‘Echoes of Wisdom: Living Past, Living Future,’ an all-new exhibition at Tamarind Village Chiang Mai, Thailand 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 11 December 2016, 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.
‘Echoes of Wisdom’ 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.
Visitors to the exhibition will gain an insight into 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.