The formation of identity in Thailand

Identity

 

This will be a short presentation on the formation if identity in Thailand. The presentation will look at how not only identity has been developed, but also how it has been maintained throughout history. The focus will not, however, be solely on a National level but also from an ethnic identity viewpoint.

 

 

Thai National Identity

 

Thailand can be broken into four main regions. The North with its mountainous and fertile lands viable for growing rice and teak. Central Thailand home to Bangkok”City of Angels” and the fertile Chao Phraya basin. The North East (Essan) the driest, least productive and least modern place in Thailand. The South with its moist atmosphere where many produce rubber, tropical crops and tin. Thailand “Land of the free” In the past was a country living in the ideal of attaining a virtuous life by shaping their character to Buddhist principles where goodness was prized over personal wealth. Thailand has now changed from an absolute monarchy rule to one of self-sustained Democracy. Buddhism has supplied cognitive and evaluative elements that have been integrated into every aspect of Thai identity, even If the individual is Thai or part of a Thai ethnic minority. For example, many of the “hill tribes” in Thailand may be Christian or follow traditional religious practices. They do however pay respect to monks and often offer alms during ceremonies. Buddhism in Thailand is practised very differently compared to how Buddhism is practised in other many other countries such as in Japan, China and Vietnam. Each country practices Buddhism but in a very different way. For example, if the Dalai Lama came to Thailand he would have to sit down with the lay people as his position is not recognised in Theravada Buddhism.  In Japan there are not nearly as many images of Buddha compared to Thailand and if there are they are often quite plain and not extravagant and often painted and jewelled as they are in Thailand. As is shown it is distinctly Thai Buddhism that contributes to Thai people’s identity not the Buddhist faith itself with 95% following Theravada Buddhism. Thailand is a very Hierarchal society, If you are born into a  “High-so”  family as they are typically referred to her you, your sense of identity is of course very different than if you are born into a “Low-so” family. Being in a “High-so” family often individuals may have a feeling that they are held above ” Low-so” families. This is not through that particular person’s fault but rather how society has helped shape their identity. An individuals Identity as we know does often change in adolescence as people are exposed to new groups of individuals. When they leave the “bubble” of the social class and meet people from different backgrounds, religions and classes. This change happens not only throughout High School but all the way through to young adulthood.  Steinberg sums up the adolescence journey to identity perfectly by saying:”The development of a strong and stable sense of self is widely considered to be one of the central tasks of adolescence. Despite the fact that identity development occurs throughout one’s lifetime, adolescence is the first time that individuals begin to think about how our identity may affect our lives. During adolescence, we are much more self-conscious about our changing identities than at any other stage in our lives” Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill. Families are close in Thailand and are often held above all else, maintaining strong relationships throughout their entire lives.

 

Ethnic Identity

 

There are numerous Ethnic groups in Thailand  according to Reach To Teach” Of Thailand’s nearly 70 million people, roughly two-thirds are from Thai ethnic groups. Although the ethnic Thai people can be divided into dozens of different subgroups, their traditions, languages, and cultures differ only slightly. This leads to a population with a strong sense of shared traditions and cultural identity. The remaining third of the population is made up primarily of Chinese, as well as various minorities including Vietnamese, Khmer, Hmong, and Mein. Even among these diverse ethnic groups, the Thai language is widely spoken and understood, and the Thai script is often used in place of traditional writing styles.[Reachtoteachrecruiting.com,2016].There is also many much smaller ethnic groups throughout Thailand, many who may not even be citizens but have lived in Thailand for hundreds of years. The Karen people for example ” Current debates on Karen identity have tended to focus on the development of a nationalist construct of a pan-Karen community”[Rachel Sharpes,2015]. Many Karen people are Thai and are citizens but identify as Karen more than being Thai. Many ethnic groups such as the Karen live in the mountainous North of Thailand.  As the Thai government started cracking down on the growing of poppies(for opium and heroin production) many had to move further down the mountains Now the majority of Karen people still live in the mountains but do however go to lowland cities for work or grow cash crops in the hills. There has been in the past some problems of course between different groups Although the population of Thailand is relatively homogeneous—regionalism and ethnic differences are issues that are socially and politically significant. Moreover, these differences affect the access of specific groups and regions to economic and other resources, which in turn heightened ethnic or regional consciousness”[Library of congress]. Through all of this, the Karen and others have still kept a  strong sense of cultural identity. Many Karen people are Buddhist, but the majority are Christian and follow animistic beliefs. Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa’o on top of this, almost everyone speaks Thai. If there is a temple or a monk near a village they are still paid a high level of respect, given alms and offerings. This shows how the identity of many ethnic groups has changed since they first arrived in Thailand several hundred years ago.It is true each has their own customs and beliefs but are still very much living in Thailand and follow at least some of the Thai traditions. This is not characteristic for Karen people in other parts of the world. Karen people in America do not pay respect to Buddhist monks in America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

A sense of Identity is formed throughout our entire lives, always changing and adapting. We are born into an identity in some ways, some people with opportunities that people are not. This does not define us however as we are exposed to new groups and cultures our own identity changes, especially as young adults. For example, the Karen people as were shown, very much have their own identity. They are also Thai however. Karen people in America and Karen people in Thailand are as different in many ways as American and Thais are. Our identity is formed by those around us and our social environment, always changing, growing and adapting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Ven. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

Ven. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni
(ธัมมนันทา ภิกษุณี)

“Remember three things in life think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble,2. Be eager 3. Always seek to improve yourself. No one can stop us now,, not the Sangha or others,we are growing and will continues to grow….No one can stop us now”

1.How can Buddhism be used as an effective tool to empower women in Thailand
1.Yes most definitely, through communication and development, Buddhism is part of our Thai cultural identity and therefore can be used to empower women

2.The Tripitaka because it was written by men with Indian social values of that time could be said to oppress women?
2.Yes, for sure, it was written in a time when social values were different, and gender norms were also different.It was a different time then, and things were not as they are now

3.What are your thought on the 8 gurudhamas?
3. Even if a monk or junior comes to our temple, I will Wai and welcome them.These are to be followed but read carefully.Look at an example of when a group of bhikkhunis were having their robes lifted by a group of young monks.The Buddha intervened and told the bhikkhunis that they do not have to show respect to the monks, this is one of the several examples, always read the footnotes in life and most importantly always be humble

4.Do you feel you need to follow the precepts more strictly because you are bhikkhunis and may be judged unfairly?
4. Yes, indeed, eyes are on us, and we are women after all.

5.Some women in Thailand feel they need to make more merit than men in Thailand, why is this?
Yes, this is also cultural, women make merit at the temple and give offerings in the mornings, yet it is the men who lead the ceremonies.At the temple it is the women who sit on the outside furthest from the monks, even their sons are closer to the centre.

6.What are your thoughts on Mae Ji’s?
6. I depend on you and you depend on me, my grandmother was illiterate and she is a Mae ji, yet when it came to praying she knew everything.she prayed beautifully.Mae Ji’s are not ordained, nor do they receive the benefits of being so.In fact, they are more often treated like servants, having to wash the monk’s clothes and cleaning.Look at the four pillars of the Buddhist community, like legs on a chair, The Bhikkus(monks) Bhikkhunis(nuns), Laymen and Laywomen.Mae Ji’s are a new concept

7.In Thai folklore some people believe that women are born from bad karma, What are your thoughts?
We are all born of good and bad karma, and all have the same potential to reach enlightenment, it is cultural, the culture protects you.Look at the way a young man may drink and be drunk, and it is acceptable but what would people opinions be if it was a woman?

8.Do you ever see a bhikkhunis Sangha being possible in Thailand?
Yes, we have over 100 bhikkhunis in Thailand currently as well as this we have a network throughout ASEAN and Asia. This is for Theravada Buddhism, in Mahayana they don’t need to worry they have over 22,000 in some countries alone.

9.Some have dubbed the bhikkhunis as rebels, what are your thoughts?
Not many in Thailand understand Buddhism truly like when the Buddha first said no to his aunt and her followers when they asked to be ordained, this was not because of their gender, but because they were women of the court, they could not handle the conditions.Many forget that the Buddha was from a time when social values were different.

10.What do you see as the future of the Bhikkhunis in Thailand?
10.Remember three things in life, think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble,2. Be eager 3. Always seek to improve yourself. No one can stop us now, not the Sangha or others, we are growing and will continue to grow.

 

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I mentioned I was gong to visit Ven. Dr Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, well I have now been and visited for a few days. She was inspiring, she knew all the Buddhist teachings and takes to apply them in modern times. There has been very mixed opinions about her throughout Thailand.She has often been condemned by the  Thai Sangha which is the governing body of monks in Thailand, the Sangha holds huge political power also.These are just a few of the questions that I asked her. She emphasised the fact that is women who make most of the merit(giver food to the monks in the morning, prepare food at the temple, cleaning etc).When it comes to religious ceremony and offerings the women have to sit at the back, furthest from the monks, even the mothers and grandmothers, their sons going before them. With Buddhism being a major part of Thai cultural identity(Over 95% Buddhists) what would happen if women were also allowed to be ordained once more, it would revesre these roles and in fact empower women who then have role models in their religion which takes part in almost all aspects of Thai daily life.

Attached is my photo when talkin with her, also the books which she has written.Although she has ordained now, she has written many books, talked at UN conferences, TED talks, and even been nominated for the nobel peace prize.She came across as a very genuine woman with a wealth of knowledge and a great sense of humor.

books

Nationalism

To follow on from what others have said these two ideologies can both be very powerful tools and yet they are both very different but often confused. I think the way that American Journalist wrote:

” The Difference Between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility while the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to a war.  ”

There is nothing wrong with being a Patriot in my opinion. Patriotism is based on the love and affection of a country and it’s peoples. Nationalism, however, is based on thinking that your country and possibly people are better than another country and it’s peoples.Geroge Orwell once wrote,” Nationalism is the worst enemy of Peace.”People have always felt a sense of Nationalism all over the world but now more than ever in some places. Nationalism is counter progressive and like Orwell said: “is the worst enemy of peace”. In Thailand, there certainly is a sense of Nationalism like every country in the world. As I have lived in a few countries however I believe I can compare and contrast how Thailand contrasts with the UK for example. Every morning people must gather and sing the National Anthem and if you are in a place where people gather you must turn and face the flag. This happens again in the evening and before other situations such as before a movie at the cinema.This most certainly creates Patriots which is great considering Thailansd political past, however, is creating an ever growing number of Nationalists also.

Culture and Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism has been growing not only in the West but also much throughout Asia and the Middle East. It is something that is happening and will continue to happen more so on a global scale,it is not always a harmonious process however; there has and will continue to be a number of issues as cultures and peoples meld together.

In my school for example there is over 40 teachers in our Foreign Languages Department. This is a Thai public school and only fifteen of those teachers are Thai. There are teachers Cameroonian,Zimbabwe,England,Scotland,Poland,America,Tunisia,Philippines,China,Vietnam, among others.There is over twenty languages spoken in our office on a daily basis such as: Shona,French,English,Japanese,Korean,Tagalog,German, among a variety of other languages. Even here in Thailand a country that relies on its Foreign influence to survive to some degree there has been great friction. Many officials in Thailand including the Prime Minister  Prayut Chan-o-Cha have voiced their views against the foreign influence(reliance) in Thailand. It goes to show that in rural Thailand even a government high school has felt the effects of multiculturalism.

The argument of  universalism and cultural relativism is one that scholars  have always have and will continue to debate. Is it morally just to impose our views of right and wrong on other cultures ?

Many argue that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948) was influenced mostly by the west,therefore aligning with Western ideals of what an infringement of  human rights is and what is not. My friends for example who come from an Arabic background would show me the newspapers and articles in Arabic and translate them. We could then compare them to the American news version of the same incident.The version of news written in Arabic would read something akin to “American bomb massacres funeral party” it would be a main feature.If you did read about it at all in the American news it may be a side note and may read something different such as “successful air strike ” etc.  These instances may not be a breach of human rights as America had a huge hand in writing the Deceleration of Human Rights. However Middle-Eastern Countries did not nearly have as much of an input into the creating of the Deceleration.

This is why many academics link ethnocentrism to universalism as they believe that many Intergovernmental organisation such as the  International Criminal Court(ICC) are incapable of managing nor have to the right to manage international human rights abuse cases. Cultural relativists believe that cases should be managed on a case by case basis in locally governed offices by locally appointed officials. This way not only are you empowering locals and giving them a sense of agency in their own communities but being culturally sensitive to local issues.

I think that many people can be hypercritical of IGO’s, it is very easy to be critical of them as they are so authoritative now: people do not however offer alternatives.I do think that as IGO’s , globalisation and multiculturalism grows it becomes harder to  not see things as being universally right or wrong. What is right in one culture , may be deemed wrong by another. Look at that  the 2004 ‘Muslim Headscarf Ban’ that we studied before. I think from knowledge comes understanding and people need to understand other cultures and how they operate and from that understanding hopefully tolerance is born. IGO’s need to hire more in country experts and locals who know their own system better than international ‘experts’ . Many are of course trying , it is simply harder now as globalisation progresses.

Cultural Expectations In Thailand

Thailand can be broken into four main regions. The North with its mountainous and fertile lands viable for growing rice and teak. Central Thailand home to Bangkok ”City of Angels” and the fertile Chao Phraya basin. The North East (Essan) the driest, least productive and least modern place in Thailand. The South with its moist atmosphere where many produce rubber, tropical crops and tin. Thailand “Land of the free” In the past was a country living in the ideal of attaining a virtuous life by shaping their character to Buddhist principles where goodness was prized over personal wealth. Thailand has now changed from an absolute monarchy rule to one of self-sustained Democracy. The first school was opened by King Rama V, and since then Thailand has flourished. Before this act by King Rama V, it was only those of royalty or in monkhood that could study.

 

Cultural expectations vary widely in Thailand and are different based on social class, ethnicity and most importantly, gender. There is an old Thai s; men are the front legs and women are the back. As was mentioned before in the discussion forum, weddings vary vastly between all of our cultures, and in Thailand, the husband still has to pay the “Bride price” which varies for every woman. A tradition that is still practised n Thailand today is that of Thai men having multiple wives his chief wife(Mia Luang) and him having other wives(Mia not). This was more common in the past but is still practised; it was a good indicator of a man’s socioeconomic status for a woman. However, this would be totally unacceptable as even remarrying after divorce is very unusual. This is just one of the ways of gender inequality that still exists in Thailand today.

 

Men-

Men in Thailand are expected to provide and take care of their family; this includes their mother and father to some degree. Many Thai men I know here work in low paid jobs yet still have to give a significant portion of their salary to their parents, this is expected. This is true even if they no longer live with their family, as many do they may move to a big city such as Bangkok and would still have to send money back to their family. This is faithful to the fact that Thai men make up over 60% of the labour force, as well as taking the majority of senior positions throughout the country.I personally travel around many areas to other schools as part of my job, the directors are always men, as are the vice-directors and heads of departments.

 

Women-

Thai women generally are well-mannered, love to take care of their families and are followers of their husbands. In modern Thailand, women are more self-confident individuals who hold positions of power. Women are still however typically expected to take on the majority of household duties, Thailand has come far but perhaps not far enough. There is a Thai saying ” the charm at the tip of a ladle makes a husband love his wife”, this Is still said today. Thailand had moved on from the days when men studied, and women served, attitudes one approach people of former times held towards a man and a woman is that when a baby was born, if it were a male, a slate and a pencil would be placed beside the baby, but if a female, a needle and thread would be put there instead. This reflects the different expected roles of a man and a woman. The former was expected to become a man of knowledge and the latter a good housewife. Women are like men also expected to take care of their parents and grandparents by giving a portion of their salary to them, how much difference completely by location, wage, age and many other factors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khatoeys-

Khatoeys is the ambiguous name given to transgendered individuals in Thailand. I chose to write another small section on Khatoeys as they play such a large part in Thai society.Generally accepted khatoeys can live their lives mostly in peace. This was not always so and was not until the 1950’s that Khatoeys had any real acceptance as that was when they were starting to be shown in mainstream media. Being a Khatoey can start from a very young age as I personally have taught khatoeys as young as six years old.Their family accept them for who they are and allow them to start hormone treatments often before or around the time of puberty. Khatoeys however are not often seen in positions of power , perhaps  they accept a lower level of work so that they can live their lives in the open ?

 

“You might be surprised to learn that all babies start life in the womb as girls. Then, if there is a Y chromosome present in the embryo, it activates the male hormone,testerone, and the baby starts to become a boy. However, in some cases, the male hormone fails to activate the standard development of the external genitalia.The baby appears to be a girl and is raised as such, but it will become clear at puberty that it is a boy.”

Inequality

  I find the three different categories of inequality to be very interesting,particularly the fact that the word inequality is used and never the word poor. Poor in my mind is just a word we use to describe people who may be have less or in a more degrading situation than their peers. Most people […]

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I find the three different categories of inequality to be very interesting,particularly the fact that the word inequality is used and never the word poor. Poor in my mind is just a word we use to describe people who may be have less or in a more degrading situation than their peers. Most people use the word poor when they mean inequality .Economic deprivation is the most common example of inequality, this includes but not limited to:income poverty,insecure livelihoods and asset deficits.Some well known cases of  economic deprivation are the substance farmers currently in Ghana,unemployed youth in Egypt,numerous indigenous groups in Mexico,Bolivia and the Philippines, homeless families in India,landless people in Uganda,trafficked children in Ghana, as well as all disaster -affected people.

Another form of inequality is discrimination.There are many and varying forms of discrimination . Two major groups of discrimination are people who are marginalised in society because of their identity or are lower down in the social hierarchy. Some peoples who are majorly affected by discrimination are: the indigenous groups in Mexico, Bolivia and the Philippines, the Dalit (untouchables in India),racial minorities Brazil and Nigeria,people with disabilities in Bangladesh,sexual minority groups in the Balkans,sex workers,LGBTQA, HIV-aids as well as people marginalised by conflict like the Palestinians.

Finally there is spatial inequality.This kind of inequality is active in regions of the world where people live in adverse conditions.These regions serve to disadvantage those who live and work in them.These people simply cannot escape poverty.Some examples of people who suffer from spatial inequality are people who live in mountainous terrain,remote areas, underserved urban slums or areas vulnerable to climate change.

People need to feel empowered that they themselves can make a change.

“Peoples relationships within their families and wider communities can enable or undermine their feelings of empowerment,self-recognition, belonging and aspirations for change-critical factors that enable agency.”

What  they have against them however is not one state of inequality but rather a multitude of problems that force people into think they are not capable of making any social change. People feel this way perhaps because of their family and other around them.Inequalities continue through lifetimes and generations and people are left feeling hopeless.

Development programmes and policies often do not help as they are very linear in their approach and look at a very simple understanding of change.Inequality however is sustained through a myriad of complex and interconnected social issues.

“It is impossible for someone to buy soap when he has no food. I cannot pay money for a latrine without food. I cannot buy a jerry can of water when I have no food. So we end up in dirty environment, poor hygiene and sanitation. This is where diseases come from. We drink unboiled water, survive on one cup of porridge, this can also make one sick. We end up suffering from cholera,kwashiorkor,dysentery, malaria and HIV and generally carrying a poor health situation. All the time you’re sick and you spend more, and then you cannot spend anymore. In most cases the poor die because we lack money to treat us and we die.”
(Slum-dweller, HEPS-Uganda 2013)

If people feel like they have power however ,they can and do make lasting change.They need to have a sense of belonging and feel like a citizen in their own country. Support networks of any kind are crucial as a transforming source of personal power.

Why the Chipko Movement is more important than ever.

The Chipko movement is a forest conservation movement that began in India, 1973. It pioneered many environmental changes that we have today. The Chipko movement arose in a time when there were few or no major environmental groups in India. At the start of the Chipko movement, it practised the Gandhian methods of Satyagraha. Since […]

The Chipko movement is a forest conservation movement that began in India, 1973. It pioneered many environmental changes that we have today. The Chipko movement arose in a time when there were few or no major environmental groups in India. At the start of the Chipko movement, it practised the Gandhian methods of Satyagraha. Since then it has become more of an eco-feminist orientated campaign. Eco-feminism tries to heal the divide between culture and denture that has become exceedingly apparent over the last few decades; this will be done through the feminine instinct for nurture and nature.

We need more movements like the Chipko movement now more than ever. A time when it is estimated within the next one hundred years, there will be no rainforests left whatsoever when 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon forest alone. Although forests still cover roughly thirty percent of the earth, we lose an area roughly equivalent to the size of Panama in forested land every year, not only this but over two hundred million people actually live in forest land, and another one and a half billion people depend on forest directly for survival.

Many movements now get much more attention now thanks to the progression of social media. Getting a share or a like on Facebook certainly, brings environmental issues to people’s attention but does not change the issues at its core. As St Augustine said, “there is a difference between knowing the good and loving the good”. The Chipko movement arose at a time when there were no other movements or social media, they instead arose and have inspired so many movements since then. Not only in India but around the world. Their stances of feminism were far ahead of their time, and feminism now, more than ever, truly is for everyone.

Edugeen, available online at-http://edugreen.teri.res.in/explore/forestry/chipko.htm [Accessed7/12/16]

Greenpeace why deforestation still matters, available online at – http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/6-reasons-stopping-deforestation-still-matters/  [Accessed7/12/16]

Women in world history, available online at – http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/contemporary-04.html [Accessed7/12/16]chipko-movement-1-638