Often he finds it expedient when arbitrating disputes -perhaps concerning ownership of stray animals or uncertain land boundaries - to consult an informal council of village elders who, in turn, often seek guidance from the village abbot, senior monks and the schoolteacher.
Abbots and senior monks frequently enjoy more prestige and moral persuasion than the headman. In times of personal crisis, theirs is often the first advice sought. Within the wat abbots have absolute administrative, clerical, custodial, disciplinary and spiritual responsibilities. Deeply respected, they determine the temple’s relationship with the village. If abbots are scholarly, meditative and retiring, the temple is unlikely to concern itself much with mundane village affairs. Conversely, if abbots are dynamic personalities, they frequently make the wat a community centre with a subtle but powerful influence on social action.
The village schoolteacher can enjoy almost equal prestige, particularly if he or she was born and still lives in the village. His stature and authority derive from his association with the central government, his obviously high level of education and what is commonly perceived as his far greater experience of the outside world.
Administratively, neighbouring villages are organized into communes known as tambon which, depending on topography and population density, consist of 2 to 28 villages. The headmen within each tambon elect one of themselves to be the kamnan or commune headman. Thailand has nearly 5,000 tambon and, therefore, close to 5,000 kamnan.
The kamnan is chairman of a commune committee which often includes a government school headmaster, an agricultural extension worker, and/or a Health Department doctor or paramedic in charge of a local clinic. It also contains at least two men selected by the nai amphoe (the district official who is the kamnan’s immediate superior) or appointed by the provincial governor.
This committee is responsible for re-commending which villages should receive new roads, irrigation budgets and health services, while the kamnan’s main individual responsibilities are to see that justice prevails within the commune, to maintain records and statistics, to help preserve peace, to assist in collecting taxes and to act as the intermediary between the district officer and all village headmen in his tambon.
Although the kamnan and pu-yai-ban are only semi- or quasi-official, both are entitled to wear official uniforms and receive a small stipend in recognition of their vital status as the government’s main link with Thailand's scattered village population.
Thailand’s traditional social values can be seen in purest form at the village level. Although many town and city values correspond closely, it is at the village level that the extended family format of Thai social organization is tempered by religious in-fluences and prevailing social concerns to generate the values and attitudes shared nationwide.
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Article Added on Sunday, December 20, 2009
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