40 ELEANOR SHOREMAN As noted by Hanks, the Thai saw women and fertility, as well as the crucial role that women play in the survival and growth of children, as essential to the fertility of the fields. Their maternal behavior served as a model for the type of care that should be extended to young rice, in order for it to growth healthy and strong. Finally, a woman’s needs during pregnancy revealed the secret needs of the Rice Goddess as she bore her own young. As a result, both women and the Rice Goddess were creatures deserving of care and respect.
CONTEMPORARY THAILAND According to Thailand’s National Culture Commission, the rites and rituals associated with rice cultivation have yet to completely disappear from popular practice (Nakornthap 1990). As late as the 1990’s many Thai peasant farmers still insisted that the times when the rice “begins to be pregnant,” as well as when it begins to seed, are the times of greatest crisis in the life of the plant (Nakornthap 1990, 28). To appease the shock, farmers continue to conduct a ceremony (tham khwan) to strengthen the soul of the plant. During this ceremony a ripe banana cut up into small pieces, an orange (or any citrus fruit for it is believed that women in early pregnancy crave citrus fruit), and a few pieces of sugar cane are placed in a small leaf cup (krathong) (Ibid., 28-29). The cup is put into a course bamboo basket along with a tray where a comb and toilet powders are placed. Peasant farmers hang the cup on the end of a flag post in the field as an offering to the Rice Goddess (Ibid., 29). Then the peasant farmer takes a small offering of the toilet powder and some perfumed ointment and smears them on a leaf of the rice plant. He then proceeds to comb the plant as if he were dressing the hair of the Rice Mother. In conclusion, the farmer makes a wish that the Rice Mother will thrive free of danger by his offerings (Ibid., 29). A number of post-harvest rituals still persist in rural Thailand to honor the Rice Goddess. The ears of paddy that remain in the field after harvesting are always gathered, for they are believed to represent the spirit of the Rice Mother. The gathering is called “the invitation of Me Posop” (Ibid., 29). Before picking the remaining ears the gatherer says: O! Me Posop, please come and stay in the barn. Don’t stay in the field to be gnawed by mice or pecked by birds. Please go to a happy place to nourish your children. Please come, dear Me Posop, kooh. This invocation is followed by offerings to Me Posop of boiled rice, boiled duck eggs, sweets and fruits – food typically prepared for a holy or ordained