,

the structure of blood and so forth. But most importantly, especially as

far as khaek adaptation to the Thai host society is concerned, khon khaek

share with the Thai host society, with only one or two exceptions,15 a

similar sacred and malevolent spirit world.

           Generally, where great world religions exist in rural areas folk
beliefs and practices flourish and co-exist alongside, and this is true of
Muuthiinyng. One would tend to assume, because of the marked
difference between Malay and Thai spirit beliefs and practices, that since
khon khaek have their cultural origins in the Malay culture they would
adhere to, or at least retain, some of the spirit beliefs and practices of
their cultural origins. Certainly, in Kelantan, where a similar, albeit
converse, situation seems to exist, Thai communities being scattered in
a Malay cultural area, it can be inferred from Kershaw (1969) that the
Thai-Buddhists have retained a number of their traditional spirit beliefs
and practices. But in Muuthiinyng, even if the forebears of the presentday

khaek villagers adhered to Malay spirit beliefs and practices, nowadays

khon khaek share a common spirit world with their thai counterparts

in the village, albeit a spirit world that has been adapted in certain

respects to fit in with the basic tenets of Muslim doctrine.

          Buddhism does not deny a spirit world. A supernatural world is
incorporated in and finds justification in Buddhist scripture with both
good and bad spirits of all degrees being accounted for in the religious


15) The only differences are that khon thai believe that each compound land is
protected by a jauthii, the spirit of the first inhabitant of the land. Khon khaek do
not believe in jauthii. In fact khon khaek view jauthii. as a thai "identity symbol".
Muslims on the other hand adhere to a belief in jins (yin). But this is a very
vague category and plays a very insignificant part in the khaek world view. I
never once during my field work heard the yins involved as causal explanation;
actually unless I brought the subject up they were never discussed. In fact jins
were subsumed to the thai world view.











Certainly, khon thai in Muuthiinyng people the world around them
with phii (spirits). Much has been written on the Thai phii. Suffice it
to say here that Thais view the phii as being both anthropomorphic and
incorporeal in form, ranging in category from spirits of the dead and
certain types of "Buddhist Saints"16 to permanently existing categories
that have never been part of the karmic cycle, such as nature spirits and
thewada (angels).

Khon thai in Muuthiinyng believe that these phii have power over
human affairs. Some phii, generically referred to as phii saksit, are viewed
as being essentially benevolent and benign in nature. Some phii saksit
are believed to act as guardians and protectors. As is to be expected

in a village which sees itself first and foremost as a fishing community,
the most important guardian phii saksit is associated with fishing. Each
boat, big and little, khon thai believe, is inhabited by a yaanangrųa, by a
tree spirit (phii mai), a beautiful young girl who, I was frequently told,
looked like Petchara, a famous Thai actress. Yaanangrųa is believed to
act as the guardian and protector of the boatowner and his crew, protec-
ting them in bad weather and helping them to attain good catches.
Yaanangrųa in fact provides the central focus for Thai villagers' spirit
cosmology. Houses are also believed to have guadian phii saksit-sau mae
the spirit of the houseposts; so, too, does the houseland which is

believed to be protected by jauthii, the spirit of the first inhabitant of the
land. Children, too, are thought to have protective phii called Mae Suu.

Some phii however are thought to act ferociously, malevolently,

capriciously and with complete self-interest. These phii are generally

referred to as phii thamadaa (ordinary spirits) or in the case of the more
ferocious and malevolent as phii kin (man eating spirits). These phii are
used as explanations of causation. They are believed to cause personal
misfortune, death, illhealth and luck. Madness and psychotic and
hysterical behaviour are explained with reference to the phii too. The
phii are believed to possess (phii khau) people, madness and psychotic
behaviour being considered symptomatic of possession. Some spirits,
such as phii poob and phii krasū,17 incorporeal in form, are believed to


 16) Bodhisathva.

 17) Phii krasji for instance, are notorious for eating faeces and rubbish,






192                                   Angela Burr


live on people, causing their hosts to commit socially obnoxious acts
and/or bad deeds.

But the most feared and frequently mentioned phii, and the one
which provides the central focus for malevolent spirit belief in the village,
is phii tai hoeng (spirit of unnatural or abnormal death). A phii tai hoeng
is someone who has died an unnatural or violent death, such as by

drowning, murder, in childbirth, suicide or during an epidemic. For
such people, the villagers believe it is difficult, if not impossible to get
to heaven: unable to go to heaven on death, they wander on earth taking
their revenge and causing mischief to humans. The most feared and
most frequently mentioned spirits of abnormal death in the village are
those of women who have died in childbirth (phuying tai thong klom) and
those of people who have drowned (phii plaay).

But although Buddhism legitimizes much of the spirit world. Muslim
doctrine denies a spirit world. Many khaek, especially the more know-
ledgeable mosque officials, were aware of this and, whenever I brought
up the subject, would quickly state khon khaek mai khooey nabtoe phii
(khon khaek never worship and/or believe in the phii). They maintained

khaek spirits of the dead never haunted (mai khooey lawk) or caused
people misfortune or harm. Khon khaek who died violent or abnormal
deaths, they held, did not become phii tai hoeng; in fact such deaths
were 'good deaths' (tai dii). Such people, because of the unfortunate
circumstances of their death and the suffering they had undergone, would
go straight to heaven (sawan) and not have to wait until the Day of
Judgement (Wan kiamut). Death resulting from circumcision (khausuunut)
is frequently cited as an example of tai dii.

Yet although khon khaek were often vehement in their denial of the
phii and in their statements that dead khaek never haunted, it was soon
apparent to me that they, too, utilised spirit beliefs to explain illness and
misfortune. Khon khaek were haunted and possessed by spirits as much as
their Thai-Buddhist counterparts. But whilst logical rigour is not a
common feature in any society it was clear that this apparent contradic-
tion was not just the manifestation of logical inconsistency. Khon khaek

did believe that whilst the spirit of dead relatives might return to their

former abodes if a rite in their honour was being held, they did not haunt









or behave malevolently. Once dead, it was believed khaek gave up their
commitment to and participation in this world for ever. Rather khon
laid illness, misfortune and hysterical behaviour at the door of

the thai spirit world. It was thai nature spirits such as phii baa (spirits
of the forest), phii chin, that dwelt in caves and phii tai hoeng that caused
khon khaek harm and possessed them. It was the thai spirit world that
was used as an explanation of causation by khon khaek. Thai phii saksit
were believed to protect khon khaek too. Khaek boats were guarded by

yaanangrua, their houses by sau mae rwan and their children by Mae Suu.
Phii poob
and phii krasû were also believed to live on khaek boats too.

Thus, in what must be considered a superb piece of rationalisation,
khon khaek, in their own fashion, reconciled their own denial of a spirit
world with the spirit world of the host society, on so doing successfully
grafting their own world view onto the belief system of the local host

The only real difference between each group's relationship to the
spirit world lay in propitiation. Like khon thai, khon khaek solicited
favours and propitiated guardian phii both on an adhoc basis and at
institutionally prescribed times. But they used different institutions for
this propitiation. Whilst khon thai used traditional functionaries e.g.
mau tham khwan (soul tieing doctor) to propitiate yaanangrua, jauthii and
sau mae rwan,18 khon khaek used a khaek religious institution, the prayer
group feast (which I will go into detail about later) for this propitiation.
This rite included village mosque officials reciting arabic prayers derived
from the koran.

But interestingly, exorcisation, unlike propitiation of the phii may

be carried out by individuals (mau phii) of either group for the afflicted
of either group. The village has four mau phii, two of whom are thai,
two, khaek. The most famous mua phii is in fact a khaek, Naay Matlen.

But even Naay Matlen has so far been unsuccessful in his attempt to
exorcise (laay phii) the most famous case of long term spirit possession in
the village, that of a middle-aged thai woman.


18) The propitiation of yaanangrua, jauthii and sau mae rwan are separate rites and
       may be performed by different functionaries. Butin Muuthiinyng they were
       all performed by one traditional functionary, Naay Pan, refered to as mau tham







194                                    Angela Burr


The comparison of khon khaek with khon thai in the last few pages
has clearly demonstrated the lack of differentiation between the two
groups at the grassroots in Muuthiinyng. In fact the only real difference
between them lies in the religious sphere. The 'other-worldliness' of
Buddhism, its negation of 'this world' and its 'salvation' and death-orien-
tation have been a recurrent theme in the literature.19 It is frequently
argued that Buddhism has little to say about the practicalities of every-
day life, being geared to transcendental and supramundane ends. But
such a viewpoint is essentially a 'Great Tradition' interpretation, based
on the scriptures alone. In 'Little Tradition' terms, at the local grass-
roots level, the kind of Buddhism practiced by the peasantry is very
different from that spelled out in the scriptures. In the Ideology of Merit
(1968), Tambiah clearly demonstrates that in N.E. Thailand, in 'practical

religion' terms, far from being a cult for the dead, village Buddhism is
a cult for the living, for the practical implications of karmic theory in
everyday life lead to a central focusing on meritmaking. This is true of

Muuthiinyng too.

          In Muuthiinyng, khon thai have only a limited knowledge of

 Buddhism for several reasons. The language of the scriptures, Pali, is

a foreign language. The educational standard of the monks and laity

is low. Lastly they have little contact with and receive little stimulus
from theological centres. In practice, a very simplified version of
Buddhism is adhered to, which is operated around the concept of kam
(karma), bun (merit), baab (sin), sawan (heaven) and narok (hell). Accor-
ding to karmic theory, meritorious acts are weighed against evil acts and
an individual's position in this, and successive lives, is dependant on their
bun merit/baab demerit balance. If a person has committed more sinful
deeds than meritorious, he will be consigned to hell and to a lower social
position in later existences on earth. If a person has committed more
meritorious deeds than evil, on death he will be consigned to a heaven
and in future lives attain a higher status. Whilst karmic theory is
essentially 'other worldly' in orientation, in everyday terms it orients
people to perform good deeds (tham bun) and avoid bad (tham baab).
'Tham bun' has become institutionalised in Thailand. Materially support-
ing the temples and the monks (waay phra) in their striving for a 'higher'


                              19) e.g. see Harper (ed.) (1964), Spiro (1967), Leach (1962).








life is considered the meritmaking act par excellence. Thus in practice,
popular Buddhism in Muuthiinyng, as elsewhere in Thailand, has become
focused on meritmaking (thambun), religious activity being oriented around
the temples and monks.

Khon khaek adhere to the Shāfi'i school of Islam which predominates
in Southeast Asia. As with Buddhism, the coded doctrinal beliefs of
this school differ markedly from the popular form of Islam practiced in
Muuthiinyng by khon khaek. In Songhkla and Haadyai, the major
towns of the province, live reformist Wahabis, referred to locally as
phuak mai (new sect) whose aim is to purge Islam of its traditional non-
orthodox elements such as spirit worship. Generally Wahabis are drawn
from the more prosperous and educated elements of the Muslim communi-
ties, usually being most oriented to the modern western world. But in
the country and in Muuthiinyng too, Muslim peasants tend to adhere to
a more traditional form of Islam known locally as phuak kau (old sect).20

Phuak kau, in Muuthiinyng, is essentially traditional in outlook, in
that it requires belief in a spirit world, and is not reformist. Nevertheless,
it is remarkably Islamised on an institutional level in terms of the number
of Muslim institutions and functionaries represented and rites performed.
Although the community is small the village has quite a substantial
mosque (mosyit). The village also has several mosque officials, an imam
who heads the community and leads the faithful at prayer, a töbay
(assistant imam) who also performs the role of religious teacher (tökhruu),
a bhilal who calls the faithful to prayer, and a katep, who reads the
lesson at Friday Prayers (samayang wan suk), the Muslim Holy Day.
The mosque also has an elected committee to run it. All these officials
act as moral guidance counsellors and leaders in religious affairs.

           The 'Five Pillars of the Faith', the heart of Islam, are also present

and upheld in the village: prayers (samayang), the basic pillar of the
faith, being performed the regulation five times daily by many villagers—
both men and women. Communal prayers (samayang wan suk) are also
held at the mosque every Friday, usually attended by male representa-


20) First and second generation peasants who live in the towns also tend to adhere
to the traditional phuak kau sect and tend to hold their festivals and bury their
dead in outlying phuak kau villages.








196                                      Angela Burr


tive from most households. Fasting (khaubuat) another pillar, is practised
by most villagers during the month of Ramadhan, the most important
orthodox festival of the year. Ramadhan in fact is the most important
khon khaek in the village and a time for great manifestations of social
festival for solidarity. Several other major festivals are recognised in the
village too, including Muhammed's Birthday (muloot) and khau buat iik
(Hari Raya Haji in Malay), a festival to honour Meccan pilgrims. The

haj, pilgrimage to Mecca, is the ideal for all khaek villagers, but so far
only three villagers have managed to go, because of the expense involved.
Lastly, almsgiving (yakat), a major symbol of Islam, is present in the village
in the form of an institutionalised annual payment to the religious leaders.
Circumcision, the hallmark of the Muslim male, is performed on all
males, taking place usually between the ages of 12-16 years.

Alongside the pillars of the faith and underlying them is an
institution phitti tham bun, which I will translate, for reasons which will
become very apparent later, as 'prayer group feast'. This prayer group
feast, while not part of Muslim orthodoxy, is complimentary to, and an
essential part of, Muslim social organisation and belief in the village.
Prayer group feasts may be either held in the home or at the mosque.
If held in the home, the instigator will invite male relatives and friends
who are active household heads and important religious leaders to come
and pray in his house. Usually, on the occasions of major Muslim
festivals, a communal prayer group feast may be held in the mosque,
involving both the middle-aged and elder household heads. After
prayers have been said, a feast of the best food that can be afforded will
be served to member of the prayer group. If held in the home this feast
will be supplied by the host and his family, often to as many as twenty
to thirty people. If held in the mosque, each household who wished will
supply a tray of food, often as many as ninety dishes being brought to
the mosque.

 The prayer group feast21 is held in the village for a wide variety of

                              occasions, not only for major Muslim festivals but for household rituals


21) Similar prayer group feasts are found in other Muslim areas in Southeast Asia. In
       some of these areas and in Muuthiinyng too, these prayer group feasts are also
       held for magico-religious rites. But as I argue in my doctoral thesis these prayer
       group feasts in Muuthiinyng, and perhaps elsewhere too, are primarily Muslim
       in religious orientation, not magico-religious. Rather I maintain that this
       essentially Muslim rite is used at magic religious occasions precisely because of
       its Muslim religious associations. Muslim prayers and officials are believed to
       have 'power' and as such are appropriate for dealing with and controlling the
       spirit world.








and rites de passage. Generally, because of the enormous cost, house-
hold rituals and rites de passage are multipurpose. They always include
prayers asking for God's blessing (khaw prajau hai phon) for household
members and dead relatives, and often, at the end of a major rite such
as at circumcision, or a death ceremony, the khon plae, or Muslim baby
naming ceremony may be held.

This overt degree of Islamisation in the village is impressive and
remarkable when it is taken into account that until recently the village
was very remote and inaccessible, with few and infrequent links with
the major towns in the province or the Muslim theological centres. But a
closer scrutiny reveals that this Islamisation is very much a 'veneer';
whilst a Muslim religious institutional form may be present in the
village, it lacks substance and content. Except for the Five Pillars of
the Faith, khon khaek have only a limited knowledge of Islam.

For instance, the only prayers most villagers know are the short
prayers which they use for all occasions such as lā ilâha illa'' ilah (there
is no God but Allah) and bismi'illāh irrahmān ir-rahim (in the name of
God, the Compassionate One, the Merciful). Watching participants at
rites where these are said, it is apparent that many lay Muslims do not
even know these prayers and have to be led by the mosque officials who
officiate, the religious leaders themselves being little better versed in
their knowledge of prayer than the average layman. What is more,
villagers do not know the meaning of these prayers. A survey showed
that even the meaning of lā ilāha illa'ilāh was not known by the villagers,
most villagers believe that it signifies thinking of God (khittyng prajau).
The villagers' limited knowledge and understanding of prayers is

expressive of their limited knowledge of Islam in general.

Khon khaek, in Muuthiinyng, like khon thai, are faced with the
problem that the sacred scriptures are in a foreign language. A major
reason for the dearth of prayers and lack of understanding of them is
that the villagers have no knowledge of classical arabic, the language of
the Koran, the language in which God revealed his thoughts to Muham-
med. Nor do they know Malay, the local medium of koranic studies,
in which several commentaries on the Koran and many books on Islam
have been written. Thai is the mother tongue of the villagers. Recently






198                                     Angela Burr


the koran has been translated into Thai but the villagers are not aware
of this. Nor are there any books in Thai on Islam available for them
to read. Moreover there has been no missionary activity from which
the villagers could have gained a deeper knowledge of Islam by Thai-
speaking Muslim teachers from the south. Thus the only means
the villagers have of attaining first-hand knowledge of Islam is by
learning Arabic or Malay. Knowledge of the latter is more easily
obtainable. Only one or two villagers have been to Malaysia, and speak
passable Malay, but they have little more knowledge than other villagers
who have learnt Malay and studied religion in the local area. Malay,
Arabic, and Islam can be studied at bonaw or bondoks (Muslim religious
schools). But those bonaw situated in rural areas further south have a
low religious educational standard. A student at a bonaw gains familia-
rity with the Koran and Muslim rituals, but learns little about Muslim
belief and local orthodoxy. Emphasis is placed on teaching the Koran
by rote rather than on teaching orthodox Muslim beliefs, primarily
because the teachers themselves are country people with little orthodox

In general, by the time a student leaves a bonaw he will be able to
read a little Malay and possibly Arabic, but he is unlikely to understand it.
He will also know a few passages from the Koran by heart, including
the bang (the call of the minaret), the fhatiya (the introductory passage
in front of the Koran) and one or two dua (blessings), but he will have
little further understanding of the substance of Islam.

The nearest bonaw is in Channa district, Songkhla province, some
ninety kilometres from Muuthiinyng. Muuthiinyng khaek have some
connections with this bonaw and there is a certain degree of movement
between the two; the previous imam went to live there and frequently
visits the village; so too do a few village young men who are Channa
bonaw students.

Generally young men study for a few years at a bonaw, nowadays
usually after they have finished four years' state education. They then
return to the village and take up a job as a fisherman or farmer. In
middleage, when they become mature responsible household heads (a
necessary qualification for becoming a village Muslim religious leader),








their familiarity with the Koran and Muslim rituals qualifies them to
become mosque officials or members of the mosque committee. But
usually, by the time they have become religious leaders they have for-
gotten most of the little that they learnt at the bonaw. Yet these are
the men who act as repositories of village knowledge of Islam and act
as the village religious teachers. The assistant Imam (töbay) who teaches
the village children is a typical example. He went to a bonaw for three
years about thirty years ago. He can still read a little Malay but has
long since forgotten any but the basic prayers. Even the katep who
states a preference for a more orthodox (kotmaay) way of life knows
little more.

A number of the pre-adolescent village boys go to the töbay every
morning and evening for lessons in Muslim religion. He teaches them
how to pray and the washing rituals demanded of Muslims before
prayer from an illustrated Malay commentary. He also teaches the
children to recite by rote a few short passages from the commentaries.
In the three years that each child is supposed to attend the töbay's classes
he learns enough to be able to pray five times daily and, with the aid of
village religious leadership, to find his way around Muslim village rituals.

Given no first-hand understanding of Malay or Arabic (a basic
barrier to the dissemination of orthodox ideas), poor religious educational
facilities, physical isolation in the past, and the low standard of village
religious teaching, it is no wonder that the mosque officials and the
villagers had only a limited knowledge of Islam and that Islam in
Muuthiinyng lacked substance.

In fact, khon khaek operate a much simplified system of belief
compared with that advocated by orthodoxy. Whilst the villagers can
recite the names of the Muslim schools on demand, they do not know
the differences between schools or in what countries each school predo-
minates. Generally they say that all the schools have the same beliefs,
but use different forms of ritual. The only remarks I ever heard made
as to the differences between schools was that hanafis were clothes-sellers,
an inference no doubt derived from seeing Hanafi Indian cloth traders in
Songkhla and Haadyai. Also that the Sha'fii school was more pure than
Hanafi so that although a Shaf'ii Imam could lead Hanafis at prayers, it
could not be done vice versa,







200                                       Angela Burr


It is around the concept of Allah (God), Nabii Muhammed, khwan
(soul substance), chiwit or winjaan (life/soul), heaven (sawan), hell (narok),
and meritmaking (thambun) that the khaek belief system revolves, a

system of belief that involves some concepts similar to and parallel to
the Thai.

Even the smallest khaek child can recite Allah's attributes, such as
there is but one God, he is incorporeal, all-pervasive, the creator of the
world and the judge of all his creatures. Allah is a far more personal
god and less remote than the enlightened Buddha is for khon thai. Prayers
five times daily produce a feeling of nearness to God and result in the
setting up of a very personal relationship, one based on the immediacy
of Allah. It is a personal relationship that facilitates the asking of boons.
Nabii Muhammed is not deified, his mortality being frequently stressed.
The names of seveval other prophets are known—Jacob, Abraham,
Moses—and one or two have heard of Jesus, but except for a few tales
of their deeds, little is known about them.

Thais believe that all individuals have a khwan (soul substance)
which if frightened (tokjai) may become out of condition (sia) or even
fly away (bin). As a means of revitalising and/or bringing back the
khwan, a traditional rite, phitti tham khwan (soul-tieing ceremony), is
performed. This ceremony, performed by a traditional functionary, the
mau tham khwan, may be held on an ad hoc basis or at prescribed institu-
tionalised times, e.g. at marriage or ordination. Khon khaek too believe
they have a khwan and refer to it in terms of tokjai/sia/bin too.

The baby-naming ceremony and prayer group feasts held at
circumcision, marriage and at illness were frequently referred to as tham
the same term as used by khon thai to refer to Thai khwan rites.

But whereas Thai khwan rites have specific rituals whose only purpose is
to revitalise the khwan, the Muslims do not have such specific rites to
revitalise their khwan. For example, at circumcision, marriage and at
baby-naming ceremonies there are no special rites for revitalising the
khwan; rather, khaek believe that the prayers asking for God's blessing
and the associated ritual procedures at the prayer group feast traditionally
held on these occasions will, if carried out correctly (amongst other
things), result in the boosting of the khwan of the individual who is to be








married or cicumcised. One is left with the impression that the concept
of khwan is less important to khon khaek, perhaps because there are no
special khwan rites.22

Alongside this concept of khwan lies that of winjaan or chiwit or roh
which is best translated as soul or life spirit. Khon khaek believe that

each man has a soul which on death will ultimately go to heaven or hell,
depending on the individual's actions in life. Whilst khon khaek might
colloquially refer to this soul as 'winjaan', following Thai usage, they are
quick to point out when discussing this subject that the soul of a khaek
is not like the soul of a thai, is not really a winjaan. They associate

winjaan with the Buddhist karmic rebirth cycle (kirtmai); they do not
believe that after death the soul follows the same karmic rebirth cycle
as the Thais. Khon khaek prefer to use the term chiwit (life) or the
Malay term roh to describe the phenomenon that leaves the body after
death and goes either to heaven or hell.

When khon khaek state that good people go to heaven on death,
they do not mean that on expiring a good Muslim will immediately go
to heaven. What they really mean is that a man's chiwit or roh will go
to the place known as Tungmashaat. Here all the dead will collect to
await wan kiamut (the day of judgement). On wan kiamut the angels will
judge each khaek's actions in life and will allow those who have done
more good than evil to go to heaven and enjoy its pleasures, whilst those
who have sinned greatly will be consigned to hell forever.

          There were two major points of view as to where Tungmashaat

was, namely in the sky and in the cemetery (gubo). The latter view is

most commonly held, as a result of which prayers asking for God's



22) Although concepts similar to khwan are found throughout S.E. Asia, in Malaysia
it is called semangat; nevertheless it seems reasonable to assume that khon khaek
in Muuthiinyng have not just taken over the name, but have also taken over the
thai concept of soul substance, for the Malay form, semangat, is in certain
respects different from that of the Thai (which I don't have the space to go into
here). Khon khaek in Muuthiinyng adhere to the Thai definition of khwan, not
to the Malay definition of semangat.

Interestingly there seems to have been some use of Thai khwan rites by khon
There have been cases, more frequently in the past, of certain Thai
khwan ritual forms, e.g. the making of lustral water, and the use of Buddhist
ritual objects being used by Muslim religious leaders at circumcision and
marriage rites, although I personally never witnessed it.








202                                      Angela Burr


blessing for the dead at major festivals were usually held in one or other
of the village cemeteries. As with all world views that attempt to
conceptualise the ultimate in anthropomorphic space-time terms, the
villagers were faced with conceptual difficulties in attempting to explain
the nature of Tungmashaat. I once asked how it was possible for the
gubo to hold all the dead people who had died in the village: wouldn't it
be very crowded, I asked? One good lady replied that when a dead
body had rotted away completely God put in its place a tiny person, the
size of a finger, and it was this tiny person who dwelt in Tungmashaat:
a superb piece of rationalization of the overcrowding problem in Tung-

Interestingly, khon thai beliefs concerning the immediate fate of the
soul after death were also incorporated into the village khaek world
view. Local orthodox doctrine holds that when an individual dies his
soul departs from his body to 'heaven'. When an individual is about to
be buried a mourner will whisper the Muslim creed into the corpse's
ear so that he can remember what to say on Judgement Day. At this
point God inserts a substitute soul for a moment into the corpse in order
that it may hear and remember the creed. But only one or two of the
Mosque officials had heard of this belief. Most villagers held similar
beliefs to khon thai as to the immediate fate of the soul after death. Thai
villagers believed that the soul hovered around the dead body until it

was buried, and that on the third night the spirit would return to its
home on earth because it was homesick. Khon khaek too believed that
the soul hovered around the corpse, but for seven days only; on the
seventh day they believed it 'rose'. On this day wan jet, a big prayer
group feast, is held to pray for the soul of the dead. Ideally each evening
during the previous week a prayer group to pray for the dead person is
held at the gubo, at which many of the responsible male household heads
in the village, often as many as fifty, attend. Khon khaek too believe
that the soul reverts to its home on the third night, and there are many
tales told by both Muslims and Thais of people seeing dead relatives
crying at the window.

For both khon khaek and khon thai, heaven is a place of sensual
pleasures and abundance. But opinions differed as to whether Thai and
Muslim heavens were the same. One point of view maintained that








since khaek corpses were buried but thai bodies were burnt heavens and
hells must be different. Another view held that there was only one
heaven and hell but that each group inhabited different abodes there.
Only one khaek, the rather bigoted wife of the katep, said that there was
only one heaven and hell and that Thais, since they were unbelievers,
would surely be thrown into hell. In general, khon thai and khon khaek
not only viewed their social groupings as being mutually exclusive and

endogamous, but viewed life after death in this way too (no doubt).
This is primarily because each group perceived the progress of the soul
after death differently: kirtmai (rebirth) versus wan kiamut (Day of

But although khon khaek and khon thai view the idea of the fate of
the soul after death so differently, they both view the means of getting
to heaven and avoiding hell in the same way. Orthodox Islam postulates
two opposing and contradictory views as to man's responsibility for his
actions, predestination and free will. On the one hand, Islam is
essentially deterministic and fatalistic in orientation, holding that God
made all things, that man is part of a great design and that as such his
life is predetermined and mapped out for him. On the other hand, Islam
also maintains that God gave man freewill to choose his own actions,
to choose between good and evil. However, on wan kiamut (Day of
Judgement) all a man's actions will be judged; a person who has led a
good and virtuous life will be allowed to enter heaven and enjoy its
pleasures, but if a Muslim has sinned more than he has done good he
will incur God's wrath and be consigned to hell for ever.

It can be no accident that when this subject was discussed in
Muuthiinyng informants would bring up the Adam and Eve creation
myth and point out that God gave Adam and Eve freewill. In 'practical
religion' terms it was 'freewill' and associated ideas that provided the
central focus and orientation for all khaek religious beliefs and actions
in the village. Determinism was not stressed in the khaek worldview.
An indicator and reflection of the lack of emphasis laid on determinism
in the khaek worldview lies in the absense of the use of the fatalistic
Malay/Arabic term "insha'allah" (God willing) or a Thai derivative. In
Malaysia this term crops up frequently in conversation, being tacked on





204                                   Angela Burr


to even the most innocuous remarks. But whilst khon khaek in Muuthi-
inyng use many Malay loan words I never heard this term or a Thai
derivative ever used.

Looked at from the freewill point of view, man's progress on the
road to heaven or hell resulted in khon khaek evaluating all actions in
terms of good and evil. The view that 'one reaps what one sows' (tham
dii dai dii) provides the focal orientation for action. It must be apparent

that this view is similar to the thai belief as to man's responsibility for
his actions and to the karmic belief that one reaps what one sows. Thus
the khaek major orientation, like the thai, is to do good and avoid evil.
In fact, khon khaek and khon thai evaluate actions and have similar
orientations to life: they operate a moral code whose content has
striking similarities.23

Khon khaek used the same terms as khon thai to describe good deeds
(bun) and sin (baab). They in fact made merit like khon thai, a logical
offshoot of their belief that one reaps what one sows. Meritmaking
being just as important and institutionalised for them as for the Thais;
and they too referred to meritmaking as 'thambun' Informants also
stated that their views about 'thambun' were the same as the Thais. Often
khon khaek would ask me whether, like them (and the Thais), we made
merit (thambun) in England.

           As with khon thai, all actions were evaluated as being meritorious

or sinful but some activities were considered as being more meritorious
than others. For khon khaek the most meritorious acts were the Five


23) Khon khaek and khon thai also (often) define what is considered "good" behaviour
      and what is considered "bad" similarly. The teachings of the koran and the
      Buddhist "precepts" specify what is "good" behaviour and what is "bad" beha-
      viour for each religion. But in practise Buddhist and Muslim moral codes
      adapt to their host societies taking on traditional indigenous elements. Also
      these codes do not cover all areas of social behaviour; in areas where they are
      absent, often purely traditional standards exit. This is true of Muuthiinyng,
      where both Buddhist and Muslim codes have adapted to and taken on elements
      of the local tradition. In many areas, such as their attitudes to bureaucracy,
      children and the spirits, khon khaek and khon thai specify good and bad
      behaviour similarly.








Pillars of the Faith. But interestingly the ranking order of the Five
Pillars of the Faith were less institutionalised than the ranking order of
the thai merit making acts. A survey of older household heads showed
that there was more agreement amongst the Thais as to the order of
importance of merit making acts than amongst the khaek, khon khaek
have widely differing views.

Khon khaek have also evolved an institutionalised merit making
system similar and parallel to the Thai waay phra (financially supporting
the monkhood as a means of making merit) system. The khaek institu-
tionalised merit making system is oriented around the prayer group feast
structure. This essentially Muslim or at least non-Buddhist structure
has taken on new meaning in the thai context. It has been adapted, both
conceptually and ritually, to fit in with the Thai waay phra system. The
underlying rationale of the waay phra system has been grafted into the
prayer group feast.

Although prayer group feasts are multi-purpose in their aims, an
essential ingredient and the central focus of attention is to make merit.
In fact, khaek villagers consider them to be merit making occasions par
As has been mentioned (and is perhaps now understandable)

prayer group feasts are referred to by khon khaek as phitti thambun (merit
making ceremonies) or as just thambun (to make merit). If a prayer
group feast was to be held I would be frequently asked: are you going
to 'tham bun' today ?

Intercession with God on behalf of another is a major tenet of
Islam. Villagers believe that they can attain God's blessing by asking
people to come and pray and ask for God's blessing on their behalf
(khaw prajau hai phon). But more importantly, in the same way that
khon thai believe that by feeding the monks they will attain merit, khon
believe that by holding a prayer group feast and feeding the

participant members the household holding the rite will attain merit too.
But whilst Thais believe that making merit will obtain for them a better
rebirth in the next life, khon khaek believe that tham bun will incur God's
approval and will result in good fortune in this life and weigh in their
favour on Judgement Day (wan kiamut).






206                                     Angela Burr


Like Thais, khon khaek believe that merit can be made for other
people too, and a major feature of all prayer group feasts is to make
merit for the ancestors (thambun paw mee daa yaay). Whenever I asked
the reason for holding a prayer group feast, one of the first reasons I
would be given was that it was being held to make merit for the ances-
tors. The major khon khaek festivals, ook bwat, to celebrate the ending
of Ramadhan, ook bwat iik in honour of Meccan Pilgrims, and muloot
(Mohammed's birthday), were primarily merit making festivals for the

dead. At each major festival, prayer group feasts were held in one or
other of the village cemeteries to make merit for the souls of the dead;
and over the course of the year all the village cemeteries were visited.
As in household prayer groups, food would be taken to the cemetery to
be eaten and it was believed that the souls of dead relatives would
return and 'eat' the food. After the thambun rites the graves of the
dead are cleaned and weeded by relatives. Major khaek festivals in
Muuthiinyng are thus essentially death oriented.

A comparison with the rationale for holding prayer group feasts
in purely khaek or at least non-Buddhist areas tends to support my
theory that a Buddhist merit making rationale has been grafted onto
what is essentially a non-Buddhist prayer group structure, for prayer
groups in non-Buddhist areas do not have a merit making rationale.
Although it is not known how representative the following studies are,
neither Geertz' (1960) study of the slametan in Modjokuto in Java nor
Fraser's (1966) study of makan pulot (eating glutenous rice) feasts, which
has a similar structure to Muuthiinyng thambun rites, in Rusembilan, a
Malay village in southern Thailand in the Patani area, mention a merit
making ethos. Geertz in fact states that they are held to attain slamet
(mental equilibrium) as protection against the spirits and to act as social

levellers. Stevens (in communication 1970) states that in Mesjid Tua,
the village in Malacca State, southern Malaysia, in which he did his field-
work, there was no merit making ethos either. Prayer group feasts were
held to beyar niit (to give thanks to God). He gives examples of a man
who married a proscribed cousin in another village giving a prayer group
feast to atone for his actions, and of another man who held a prayer
group feast to give thanks when his son got a job. When Stevens was
invited to the prayer group feast to give thanks for the man's son getting








a job, the host said to him : "My son has got a job; we are having a
bit to eat tonight—would you like to come ?" This he states is the general
form of invitation to a prayer group feast in Mesjid Tua.24 This essentially
social invitation is a far cry from the religious invitation form used
in Muuthiinyng (are you going to make merit today ?).

Stevens says that rapid Islamization has taken place in Malaysia
in recent years. But within this Muslim context Stevens lays emphasis
on the social side of prayer group feasts and sees them as being essentially
social occasions; the prayers (do'a) he sees as being a kind of grace.
Certainly in Modjokuto and Malaysia they are held for non-religious
and social occasions. Geertz for instance states that ritual feasts may
be held to celebrate the opening of a factory or a political meeting.
In Muuthiinyng prayer group feasts, except for certain spirit propitiation
rites, are only held for occasions the villagers consider part of Muslim
religion (sasanaa khaek), reflecting the religious merit making orienta-
tion that the rite has taken on in the Thai context.

Not only is the merit making rationale underlying the prayer group
feast the same as that articulating waay phra, but when watching the
prayer group one is immediately struck by the similarities to the rituals
and symbolic structure of the waay phra structure. An analysis of the
ritual symbolism of the prayer group structure reinforces my view that
the prayer group structure has acquired new meaning in the Thai context,
for its ritual form reflects and symbolises the merit making ethos of the
prayer group feast. In fact its structure has been adapted ritually and
symbolically not only to fit the meritmking ethos but to parallel the rites
involved in lay meritmaking and gift-giving to the monks.

An analysis of the rites clearly suggests that participants in a

prayer group feast are conceived of and treated as though they are

'mock monks', that the host household acts towards the participants
as the laity does to the monks, and that the prayer group rites follow
the same sequenoe of events as the ceremonies where the laity makes
merit and gives gifts to the monks. An analysis of prayer group feasts
in other areas gives support to my argument for in other areas the ritual
forms are different and do not symbolise merit making.


24) In the past the prayer group feast was used in Mesjid Tua to propitiate the

       spirits. But it is not used for this purpose nowadays.







208                                      Angela Burr


Laying emphasis on the social nature of the prayer group feasts
in Mesjid Tua, Stevens (1970) states that on arrival the host and/or family
welcomes the guests and the guests greet each other with the formal
greeting : shaking hands and then placing the hand on the heart. In
Modjokuto, according to Geertz, there is no greeting; guests come and
sit down quietly to await the commencement of the ceremony. But at
the beginning of the ceremony the host makes a formal speech and
invokes the spirits. The host, he (1960 : 12) says :

"expresses his profound gratitude for his neighbors' atten-
dance. He regards them, he says, as witnesses to the purity
and the nature of his intentions and to the fact that he is
holding the required rite in order to realize these excellent
intentions, and he hopes they will share in any benefit the
ceremony brings."

But in Muuthiinyng the arrival of the participants at a prayer group
feast follows the same pattern as in Modjokuto and, significantly, the
same ritual form as that followed by Buddhist monks when they go to a
house to perform a household rite : they enter the main room of the
house, sit down and perhaps talk quietly to other participants until the
ceremony begins. No formal greeting, welcoming speech or invocation
to the spirits on 'Great religion' occasions is made either in a prayer
group feast or at a thai household merit making rite in Muuthiinyng.
Although not too much should be read into this the absence of greetings,
welcoming and invocation in prayer group feasts, when viewed in terms
of the context of the total rite, tends to suggest that the form of the
beginning of the rite has been adapted to fit in with the sequence of
events followed by monks at the beginning of a Buddhist merit making
rite. As at a Buddhist merit making rite, a subdued, tense, what might
best be described as a 'religious' atmosphere pervades Muuthiinyng prayer
group feasts. The absence of welcoming etc., combined with the religious
atmosphere, tends to symbolise and reflect the fact that khaek villagers,
like Thai Buddhists on merit making occasions, do not view the prayer
group merit making rites as social occasions but as an essentially

religious rite, as demonstrated by the fact that both groups refer to

merit making rites as sasanaa (religion).








In fact, participants in prayer group feasts symbolically and ritually
act as though they are 'monks' and are treated by the khaek host household
as such. In Buddhism only monks, i.e. males, take part in merit making
rites,25 so too with Islam in Muuthiinyng. Although the Sha'fii school
treats women quite liberally and allows them to samayang (pray) at the
mosque, they are not allowed to participate in village prayer group feasts.

There is no mention in either Fraser or Geertz of whether the par-
ticipants perform the washing rituals demanded of Muslims before
prayer. Stevens categorically denies that Muslims perform these rites
before household prayer group feasts in Mesjid Tua. But in Muuthiinyng
they are a very important part of the ceremony and are very ostenta-
tiously, if somewhat perfunctorily, performed. After washing, the
participants don the clothes they wear for formal religious occasions,—
their best sarongs, and a Malay-style shirt and muak khaek (Muslim hat
or topi). It is taboo and polluting for a Buddhist woman to touch a
monk, and likewise women may not touch participants in prayer group
feasts after they have washed; nor may women share with a participant
the same banana leaf mat used at these rites for to do so would be to defile
it. These washing rituals, special clothes and prohibitions on women
touching men, tend to suggest that the villagers view the participants as
having attained through washing a 'pure' state akin to that of the monks.
Thus the participants' similarity to Buddhist monks is only too obvious,
and as such to describe the participants in prayer group feasts as 'mock'
monks seems reasonable.

         The structure of the food offerings and the seating arrangement

 further symbolise the structural similarity of the prayer group feasts to

the monk/laity merit making ceremonies and reflect the new meaning it
has acquired in the Thai context—a merit making rationale. For those
who serve and eat the food in the khaek rite are similar to those who
serve and eat in Buddhist merit making rites. It is unlike Mesjid Tua
where, Stevens says, although young men bring the food to the veranda
where the rite is held, guests may serve themselves. It is also unlike
Modjokuto where, Geertz (I960: 13) states;


25) Actually women may become nuns (nangshii) but generally they do not take
      part in merit making rites. Monks are preferred.






210                                               Angela Burr


"The food is not served by the host but by one or two of the
guests, who hop into the middle of the circle and fill the
various dishes. When everyone has his filled dish, the host
bids them eat."

In Muuthiinyng the same serving pattern is followed as that used in
Buddhist ceremonies. As in Buddhist waay phra ceremonies, food is
served to the participants, by those people who are donating the food
and want to make merit; that is by members of the host household.
To prevent women defiling the participants it is the male members of
the household who serve the participants. Reflecting the nature of the
merit making ethos, neither the participants nor the monks serve them-
selves : their role is to eat the food and thus make merit for the sup-
pliers of food.

Stevens says that in Mesjid Tua the host and members of his family
may take part in, and eat the food too. But in Muuthiinyng, as happens
in Modjokuto slametans and in Thai merit making ceremonies, the host
and/or members of his family do not eat or take part in the rite. Mem-
bers of the host household either help refill the plates during the feast,
watch what is going on, or do the washing-up on the side. It seems
reasonable to assume that, as with the Buddhist laity members, the host
household do not eat too because the merit is made in the participants
eating the food, not them. The act of donation is the significant point.
As happens in waay phra ceremonies, the members of the household only
join in towards the end of the ceremony when a short prayer, a blessing,
is said by the ritual leader. The members of the host household only
eat, as is the case in waay phra rites, after the ceremony is over. More-
over, as often happens in Buddhist merit making household rituals, mem-
bers of the host household do not bother to participate in the rite at all.

Village houses generally have two main rooms,—a large oblong-
shaped room (rwan) which lies parallel to an open veranda (bing) which
generally is some two to three feet lower. As in the Buddhist household
rites, khaek prayer groups are held in the rwan and the host household
sits on the bing facing the participants. In temple rites too, monks

always sit on a raised platform above the laity. Perhaps the seating
arrangement is just coincidental, but when watching the prayer group









feast being performed one is immediately struck by the similarity to the
seating arrangement used in waay phra ceremonies, and it tends to suggest
an adaptation to the Buddhist form on the part of khon khaek.

Anyway, the actual seating arrangement of the participants in the
rwan itself leaves no doubt in the mind of the beholder that the position-
ing of participants has been patterned on the Buddhist form, not only
because the seating arrangement is very different in non-Buddhist areas,
but because the seating arrangement of monks is highly distinctive and
in the circumstances any parallel seating arrangement can only be con-
sidered an imitation of it.

According to Stevens the prayer group feast is held on the outside
veranda and if there are too many guests to fit on the veranda they will
sit on adjacent ground. But this never happens in Muuthiinyng, even
though usually twenty to thirty people will take part in the rite. As
happens with the monks, the participants sit around the edge of the rwan
with their backs to the wall. If there are too many people to fit around

the three walls, another inward-facing line parallel to the outside line
will be formed, as happens when a large number of monks are invited.

Stevens states that while guests may initially sit with their backs
to the wall around the veranda, when the food is served on large trays
containing several small bowls they will break rank and sit in separate
circles around the nearest tray, and this is also true he says, of those
participants who have to sit on the ground nearby. Fraser (1966:36)
too describes how guests at makan pulot are seated in small circles on the
floor and as each group finishes a new circle of people is formed. Geertz
(1960:13) too states that the food at a slametan is placed in the centre
of the floor and the participants sit in a circle around it. Whilst some-
times monks are served large trays containing several small dishes of
dainty delicacies, they never break rank but select from the bowl nearest.
But it is much more common to serve the monks food in kalapongs or on
separate plates which are placed in a line in front of the monks. It is
this latter pattern which is utilised by the khon khaek in Muuthiinyng.
They never use large trays but place both rice and meat and vegetables
on separate dishes in front of each participant. The similarity to the
positioning of food of the monks is only too apparent.






212                                      Angela Burr


The length of time spent at a prayer group feast and the form of
leave-taking also reflects the merit making ethos of the prayer groups.
Stevens points out that in Mesjid Tua guests may stay on after the rite
is finished for a while for a chat and generally on leaving all guests and
the host household formally take their leave of each other. In Modjo-
kuto, however, they eat hurriedly and

"After about a half-dozen scoopfuls or about five minutes,
they one by one stop eating, and when all have stopped they
ask permission to 'follow my own will' (nuwan sakersa) and,
receiving it, depart for home."

But in Muuthiinyng, whilst, as in Modjokuto, the food is hurriedly
eaten, taking only a few minutes, as each individual finishes he jumps up
abruptly and hurries away, in what seems an inordinate haste, neither
saying farewell or thanking the host for the meal. To the western
observer, used to complicated rituals of farewell and thanks, such
behaviour seems on first observance to be extremely rude. But it is no
accident that monks, too, tend to leave immediately a rite is over26 and
do not 'thank' the laity for donating food to them. It seems reasonable
to infer that the monks leave immediately because waay phra ceremonies
are considered purposeful activities, i.e. merit making activities, not
occasions for dalliance, and monks do not offer thanks for being fed and
materially supported because for the laity the thanks lie in the giving.
As such, there is no need for the monks to thank the laity for they are
doing the laity a service by eating the food and accepting gifts.

It seems to me that in the prayer group feast the hurried departure

of the participants and the saying of neither farewell nor thanks has

similar symbolic overtones. It is, in fact, the crucial symbol in support
of my argument that the prayer group feast has taken on new meaning,
merit making rationale in Muuthiinyng. It seems reasonable to see in
this a parallel rationale to that of the Thais : to argue that the reason
the participants eat and leave hurriedly is because it is considered


26) However monks may stay around after the merit making ceremony is over and

       chat to the laity, usually outside in the temple compound.








a religious, purposeful, merit making occasion too, and that they do not
give thanks because, as with the Thais, the hosts are getting their reward
in the giving. Geertz stresses the importance of the feast in his descrip-
tion of slametan and he was right to do this, but in Muuthiinyng the
feast is important not because, as he suggests, it is considered food for the
spirits per se, but rather the donation of food to the participants is the
means by which the ordinary khaek villager can make merit and secure
himself good fortune in this life and in the next.

This comparison with prayer group feasts in other non-Buddhist
areas has clearly demonstrated that the prayer group feast has taken on
new merit making meaning and ritual symbolism in the Muuthiinyng
context. But even if the ritual form of prayer group feasts in other
areas had been the same as those in Muuthiinyng, this would not have
invalidated my hypothesis that the ritual symbolism in these rites had
taken on a new merit making meaning. In fact, certain rites in
Muuthiinyng prayer group feasts, such as the best food available being
served, men only taking part and serving the food, intercession on behalf
of the dead, the wearing of special clothes, and hurried eating, are also
found in other Muslim and non-Buddhist areas. Nevertheless, if these
rituals are viewed in terms of the total ritual context of the ceremony,
given the merit making rationale, it seems reasonable to infer that even
these similar rituals have taken on new meaning for the Muslim villagers.
They are viewed in terms of, and as part of the merit making ethos, and
as such, they contribute to and re-inforce the total merit making concep-
tualisation of the prayer group feast.

Although the 'Great Traditions' of Theravada Buddhism and Shafi'i
Islam are very different, in terms of 'practical religion', khon thai and
khon khaek share a common basic religious orientation to life through
merit making, a basic framework of religious conceptual unity. But this
conceptual unity is not just the product of syncretism alone on the part
of khon khaek. Khon khaek beliefs are indeed rooted in Islam, for the
origins of khaek merit making lie partly in the Muslim doctrine itself—in
the concepts of freewill, do good and avoid evil, one reaps what one sows,
and in the belief in the possibility of intercession on behalf of others.
These are aspects of Islam that are similar to Thai beliefs. What has






214                                       Angela Burr


happened is that no conceptual significance has been attached to, and no
emphasis laid on those aspects of Muslim belief, i.e. divine determinism,
that contradicts khon thai beliefs. Rather, khaek beliefs that are similar
to thai have been stressed and reinterpreted and articulated to fit in with
the beliefs of the host society.

Perhaps a reason for the parallelism of khaek and thai beliefs lie in
the origins of khon khaek in Muuthiinyng. Perhaps, as was tentatively
suggested at the beginning of this article, present day khon khaek are as
much the product of intermarriage and conversion as of mass migration.
If this is the case, then possibly the converts' khaek religion and their
offspring took over and assimilated those aspects of Muslim beliefs that
were similar to the thai, beliefs which they were already familiar with and
which they could easily understand and digest, and they rejected the
more alien and less familiar beliefs such as divine determinism. But
whatever the origins of khaek belief in Muuthiinyng, it seems reasonable
to view khaek beliefs as having Muslim form but thai substance and


Conclusion :

What has the study of the relationship between Muslims and Thai-
Buddhists in Muuthiinyng taught us about the relationships between
Muslims and Thais in Thailand in general ? Firstly, to throw away the
stereotypes : it is apparent from this study that the stereotype views
people have of Muslims and Thais, of people of widely differing culture,
social structure and religion, does not necessarily hold at the grassroots.
To get a meaningful view of Muslim/Thai interaction, a 'grassroots'
analysis is therefore necessary, an analysis not only at the socio-economic
and cultural level but at the religious level too.

Secondly, rather than assume, as is usually the case, that Muslims
and Thais are very different in culture and social structure and then
study both groups from the point of view of their differences, it might
perhaps be better to study inter-group relations from the point of view
of their similarities both underlying and overt. A study of the way in
which each group has adapted to the other might be very revealing. This
seems a valid theoretical framework, not only for Muslim communities







Fraser, Thomas M.

1966                Fishermen of South Thailand. New York, Holt, Rinehart
and Winston.

1960               Rusembilan: a Malay fishing village in Southern Thailand.

Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Geertz, Clifford

1960               The religion of Java. London, The Free Press of Glencoe.

Harper, E.

1964               Religion in South Asia (a symposium) University of

Washington Press, Seatle.

Kershaw, R.

1969               The Thais of Kalantan; A socio-political study of an ethnic
outpost. Ph.D. Thesis, University of London, no. 655.

Leach, E.

1962                       Pulleyar and the Lord Buddha; An aspect of religious syncre-

tism in Ceylon. In Psychoanalysis and the Psychoanalytic
49 (2).

Spiro, M.

1967               Burmese supernaturalism; A study in the explanation and
reduction of suffering. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall.

Tambiah, S.J.

1968                Ideology of merit and the social correlates of Buddhism in a
Thai village. In E.A. Leach (ed ), Dialectic in Practical
Cambridge Papers in Social Anthropology, no. 5,

Cambridge University Press.

1970               Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in Northeast Thailand. Cam-
bridge, Cambridge University Press,



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