Akha Spirit Houses of the Fields
Akha Puli Hulai Woman
at her Spirit House
A Balance Between Two Worlds - Spirit Houses
by Victoria Vorreiter
One of the blessings of living in Thailand is experiencing a perceptible change of rhythm. It is as if time has slowed down. First you find yourself walking instead of running. Then you find yourself sitting instead of walking. And sometimes you find yourself meditating. This sense of calm is everywhere and you chance upon it every day, in ways big and small. Temples are omnipresent and remain the heart of spiritual life, offering sanctuary and stillness. Barefoot monks with bowed heads, resembling living Buddhas, file along the roads. Their soulful, rhythmic chanting accompanies every rising and setting of the sun. Thais wai with prayerful hands, whenever they pass an altar dedicated to revered ancestors, heroes, or deities.
But look again carefully, as you travel in this part of the world, for there are other, more discreet monuments, which are so small that they may be hidden from plain sight. From the urban metropolis of Bangkok to faraway, rural towns, from fields of rice and corn to remote tribal villages in the mountains, spirit houses mark every home, building, compound, and field.
For thousands of years, before boundary lines were circumscribed on the vast expanse of Southeast Asia, before the advent of the world's principle theistic religions, the people of the highlands and lowlands practiced animism, a belief that the natural world is choreographed by an infinite number of supernatural beings. Every entity in the universe has a spirit. Spirits embody natural elements—the rivers, forests, mountains, wind, and sky. They inhabit the home, animal compound, village, and fields. Spirits even animate special objects, such as musical instruments and shamanic tools. Each person has multiple souls that live within him or her, and is guided throughout life by generations of ancestor spirits.
This world of animism can still be seen in the miniature holy lodgings, placed on high, that provide shelter and nourishment for spirits of home and land. Some are as simple as a wooden box with a roof; others, as architecturally complex as manors, ornately painted in bright colors, and decorated with streamers, flowers, and figurines of servants, dancers, and animals. It is the duty of the landowner to care daily for these spirits, by offering them rice, fruit, water, sweet drink, and prayers.
Honoring spirits of place, in their special houses, assures blessings and good relations between the human and supernatural realms, reminding each person of the harmony they must seek with all others, seen or unseen, in the universe.
Victoria Vorreiter is a classical violinist by training who has devoted many years to documenting and recording the little known music and traditions of the region's tribal peoples. Here work took her to remote parts of Thailand, Laos, China and Myanmar and in 2009, Vorretier published a beautifully illustrated archival book, 'Songs of Memory', which was released, along with a music CD of ancestral songs. In 2009 an interactive exhibition entitled Songs of Memory, opened at The Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok and in 2010, Tamarind Village was the venue for another of Vorreiter's exhibitions entitled 'Patterns, Passages & Prayers: Traditional Cultures of the Golden Triangle. To read more on this exhibition, click here. For more information on Vorreiter's archival research and The Resonance Project, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.tribalmusicasia.com