[This is a translation, by Violet Cho, of “Thai spirit houses are not wanted” which appeared in The Voice on 25 March 2013. The Voice is a weekly news journal based in Yangon established by Nay Win Maung. Nay Win Maung was a leader of the ‘third force’ movement which sought engagement with the former military regime, as an alternative to the oppositional politics of the democracy movement.]
Villagers at Nabule area, where local people believe they possess sacred footprints of the Buddha, have spoken out against the instalment of Thai cultural spirit houses in the areas by Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD).
Nabule and it surroundings are included in the area of the planned development project between the Thai and Myanmar government.
People’s criticism against ITD came out after the company installed spirit houses in the area without consultation with local people. A number of spirit houses have been placed in front of the ITD office, on different project sites and also on the mountain of Mayingyi Paya, where many ancient pagodas associated with Buddhism were built.
Local people destroyed one spirit house, which was placed on the mountain.
‘We can accept it if the project does not destroy our environment but if it is threatening our people, culture and religion then we will surely have to be against it’ said U Hla Shain, an elder at Ba Wah village.
U Hla Win, the vice chairperson of NLD for Dawei district simply sees the tension as caused by the practice of nat (spirit) worshipping on the mountain, which is associated with Buddhism and that this kind of problem should be handled through negotiation, he explained.
The majority of people in Nabule are Buddhist and celebrate nat festivals but they do not keep nat statues to worship at their home.
‘We do believe and worship the village’s nat but now seeing Thai spirit houses in the area, it is like a guest is taking forced residence in our house. We do not want spirit houses in a religious Buddhist area like this. There is a possibility for cultural mixing and I am concerned about our culture being threatened by another culture’, said U Aung Ba, member of the Nabule Spiritual Group.
Nabule famous for it’s ancient religious sites has more than 2000 households and around 10,000 Buddhists. Local people are [majority] Tavoyan and Tavoyan is the main language spoken in the area.
In Thailand, it is common to see spirit houses at people’s residences, corporate buildings and mega shopping malls in the city. It is believed that worshiping and making offerings to spirits can bring luck to one’s occupation and business.