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  • Working Group Participants: Mr. Montri Thanaphatarapornchai, Ms. Linh Cao, Mr. Karma Rigzin, Ms. Novia Sagita, Mr. Khamchan Souvannalith, Ms. Heidi Tan (Resource Person), Ms. Natsuko Akagawa (Resource Person), Dr. Alexandra Denes (Resource Person)

    Background of Luk Village and Senior Association Cultural Center (Text from the Working Group Brochure)

    “Luk village traces its origins to a Yong ethnic village located in present‐day Burma, called Luk (water‐mill) village.  After migrating and settling in this region, the village adopted the name “Luk village” to remind them of their homeland. The approximate population of the village is around 1,200 people.

    While the younger generations go to the schools and industries to work, the senior citizens have set up a ‘Senior Association’ which provides opportunities to elderly people of the village to produce traditional artifacts and transmit local heritage to the younger generations of the community. The Senior Association has around 60 members actively taking part in producing traditional handicrafts for various purposes. The community has three main events viz. a) Thai New Near, b) Novice ordination ceremony and c) Seup Chata (Life lengthening ceremony) taking place at least once a year. Among all these, Seup Chata ceremony is considered the most important in their community life. It can be performed at the community as a whole and the individual level as and whenever required. They are not only considered renowned ritual specialists of the community but also in surrounding communities where they are invited to perform.

    The Seup Chata ceremony is an elaborate Buddhist ritual tradition that is practiced on several occasions for different purposes. At the community level, the ritual is held once a year in April to re‐ affirm community identity and solidarity. On this occasion, all the households of the community are united by a sacred thread while the Buddhist monks chant a prayer.
    The Seup Chata is also performed for individuals such as in the case of illness or house‐raising ceremonies.  Normally, the ritual specialist and the monks will select an auspicious date to perform the ritual. Preparation starts a day before the main ritual. Women and men work together and mostly elderly people are actively involved to produce crafts and decorations for the ritual.There following are important stages in the ritual:

    1. The community set up ‘Tao Tang Si’ to invoke the gods of the four cardinal directions, Indra and Earth goddess to protect the ritual space.
    2. Nine monks are invited before 09:09 AM, and the community pays respects, and the host lights the candle and incense at the Buddha altar. The host sits in the Krajom (a ritual structure made from wooden branches). The ritual specialist prays to the monks, and the participants are symbolically joined by a sacred thread.
    3. The ritual specialist chants a prayer from the Buddhist palm leaf manuscript.
    4. Then the monks pray for the host and the participants, after which the host makes an alms offering to the monks.
    5. The ritual specialist leads all the participants with prayers to the monks and Buddha.
    6. After the prayer, he ties a piece of the sacred thread around the participants’ wrists. He then invites the monks to eat lunch.
    7. The host keeps a symbolic piece of the ritual material and then places the rest of the materials.”

    Working Group Fieldwork Findings

    On the first day of fieldwork, the working group learned about the background of the Luk village and Senior Association.  As mentioned above, Luk village was established by ethnic Yong migrants who moved to this region from Burma. Originally rice farmers, the Luk villagers shifted to longan cultivation around 50 years ago.  The village slogan is as follows: “Beautiful temples and village, rich culture, quality handicrafts, exquisite Buddhist library, and pride in unity.” Most of the population is engaged in longan production, but many residents are also employed in other sectors (i.e. industry, government).

    The Senior Association Cultural Center was originally established 6 years ago under the name of the Women’s Health Association. In 2009, the Center received a grant from the government (Thai Khem Khaeng) to build the Senior Association Center, which is located across the street from the Luk village monastery. At present, there are approximately 60 members of the association, including 47 women and 13 men. Most of the members are above 50 years old. In addition to membership fees, the Association receives annual support from the government to support it’s activities.

    Although the Senior Association was originally established in order to support the health of seniors, the scope of the Center’s projects has expanded to include a range of cultural activities. In recent years, the main activity of the Center has focused on handicraft production, particularly handicrafts related to Buddhist rituals (life lengthening ceremonies, funerals). Other handicrafts produced by the seniors include fishing gear (nets, woven bamboo traps), baskets and household utensils (brooms).

    In recent years, the Luk village Senior Association has become regionally well-known as a result of the high quality of their handicrafts and speed at production.  As a result, today they are commissioned by neigbhoring communities as well as shops selling goods for rituals to produce many of their handicrafts, and the extra income from these activities has supplemented the seniors’ livelihoods.

    Apart from producing handicrafts, the Senior Association is also active in the performance of ceremonies (life-lengthening) and folkdances (fingernail dance).

    In consultation with the Senior Association, the working group selected the Life Lengthening (Seup Chata) ceremony.   This was selected because it is a ceremony that  is still performed by the community, and which is considered to be very important for the Yong community and a marker of Yong identity. Although it is still thriving as a living practice, the Seup Chata ceremony faces challenges in the future in terms of transmission, since  fewer members of the younger generations are learning the handicrafts and intangible values associated with this ceremony.

    In the past, the handicraft skills associated with this tradition were transmitted intergenerationally through observation.  As for the skills of the ritual specialists who organize and lead the ceremony (usually a respected male figure in the community who was a former monk), this ritual knowledge was passed down through textual traditions, recorded in the Buddhist manuscripts called ‘Khamphi Tua Tham.’

    Around 15 years ago, the life-lengthening ceremony was revitalized by key members of the Luk community, in part by referring to the scriptural record at the Luk monastery. Today, the Luk community uses the Bowon model (community, temple, school) to revitalize and transmit the life-lengthening tradition to the younger generation.

    For their research and documentation, the working group observed, participated and documented the production of handicrafts associated with the seup chata ceremony. They also interviewed key informants in the community about the history and significance of the ceremony, including the ritual specialist of Luk village named Thongned Kansethi.  Using both photographs, video, and the working group documented the stages of the ceremony, as well as the meanings of many of the ritual objects.

    With regards to privacy and consent issues, the working group learned that there were no restrictions on participation in the ceremony (for instance, both men and women could participate equally). There were also no restrictions in terms of sharing ritual knowledge among practicing communities, as long as the knowledge source/specialist was given due recognition. The working group did encounter some restrictions in terms of accessing the written ritual texts inscribed on palm leaf and housed in the Buddhist monastery’s library, since these texts are regarded as sacred and traditionally not meant to be handled by females. There were also concerns about copying and photographing these texts, as the reproduced images could be  handled in a way that would violate their sanctity.

    In terms of the core challenges facing Luk community in the preservation and transmission of this practice, several key points were discovered by the group. Firstly, the skills of the ritual specialist (Mr. Thangned) and the Senior Association are in very high demand by surrounding communities, which is positive but it is also a challenge in terms of time. There is also the risk of losing these skills in neighbouring communities which increasingly hire Baan Luk to produce the ritual materials.  Secondly, the producers of the ritual handicrafts are all senior citizens, and it is very difficult to involve the younger generations as the must prioritize earning income for their families.

    While the senior association is strong, the school is nonetheless facing limitation in terms of supporting transmission of seup chata. At the present time, students from the Luk primary school participate informally (not as part of their formal curriculum) in the handicraft activities and demonstrations of the seup chata organized by the Senior Association. However, there are limited human resources and funding to support the development of more formalized classroom activities associated with the Seup Chata. In addition, there is a limited capacity in terms of IT and computer skills, so at present computers and the web can not be used to research, transmit and promote Seup Chata. Finally, there is discontinuity after leaving the village primary school, as many students will no longer have the opportunity to participate in Seup Chata ceremonies or handicraft production once they enter secondary school (usually in the city of Lamphun).

    Apart from collaborating with the local primary school to teach youth about Seup Chata and traditional handicrafts, the Senior Association is also actively involved with several government bodies whose task is to support revitalization and transmission of local culture and history. For instance, the Senior Association is frequently invited by the Provincial Cultural Council to demonstrate their handicrafts at provincial events, such as the annual commemoration of Khuba Srivijay’s birth held at Camadevi monastery.

    Project Outputs (Recommendations for Safeguarding ICH)

    In terms of recommendations to support the intergenerational transmission of knowledge related to the life lengthening ceremony, the working group suggested that the Senior Association collaborate more with the local primary school to develop hands-on classroom activities (i.e. worksheets, reference materials) detailing the history and practice of Seup Chata. They also suggested video would be a good way to document the handicrafts, preparation and performance of the Seup Chata ceremony, and that ideally, youth should be involved in the actual filming to stimulate their interest in the topic. Video of the Seup Chata could then be used as part of a classroom curriculum to teach about the significance and practice of the Life Lengthening ceremony.

    With respects to promotion and enhancement of the Life lenghtening ceremony, the working group recommended that the English and Thai language brochures would be a useful tool for raising awareness about this aspect of intangible heritage.  In addition, the group recommended that the Senior Association produce an informational board for visitors to read when they are arrive at the village. Information would include a brief description of the activities of the senior association and a code of conduct for visitors.

    The working group also recommended the establishment of a small museum or exhibit at the Senior Association Center to display the community’s handicrafts, including traditional handicrafts related to the life-lengthening ceremony. This exhibit would awareness among the youth as well as visitors across the region about the significance of Seup Chata and unique handicrafts of the ethnic Yong in Luk village.

    The working group recommended that youth could be involved in the conceptualization and installation of the exhibit, the exhibit, and that it should feature the voices of youth and local residents concerning the vitality of the Seup Chata tradition and its current state.

    Additional recommendations of the group were as follows: 1)  Set up an archive of the cultural activities for public access; 2) Establish cultural protocols for researchers, curators and visitors regarding visiting, participating, researching and observing Seup Chata practices; 3) Create an event calendar including ritual events to share information more widely in the region; 4) Create more opportunities for working people to attend activities (esp. Seup Chata) at the Senior Association Center; 5) Integrate lessons about Seup Chata into the primary curriculum.



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