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A basket full of spirits

Text: Terryl
Photos: Karin

.gifWhen road traffic gets very busy, mishaps occur with increasing frequency. And of course, come the end of the year holiday and New Year, when the roads are even more crowded with holiday makers, full of the holiday spirit - well, you can guess the result.

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.gifReciting kata

.gifFigures from the Don't Drive Drunk Foundation suggest 434 victims lost their lives in the first week of 2006, while 4,772 persons were injured from road accidents nationwide. Yes, some of the drivers had a drop or two of alcohol in their veins, to say the least, and that's one of the biggest causes of mishaps.

.gifSo, at odd corners or sharp curves in Chiang Mai and round the North, commuters with keen eyes often see strange small baskets filled with all sorts of weird stuff. These baskets are known in the northern dialect as satuang, and play a significant role in the practices and beliefs of Lanna that have been passed down to us.

.gifIt's believed that mishaps, accidents of all sorts, occur because of the malevolence of local ghosts and spirits. If you want to be safe from these bugaboos, it's wise to offer them a little something to avert their ill-will - some fruits, tobacco (or cigarettes in these modern times). Also in the baskets will be little human-shaped clay dolls that represent unfortunate people who have had accidents and died - their spirits haunting this particular locality, and obviously keen to have some new friends in the spirit world. Here then you have the reason for the contents of the baskets, or satuang. They're meant to mollify the spirits.

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.gifNow the person who should perform the little ceremony that goes with the placing of the satuang is a naan or a pah khao - a man who has been a monk and therefore has both knowledge about the spirit world and power over the spirits. As the master of ceremonies - to put it in the English idiom - he will summon the close relatives of the unfortunate person for the ritual, and having said the right kata or mantras, will place the satuang with all the offerings at the appropriate place in order either to get rid of the spirit or pacify it.

.gifThis is done both for relatively minor accidents and also for lethal ones. In the latter case, it is believed that the spirit of the dead person will be stuck there and keep haunting that location unless sent on its way. So, the dead body having been removed, the monks too will perform a spiritual removal ceremony to persuade the winyan or soul of the dead person to leave the human world.

.gifAfter the ritual, each satuang will be left with the offerings inside it - and depending how you think of the matter, either the spirits will be satisfied by the comestibles, or the local cats and dogs: perhaps it's both. The spirits take the essence of the offering, the animals satisfy their hunger on the materials.

.gifThere are other occasions for the ritual placing of satuang. Some people feel that the offering should be made when a new house is built, or at a house-warming. It's even said that some traffic policemen find it a useful aid in their work, in that if other methods of getting drivers to drive more carefully don't work, a strategically placed satuang might do the trick,

.gif""Oh-oh! Look, there must have been an accident there. Better slow down for a moment." "

. Cover Page


Chiang Mai Hero: Khruba Si Wichai

Religious father of the north

Sjon Hauser


Five Fantastic Days in Chiang Mai

You Begin Here

J.M. Cadet

Mae Klang Luang Village

The Lampang Ceramic Fair


What's on in Chiang Mai and Beyond

What's new in Chiang Mai and Beyond

Your Film Page

Recommended Restaurants:


Living It Up:

What becomes a city best?

A Delicious Recipe

Chiang Mai Food: HINLAY

Discovery: A basket full of spirits

Health: Ayurvedic Massage

Thai Proverbs


What to expect in DECEMBER 2007

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