SPECIAL: Isaan folk tales

The Isaan Record is proud to republish English translations of a collection of Isaan folk tales put together more than a half century ago. Organized by Kermit M. Krueger, a United States Peace Corps Volunteer working at Mahasarakham Teachers’ Training College, students and teachers found stories from throughout the region, translated them and created illustrations, and put them together into a book intended to be used as an English learning resource.

For the next coming few weeks we will publish the stories in installments. Today we begin with the cover of the book, an excerpt from the book’s original introduction, and two stories from Loei province.

StoriesfromtheNortheastIntroduction

THE IDEA FOR THIS BOOK CAME FROM A TERM ASSIGNMENT FOR THIRD YEAR STUDENTS IN English 7. To awaken their interest in their own folk, culture, they were asked to find one folk tale or tradition from a province in northeastern Thailand. From their essays these stories have been written. And it is to these students that the real credit for the stories must go. Their work, will have been repaid if these stories prove interesting, and if some students become aware of the vast and wonderful folklore with which their country is blessed. This book will have been worthwhile if some students learn to enjoy reading English. Many thanks must also be given to the teachers at this college who helped translate words into English, and who encouraged the completion of this project. My thanks go to Achan Staporn and Achan Boonrut, and especially to the Director of the College, Achan Wisan Siwarat who helped with some research for some of the stories.

Kermit M. Krueger – Peace Corps Volunteer
Mahasarakham Teachers’ Training College
Mahasarakham – January, 1965

Story 1  – The Adventures of Yai

IN THE PROVINCE OF LOEI THE PEOPLE TELL STORIES ABOUT A GREAT HUNTER NAMED YAI. They say that Yai was born in the town of Nakorn Chumpasak in Laos, but that Yai moved to Thailand and lived in Loei most of his life. Yai was a great hero and he did many famous deeds. Once he saved a village from spirits, and once he discovered a beautiful and strange mountain.

Yai and the Spirits
When Yai moved to Loei he wanted to find a place to be his home. Finally, he came to a small village which is now called Na Pee Ton. Yai gave the village that name, and this is why he chose that name.

One day some of the people in his village came running to Yai. “Help us, help us!” they cried, “our rice crops have been destroyed!”

Yai asked them what was wrong, and they said, “Yesterday when we worked in the fields, our rice was all growing. Today, when we returned to work again, we saw that the best rice had been destroyed. It looked like someone pulled the rice out of the ground. What can we do?”

Yai was very surprised when he heard this story. He did not know what to say. He thought for several minutes, and then he said, “I do not know what to do, but if someone is destroying the rice, we must find out who that person is. Someone will have to stay in the rice fields all of the time. When he sees the person who comes to destroy the rice, he can return to the village. Then all of us can go out and help catch the bad man.”

Every night several men went out into the fields to watch. But they could not see anything, because there was no moon. And every night more of their rice was destroyed. They were very upset, but Yai said, “You must be patient. Soon there will be a full moon, and then we can see who is doing this to your rice.”

On the night of the full moon every man in the village went to the rice fields. Then they saw something very strange. The rice was being pulled out of the ground, but no one was pulling it. “What is happening?” the people asked.
Yai said, “It must be evil spirits. Wait for a minute, and then we will all shout together. Maybe that will frighten the spirits away.”

When Yai told them they all shouted. Suddenly, the rice stopped being pulled out of the ground. It was very strange, but the spirits had gone away. They did not return. When he was sure the spirits would not return, Yai said, “Let’s call our town ‘Where the Spirits Pulled up the Rice,’” and that is the name of the town until today.

Yai discovers a mountain
Yai was a hunter, not a farmer. He would spend many days in the forest hunting for food. One day he shot a deer. He was sure that the deer would die, and he followed the wounded animal. But the deer did not die; it kept going on and on. Finally, it stopped on some flat ground. Yai was very tired. He had been following the deer for many hours. He looked around him, now he was on the top of a mountain!

As he looked at the deer on the top of the mountain, Yai saw an amazing thing. There were many more deer near the one he had wounded. And the deer he had shot, now was not wounded at all. The deer were not afraid of Yai; they came around him. Yai thought, “This is very strange. These deer must be holy, I will not shoot them.”

It was late in the afternoon, and Yai was tired. He thought, “I must get to the bottom of the mountain before night comes.” He walked around and around, but he could not find the path down the mountain. He noticed that the top was flat and wide. “This is a very unusual mountain,” he thought.

Yai was very worried now. “I cannot stay here all night. What will I do?” He tried to find the deer, but they were all gone. Just as he was about to give up looking for them, he saw one going down the side of the mountain. “That must be their path,” he thought, and he followed the deer. The path took him down the side of the mountain.

When he got to the bottom of the mountain, he looked for the deer again, but they were gone and he never saw them again. He looked back at the mountain, “That mountain looks just like a bell,” he said, and from that day the mountain has been named Bell Mountain.

Another Story about Bell Mountain
Some people in Loei do not believe the story about Yai; they tell a different story about Bell Mountain. This is their story:

When the first people came to Loei, they noticed the big mountain. It looked like a bell. And on the Buddhist holy days it sounded like a giant bell was being rung on the top of the mountain. The people named the mountain, the Bell, because it looked and sounded like a bell.

Since then the bell has been lost. No one ever saw it, they only heard it; but now the bell cannot be heard either. Some people say the bell grew with the mountain and that it was holy. They believe that someone climbed up the mountain to find the bell, and that the god destroyed the bell so that that person could not find it. So today, if you go to Loei, you can see Bell Mountain, but you cannot hear its bell ring.

Story 2 – The Temple of the Two Loves

OVER THREE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, THAILAND AND LAOS WERE ENEMIES. THE THAI KING, Juckaphat (or in Thai: Pramaha-juckaphat), was unhappy. He knew that when the armies fought, many people suffered. He knew that the Thai people did not want war. He decided to make peace with the King of Laos.

One day Juckaphat wrote to Chaiyachetta, the King of Laos. He said, “My people and your people are tired of war. They have suffered for a long time. Now we should agree to be friendly and to help our own people. If you agree, let us build two chedis to show our agreement.”

Chaiyachetta was also tired of fighting, and when he received King Juckaphat’s letter, he was very happy. He answered, “I will be glad to be your friend.”

Then King Juckaphat told his people, “We must build two chedis on the border of Thailand and Laos. The chedis will show that our countries are good friends. One chedi will be for Laos, and the other chedi will stand for Thailand.”

The people asked where they should build the chedis, and after much discussion they decided to build them in Dansai district of Loei. So today if you go to Dansai, you can see these two old chedis. They are in the Temple of the Two Loves (or in Thai: Wat Srisdngrak). They are very old, but they tell everyone, “Thailand and Laos are friends. They want to help each other.”

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