Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

Traditional Isan Literature and Its Influence on Everyday Society

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

Traditional Isan Literature and Its Influence on Everyday Society

Article excerpt


This investigation aims to analyze the traditional literature of North-eastern Thailand and discover how it influences everyday society. Drawn from a qualitative combination of documentary analysis, observation and interview, the research results show that the body of folk literature in this part of the world provides instruction for appropriate social behaviour. Based on firm Buddhist principles, the literature gives advice in four areas: society and administration, religion, family and education. This advice is incorporated into everyday society in the form of oral communication, the written word and entertainment in order to teach the next generations of society.

Keywords: traditional literature, influence, morals, customs, instruction

1. Introduction

The values and culture of North-eastern Thailand are a result of the application of instruction from traditional literature. Thai society is based on the principles of Buddhism but these valuable teachings were once inaccessible to the laity because of language and education barriers. It was the oral tradition of the community that enabled the common people to hear, discuss, adopt and transmit this wisdom (Rueangsuwan, 2006). Over time, local North-eastern Thai folklore has been combined with the influence of Khmer and Indian cultures to create distinctive, imaginative stories to entertain and educate the people. The stories take the form of the Buddhist Jataka and, on occasion, have been recorded to create a body of literature unique to the area (Bunnotok, 1982). This literature is the social mirror that both reflects the culture of the community and influences its development.

Culture is essentially the practices and thoughts performed by individuals in everyday community life (Apel & Camozzi, 1996). This includes traditional knowledge, folklore, beliefs, art, customs and behaviour (Samutwanit, 1997; Suananon, 1977). Literature in North-eastern Thailand reveals these aspects of society and exposes the true principles of its people (Pinitpuwadon & Kanjanawan, 1977).The content of the literature is then used, consciously or otherwise, to mould future generations. This is why North-eastern Thai stories are of interest to folklorists and social scientists. In order to understand the impact of traditional literature on society, this article explores the body of folklore in North-eastern Thailand and its impact. The paper first summarizes the content of folklore in the North-eastern region of Thailand, familiarly known as the Isan region, before discussing the forms of its influence on everyday life. The overriding sentiment is that traditional folklore has influenced society immeasurably in this part of the world.

2. Literature Review

Montri Dramote (1985) argued that the value of folk literature to the community is the same as national literature to the nation. Dramote concluded that folk literature is central to explaining the history and development of communities and ethnicities.However, it is important to realize the influence that the author or recorder has had on the delivery of the story (Wongkun, 1997). William Irmscher (1975) identified seven areas of influence that literature has on humanity.Firstly, Irmscher argued that literary characters enable people to see the different concepts of people and human reaction to them. Secondly, the creation of behaviour and events in literature teach people how to control circumstance with their actions. Thirdly, the creation of settings in literature enables people to see detail in their own lives. Fourthly, the structures and format of literature encourage deep feeling. Fifthly, from the language, symbols and imagery used in the literature, people may compare beauty and ugliness. Sixthly, the tone of the literature provides entertainment. Finally, literature provides people with examples of how to behave in different situations so that they may know the causes and solutions to problems. …

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