Grain Of Truth

Food - - Contents -

Brett Mcgre­gor takes us across the rice fields of Thai­land

HBrett Mcgre­gor takes us across the rice FIELDS OF THAI­LAND, WHERE THE GRAIN IS NOT ONLY A STA­PLE, BUT A WAY OF LIFE aving just re­turned from Thai­land, it never ceases to amaze me just how cul­tur­ally di­verse, mag­i­cal and de­li­cious the place is. Ev­ery time I go I learn some­thing new about the food, their way of life or the con­nec­tion the peo­ple feel with the world around them, and this trip was no dif­fer­ent.

There was an added el­e­ment to this re­cent trip, how­ever, as this year we are cel­e­brat­ing the 60th an­niver­sary of the close and long-stand­ing re­la­tions be­tween Thai­land and New Zealand. This bond has been built over many years, stem­ming all the way back to World War II.

One of the many things we have in com­mon with the peo­ple of Thai­land is our love of rice. In fact, most coun­tries share a love of this lit­tle white grain – the hum­ble wee morsel seems to have found its way to ev­ery cor­ner of the world. It has been said that there are nearly 90,000 va­ri­eties of it world­wide.

Over the years Thai­land has be­come a su­per­power when it comes to rice pro­duc­tion, and they now lead the way in ex­port­ing the grain. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence has shown that rice was first planted there more than 5,500 years ago and has since shaped the land­scape, cul­ture and char­ac­ter of Thai peo­ple. They are thought to be the first cul­ti­va­tors and car­ried rice with them dur­ing their first mi­gra­tions through­out South-east Asia and even into China.

When you look a lit­tle deeper at mi­gra­tion pat­terns, it ap­pears that the Thais looked for land with plenty of wa­ter to en­sure rice could grow, hence large pop­u­la­tions liv­ing in the delta re­gions. It seems as if Thai­land was al­ways des­tined to be­come the rice bowl of Asia.

HAR­VEST OF HAR­MONY

The con­nec­tion be­tween rice, com­mu­nity and spir­i­tu­al­ity in Thai­land is well en­trenched. Rice is the only crop that Thai farm­ers give bless­ings to at ev­ery stage of its life, from plant­ing to har­vest­ing, with spe­cial rit­u­als re­lated to the way of life and the con­nec­tion to re­li­gious be­liefs.

The em­pha­sis of th­ese bless­ings is the need to live and work to­gether in har­mony and to sup­port each other to en­sure a good har­vest. There are three main themes in­volved:

The first is the wish for rain so the farm­ers have wa­ter be­fore plant­ing, for pre­par­ing the land and for pro­tect­ing wa­ter sources through­out the sea­son. The com­mu­nity will then get to­gether to dis­cuss the wa­ter source they all use for the sea­son.

The sec­ond is the wish for pro­tec­tion of the rice crops. The farm­ers give thanks to the Rice Mother, Mae Phosop, to en­sure har­vest will be pro­tected through­out the sea­son.

The third is the wish for a plen­ti­ful har­vest. This is to show re­spect and en­sure farm­ers and an­i­mals are free from harm through­out the har­vest. This bless­ing also cel­e­brates the com­ple­tion of the har­vest and al­lows the farm­ers to wish for a boun­ti­ful har­vest for the fol­low­ing year.

The con­nec­tion be­tween spir­i­tu­al­ity and rice goes a step fur­ther, as although Thai­land is one of the world’s largest pro­duc­ers of rice, they do not see it as a com­mod­ity. They re­gard rice as a gift from Mae Phosop, a god­dess who is re­spect­ful and pro­tec­tive. Just as moth­ers give food and milk to their chil­dren, Mae Phosop gives her body

‘Thai­land has be­come a su­per­power when it comes to rice pro­duc­tion, and they now lead the way in ex­port­ing the grain’

and soul to ev­ery­one – she is the pro­tec­tor of rice and al­ways brings pros­per­ity and wealth. Those who do not wor­ship the rice mother will suf­fer the con­se­quences.

I think the same thing would have hap­pened in my house grow­ing up – re­spect the mother at all times or suf­fer the con­se­quences.

ONE LOVE

The beau­ti­ful thing I learned about the con­nec­tion be­tween life in Thai­land, the farm­ers and the rit­u­als is that the whole com­mu­nity con­nects. Even Thai roy­alty will spend time with the farm­ers at each stage, fully en­gag­ing in the rit­u­als. This, I be­lieve, cre­ates a bril­liant bond be­tween com­mu­nity mem­bers, but it also high­lights the im­por­tance of his­tory and spir­i­tu­al­ity.

A close link be­tween farm­ers is ev­i­dent too, as they re­alise the need to work to­gether to en­sure a good har­vest.

Many peo­ple de­velop a bond through help­ing each other and this is why I reckon tourists are treated so well in Thai­land. We are wel­comed into com­mu­ni­ties, and if you have ever trav­elled there you will un­der­stand what I mean. Thai peo­ple are spe­cial. They just want the vis­i­tor to feel wel­comed, looked af­ter and at ease while trav­el­ling around their mag­nif­i­cent coun­try.

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