Tribal Trappings – Asian Ethnic Art, Artifacts, Textiles and Folk Art Tribal Trappings – Thoughts about Thailand, Chiang Mai, things tribal including textiles, ethnographica and folk art <data:blog.pageTitle/>

Monday, May 28, 2007

The culture of traditional tattoos in NW Thailand - Part 1

Called ‘saak yan’ in Thai, and meaning the action of tattooing (‘saak’) talismanic diagrams (‘yan’), these traditional designs are very compelling for their power as well as for the imagery. We are especially attracted to the almost-‘naïve’, traditional designs used in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos for the purpose of invulnerability in the face of evil, and attraction in matters of love and money. These often employ a combination of design devices, such as magic diagrams (‘yantra’) with letters or numbers symbolizing special incantations, images of mythical creatures (Hanuman, Rahu, Garuda, Ganesha, etc.), or real creatures imbued with special powers (tigers, gecko/lizards, crocodiles, slow loris, wild boars, as well as occasional humans as monks, dancers, etc.) Additionally, these designs are given more power with added lines of Pali text in Thai or Khmer script.

Here are some photos from a recent ‘Wan Wai Kru’, or Day of Respect for the Master (‘teacher’, or ‘guru’), taken at the home/studio of tattoo master Ajarn Innsom Siriwong, outside of Chiang Mai.

To begin the day, respect must be paid to the deity of tattooing, known as the 'reusi' in Thai (from 'rishi' in Sanskrit). A hermit seer, he is believed to have brought the power of tattoo to mankind. His image is white-bearded, often clad in a tigerskin and wears a special headdress. In the photo above he is on the uppermost altar (left of center), as well as to the lower right of center as a mask/headdress (also shown below).

On this special day, once a year, those who have received tattoos from the master return for his blessings and to ‘recharge’ the magic power of their images, and to get new ones.

We saw the physical transformations of several whose tattoos had ‘possessed’ them, and they became tigers, or other powerful creatures.

In this day and age, it is indeed a special event to see the strength of these spirits come alive, and to witness the power of tattoos.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The culture of traditional tattoos in NW Thailand - Part 2 - 'Hurrah for Rahu'

‘Wan Wai Kru’ is also the most auspicious of times to become newly tattooed, and Robert decided that this was the day to take the leap. After all, he reasoned, driving his cycle & sidecar on Thai roads requires all the protection he can get. Thanks to daughter Leslie, Rahu was on his helmet protecting his head- so he might as well use the powers of Rahu to protect his skin! Above is the image of Rahu that Ajarn Innsom drew and used for the tattoo. It was too large, so he sent someone off to make a reduction and the copy was used as a pattern, after being applied with a solvent directly to the skin.

It took Ajarn Innsom an hour to complete the design and perform the ‘kaataa’, or magical incantations which bring the power of the image to life. Rahu must have been sleeping because Robert never stirred during this ceremony, tho the ‘kaataas’ were powerful and the help of the ‘reusi’ was invoked. Final blessings were made and Robert thanked the 'kru saak yan' for imparting the power and protection of Rahu, the deity of eclipses and protector of mankind.

We have just uploaded some tattoo-related items on the website, as well as some more photos of local tattoos, and a bit of history and information about tattooing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thai Cultural Loss

Sakorn Yangkhiawsod, aka Joe Louis, a Thai "National Artist" and the founder of the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre in Bangkok died 21 May at age 85. Puppeteering was in his blood- both his parents were puppet masters and he was named after a character in a play they were performing (Joe Louis was his nickname). Begun in 1985, his theater kept alive an art form that dated to the 11th century in Thailand and is unique among the various forms of puppetry. Derived from traditional Thai khon theater, a stylized and refined form of performing art which includes dancing, singing and music, the puppet plays are performed by puppeteers who are also khon performers. Meter-high, papier mache puppets are three-dimensional (unlike shadow puppets), and controlled with sticks (unlike marionettes from Burma) by the puppetmasters who are also onstage.

Their production of "The Myth of Rahu and the Lunar Eclipse" won them the 'Best Traditional Performance Award' at the 10th World Festival of Puppet Art, in Prague, in June 2006.

His children and grandchildren continue the tradition at his famous theater in Suan Lum Night Bazaar, 1875 Rama IV Road, Bangkok, as well as a new venue beginning in September- the Aksara Grand Theatre at the King Power Complex on Soi Langnam.