Friday, March 14, 2014

Thai proverbs - a cultural insight

Proverbs are an important source of insights into Thailand’s rich cultural heritage. Many have been used for centuries reflecting a time when Thais lived a rural life facing daily dangers from tigers and crocodiles. Proverbs can serve several purposes in all cultures – they can help us reflect on the nature of reality or they can exhort us to lead a more purposeful life. Some Thai proverbs have direct comparisons in English proving there are many similarities between cultures just as there are differences. This selection of proverbs is designed to demonstrate how Thai people interpret the world around them. It is one more piece in the make-up of Thailand’s culture code. It is another ‘window’ into what makes us the people we are. The one thing you will notice is how easy it is to interpret and understand the intended meaning of these proverbs prompting the view that once you scratch the surface is there really much difference between cultures? Some of these proverbs are centuries old when there was absolutely no communication between East and West but yet we codified our daily lives in very similar ways These are just a few examples – note their connection with food, nature and wild animals demonstrating their origin when Thailand [or Siam as it was called then] was very much a rural and agrarian economy. ‘Garnished with coriander’ - a saying about people who do things to cover up a less attractive reality or to the Thais it is someone who sprinkles coriander on top of a dish they are preparing to hide the fact they have not put much effort in! ‘The snake charmer can die from his own snake’ - means don’t get carried away with your own self- importance. ‘Receding water reveals the tree stumps’- when times are good all kinds of problems can be hidden but when times turn bad things previously hidden come to the surface. ‘A dog guarding his fish bones’ - an exhortation to share your wealth or good fortune. ‘A tiger does not change his stripes’ – same as our leopard one! ‘When entering the land of the Cyclops, be a Cyclops too’ – same as our ‘When in Rome …’! ‘Better a lump of shit than a fart’ – same as our ‘Bird in the hand …’! ‘Those who love you can fit on a leather hide – those who hate you can fit on a rush mat’ – seems we make more enemies than friends wherever we are in the world. ‘Applying gold leaf to the back of the Buddha image’ – A Buddha image is the principal object of worship in the temple. To gain increased merit, Buddhists often apply squares of gold leaf to the statue. Most stick on the forehead for all to see. The point of this proverb is that if a good deed is done with a pure heart does it matter if the act is seen or not. ‘A strand of hair can hide a mountain’ – means we can all suffer from clouded vision and cannot see the obvious. For more examples and insights about Thai proverbs there is an excellent book by Tulaya Pornpiriyakulchai and Jane Vejjajiva – Thai Folk Wisdom – Contemporary takes on Traditional Proverbs.

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