August 20, 2016 – December 11, 2016
SUSTAINABILITY INSPIRED BY TRADITIONAL THAI WISDOM IN THE SPOTLIGHT IN A NEW EXHIBITION AT TAMARIND VILLAGE CHIANG MAI
“In the past northern Thai culture revolved around three fundamental principles, all interlinked and equally important. That is to say ‘Respect for nature’, ‘Respect for others’ and ‘Respect for oneself’. If we were able to apply these basic tenants to our lives today, we could avoid many of the problems and challenges our society is currently facing.” -Chatchawan Thongdeelert – Founder of the Lanna Wisdom School
August 15th- 2016 - Chiang Mai - ‘Echoes of Wisdom: Living Past, Living Future,’ an all-new exhibition at Tamarind Village Chiang Mai, examines the folk wisdom of northern Thai culture and the ways in which Lanna people lived in balance with nature long before words like ‘organic’, or ‘sustainability’ were even in fashion. The exhibition, which will run until December 11th, brings together images and displays that examine the lifestyle of northern Thai people and remind us of the wisdom that guided them in their daily lives. It also looks at how those values, many of which are fast disappearing today, have inspired a growing number of individuals to put these principles to work in their own efforts to run businesses today that not only seek for profit but serve to protect the environment and give back to society at the same time.
The exhibition offers a fascinating window onto the self-reliance of earlier generations of northern Thai people: how they built their homes from natural materials such as wood, bamboo and palm leaf, wove cloth to make their own garments and grew their own rice and vegetables, caught fish in the streams, raised their own livestock and even understood the benefits of a variety of plants and herbs; using them to heal common ailments with teas and powders they concocted themselves.
The exhibition also touches on the importance placed on communal living in former times and the way in which each individual saw themselves as part of an extended family within the village at large. People helped one another when it came time to harvest rice, build a house or prepare for a funeral in a manner that is hard to imagine today. They shared their food willingly with friends and strangers and spent their free time making fish traps, weaving intricate baskets and carving and decorating objects such as spoons, ladles, loom pulleys, bowls and other containers for their own use. Also featured in the exhibition’s displays, these unique and charming objects, replaced in recent years by cheap, disposable plastic, reflect the resourcefulness of a people that used what was available in the environment around them and the beauty of a culture that put such care and artistry into making even the most basic tools.
‘Echoes of Wisdom’ also looks at the spiritual relationship that existed between Lanna people and nature. Before Buddhism arrived in the region, Thais were animists, believing that the natural world was inhabited by spirits that needed to be appeased in order to live in balance with the universe. There were spirits of the rice fields, the trees, the mountains, the forest and the rivers. It was important not to offend these spirits with careless actions and Lanna people performed rituals and made regular offerings to them to ensure their own well-being and protection. This belief in the importance of reciprocity between human beings and the forces of nature was at the root of Lanna culture and can still be seen in certain rituals today even if their meanings are less well understood.
When asked about the motivation behind the theme of the latest exhibition at Tamarind Village, Claudine Triolo, the hotel’s Director of Sales and Marketing replies, “As a business, we have always been interested in matters of sustainability, particularly in regards to preserving our cultural heritage. We are very aware that the world today is changing at a pace we could not even have imagined a few years ago so we feel that while it is important to embrace these changes, that we should not completely disregard the past. We also thought it would be interesting to look at various people and businesses today that are working with the same ethos of sustainability and preservation that inspires us here at Tamarind Village. The more we looked into it, the more we found, which was very encouraging.”
In recent years a growing movement against rampant development and a ‘profit above all else’ mentality has resulted in grass roots organizations and advocates of the ‘slow life’ movement starting to make their voices heard. Concerned about the detrimental effects of consumerism on both the environment and the traditional culture of the north, a number of individuals with a broad range of interests have started businesses modeled on the self-sustainable principles of the past. From Rongrian Panyaden, a primary school in Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai that was founded on Buddhist teachings and constructed purely of eco-friendly earth and bamboo buildings to Studio Naenna, the textile atelier of Patricia Cheeseman, that specializes in natural dyeing techniques while empowering its weavers to earn an income from this ancient art form to Doy Din Daeng, the pottery studio of Somluk Pantiboon in Chiang Rai that uses only chemical- free, all-natural glazes, each of them is unique and inspiring in their own right.
Other noteworthy local initiatives include Hilltribe Organics, a small but growing social enterprise that produces free-range, organic eggs in the hills of Chiang Rai; Monkey Farm, an organic farm that grows over 60 varieties of garden herbs, salad greens, and vegetables on its 80 rai plot of land in Doi Saket district and Pun Pun, an earthen home project and seed bank started by slow life advocate Jon Jondai and located in rural Mae Taeng, outside Chiang Mai.
The same passion for sustainability underlies Monsoon Tea, a new startup company owned by Swede Kenneth Rimdahl who now makes his home in Chiang Mai and the ten year old, award-winning social enterprise MiVana Coffee. These two companies produce high quality, organic tea and coffee under forest cover, saving trees from being cut down and endangering the region’s biodiversity as is the normal practice in tea and coffee plantation cultivation. In terms of cultural sustainability, the Lanna Wisdom School, founded by Chatchawan Thongdeelert and now in its 20th year, has been successful in its efforts to preserve the wisdom and cultural heritage of the past, teaching a variety of topics from Lanna language to dance and music to children and adults alike.