Issan, Thai Northeast Stories by Kore Kamino
ISSAN is a place where some men are known to go to bed wearing a skirt and painted nails to fool a horny widow spirit. A place so special that buffalo shit and red mud are used to dye quite unique fabrics and where a Buddhist temple can be made out of beer bottles truly, this ain't bullshit! Here are some of the stories that we found on our way around this very special region.
บ้านนีไ้ ม่มคี น เกิดในวันอังคาร หรือพฤหัสบด
HOMES PANTS Superstitious villagers in Si Sa Ket’s Si Rattana district started placing hastily made straw effigies in front of their homes to ward off evil spirits intent on taking their daughters. January 29, 2008 - The Nation
“Disturbed by the death of an apparently
THIS HOUSE DOES NOT HAVE ANYONE BORN ON TUESDAYS OR THURSDAYS <<<
healthy pre-teen the Baan Toom villagers believe the spirits are preparing to take the lives of 10 of their girls, especially those born on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 2
The belief rapidly spread after the 11-year-old girl died mysteriously on Saturday. Around 800 families in the village quickly made the effigies, decorating them with nice clothes. Some were given spectacles and hats to make them more life-like. Signs placed near the effigies say “This house does not have anyone born on Tuesdays or Thursdays”. A villager, Ngern Baothong, 54, said nervous villagers went to a fortune-teller after they learnt of the tragedy. The fortune-teller told them evil spirits had taken the girl’s life. But if the villagers placed effigies in front of their houses, the spirits would not harm them, the fortune-teller said.”
HORNY GHOSTS DRESS The phenomenon sudden unexpected death syndrome
nocturnal death syndrome (sunds) occured to adolescents and adults during sleep. It was noted in Singapore, when a retrospective survey showed that 230 otherwise healthy Thai men died suddenly of unexplained causes between 1982 and 1990. Folk beliefs say: “a widow ghost is the sexually voracious spirit of a woman who has met an untimely and probably violent death, a female spirit of sexual experience whose carnal appetite is both virtually unquenchable and potentially fatal to the living who becomes its target. Phii mae maai roams the countryside looking as villagers said, for “husbands”, and is thought to come to a man in a dream, often taking the form of a young beautiful woman. She lies down upon him, draining him of strenght and life but leaving no other sign.
To the victim’s friend and family, the man simply
Unlike the medical experts and governments
goes to sleep and never wakes up.
officials, however, villagers in the northeast of Thailand had no difficulty explaining these sleeping deaths: the dead men were the victims
of Phii Mae Mai.
A dramatic and collective response by villagers
Initially, the community reacted to the radio
to the widow ghost threat observation was made
and television news reports with concern for the
by anthropologist Mary Beth Mills in an Issan
welfare of the men who were away working in
community during the 1990 dry season:
Singapore and other countries. Soon, however, many began to fear for their own safety, especially
“For a period of about six weeks, villagers in
when the national media began to report not
the northeast of Thailand came to believe that
only cases of overseas deaths but also a few that
they were in imminent danger of attacks by
had recently occurred in Issan. The most anxious
marauding widow ghosts.
tended to be men who had been to Singapore or who had tried to go there sometimes in the
Talks of attacks had in fact been growing in the
past, as well as a few who were preparing to go
region. This was triggered by revelations in the
for the first time. The first protective measures
national news that over 200 Thai men had died
began in early April. A number of village men
mysteriously while working in Singapore since
started to wear red nail polish, some on only one
1983, cases of what medical experts had called
finger, some on several. Most in this group had
“sudden unexplained nocturnal death” (sund).
experience with oversea migration. We also
began to see some of this same group wearing
teams, and experts panels travelled to and from
women’s clothes in the evening. One man in his
Singapore searching for the cause of this malady.
mid-thirties, who had spent three or four years on
construction sites in Singapore, even wore a long 6
ผู้ชายในหมู่บ้านเริ่มทาเล็บด้วย น้ำ�ยาทาเล็บสีแดง A NUMBER
OF VILLAGE MEN STARTED PAINTING THEIR NAILS WITH RED POLISH • ผู้ชายบางคน
ใส่เสื้อผ้าของผู้หญิงในช่วง เย็น SOME STARTED WEARING WOMEN’S CLOTHES IN THE EVENING • ผู้ชายวัยกลางคนสวม แม้้กระทั่งวิกผมยาวสีดำ�หลายครั้ง
ONE MAN IN HIS MID-THIRTIES EVEN WORN A LONG BLACK WIG ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS • ความหลากหลายของเทคนิค
การป้องกันเพิ่มเติมถูกนำ�มา ใช้ นอกจากนี้ยังรวมถึงการดื่ม และเล่นการพนันตลอดคืน เพื่อ ช่วยให้คนไม่นอนหลับในคืน นั้น A VARIETY OF ADDITIONAL
PROTECTIVE TECHNIQUES WERE ALSO USED, INCLUDING SEVERAL ALL-NIGHT DRINKING AND GAMBLING PARTIES TO HELP MEN AVOID SLEEPING ON CERTAIN NIGHTS >>> 8
black wig on several occasions.
asleep, safe in their beds.
But as reports of nightmare deaths continued,
The nail painting and the transvestism were,
anxiety grew. More and more villagers began
as the residents readily admitted, attempts at
painting one or more finger nails with red polish...
disguise to trick the widow ghost into thinking a
A variety of additional protective techniques
man was a woman and therefore not a potential
were also employed. These included several all-
victim. Two of the most common measures, the
night drinking and gambling parties to help
nail painting and the wrist string, actually
men avoid sleeping on certain nights, tying a
required the services of a living widow (to apply
red of multi-colour string around oneâ€™s wrist to
the polish and the string). In this way, people
prevent the soulâ€™s vital essence from leaving the
were saying, the ghosts would see that another
body, as well as erecting large carved wooden
widow had already claimed that person and so
penises at the entrance of houses to distract the
leave him alone.
interest of these deadly female spirits. Over a period of five to six weeks, rumours and The community of the two hundred households
predictions of widow ghost attacks circulated
was festooned with wooden phalluses in all
freely in the community. These were prompted
shapes and sizes. Ranging from the crudest
on at least one occasion by dreams, as when
local men dreamt of being seduced by a strange
completed with coconut shell testicles and
woman. More often, however the villagers
fishnet pubic hair, they adorned virtually every
said their concerned were based on local
house and residential compound.
radio broadcasts. These were usually radio
programmes conducted in the Issan dialect, Residents believed the greedy ghosts would
mixing news reports with traditional horoscope.
take their pleasure with the wooden penises and
On several occasions men in the village
be satisfied, leaving the men of that household
stayed up all night, because they said radio
reports indicated that those nights were especially dangerous. Nevertheless response to the widow ghost threat presented many opportunities for community entertainment. Several of the villageâ€™s more energetic widows became the centre of lively groups that would gather in the early evenings to have their nails painted or wrists tied amidst much joking and laughter. As the weeks passed, towards the middle of May, media stories about nightmare deaths grew less and less frequent and finally disappeared altogether. By the end of the month most households
phalluses; the nail polish and special wrist strings faded away soon after.
PALAD KHIK TSHIRT The phalluses are referred to as palad khik, the term for a particular class of penis-shape amulets that men and women carry around or wear on strings around their waist as protection against road accidents or as attraction of customers, luck, money, popularity, whatever. Some can even help in lottery divining. Such amulets may be sacralized by famous monks. They also evoke the powers of the stone lingams, phallic shrines of Indie origin and are worshipped for fertility and protection.
Parents hang phalluses as amulets around a boyâ€™s waist, so the erect shape and red head would fool bad spirits that the vulnerable child is an adult. A report says a miss Thailand Worlds beauty queen who hid a phallic amulet in her hair to influence the judges was fired for unfair competition! The wooden phalluses are also familiar to Issan villagers in the annual rocket festival, where they appear in the company of large bamboo rockets which are fired into the air to call down the first rains after the long dry season. 15
YANTRA MAGICAL TSHIRT People used to wear shirts or aprons covered with mantras. These would bring them protection and extra fortune.
>>> We made our own magic
ISSAN SUPERSTITIONS CARDIGAN
mantras Tshirt, and it goes = If a gecko makes a sound as you go out the
door, bad luck. 1/Bring me luck 2/Protect me from accidents 3/Bring me popularity
= If a gecko falls on you from the ceiling/wall, bad luck. = Don’t sleep with your head to the west. That’s
4/Guard me against bad spirits
the position dead bodies are placed in at funerals
5/Bring me extra fortune
= Dogs setting up a chorus of long, eerie howls in
6/Bring me good harvests
the middle of the night have seen a ghost.
7/Give me success
= Don’t cut finger or toe nails at night
8/Protect my family
= If you sneeze someone is talking about you
Now you can have a peaceful
= If you knock spoons while eating someone will
stop by unexpectedly = If you spill over a plate of rice something bad will happen that day - stay off motorbikes! = A female should not tend plants during her period, as the plants will die. = Do not whistle at night. = Donâ€™t have your hair cut on a Wednesday = After a bad dream when you go to the bathroom you should ask your excrement to go peacefully before flushing so the poo spirit can take away any bad luck. = Itchy palms mean money is coming = Itchy backside means rain is coming = If your left eyebrow muscle wobbles involuntary it means good luck but if your right eyebrow muscle wobbles involuntary it means bad luck
***Kore Kamino would like to thank all the spirits and all the ghosts in Issan who made it possible for us to make this collection.
ÂŠKore Kamino 2011 www.korekamino.com