Childhood is a cossetted, carefree time. By the age of four, children regularly meet to play beyond the family compound. Boys and girls generally segregate and roam freely throughout the village. Boys play make-believe games, fly kites, plough imaginary fields and hunt insects and harmless reptiles. Girls nurse makeshift dolls, ‘sell’ mud pies in make-believe markets, play games emulating their mothers and look after younger brothers and sisters.
Gradually the children are drawn into work patterns. Around eight years of age, girls give increasing help with household duties and boys assume greater responsibilities such as feeding poultry and livestock and guarding the family buffalo as it grazes or wallows.
Children attend the government village school to be taught from a standard nation-wide curriculum. They acquire varying degrees of literacy, and study Buddhist ethics and Thai history. All receive comprehensive education and upon coming into contact with neighbouring villages’ children and visiting the provincial capital, enjoy a broadening of social experience.
Assuming ever-increasing work loads and responsibilities, youths of 15 and 16 are already regarded as fully mature adult labourers. Between graduation from school at 15 and marriage around the age of 20, some village males serve in the village temple as novice monks. Such service assures them future deference and respect, their voices carrying extra weight in village affairs.
The village girl’s entrance Into adolescence is a gentle one. Courtship is confined initially to contact with communal work groups during planting and harvesting and temple-centred festivals and activities. There may be extensive banter between boys and girls but, individually, young people tend to be shy and ‘whirlwind court-ships’ are exceedingly rare. Emotional relationships mature slowly and customarily involve chaperoned meetings at the girl’s home.
Most young people select their own marriage partners. Rarely is parental disapproval voiced since marriages often take place between families within the same village, further strengthening and widening communal ties. A marriage is sometimes presented as a fait accompli by children who work in towns and are thus beyond parental control.
Early in the morning, in accordance with a traditional Thai belief that married life should begin with merit-making, the bride and groom feed village monks and present them with small gifts. In return, the monks bless the couple and the house where they will live.
The village marriage ceremony bestows no official validity on their union. It is merely a public proclamation that the two people will live together as man and wife. The young couple’s wrists are ceremoniously bound together in the presence of village elders and they are led to the marriage chamber as guests feast, drink, sing and dance. Later, their marriage is officially registered at the district office.
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Article Added on Thursday, January 7, 2010
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