Rice storage granaries [ยุ้งข้าว] are symbolic of Thai rice farming. They are second only to the rice fields themselves. But they are more significant than they seem.
A rice granary is typically an elevated platform on 6 or 8 sturdy teak posts with a roof to keep the rice high and dry. Years ago rice was stored in the granaries in big baskets coated with lacquer to keep them from leaking. The storage containers evolved into square bins or rooms lined with sheet metal. Later on, rice was generally stored in the bins in sacks waiting to be milled shortly before being used.
The area under the rice granary was used as a pen for the family’s water buffalo. Not infrequently a boy slept under there, too, and kept a smoky fire going to drive mosquitoes away from the buffalo. During the day older people baby-sat and socialized in the shade. Sometimes an ox cart was parked there. More recently, motorized equipment has replaced animal power, but the rice granaries have remained. Some have been converted into salas [a ศาลา is an open-sided pavilion for people to gather], and others into bedrooms or guest rooms. Some are quite elegant. More than one resort has been constructed entirely of re-purposed rice granaries.
Within the last month it became necessary for Pramote’s family to tear down the old rice bin in order to add landfill to fix a drainage problem. What to do with the rice granary? Its wood was not much good except for the posts.
That’s when the patriarch spoke up. He would hear of nothing except to have the granary rebuilt. “This place cannot be my home without it!” he swore.
Clearly, the rice bin had more than utilitarian importance to him. What had he used it for?
It was where he sat during the day, where he made baskets for pocket money, where his wife had preferred to cook and do laundry, where he had sat next to her coffin, where a hammock was hung, where great-great grandson’s inflatable swimming pool was put, where garlic was strung up, where neighbors came to gossip, where watermelon and sunflower seeds were eaten, where home-made whiskey could be drunk with impunity, where his children has swung in cradles, where he hid his few private possessions in the rafters and crevices, where the motorcycles were parked, where the King’s picture on a calendar marking Buddhist holy days was nailed, where his old dog died, where kittens were sheltered, where he held court and smoked hand-rolled cheroots, where he launched himself forth into every important venture and where he perched when he got back.
So, of course, we rebuilt it for him.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.