Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Butterfly maidens

At about 8 pm on Thai TV (show-times can be irregular here) the royal family news comes on (all channels). The titled names of two of the king’s daughters, who are frequent subjects of the show, end in –mari, often drawn out a bit (lovingly, it seems to me), after the earlier (and lengthy) syllables are rushed rapidly through. As I’ve noticed several correspondences between Thai and English (my first was Chanburi, Suphanburi and Canterbury), fairly often quite marveling at them, I wondered if there could be any relation between this and Mariam (or something close to that, in Aramaic), the name given for the mother of Jesus (“an unmarried woman” – maybe Luke 1:27, mistranslated as ‘virgin’ in the King James Bible).
Formal Thai language derives largely from Sanskrit and Pali, Aryan languages of northwest India; it took me a while to finally find something in a Thai dictionary: kumari: female infant, girl, virgin, maiden. Ku is the syllable before –mari in the two names (I haven’t had a Thai try to explain the system to me, but have noted that the third, and eldest, daughter, who married a Western commoner, doesn’t get that ending attached to her name; and the crown prince and his consort get the male version of the term, kuman… in transliteration… the final letter being raw-ruah, an ‘r’ sound elsewhere but ‘n’ when the final syllable…).
Which may all sound quite esoteric – but to me is quite exciting, for the interconnectedness it suggests.
Elsewhere I have written of Southeast Asian history’s possible involvement with people from upper Asian mountains bordering the Steppe areas where horses were first domesticated. To my mind, around 12,000 years ago, and about 2500 years ago (generalizing, Im wildly generalizing, I know), epochal changes in human society took place. In the later one, monotheism and pinnacled power-structuring became momentous forces.
Perhaps, in the way think-tanks helped the neo-con Republicans refine their rhetoric so well that many have now so lost the plot that they gladly seek to impoverish themselves for the sake of the already mega-rich, language as magic helped establish “blue-blood” power and the “divine right of kings”. Suddenly, empire, and concentrated power over it, became possible.
Farfetched? Well, sometimes, at least, one is entitled to an opinion, a flight of fancy, and/or speculation about the nature of things. I remember Peter McDonald, Chairman of the Navajo Nation, who must have gotten 5% or more, of the tiny dollar income, averaging well under $1000/year, from most members of his tribe, to afford his private jet and fleet of limos… which were not begrudged him by most of his people, glad to have at least one from among themselves really “make it”.
Once, a friend thought he was having a heart-attack. I talked to him calmly but intensely, refocusing his attention, and settled him down. He, an Arizona cowboy, 100%, said I had talked him down (that was his phraseology, amazingly enough – this was after 2001, by perhaps a year or two, I’m not sure) and thus saved his life. I’m not at all sure I saved his life, but I do know that my words helped him, and significantly. Words, and names, can be very, very powerful.
And they can change things quickly too, much as the genetics of the powerful can alter a population’s genetics – even in not so very long a period of time. I’m descended from Charlemagne, as many of European descent are. He had sex with many, many women, and many of his progeny were able to, too. Not so long ago, Europeans recorded negroid features as common among Malays and in Cambodia. Photographic evidence attests to this, but now, hardly 10 generations later (if that, quite unlikely in the case of the photographic evidence), this is hardly the case.
Anyway, it all seems a bit like the old Chinese story of butterfly wing flaps leading to monsoon havoc: influence can sometimes seem disproportionate.
But we should also remember, influence always flows both ways.



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