SPECIAL: Isaan folk tales (part ten)

This week The Isaan Record has a story about Surin and its famous connection to elephants, and the story of a Korat woman who “saved” the Thai there from an “invasion” of a Lao army.

We will continue with more stories next week. Have a nice Songkran! Be safe!

Story 19: The Land of the Elephants

THE PROVINCE Of SURIN IS FAMOUS FOR ITS ELEPHANTS, BUT FOR HUNDREDS OF years there were many elephants in Thailand. Today there are only a few, and most of them are in Surin.

A

Many years ago elephants were very common in Thailand. The elephants were used in wars, and they were, used to carry logs from the forests to the towns. The flag of Thailand used to have a white elephant on it.

But today machines can do the work of elephants, and so in Thailand there are not many elephants. Sometimes they still carry logs from the forests, but they do not fight in wars any more, and there is no elephant on the Thai flag. Only in one place are there many elephants today: that is in the province of Surin.

B

In Surin there is a group of’ people called Suay. These people come from the Cambodian people who lived in Surin hundreds of years ago. In the villages of Krapo and Jompra the Suay people still use their elephants to earn their living. The elephants carry logs, and. they also plow the rice fields like water buffalo.

Today the government protects elephants. They cannot be killed or caught. The government is trying to preserve the elephants so that they will not all die. Every year in Surin the Suay people have an elephant festival. This festival is to show other people how wild elephants used to be caught, how they were trained, and what they could do. Many people from all over Thailand, and from many countries as well, come to see the Elephant Festival in Surin.

C

In Surin there is a strange mountain. Some people say that it looks like Erawan, the three-headed mythical elephant. They say it reminds people how important elephants are to Surin. But other people disagree; here is their story of why this mountain is here.

Many hundreds of years ago in the forest near Surin there lived a man with his wife.

The men thought his wife must be a witch because she quarreled with him every day. She was always telling him, “Now, you do this,” or “Now, you do that.” And she always said he was the laziest man alive!

The poor man thought, “Unless I can get rid of my wife, I shall go mad.” But, no matter how hard he tried, he could not find a way to get rid of his wife. Finally, he decided he would marry again, and he told his wife, “I am tired of you telling me what to do. I am tired of listening to your voice, so I am going to marry another, woman. She will be kind and beautiful, and she will not always say that I am lazy.”

His wife did not believe him. She thought, “He is so lazy that he will never leave his home.” But one day the man did leave his home, and he went to find a new wife, He thought, “My old wife will follow me; she will never let me marry again. Perhaps I can trick her, and she will not find me. Then I can marry. When I am married, I will return to my house, and maybe my old wife will not be there. She will be still looking for me. Then I will have peace.”

But his old wife did not leave the house. She thought, “He will return,” and she was right, for after three months the man and his second wife returned to the house. His second wife was very “beautiful and kind.

At first the man was happy. His new wife was very kind to him. But his new wife saw the old wife. She saw how the old wife shouted at the man, and after a few weeks, the new wife was shouting at her husband, just like the old wife.

If the man was unhappy with one wife, he was now even more unhappy with two wives. Not only did his two wives quarrel with him, and tell him, “Now you do this,” or “Now, you do that;” but when one wife, said, “Now, you do this,” the other wife said, “Now, you do that.”   They both said “You are the laziest man alive.” And what is even worse, the two wives fought with each other.

The poor man did not know what to do. He did not have any peace, and he spent day after day thinking how he could solve his problem. He did not talk to anyone, he only spoke to himself, “All I want is a little peace!” But there was no way to solve his problem, and soon he died worrying about his problem.

After he was dead, the two wives stopped fighting with each other. If they had not been kind to their husband while he was alive; now that he was dead, they were very sad. They did not know what to do. Both wives realized that they really did love their husband, and they said, “Without our husband we cannot live, we love him too much.” So they went to the body of the dead man, and as they leaned over the dead man’s head, both of the wives died.

When the god, Indra, knew this he decided to help people remember this story. He built a mountain that has three peaks leaning to each other. It looks like the wives leaning over the head of their dead husband. Indra thought, “Now people will not forget the story of this foolish man and his two wives.”

But many people did forget the story. They say the mountain looks like Erawan. And so today only some people remember the story of the man, and they think the mountain looks like three people. If you go to Surin, you will have to decide for yourself what the mountain looks like. It is called Mango Mountain, and that is because still other people think the mountain looks like a mango. So you can see how difficult it is to choose a name for a mountain, especially in Surin.

Story 20: The Woman Who Saved Korat

IF YOU GO TO KORAT YOU WILL SEE A STATUE OF A WOMAN IN front of the old city wall. The statue is Tao Suranaree and she is one of Thailand’s greatest heroines. Here is the story of how she defeated the Laotian army and saved Korat.

About one hundred and fifty years ago the Thais were then enemies of the Laotians. The King of Laos, Anuwong, brought his army into northeastern Thailand. King Phanongklao of Thailand was not ready to fight, and so the Laotians conquered most of the Northeast.

KhoratIn Korat the people were very worried. Their governor had gone to Bangkok to see the king.

There were no leaders to defend their town. The people asked each other, “What will we do? How can we fight the Laotians? We have no army!”

When King Anuwong came to Korat, the people did not fight against him. They hoped he would be kind to them. The Laotians did not hurt the people of Korat because they wanted them to be captives. They planned to take them to Laos. Laos needed people to work in the fields and in the towns. So King Anuwong decided he would not kill people, he would take them back to Laos.

The captives were very sad, they did not want to leave Korat and they did not want to go to Laos. They walked very slowly and they said, “We must stop. We are very tired. We are not used to walking.” So the Laotian army did not go very far the first day.

One of the captives, a woman named Mo, was very clever. She had an idea. She said to the general of the Laotian army, “It is evening now and everyone is hungry. We must soon stop for the night, let us stop here. Then we can cook food for you. But we do not have any knives and we must have some to prepare the food.”

The Laotian general was very hungry, so he told his soldiers to give their knives to the women. Then the captives began to prepare food. Mo had another idea, and she said to the women, “First, we must give the Laotian soldiers some liquor. It will make them drunk and sleepy. Then we will feed them.”

After they had eaten, the Laotian soldiers fell asleep. Then Mo said to the women, “Take your knives and give some of them to the men. Now we can fight, and the Laotians cannot defeat us; they are drunk and asleep, and they do not have any weapons.” So the women took their cooking knives, which the Laotians had given them, and they gave some of them to the men.

At midnight Mo led the captives to the Laotian army. She said, “It is dark and they cannot see us. Now let us fight with them.” The Thais quickly defeated the Laotian army, and they returned to Korat. The Laotians had to return to Laos without any captives.

When Mo and her army came to Korat everyone was surprised and happy. The captives told everyone of Mo’s plan, and of her bravery. Soon even King Phanongklao in Bangkok heard of Mo’s bravery. He was very impressed, and he gave her a new name, the Brave Woman (or in Thai: Tao Suranaree).

When the famous Tao Suranaree died, the people of Korat wanted to remember her. They decided to build a statue of her, and they also named a school after their greatest heroine.

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