Matti Sarmela

                                     LAWS OF DESTINY NEVER DISAPPEAR

                                        Culture of Thailand in the Postlocal World



                                                      Helsinki  20.12.2005   






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    Local culture in Lampang province, Northern Thailand




Environment of life
Villages and houses
Work of the rice farmer



Family and community
School of life
Inside the village community




Faith around me
Supernatural environment
Buddhist religion







      Local Thai culture in the postlocal world


The book is a descriptive overview of the culture of the villages. It contains material on the villagers' housing, rice

farming and other means of livelihood, community life, festivals, weddings, funerals, sorcerers and healers, as

well as village Buddhism. The author draws surprising parallels between the worldviews of peoples of Thailand 

and Finland, the past and future of local cultures.

     Matti Sarmela started collecting material on Northern Thailand in 1972. Based on a longitudinal field study, he 

wrote his description of three villages in Lampang Province, and the changes in villagers' lives over three

decades. The book also speaks through the voices of villagers themselves and village monks. They describe the 

everyday lives of local people, and how they cope under conditions of a constant flux of change, what they

think about life, the future, and the fate of human beings after death.

     - Three decades of structural change in three villages of Northern Thailand.

     - Three descriptive perspectives: villager interviews, anthropological interpretation,

        story told in 380 photographs.                                                                                             

     - Three main sections: living environment, community and religion.

     - Three cultural eras: local, delocal and postlocal.


      A village in Northern Thailand

Part I of the book describes the material culture of the villages, the village milieu, houses, villagers' lifestyles and

live­lihood. Over the years, modern bungalows have risen alongside the traditional Thai house, but the latter has

returned in the 1990s in a new form. Village houses have acquired furniture, TVs, fridges and other domestic

appliances that have changed families' lifestyles and food preferences; today, ever more family yards contain a

car. Old rice farming methods, adapted to local environment, have become production farming. Rice farmers 

discuss ma­chinery, costs, fertilizers, spreading of environmental pollutants. Many would like to return to self

-sufficient farm­ing. The ploughing machine has triumphed; the water buffalo is threatened with extinction.

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    Community culture 


Part II of the book examines the arc of human life within the village community of the past and in today's 

industrializing and urbanizing society. Future expectations have changed. Thailand has become a modern education

society,where young people are forced to fight ever harder for college places and jobs. Today's Asian young people 

are  beginning to compete with Westerners in know-how, productivity, global industrial resources. On the other hand, 

villagers are worried by disappearance of community morality, threat of drugs and AIDS, spread of international 

consciousness in­dustry and narcissistic lifestyle - in common with people all over the world.


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      Village religion


Part III examines the supernatural environment of the villages, supernatural guardian spirits of the home compound,

cult  of ancestors and spiritual forces of nature. Of religious role-players of the villages, sorcerers and mediums

and their rite techniques are outlined. The author traces religious thinking from shamanism and sorcery to modern 

cult of development.  Finally, he describes local Buddhism, monk-hood and ordination of local monks. Buddhism has

also changed since the era of village religions. The villagers are concerned about secularisation and uncertainty 

about what is ethically right and wrong in the new commercial environment. In a competitive society, different people 

rise to prominence from those who engendered respect in local communities.


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The book concludes with the author's monologue about the power of the village community and the future of locality.

Will community spirit, mutual assistance of relatives and neighbours, caring for one's fellow human beings, die out?

Will the laws of destiny, the ethical foundation of local cultures, disappear? Will people everywhere adapt to a uniform

postlocal environment, a future of a final, perfect world culture?


      Research material


The book is based on interviews of hundreds of people, questionnaires, press cuttings and thousands of photo­graphs.

Matti Sarmela, together with his research assistants, started collecting questionnaire material in 1972, based on which

he was able to monitor the changes in the villagers' living environment and world-views. Since 1985, Sar­mela's workin

g group has interviewed 365 villagers in total, and of the interviews, accounts of 29 villagers were se­lected for the book.

Almost 20,000 photographs were amassed over the decades. The illustrations for the book were selected from a 

collection  of 14,000 colour slides, and they depict all the areas of life that are discussed in the book.   

The material is the largest and most diverse corpus of follow-up material ever collected on local cultures of Thailand. 

The entire material is preserved in the archives of the Museum of Cultures, Helsinki.   



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      The author

Matti Sarmela was Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki from 1973 to 2000;

he was Finland's first professor in his field. During his time, the Department of Anthropology was established within

the University of Helsinki, its researchers engaging in fieldwork into diverse cultures outside Europe in all continents; 

among its doctoral theses are two on Thailand.  Sarmela's own bibliography consist of eleven books and over 200

writings. The present book is a sequel to his study Paikalliskulttuurin rakennemuutos [Structural change in local 

cul­ture] 1979 (1985), which is one of the classics in Finland on research into cultural change. His major work,

Suomen perinneatlas ('Atlas of Finnish folklore'), also translated into German and English (Finnish Folklore Atlas 

2009), was awarded the prestigious Tieto-Finlandia prize in 1995.









                                                       Part I.        

                             A VILLAGE IN NORTHERN THAILAND


 Foreword  12

Tracing modernization 9  *  Theoretical perspectives 11  *  Fieldwork and the research group 15  *  To the reader 18


Environment of my life  (interviews) 20


About experiences in my life  *  Young people don't want to farm  *  Life is dying out from irrigation canals  *  Should 

we have more development



Villages and houses


Place for a human community 51

Culture of the river valleys 51  *  Lampang Province and City 52

Three villages  53

Ban Srii Muod Klao, central plains village 53  *  Ban Mae Kong Nya, village of northern plains 57  *  Ban Dong, the 

last forest village 58

Village houses 62

Traditional pillar house 62  *  Modern houses 63  *   Return of the pillar house 64  *  Building practices 68

Equipment of living 69

From buffalo to motor car 69  *  Conveniences of living 71  *  Triumph of home entertainment 73  *  Structural 

change of living environment 75

Pictures 77-107



Work of the rice farmer


Structural change in farming  108

Local rice farming 108  *  Hierarchy of rice 110  *  Buffalo or ploughing machine? 112  *  Delocal production

farming 114

Iron claws of the market  116

Crop trends 116  *  Costs of production 117  *  Intensive farming and the environment 118

Future of agriculture  119

After modernization 119  *  How much is enough? 121

Pictures 124-173

References 174


                                                      Part II.

                                       COMMUNITY CULTURE



Being human  (interviews) 6


How we were married   *  In the fire  *  We meet death together  *  The village in mourning



The arc of life


Family and community 41

Women’s compound 41  *  Making a communal living 43  *  Childhood environments 45  *  From village school to

uni­versity 46 

School of life  47

From villager to citizen 47  *  From citizen to globality 51  *  Virtual civilization 53

Marriage  55

Romantic love 55  *  Village wedding 57  *  Marriage and morality 59

Pictures 62-128





Death rites 129

The wake  129  *  The funeral celebration 130 *  The cremation 131  *  Extinguishing the ashes 132  *  Hundredth

day memorial rites 132 Message of death 133

Final passage of human life 133  *  The deceased in kinship culture 134  *  The deceased in village culture 135  *  

Focus of life 136

Pictures 138-171



Inside the village community


Annual festivals  172

Farmer's festival calendar 172  *  Modern annual festivals 173  *  Chinese New Year 175

Songkran  176

New Year of Thai culture 176  *  Programme of the Water Festival 177  *  Bodhi-tree festival 180

Dangers of life  182

Attraction of sex tourism 182  *  Fated to contract Aids 183  *  Drugs and the village community 185

Pictures 188-216

References 217




                                                     Part III.

                                          VILLAGE RELIGION


Faith around me (interviews) 5
We used to have words for everything  *  Supernatural guardian of our family  *  I don't believe everything sorcerers

say  *   What Buddha taught us

Pictures 54-93



Supernatural environment


The invisible world  94

Supernatural guardians of the environment 94  *  Phii and souls of the kinship group 96  *   Supernatural forces in

na­ture 98

Between two worlds 99

Village sorcerers 99  *  Mediums of the deceased 101

Strata of local belief  102

Heritage of shamans 102  *   Power of sorcerers 103  *  From tradition to belief in development 104



    Buddhist religion

 Buddhism of the village community 107

From local religion to national faith 107  *  Temple monks 108  *  Ordination of monks 110


    Power of the community 

Conclusion 113
Human being in a village community 113  *  Life of a good person 115  *  Facing postlocalism 118  *  Finalization 120



References      123

Appendix        130

Bibliography  157 





1.  Framework of structural changes  ...........   I.   13  

2.  Recorded interviews 1984-1999    ..........   I.   16

3.  Thailand material 1972-1999     ...............   I.   17

4.  Three villages             ................................   I.   55

5.  Popularity of house types 1982-2000   ...   I.   66    

6.  Means of transport  ...................................  I.   73

7.   Domestic appliances ...............................   I.   75

8.   Home electronics  ....................................  I.    77

9.   Structural change in rice farming  ...........   I. 113

10. Perspectives of village communities ......  II.   50

11. Basic wedding format  ............................   II.   58

12. Strata of world-views  .............................  III. 105


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