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38 ELEANOR SHOREMAN every food, was made up of four elements: earth, fire, water, and wind (Hanks 1963, 19). Rice, however, was the most important food for sustenance, strength and spiritual safety (Hanks 1972; Hanks 1963). According to Hanks’ discussions with Thai rice farmers, one’s diet did more than sustain them; it became them (Hanks 1972; Hanks 1963). The body itself was believed to be made from rice and babies were believed to grow in their mothers’ stomachs, eating the food that their mothers had eaten. As a result, the tissues, skin and all parts of the human body are, in fact, rice (Hanks 1963, 31). Unlike other foods that affect the balance of the four essential elements, rice was safe and had no disturbing effects. Above all things, however, rice nourished the human soul (khwan), because each grain contained a part of the khwan of the divine Rice Mother (Ibid., 20). Rice, like the woman, was never more important than during the birth cycle; and likewise the Rice Mother was never more important than during the rice cycle (Ibid.). According to Hanks’ informants conception occurred when the khwan flew into the womb of a woman during intercourse (Ibid., 30). A priest in Bang Chan emphasized to Hanks that during this time a father and mother are equally important “because there is no birth in the world without both. An infant is the product of both sexes” (Ibid., 30). Following this implantation of the soul, the food eaten by the mother is believed to be “transformed into blood” and begins to build the baby who “sits on the mother’s feces while her newly eaten foods packed closely on its head” (Ibid., 31). Hanks illustrates that during pregnancy, women are treated with extreme care and compassion. Particular attention is paid to women’s food cravings lest she eat anything that could disturb the khwan of the baby. According to the Bang Chan peasants, during pregnancy a baby’s skin is as soft as cotton. To prevent burning the baby, the mother must resist cravings for hot-tasting, sweet, or peppery foods (Ibid., 32). In a similar manner residents believed that when the grains in the rice stalks begin to fill out in the fields, Me Posop is “pregnant” and must be “weak, hungry and uneasy” (Ibid., 35). Furthermore they believed that she must also be “eager to taste sour and sweet foods” because she “is a woman and beautiful in her pregnancy” (Ibid., 35). To satisfy the Rice Goddess the farmers of Bang Chan brought her the foods safe for a pregnant woman to eat, such as bananas, sugar cane, young taro, cakes and citrus fruit. Furthermore they brought “things dear to women” such as new clothing, perfume, face powder, hair lotion and a mirror (Ibid., 36). As Hanks’ research illustrates, the Rice Goddess and women shared tastes, desires and attributes during their respective pregnancies. However, the female’s role in guarding the khwan of the Rice Goddess changed during and after her pregnancy in part because of the envy that the power and beauty of

Sagar XVII — 2007  
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