Grain Of Truth
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.
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.