Living in a Thai-Lao village, one is continually reminded of our mortality as human animals.
As my long-time friend Jackie Bales is fond of saying: “None of us get out of here alive.”
In the West, you can go a long time between funerals. Living in a somewhat small village of about 400 people in the Northeast of Thailand, those four hundreds are treated a bit like family when it comes to death.
I don’t profess to know the beginning and end-all’s of Thai funerals, but the following are my surface observations:
Whenever a villager dies, representatives from most all families show up to pay their respects, help out in the preparation for the mourning period and – like what I imagine a subdued version of an Irish Wake must be a bit like. Some villagers just pay their respects, have a bite to eat and talk. Others treat the occasion as social events; still others party even more heartily.
Here’s how it goes, from death to cremation. This is not meant to be all-inclusive, as I still have lots to learn about how it goes:
You look down the road at a neighbor’s house and notice their friends and relatives who normally drop by and soon leave – well, they stay and more and more start arriving. Then, you notice the Village Headman and village elders start showing up. The arrival of all coincides with a clean-up effort of the property, the installation of a sound system with large speakers big enough for all the village to hear.
… ah – something is going down, you say?
A suitable group of village elders and major family members arrive with the body – usually straight from the hospital 8 kilometers away. The body is then placed in a casket which is lined and air-conditioned. Thip calls it a “cave.”
That first night, Buddhist monks arrive and chant while people pray for the departed and the departed’s family. If the family is poor, they will need everything they can get.
After the monks leave, the party resumes and this usually involves some alcohol, maybe some gambling and definitely food and other drinks. In fact, the largest expense is food as the family may end up feeding several hundred people more than once. Even very modest Thai funerals run into thousands of U.S. dollars.
And, in case you missed all this, the person who collects the “life insurance” comes by your house, usually on motorsai, to collect your contribution, which amounts to 100 baht ($3.25).