Legend of Pha-daeng Nang-ai from Nong-han River Basin, Kum-pha-wa-pee, Udorn-tha-nee: Relationship among Human Beings, Naga and Water in Isan Society
Written by Nuttawut Singkul (Silapakorn University, BKK, Thailand)
Translated by Suriya Smutkupt (Chiangmai, Thailand)
Edited by Joe Rickson (University of Toronto, Canada)
Legends of River and Naga/Serpant in Thailand
Thai and Isan people have close relationship with water since the ancient time. Its settlement is situated very close to large rivers in order to have plenty of water supplies for home consumption and specifically for agricultural purposes that demand rainwater and water reservoir water. Therefore, water is closely related with people's ways of life. It is the origin of this legend. Construction of tales and imagination of human mind relate to water resource are re-told continuously. Tale of naga/serpent/dragon, a mythical animal for fertility, water resource construction and naga, is used as yearly water supply measurement. Thai people keep water supply statistic through counting one naga over seven naga, as a measurement of yearly water supply. If each year that has plentiful of water supply, less number of naga appears. It is a belief that only one naga appears, its wallows less amount of water in its stomach. If several numbers of naga, they will swallow so much water. Thus there is not much water supply to go around for people to use. Quantity of water supply therefore relates consistently with number of naga that gives all purposes water supply all year round in every year. (cited in La-mai 2538/1995:67)
Naga is a symbol of fertility. It also indicates that it is very close to human beings in Asian region, especial among ethnic Tai people who maintain permanent their settlements, down southwardly from Southern region of China. It is cited in nage tale of Muang Nong-saeng, Muang Nong-han and Muang Yo-nok. It is important to recognize a legend dealing with naga and birth of rivers such as legend of naga of Muang Nong-saeng1 (Nong-saeng is a river and believed to exist in China Kungming or Yunan Province. It flows into the Red Sea. During the era, that Tai people have not migrated down to live in present Thailand, the ethnic Tai people establish Nong-saeng kingdom at Muang Ta-li-phu or Muang Nong-saeng as their kingdom (cited in Pre-cha 2524/198l:52)) that states about relationship between two great naga, who live together in Nong-saeng water reservoir. They are Su-van naga or Yo-nok wa-ti naga that lives in the upper part of reservoir. Whereas Tha-na-moon naga or Sut-tha-tho naga that lives in the lower part of reservoir. They co-exist peacefully until one day, they are in conflict that stems from sharing pieces of animal meat , their food source from their hunting. That leads to a fight. They abandon Nong-saeng reservoir. Su-wan naga goes up to northern region of present Thailand to construct Nan River. Whereas Sut-tha-tho naga goes to northeastern region or Isan to construct Kong River. (Pree-cha2525/1981:67-71)
Both legends of two regions, Yo-nok and Isan share similar issues that includes birth of Muang Yo-nok na-khorn or Muang of sunken reservoir as it appears in the Legend of Sing-hon-wat , Yo-nok Chronicle, Muang Ngern-yang Chiang-san Chronicle that includes congregation of Chronicle Number 61, as an origin of "legend of albino eel" of Lanna people who still remember it until now. It also tells story on how a city is sunken into a large water reservoir and how it destroys the city's ruler and its people. Only one widower and her little hut that is situated on one bank of the water reservoir are spared. (cited by Sayam-ar-ra-ya 2538/1995:28-33) At the same time, the birth of Nong-han of Isan relates to U-rung-kha-ni-than Chronicle also known as construction of phra-that phra-nom pagoda Legend4 (Phra-that phra-nom Legend relates to Kingdom of Lanna-chang or Sri-sat-ta-na-kha-na-hut in 19th Century AD. It relates to many Muang/cities in this region such as Muang Sri-kho-tra-ta-bong (Na-khon-pha-non Province) Muang Nong-han-noi (Nong-han District, U-don-than-nee Province), Muang Pham (Ban Phi District, U-don-than-nee Province), Muang Su-wan-nip-up (in present Laos PDR), Ming Chan-tha-buri (present day Vientiane in Laos PDR), uang Ka-run-tha na-khorn ( A-yut-tha-ya in Central Region of present day Thailand). Pha-that pha-nom Pagoda is constructed at the Kam-phra Hill, in an area along the left bank of the Mae Kong River as real center and belongs to no one in particular to prevent any future fighting to take over the pagoda among all of them. (cited in Sri-sak:2522/1979:35) It relates to relationship of Muang Nong-han luang/big and Muang Non-han noi/small, whose residents are descendants of pha-ya korm/Mon-khmer Kings: King Phing-kha-ra rules Muang Nong-han Luang/big with his Queen Phra-nang Na-rai Jeng Weng who commission the construction of Phra-that-Na-rai Jeng Weng Pagoda which relates to Kingdom of Sri-kho-ta-ra-boon. In this legend, it tells about the great flood that creates both water reservoirs known as big and small Nong-han and towns without any people living in them from then on. (cited in Tem 2499/1956:356-358) In accordance with another legend of Muang Nong-han noi/small town as its residents tell it as follows. They tell that it is the legend of love between pha-daeng, nang-ai and an albino squirrel. It is common to hear them say that Nong-han in Sakon-na-khon Province is Nong-han/reservoir of albino eel But Nong-han in Ku-pha-wa-pee, U-do-tha-nee Province is Nong-han/reservoir of albino squirrel. In order to confirm this fact in accordance with the said legend and to indicate that Nong-han/reservoir in this region is in the legend that Isan people faithfully follow, Isan people always re-tell legend of pha-daeng nang-ai when they talk about Nong-han/reservoir.
Among Isan folklore or legends, this love legend of pha-daeng nang-ai is widely spread in the region. It relates with local history and community, establishing of settlement, birth of water resources such as rivers, reservoirs, ponds, and streams. It includes local customs which people in community still practice. They deals with water resources that relates to fertility of soil and all agricultural practices that are held through worshipping pha-ya-thaen. This ritual takes place during the period of the sixth month in accordance with lunar calendar or in April of every year. It is known as bun bung fai/rocket merit making ritual. In accordance with Isan 12-month-ritual and 14-cutomary-law/hid sip-song khong sip-sii, the pha-daeng nang-ai legend is the one that is commonly found in local literary works among other legends such as Chronicle of Nong-han/reservoir and phy-ya khun-khag/King of Toad and so on. (cited in Suriya and Pattana 2536/1993:6) Above evidences reflect local belief system that relates to the birth of local history of the region. It confirms legendary 'facts', especially the legendary birth of Nong-han kum-pha-wa-pee of U-don-tha-nee that has been retold and re-enacted every year from ancient time until today.
Nong Han-Kum-pha-wa-pee in Udonthanee province
The Nong Han-kum-pha-wa-pee/reservoir (see map number 1.2 and 1.3) is a large fresh water reservoir with the total amount of area approximately 22, 500 rai/the total of 2.5 rai is equal to one acre (However, in the Thai Highway document indicates the total amount of area is 18,025 rai 3 ngarn/100 square meter and 183/10 ta-rang-wa/square yard.). It covers area in three districts namely, Ku-pha-wa-pee, Ku-kaew Sub-district and Pra-juk-sin-la-pa-khom of U-don-tha-nee Province. It flows through the total area of 97 villages/mu-ban, 8 tambon namely Um-jan, Na-muong, in the sub-district of Pra-juk-sin-la-pa-khom, Khon-san, Se-lae, in sub-district of Ku-kaew, Wing-kham, Tum-tai, Phun-don in the district of Ku-pha-wa-pee. It is recognized it's most important function because it is the birth place of the Lam-pau River, one of the most important branch of the Chee River. More importantly, many branch rivers or streams flow into this great reservoir. There are Hui Sam-phad/, Hui Luk-nang, Hui Hua-leng, Hui Phai-jan, Hui Gong-see, Hui Hin, Hui Wang-saeng, Hui Phon-phai, Hui Ban Jaeng, and Hui Nam-khong. All of them nurture all people who live around Nong-han Reservoir, along with all existing species of plant, and fish. It also provides water supply for all purposes, most importantly for agriculture since its ancient existence. It has deep rooted relationship with local history, society and culture, local belief system of all community dwellers. They learn about this great importance of the reservoir through local version of the Pha-daeng nang-ai Legend. According to local history tale and archaeological evidence, there is an indication that the entire body of Nong-han Reservoir used to be huge flood plain and most suitable for growing rice. More over, it also used to be very dense human settlement since the ancient time. It is also a site of an ancient city that is the core center of the communities such as Don-kaew, and Don-tum. Both of them combine to form an island in the middle of Nong-han Reservoir. (Sri-sak 2519/1976:29-30) Archaeological evidence such as Lopburi period of Sema/Sacred and demarcated stone scripture are found in Don-kaew mould. However, it is known to local people as Don Luang/huge mould. It is suspected that it may have been a Khmer city in accordance with the Legend of Pha-daeng nang-ai, in the version that is told by local residents. However, to follow archaeological evidence, it may be said that people of Nong-han-kum-pha-wa-pee, have been able to absorb foreign culture and blend it into their own culture. Ancient legend and the U-rung-kha-that Chronicle indicate to us that migrants from other regions such as from both north and south of the Mae Kong settle there before they integrate into one cohesive community that later on has become Lan-chang Kingdom of the early A-yut-tha-ya Era.
Thus, in this area, so many kinds of culture of many periods exist, including Dvarvati of 12th Century AD that is found in Nong-han-noi/small reservoir, covering the north-eastern direction of Nong-han-luang/great reservoir (Nong-han Sa-kon-na-khon). This 'great reservoir is situated on the northern direction of the Chee River. During this 12th Century AD, Buddhist culture from the Chee River basin penetrates widely among residents in town and villages of Nong-han-ku-pha-wa-pee region. They become Buddhists and construct se-ma sacred demarcating stone to designate Buddhist scared ground that is found in the Don Luang/great mould area. This is the island in the middle of Nong-han-ku-pha-wa-pee/reservoir. Not until 16 th Century AD during Lopburi period, the wide spread of Khom/Khmer culture has come through the area of Nong-han-ku-pha-wa-pee to reach the area of Sa-kon-na-khon basin. This phenomenon creates Buddhist towns and Khmer style religious sanctuary in many areas of present Non-han District.
Legend of pha-daeng nang-ai: naga's anger gives birth to Nong-han-ku-pha-wa-pee/Reservoir
"Myth is told through parole. It is one form of narration. At the same time it is also a system of language. It is narrated under certain language structure such as how narrative accounts of past, present and future are told at the same time." (Chai-rut 2545/2002:70)
The above quotation gives light to an analysis of a myth. It is not only a content analysis but cultural one. It is an attempt to understand how human minds universally work. This can be seen very clear through Lanna albino eel legend. It deals with Yo-nok City. At the same time, Nong-han-ku-pha-wa-pee/reservoir also deals with pha-ya naga, known as phung-khee or albino squirrel that is told through the legend of pha-daeng nang-ai. It links together worldview, understanding of universe, natural system of human world and community of all human beings from the ancient to the present time. It deals with explanation of human settlement, migration and various kinds of relationship such as human to human, human to nature and human to super-nature. This is how ancient people universally understand what universe is. It is easy to understand succinctly as can be understood as "a process of finding answers of primitive tribal people who search for a short cut universal understanding of universe". (Praritta 2533/1990:54) This search for universal understanding of universal is carried out through myths/legends of sky, earth, water, heaven and ba-dan/…one of the seven regions under the earth, and the abode of the Nagas or serpents and demons (MaFarland 1969:479). Most important point in myths/legends is not its exotic content that may be varied from one narrator to the next, but the system of thinking of human mind, structural rules, that sets underlining meaning of myths/legends. It is part of 'fact' as local residents believe it to be and is re-told, reproduced through ritual process, local customs and various kinds of cultural practices. They all relate to everyday life practices of these local people. Such local custom is still found in this area in bung-fai ritual or festival. It is held in order to worship pha-ya thaen/supernatural beings/creators. It also builds up their spiritual strength among agriculturists who have to be ascertaining that they would have plenty of water to guarantee abundant harvest of crops. However, modern tourism has intervened and taken a prominent role in this ritualistic festival of the present time.
From my field studies, I have discovered that the legend of Non-han-ku-pha-wa-pee has been re-told in various exotic ways from one narrator to the next, in accordance to his/her social memory. What they remember may be incomplete but are presented through local tale/ni-than or mo-lam/local repartee singing style. And from my field interviews on the pha-daeng nang-ai legend, in this locality, there are similar opinions, especially the points dealing with local history, name of village and river. They relate to their agricultural everyday life practices. More over, present day local customary ritual and culture are still practiced and used as their local customary law. Local residents use them to explain their past history that associates closely with the locality, social and cultural geography. This kind of explanation is carried out through oral tradition of the legend of pha-daeng nang-ai.
Khmer Lord, the ruler of primary city, known as Cha-the-ta and his Queen Jun-da, have one beautiful daughter, known as Ai-kham. Khmer Lord has two younger brothers, who rule Muang Chiang-hien14 (It is believed that this city is in present day Muang District, Ma-ha-sa-kham Province.) and Muang See-kaew There are also two nephews who rule Muang Pha-dad-song-yang and Muang Hong Each of them is given about 8,000 persons to settle in their respective town. Princess Ai-kham's beauty is spread out to all surrounding areas and finally reached Lord Pha-daeng, son of Pha-phong ruler. From his dream, the young prince is infatuated with Princess Ai-kham. He dispatched his soldiers with precious jewelry to Nang-ai as his token of good relationship of the two cities, first. Later on he goes to meet her in that primary city of Cha-thee-ta. As fate has it, they fall in love. On the other hand, during the same period, Phung-khee, the naga lord and son of Pha-ya Sut-tha-tho, naga lord, the great and ruler of Muang Ba-dan/one of the seven regions under the earth, and the abode of the nagas or serpents and demons (MacFarland 1969:479). He is believed to be infatuated with nang-ai whom he wishes to take as his wife. He is one of many princes from nearby cities and town in the vicinity who individually wishes to take her as his own wife.
By the time Nang-ai reaches marriage age, her father informs rulers of all towns and cities in the vicinity to enter individual bung-fai/rocket in the bung-fai/rocket competition. Owner of bung-fai/rocket that has reached the highest point after firing shall take Nang-ai as his wife. At the same time, this bung-fai/rocket ritual is performed as a worshipping ritual for Pha-ya Thaen who resides in heavy. After witnessing this ritual, he shall release rain in accordance with seasonal cycle so that all residents can begin to carrying out their agricultural activities. The ritual date is designated that on 15th day of 6th lunar month on lunar calendar. This fixed date of bung-fai /rocket ritual accommodates princes of the vicinity to have enough time to make individual bung-fai/rocket as competition entry. Various sizes of bung-fai/rocket such as bung-fai muen/ten thousand in weight of rocket, bang-fai saen/100,000 in weigh of rocket, all have been elaborately decorated and paraded with great joy of celebration. All entry includes Prince Pha-daeng and Phang-khee, the naga prince attend this great event. Results show that the Khmer prince's rocket was shattered without flying on. This is a bad omen. It indicates that his own city shall face natural disaster. As for Prince Pha-daeng, his rocket did not take off whereas rockets belong to the Princes of Muang Chiang-hien and Muang Fha-dad-sung-yang reaches the highest point. According to certain version of this legend, it is believed that their rockets have travelled for three days in heavenly sky before it returns to earth. Nang-ai is a niece of both princes, therefore neither of them is not eligible to take her as his wife. In certain version of the legend, it is stated that as a young and beautiful princes, nang-ai does not like to marry to an old male, but instead prefers a young one like Prince Pha-daeng so she refuses to marry both of them. After the competition is over, their love flourishes and carries them to their deeper relationship. Then it is time that the young prince has to return home. As for Phung-khee who deeply falls in love with nang-ai until he no long can live without her. He disguises himself as an albino squirrel with golden neck bell. This disguised albino squirrel likes to run around under a tree which is located close to her palace in order for her to see it. Once, she sees it she wants to own it in which ever way she possible can, death or alive. She summons a group of young men and hunters, who live in the city vicinity to hunt for the squirrel. Later on, names of all those hunters have become names of the present villages in this area. For an example, Ban/village Kong-phran has come from Mr. Kong-phran, a hunter. Ban/village Phran-ngoa is named after another hunter's name. There are other hunters whose names have become names of other villages such as Phran/hunter nguu, Phran/hunter Son and so on.
Hunting the albino squirrel through many villages has given names of local villages surrounding Nong-han Reservoir. This hunt begins at Ban/village Um-jaan where the albino squirrel runs through grove of jaan/thong-kraw/the flame of the forest (MacFarland 1969:402) trees. After leaving this village, it runs over to Ban/village Phon-thong that has become golden ant hill after being in existence as an ordinary ant hill. It turns to other direction that is known as Ban/village Sae-lae where the lead hunter and his followers shower it with bullets. Bullets sound gives the village's name after it and is called Ban/village Muang Prung. Those bullets can not penetrate into the albino squirrel body as it runs to another area which is known now as Ban/village Don-khong/impenetrable. It keeps running into another area which is called Ban/village Khon/heavier on one side-sai/taut string of cross-bow where the lead hunter busts its taut string of his cross-bar after firing its bolts in full stream. This force busts its taut string, therefor it has to be hovered on one side for the rest of the trip. The hunt continues and the hunter equipped himself with stones, chili pepper, and rock salt, which are used as hunting weapon through another area which is later known as Ban/village Mung Phreug/sound of showering of salt, chili pepper and rock salt in unison. In the end, this albino squirrel faces its death at Ban/village Phun-don/more than one thousand moulds. Villagers tell me that the hunting troop have chased the albino squirrel over more than one thousand moulds before it dies in this area which is named after the final numbers. Just before he dies, albino squirrel or Phaya Phung-khee has vowed that his flesh should be weighed more than 8,000 kwian/approximate 480,000kg. All villagers can not possibly consume all of it. Whoever consumes it will face various kinds of disaster. The hunting troop brings back the death albino squirrel to be cut up at Ban/village Chiang-waen and is given to every member of the troop, villager, solider, city resident, and Princess Ai-kham. It is cooked into various dishes such as roasting, laab/mincing with local spices and herbs, koi/thin slicing with local spices and herbs, and spicy soup. There is a feast which Khmer Lord and Princess Ai all partake together. However, one group of widow who do not carrying out any communal task of putting together the feast does not received any meat of albino squirrel to eat.
For Phung-khee followers, they carry this news with them when they inform Sut-tha-tho naga/serpent who is furious and organizes his military troop that he himself leads from his under water kingdom and to set it up at an area near Hui/stream Mak-kheng, presently known under the same name. He disguises himself as a piece of log that is situated in Nong/pond Khon-kiang/huge log, presently known as Ban Nong-khon-kiang/village of huge log. One version states that it is a huge boulder that rolls down for a knoll, presently it is known as Ban Kham-cling/village of rolling golden boulder. This is an important water shade. It is the origin of too many rivers that include Nong-haan-kum-pha-wa-pee/reservoir. The naga troop attacks the local residents. The first attack destroys one village which is disappeared under water and is known as Ban Muang-lom/sunken village. When the naga troops moves from underneath the earth which shakes from underground like an earthquake. Home utensils, and household furniture all fall off from its normal storing place and all is broken. This sunken area is known as Hui/stream Phai-jaan/ and Ban/village phai-jaan. Naga blows huge fire ball and turn to another area known as Ban/village Hui Phon-fai. As for Lord Pha-daeng, as soon as he receives the news, he right away gets on his horse, known as buk-saam and rides it in search of Princess Ai who must be sheltered in a safe place. Upon fleeing with Prince Pha-daeng, Princess Ai is able to bring with her three items namely, a metal bell, a ring, and a drum. With these items, it is more difficulty for them to go very fast. At one point along the journey, Prince Pha-daeng tells her that she should discard the metal bell in order to lighten up their difficult horse back ride journey. As soon as it hits the ground, there it forms into a stream, known as Hui Nam-khong/stream of a bell. Presently, it is situated in Tambon Phun-don, Ku-pha-wa-pee District. Later on they have to discard the drum in another area. Presently it is known as Hui Kong-see/stream of a drum. It is situated in district where the bell has been discarding and where the Hui/stream Khong is situated. During the difficulty horse ride journey, their horse falls once and one side of its bodily part which is dragged along distance. This creates a drench on the ground surface and becomes known as Hui Saam-phad presently. Saam-phad is also given name of one village and of one Tambon in the Pra-juk-sin-la-pa-khom Sub-district, U-donp-tha-nee Province. As for Phung-khee, he gives his desperate chase to get Prince Ai back. He finally succeeds. The spot where he re-gains Prince Ai from Prince Pha-daeng, and that both of them slip through the earth entering underground is known as Hui/stream luk/steal-nang, and is situated in the vicinity of Ku-pha-wa-pee District. Prince Pha-daeng is heart broken to the utmost, and rides his horse back to his Muang/city Phong-phaang. Before there are separated, Prince Pha-daeng receives the ring from Princess Ai. However, Prince Phung-khee manages to take the ring from him before he flees with her. That spot is known as Nong/reservoir waen/ring and is situated in vicinity of present Phen District. As for the town and cities around the area, they sink and disappear into the huge reservoir. There is only one non-flooded area, known as Don Mae-mai/mould of widows at the present time. These widows do not consume meat of the albino squirrel and are safe. This non-flooded mould is known presently as Don Kaew in which Wat Don Kaew, a Buddhist temple is located at and is a well recognized as a sacred sanctuary of Muang Nong-haan/Town.
Thus it is clear that this legend as it reproduced relates to local history of the community at large, construction of village, town and city, birth of river, stream, and reservoir. Residents of these water shades, birth and changes of local communities, and more over local customary rituals relates to Nong-haan Reservoir. Clearly, Nong-haan is the most important of water resource as it is stated in the legend. It is crucial for everyday existence through engaging in agricultural production, fishery and animal husbandry. Gathering lotus plants and flowers from the reservoir can also be counted as subsistence economy for some residents. There are also customary laws which are still observed. For an example, it is forbidden to sing about pha-daeng nang-ai while fishing in Nong-han Reservoir. Garbage is prohibited to discard into the reservoir. Boat racing in this reservoir is also forbidden. No merit making ritual for the dead is allowed to take place in the reservoir either. Water from this reservoir is not used to make sacred water for auspicious ritual celebrations such as a senior monk bathing ritual, and the Vessantara Jatakaa ritual. As to celebrate bung-fai ritual, there must be re-enactment of the legend. There must one young male and female couple who must dress up princely like what Prince and Princess Pha-daeng and Nang-ai. They must be an important part of the bung-fai procession along with a replica of an albino squirrel as a symbol of Prince Phung-khee and so on. Thus, the legend of Pha-daeng nang-ai has maintained special kind or relationship with all communities that are situated around this huge reservoir. This special relationship can be seen through sacredness of space such as Ma-ha-that Che-dee/great pagoda, Phra That ban diem/pagoda, Luang Pu-kum/guardian spirit, and Phra-that- don-kaew/pagoda. Specific rituals which are related with water and fertility for all agricultural production must be performed. Bung fai/rocket ritual has to be carried out. See map 1.4 for specific locations of all important ritual sites around this reservoir. There are two pages of photograph and location map of all the sites.
Legend of albino squirrel, its relationship with salt and potash in Isan, its disaster which is re-invented to explain modern potash mining scheme
Legend of Pha-daeng nang-ai reflects three main dimensions: human beings, nature and super-nature. Pha-daeng and Nang-ai represent human beings. Naga represents super-nature being who lives in the under world underneath the earth and/or in huge reservoir. Bung-fai/rocket represents Thaen, the rain maker who a is mediator. Bung-fai/rocket is used to foretell whether having enough or not enough rain fall. It can also be seen as a competitive stage to win over a trophy, Nang-ai. In the legend, Khmer Lord's rocket is shattered after being fired. That leads to a disaster which leads to a tragedy later. By nature, human beings do not consume forbidden animal meat such as naga meant because naga is believed a half-bred of part human being, and part animal and part deity. More over, it is the king of the underworld. It disguises as an albino squirrel belonging to Phung-khe. It makes human beings to kill it and to consume its meat. It provides unlimited amount of meat that can be consumed by huge number of human beings. Everyone who is part of that hunting force receives one share of its meat. Widows have been isolated from community and can not eat its meat. As for its meat consumers, they all disappear along with their homes and all belongings. Thus, huge body of reservoir appears.
Presently, villagers in this area talk about modern potash mining scheme and traditional rock salt mining. They put both ways of mining through the Legend of Pha-daeng nang-ai and the birth of Nong haan Reservoir. This re-invention of the legend fits well with the modern potash mining scheme of the present social phenomenon. They point out that the modern "tunnel" method of mining potash is similar to how the naga crawl underneath the earth. That action causes the sinking of earth down to the "ba-dan/a huge hole in the earth". Phung-khee, is the naga prince, who is disguised as the "albino squirrel". This albino squirrel is comparable to "potash". If it is mined through the modern tunnel mining technique, it shall be destructive to the local residents, just like that huge sinking hole in the earth that has been known ever since as Nong-haan.
If we treat the legend of Pha-daeng nang-ai as if it is a discursive space. It is easy for us to under how the local people explain one huge sinking hole as the birth of Nong-haan Reservoir. After understanding this parable, other sets of discursive actions from other stakeholders can be easily understood too. They are modern and foreign potash mining company, local residents who are against this modern potash mining scheme and so on. This is how the local residents make use of the legend.
1. Albino squirrel is Phung-khee. He is the young son of the Naga King. Both of them live with the rest of other naga in Ba-daan ("…one of sevens under earth regions, and the abode of the Nagas or serpents or demons" (MacFarland 1969:479). The core thesis of this legend is a representation of Isan rock salt or potash deposit.
2. Albino squirrel meat is once divided among all the hunters and members of their troops. Now, all parties who have supported the modern and foreign potash mining project are sharing certain benefit from this scheme. This is how all beneficiaries try to push for the implementation of the project. It is similar to how those people try to hunt the albino squirrel.
3. Disaster strikes among the beneficiaries who eat albino squirrel meat. The huge sinking hole appears. Ever since, it has been known as Nong-haan Reservoir. However, with the modern and foreign potash mining scheme hanging over, it threatens its sustainability.
4. All members of a widow group do not consume meat of albino squirrel, as the known result, they themselves and their residential area are spared. All members of residents in the modern potash mining area claim their rights to not be part of this undesirable project for fear of real disastrous aftermath from the "tunnel" modern mining method . They also doubt whether shall receive equal share of benefit for all from the project. Unlikaftermath impact from it, every resident in this vicinity is certainly and equally shall be affected.
Thus, rock salt or potash has become communal cause of strong protesting through lyrics of molam/Isan repartee singing genre against first the international company founders who invested huge amount of money for this project. After the initial introduction of the project to the local residents, potash project has involved huge local protesters who are from all walks of life. Now, this issue has become the local and national protesting platform for huge participants. It also exposes Isan local issue in the national policy and international arena. At that level, it can clearly be seen through a paradigm of "scientific knowledge through geological and modern mining evidences". However, they fail to convey this type of factual knowledge to the concerned and worried local residents who are not invited to participant with this project from the beginning. There is a huge local protest against the next phrase of the project after the local resident have absorbed on what is going on in their back yards. They are worried sick to to face with actual threat from doubtful protective measurement of modern tunnel mining method as it is presented to them through scientific language. On the contrary, they easily relate to the disastrous of sunken hole that has been known to be related with the naga prince and albino squirrel. That is to say that they are represented by both rock salt and potash. Future un-surmountable ill effect from this huge project shall envelop the residents of this area in foreseen future.
The legend of Pha-daeng nang-ai was and still is very popular ancient folklore among local residents to retell it with prominent focus on disastrous destruction of Nong-haan-ku-pha-wa-pee Reservoir. They automatically compare it with the modern potash mining methodology, known as "tunnel" technology. Their argument lines are stated as follows: "It shall be sinking down similarly to what elders tell us about the legend". This understandable explanation is widely used as local explanation on how they are against this project. This ancient disastrous of the legend has re-gained it lease of new life to offer to much wider audience than anyone can really anticipate. Development worker, local expert, local conservationist, and environmentalist, and social movement lead, all subscribe to the above argument when they on public stage and on any other forum of the potash mining of Udon-tha-nee. Re-invention of this idea is widely spread too much wider public in the region, national and international arena. This is because local and national NGOs use this local argument as a weapon against international investors who once used to be the majority share holders of international potash mining company. Besides, popular molam/repartee singing troupes in Isan have intensify their singing on stage by delivering the legend of Pha-daeng nang-ai with more life and new meaningful to it. This following popular molam lyrics come from Isan university students who have studied U-don potash controversy. Their research finding leads them to share their academic discovery that is inseminated through this popular medium.
"…White gold underneath the earth is counted as an albino squirrel. Its legend exists prior to sinking of huge hole that has become Nong-haan Reservoir. This kind of disaster strikes because of Nang-ai-kham and non-surmountable quantity of meat of that albino squirrel. It fills up all stomach of almost every resident. They all are sunken into their obliteration, except one group of widow. These widows do not eat meat of the albino squirrel. Albino meat is comparable to salt that is in ba-dan, underneath the earth as it is stated in the legend. Phu-khee is the son of the Naga King. If salt is pile up on the earth surface, then the sunken earth underneath that huge pile of salt can be realized. The huge sinking hole will be similar to the huge Nong-haan-yai Reservoir. Muang U-don-tha-nee City shall become a city of Ba-daan/a hole in the earth. The legend has stated that salt is comparable to flesh of Phug-khee who disguises himself as an albino squirrel. One has to interpret the legend whether it is true or not. In accordance with the legend, each of a pinch of salt for each of you, beware…reaching true meaning that is imbedded in the legend…"
As the same token, the local villagers express their thoughts, beliefs, relating to the same legend with new knowledge that is given to them by the modern potash mining project that is going to take place. They depend heavily on local customary culture such as ritual, cultural symbol, festival, and ancient oral traditions. It is through this new invention of the ancient culture; and new cultural identity emerges. This new cultural identity serves certain ideology of the presence but not in accordance with traditional concepts of preservation or for unit communal unity. This how they string together existence discursive actions of different groups for each specific event. Its context of each event may be changed and so is its new meaning. This is how one re-inventing of the legend is told in one specific context.
"We used to listen the legend when the Nong-haan Reservoir is sunken in the ancient time. It has been re-told repeatedly through a very long, long time. If emphasizes on how the naga prince crawls underneath the earth , chasing pha-daeng, the prince and nang-ai, the princess. This endeavor causes a huge sinking hole, especial the spot where the naga prince has to be disappeared underneath the earth. What is left is the huge Nong-haan Reservoir. It is believed that only one not too big a naga prince who disappears underneath the earth can cause severe earthquake and the disappearing and sinking of the entire residential area of the city like. Who could guarantee safeties of life and property of residents in the potash mining vicinity as it is proposed and granted license to dig of very deep and very wide tunnel. This scientific of modern engineering method of potash mining technology, known as the "tunnel". We are very afraid that there shall be the second round of Nong-haan Reservoir sunken phenomenon. How would the villagers in the vicinity survive"
"…They shall mine potash through the "tunnel" technology. This method may be comparable to how Phung-khee has crawled underneath the earth which is the ancient Nong-haan City. They shall take out lots of potash. Earth would have sunken, would it not? We would not know where we seek refugee for ourselves and our young siblings. Then our city would become a deserted city. It will be like the ancient city of Nong-haan in accordance with the legend. Only the residential of one group of widow has survived"
"Trust what the legend tells us. Our great forebears pass on the words to us since our childhood. It is from the legend of pha-daeng-nang-ai. It is about the sinking city. The sunken of Nong-haan comes about because of human greed to consume albino meat. This comparable to our greed now to mine potash. We sell out our potash that is deposited underneath the earth. There shall be so many drilling holes. This will create many huge tunnels underneath the earth. The earth shall sink down. After learning about the potash mining that is coming soon, we cry through our sleepless nights. Fear of our land is sunken and where we can we take our members of family for this great escape?"
"…This legend tells "the truth". It is not a mere folklore. All local place names are present day evidences such as Hui/stream sam-phaad and so on. Its mining tunnel is constructed. Real fact has pointed out that the tunnel is going to collapsed. Mining tunnel collapses and has made news headlines very often such a collapsing of Pha-daeng mining tunnel and so on. Severe earthquake hits certain cities and town in Indonesia has become huge news. If there is construction of tunnels, no matter what pre-caution measurement is taken, collapsing of them has a real chance to occur. It is just what has happened in the legend of Nong-haan"
The legend of pha-daeng nang-ai is re-told through many past eras. This ancient legend becomes almost everyday conversation and vocabulary of the local residents. It is also re-invented by local people, NGOs, and molam singers and so on. It has been spread beyond the specific proposed potash mining vicinity to all Isan. This issue has gained sympathy and support from villagers whose area is situated over huge rock salt deposit. They share special and cultural relationship through living over rock salt deposit and their belief of the legend. They use this cultural bond to fight against trends of capital investors who make use of modern scientific knowledge on applying the "engineering tunnel methodology" of mining technology. There is a clash among followers of the above knowledge base against this local belief that is spread from words of mouths among one generation to the next since their forbear generations, and shall be carried out to the next generations to come. It is back up by place names of villages, streams, rivers, ponds and so on are ancient evidences to lend credibility towards the ancient legend. They respect Nong-haan Reservoir, the main source of life long water supplies. Agricultural activities, freshwater fishery, and so on depend on water supplies from it. Local fermented fish business for home consumption and small scale business also depend on local freshwater fish supplies and salt supplies. Important agricultural cyclic ritual to take place during the period of the 5th-6th lunar month (May-June) is still carried out every other year if not every year for three consecutively years. This ritual has created substantiate financial burden to all members of community even though all surrounding communities make monetary contribution and participate in the ritual and celebration. Again, a crucial part of the ritual is a re-enactment of the legend of pha-daeng nang-ai.
Present day bung-fai/rocket ritual and celebration, is not solely rain making event, it now has combined with it many agendas that link such local and international offices together. Strengthening local political ties among many local government and non-government is intensified. Still traditional rain making symbols are still on displayed through such as various shapes and sizes of phallic objects, naga/serpent motif is still bung-fai decoration and so on. One bung-fai for rainfall amount prediction is still fired especially for this annual traditional prediction. I also have observed how specification of representation of the legend of pha-daeng nang-ai has to be organize. One couple of handsome youths has to be selected to represent Pha-daeng nang-ai. They are dressed with princely customs. Together, they sit on wooden onehorse throughout the parade possession. There is replica of albino squirrel as a representation of Phung-khee, the disguised naga prince. It is an explicit reminder of how their love has lead to a dramatic tragedy that leads to the sunken city. Thus it has become a huge present day Nong-haan Reservoir.
This ancient legend has been handed down and is presented in everyday life practices that reflect on how people have to respect nature such as no dumping garbage into this reservoir and other existing rivers and streams in the vicinity. They also refrain from singing or retelling the legend while they are in the reservoir due to a belief of facing consequences such as a boat shall be capsized by a sudden storm. Relatively speaking, majority of the residents in this vicinity still live under everyday life practices under this belief system and under suitable natural environment. They still live in good balancing of natural environment among a challenge of modern intrusion. Recent appearance of modern intrusion of scientific technology of the new national industrial investment laws dealing with management of natural resources has gained more influence. Other modern laws also control their thoughts, worldview and their actions towards their own natural environment and so on. These intrusion factors have a bearing impact on their everyday life practices and future.
As I have presented the legend of pha-daeng nang-ai throughout, its meanings are not static but have been on constant changes. Sometimes, they have been used as strategic tools to fight against politics. What is interesting of legend does not lie in its exotic social phenomena as they are re-told by so many people in all walk of life. Their inventive accounts are repeatedly through different medium such as molam, Isan repartee singing genre, reenactment in a local ritual celebration, and so on. There seem to be a reproduction of factual truth of their ancestor past that has come through various cultural contexts with diverse and reflexive meanings. Births of local water resources and local history relate with their bung-fai ritual celebration. Their belief on the naga kings, pha-ya thaen/rain making deity and on salt and potash, all leads them to realize full knowledge of Nong-haan is the actual dome of huge rock salt deposit. Salt deposit is easily being found after reaching only two meters below the top soil surface. Residents in this vicinity tell me that potash is the albino squirrel. Presence of white western industrial investors may lead to local annihilation. This destructive act is going to be carried out through modern method of tunnel mining. This discovery gives a great awakening of local belief of how once in the ancient era, one naga king causes similar phenomenon when it crawls around. It shakes the entire earth. It grants a license of local belief to be spread beyond the potash mining vicinity. More importantly, this legend has shaded new light on the up-coming of modern potash mining as most powerful disaster that has frightened local people out of their wit. They are not certain about the project and more over, they have not accepted such that it is actually going to take place. Their collective and negative reception has delayed international projected time table of the mining operational schemes such as disseminating of modern potash knowledge, potash tunneling technology, and so on. Local people have been successfully shut down their public relation activities. Finally, the original international investment firm has sold all of their shares to a Thai investment firm, known as I-TAN Thai Company (Public)/Italian Thai Development to take over the next phrase of modern potash mining scheme.
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