31 October, 2006

Ghosts are real in Thai culture

Thai children near a statue of a Phii Phret ghost (see below).
An English teacher in Bangkok yesterday published an article titled “The Haunted Kingdom” in which he reported some revealing responses by his secondary Thai pupils on the subject of ghosts (The Nation, Oct 28). Ghosts are not part of Buddhism at all, but come from much earlier Animist belief system in which ancestor spirits must be kept pacified. Ancestor spirits are the eternal owners of the realm and we humans are mere temporary residents. Ghosts are accepted by Buddhist culture, however, as Buddhism is so eclectically all-embracing of human needs. Hence the proliferation of elaborate Spirit-houses – places where spirits may live comfortably, with daily food & drink which they ‘consume’. For more background, check out two short blogs from the first volume of FunkyPix, Ancestor houses and Thousands of Spirit Houses are concentrated in this spot.

But not all ghosts (“phii” in Thai) are so co-operative and nice. Judging by ads for numerous horror films fearuring ghosts, Thais simply adore being terrified. Here’s a short list of some favourite ‘phii’:

Phii Kraseu - the most feared ghost of all. Usually a woman’s head, trailing intestines, glowing heart and bleeding organs, floats around at night to find human entrails and dirt to eat. Thais often know she has visited them when they find grisly streaky marks where she has wiped her mouth on their laundry.

Phii Phret with matching K9 accomplice.

Phii Hai – haunts sites where people have died a violent death. These ghosts do not yet know they are dead, so try to occupy the souls of living people who come too close… hence the Thais’ fear of returning to the Tsunami beaches. Phi Hai only find peace by luring a victim to an identical death. Their souls are informed of their death after 100 days by means of a ceremony, but until that time, BEWARE!

Phii Mae Naak – a woman who dies in childbirth returns to look after her husband… see an illustrated review of this Thai horror movie.

Phii Krahang – lives in barns. Its feathered body, half-bird, half-man, glows at night while it wanders in search of food (oddly enough, like Thai people themselves, most Thai ghosts are very fond of food).

Phii Phret – this is how evil-doers and parent-abusers end up… a translucent male ghost as tall as a tree, eternally wailing and hungry because its mouth is only the size of a pin-hole [see main photo above].

And so on - the list is long. In response to his account of being pursued through a forest by a pale-faced Phii Kraseu, one Thai boy wrote: “I became caught in the screamy moment and can’t do anything. Tears come out of my eyes because of fearing”.

A girl recounted how she encountered a Phii Phret in her grandmother’s backyard at night: “It had hands and foots very big and a thin body more tall than trees. It yelling and hungry”.

Another girl wrote: “My mum told me if I do wrong the Phret ghost will come to me. My hair’s arm stand up and I’m very suspicious”.

A fourth student, however, wryly observed:
“I used to fear Phii Phret, but now I think some bad people is scary more than ghosts”.

'Halloween' with a Thai twist

Halloween has been colonised BIG-time by Thais. Here some kids partake in a department store competition, but I'd say it's an even bet as to whether this would actually attract or repel customers. Even avowed sceptics will often 'wai' ("just in case") when passing a shrine honouring a feared ghost.

By the way, it's best to avoid brushing your hair 100 times in front of a mirror at midnight, surrounded by burning candles. It makes Thai ghosts particularly VICIOUS.

No comments:

Post a Comment