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Environment of life
Villages and houses
Work of the rice farmer
Family and community
School of life
Inside the village community
Faith around me
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
- 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.
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
the water buffalo is threatened with extinction.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
School of life 47
From villager to citizen 47 * From citizen to globality 51 * Virtual civilization 53
Romantic love 55 * Village wedding 57 * Marriage and morality 59
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
Inside the village community
Annual festivals 172
Farmer's festival calendar 172 * Modern annual festivals 173 * Chinese New Year 175
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
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
The invisible world 94
Supernatural guardians of the environment 94 * Phii and souls of the kinship group 96 * Supernatural forces in
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
Buddhism of the village community 107
From local religion to national faith 107 * Temple monks 108 * Ordination of monks 110
Human being in a village community 113 * Life of a good person 115 * Facing postlocalism 118 * Finalization 120
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