ACADEMIC YEAR 2010




               The research on Local Wisdom of Domestic Elephants in Phanom Dongrek– Xepian Cultural Ecology had the purposes : 1) to study local wisdom of domestic elephants in Phanom Dongrek of Thai and Xepian of Lao PDR, 2) to analyze factors relating to local wisdom of domestic elephants in Phanom Dongrek of Thailand and 3) to suggest on the policy in conservation of local wisdom of domestic elephants in Phanom Dongrek, Thailand, conducting through the integrated qualitative and the quantitative method, based on the ethnographic research technique, the focus group, as well as the exploratory factor analysis and the stepwise regression analysis The research results on local wisdom of domestic elephants in Phanom Dongrek Xepian cultural ecology included 1) The elephant round-up wisdom, it was done through the elephant “Phone” method. The elephant round-up track lined along Phanom Dongrek, Attapue, and Ratanakhiri ranges. In preparation for the elephant round- up the elephant experts and helpers would go with their great teachers (Ti Yai) respected by them, set the time and date, prepare devices and food stuffs, pay respect to the home spirits at home to say good-bye (Pa Kam) and the gathering place outside, perform the food- offering rite, and perform the ordain ( Pa- Chi) of the elephant expert to increase the rank of the elephant expert. The families of those going out for the elephant round- up had to strictly observed these acts. The movement of elephant caravan procession to the round- up location (Gang Rom) lasted for 10-20 days. They stopped there to open up the jungle and survey the wild elephant inhabitants. When finding the wild elephant herd, they would plan for the round- up. After the round- up was successful, they would perform the rite for tamely the wild elephant (Pa Sa). When the food stuffs were used up, or the round- up could be done according to time set, they would do the rites to say good-bye (Pa Kam) to the jungle. When arriving at home, they would give offerings to the home spirits, and divide up the elephants among themselves. The language used for going out to do the elephant round- up was of the “Pa Kam” spirits. They believed that the “Pa Kam” spirit house was the sacred object in which the forefather spirits and jungle gods resided. The role of the elephant experts in the past up to the present had become the persons with wisdom in the communities. 2) The wisdom in training and raising the domestic elephants, the wild elephants getting catch were tamed to become the domestic ones blessing rites were performed for them. The elephants, their legs were tied up with rope in order to be under control and get trained by touching and giving the order combined with controlling devices. To raise the elephants, they were naturally released and chained, to let them naturally feed themselves and provide feeds for them, find places for them to leave on their own in nature. Raising the domestic elephants was the duty of all family members to help in raising and taking care of them as members in the families. The new-generation mahouts learned how to train and raised the domestic elephants from the elephant expert families, those with wisdom, technicians, and self- learning, and 3) Ecology of domestic elephant locations, The communities raising the elephants had adapted how to raise them from the past by mainly using the elephants for tourism purposes and participation in various ritual activities, as well as earning living. The ecology of domestic elephant inhabitants diminished their abundance. The ecological conditions for the elephants were destroyed, and the natural forests were trespassed. In order to have the elephants mutually live in ecology with human-beings there were many means to enhance conservation of forest areas, wetland areas, water swamps, building up resources of elephant feeds, provision of water resources, and taking care of elephant health. In addition, there were practices on conservation of domestic elephant wisdom by the owners, the elephant experts, mahouts, community leaders, wisdom leaders, academics, as well as support and assistance from both government and private sectors.

               In addition, from the quantitative study on cultural ecology of Phanom Dongrek, Thailand, it was also found that there were five factors related to the domestic elephant wisdom, namely elephant raising methods, wild elephant round- up, domestic elephant ecology, elephant raising promotion, and building new elephant inhabitants, the results of this study led to four policy suggestions on domestic elephant wisdom conservation, namely promotion and support of providing knowledge in raising the domestic elephants, promotion of building new elephant inhabitants, promotion on taking care of domestic elephant ecology, and promotion of elephant raising through support and participation of communities and various organizations. These policy measures would be useful for promotion and conservation of domestic elephants in Phanom Dongrek cultural ecology, Thailand, as well as being useful for further planning on promotion of domestic elephant conservation in other cultural ecological settings

            Research Outcome


               The Mekong Basin sub-region located in the area of hot and humid climate rich with multiple types of natural resources with one third of the area covered with forest and untapped resource used to serve as a place of origin of the ancient civilization of the world. Evidences have been found that a number of ethnic groups with their own ways of thinking and faiths inhabited the area before. The groups that used the Mon-Khmer language, first group of inhabitants of the area, settled along the vast area stretching from the People Republic of Laos, Thailand especially along the Panom Dongrek Mountain Range on the border through the whole Kingdom of Kampuchea. These groups of early inhabitants were believed to start the Mon-Khmer civilization in this region. The Mon-Khmer civilization with Angkor Thom as the last capital city of the Khmer empire was first established in 17th century by king Jayavarman VII. Among numerous constructions within the empire capital situated the world heritage Bayon castle built for religious purpose around 1724-1763 within which we can find the narrated pictures of events telling about the ways of live of the people engraved on the stone walls of the castle. The use of elephants for fighting and logistics purposes, combat soldiers on foot, people carrying food and supplies, and also the hunters’ ways of living were illustrated. Being the largest of all mammals on land and with its high level of intelligence and ability to learn, the elephant in Central and Southeast Asia (Elephas maximas) played important roles in the ways of living and ritual rite practices of the people in the ancient time in the Mekong basin sub-region which have long been clearly witnessed and accepted as one of the priceless heritage of the civilization of the region. The most important roles and characteristics of elephants in the area can be described as 1) they are the largest domestic animals that can be trained to do various jobs. They are intelligent, strong and endure and possess good memory. 2) They served important military functions that brough about the power and influence to the ruling emperor and the empire. They signified the strength and boldness of the rulers. In Thailand during the time starting from Sukothai through Ayudhaya, Thinburi until the beginning of Ratanakisin periods, rounding up of wild elephants and training them for military purposes were commonly practiced. The elephants took parts in the fighting and warring combats were afterward also rewarded with higher status and rankings. 3) They had influential functions in the popular belief, religion, arts and culture, literature, socioeconomics and communication and logistics of the people in the society. 4) In the past, elephants were used as marks and credentials of highly important rank and file of the country such as in flags, medals, notes, and as a part of the official emblem of important organizations and even the campaign signs to attract travelers. Elephants were also recorded to have important roles in promotion of foreign relations. But nowadays, the roles of Asian elephants have been drastically changed in many ways. They are being used in the machine manners, some are kept as pet animal in custody in homes of the millionaires and some are exploited to perform shows to attract tourists or to serve as transportation means for tourism. Some are even used to accompany mahouts to roam the road side in big cities asking donation of money to buy food for elephants.

               With the important roles of elephants in the ancient history described above and the fact that elephants appeared as the national symbols of both countries -Thailand and Laos, it is notable that the Keystone and umbrella species of Asian elephants played vital parts in the ecological system of the area in the past. The researcher thus intended to study into the folk intellectual practices in ecological culture aiming to gather new knowledge to enhance the exchange and management of knowledge and also to provide a source of information to support the national education development endeavors to attain the goal stated in the section 4 article 23(3) of the National Education Act of B.E. 2542 that focuses on the knowledge of religion, Arts, Culture, sports and Thai folk culture to enhance further development, adjustment and use.

            Results of the study

            Wild elephants round up

               The ecological culture of Panom Dongrek area of the past history covered the mountain ranges and surrounding stretches of forest area used to be the area where a large number of the Asian Elephant of Indian species lived. The main reason is because the area had a perfect bio-ecological balance and richness of resources with plenty rivers, water streams and sources of food for both human and animals. It served as one of the places of origin of old civilization of the world. The evidence showing the presence of human beings living in these areas before the time of history have been found. The evidence of use of metal tools of the last Metal period were found among people in a large number of ancient communities in the area. Among the inherited culture from kmare civilization since 12th B.E. was the wild elephant round up including the ways and means for taming and training them to serve in numerous activities such as carrying logs and stones to build palaces and castles; fighting to expand territory and even travelling and communication between remote towns at the time when the influence of Kmare empire was declining.  

                The folk history of the Northeast recorded in the last years of Ayudhya period indicated that the group of ethnic people called ‘Suay’ or ‘Gui’ from Attapue Saen Pae of Jampasak–the then part of Thai territory- migrated from the east side of Mekong river and started a number of communities in the area stretching from Baan Koke Lamduan in amphoe Khukan of Sisket Province to Bann Muang Leung in amphoe Chom Pra, Baan Ajjapanuing in amphoe Sankha until Baan kudthai in amphoe Sikoraphum of Surin province. These people brought with them the knowledge and skill for wild elephant round up and training that gave birth to the Panom Dongrek ecological culture. The culture of which became the local folk culture of the Gui ethnic group ever since. The fact of the Gui and Kmare being the ethnic groups that first settled in Panom Dongrek moumtain range area was supported by the study of a French academician in B.E. 2440 during the reign of King Rama V stating that the language used by these groups of people in the stated area was the language of Mon-kmare family.

The Local Wisdom in Wild Elephant Round up Practice

               Many different tactics were used in catching and training of wild elephant in the ancient time. “Pone chang” was one of the wildly practiced ways to catch wild elephants and train and raise them as domestic elephants in the community. This way, the Mor Chang (mahout or elephant controller) will have to ride on the shoulder of a well-trained elephant to get close enough to the wild elephant attempting to catch. He then will use the rope prepared into Pakam rope (lasso) fastened to a long pole called Maikanjam to get hold of one of foot of the wild elephant. It is indeed a very dangerous way to catch a wild elephant, but it is the folk wisdom inherited from the past. At present (B.E. 2554) some of the Mor Changs are still living but most of them are too old and have ceased to performed the task for about 50 years now. The living Mor Chang, Pakam shrine, Pakam ropes and skill and knowhow in elephant training and raising which people in the communities inherited from the ancestors can be the important evidences showing that the communities have once performed wild elephant round up or catching and training.  

               The forest areas where people in the ancient time carried out wild elephants round up or catching covered the Panom Dongrek mountain range area in Thai territory stretching downward into the kingdom of Kampuchea and also included a part of forest in Champasak of Laos. The trails of wild elephant catching way of life of people from the ancient time through present were found to be in wild life reserve area of Huay Tabtan-Huay Samran covering 313,750 rais in the districts of Karbcherng, Sangka and Buachet of Surin Province. The areas include flat land and mountains. Some areas are about 200-476 meters high above the sea level which provide source of water for rivers and streams making the area rich of natural resources and healthy forest. The important brooks and creaks threading the forest area making it a perfect sanctuary for wild animals are numerous. The HuaySing, HuayPradaeg, HuayKanadMon, HuayCharas, HuayMhonBaeg, HuaySamran, HuaySiadJaerng and HuayJamrerng are the brooks and creeks in the mountainous area covered with Mixed Deciduous and Virgin forests.

               At the time of the year when the rice farming season ended, the Morchangs and mahouts in the community will report to the most senior Morchang (Big Guru) held high respect by their groups of their will and intention to take parts in the wild elephants catching events of the season to come. The Big Guru will decide on the ranking of each of the Morchangs applied to participate and make the announcement one day before the starting day of the events. The ranking of Morchangs will be based mainly on their personal experience and ability in catching and handling the wild elephants (KhuubTewada) in the past and not their ages. In the wild elephant round up events, each of the Morchangs are free to choose the Big Guru with which they will join. They are not expected to join only the troop under the same Big Guru they have joined before.  

               With the ranking being declared; the young, brave and adventurous mahouts or Morchangs will be assigned by the Big Guru of their groups to responsible for the specific posts in the troop such as Mor Jaa, Mor Sadiang or Mor Sadam depending on the past year experience of each. Such assignment by the Big Guru is known as “YaahKoak” in Pakam spirit language meaning distribution of trees. It connotes that those Morchangs receiving “YaahKoak” from one of the Big Guru in the caravan are allowed to recruit their own followers or subordinates and set up own subgroups in the same manner with the branching of trees. The practice is thought to help systematized the caravan setting up for the elephant round up purpose. The members recruited are normally from old members, friends, and relatives.  

               In a caravan, there will be one Big Guru commanding as the highest leader. Direct under him is Morchang no.1 which is called “Mor sadam” (right wing) and Morchang no.2 which is called “Mor Sadiang” (Left wing). Mor Sadam has his own group members comprise of Mor Jaa and Mahouts the number of which depends on the number of elephants intended to catch in each season. Most of Mor Jar and mahouts recruited to join Mor Sadam group were usually those from nearby communities who loved and respected each other and used to work in cooperation with him before. The mahouts would have the necessary tools and equipment and provision readily prepared a day in advance. The rules and practices required to be observed and followed in elephant round up events starting from specifying the tools and equipment to be prepared, making propitiation to Pakam spirit and other ceremonious rites such as “Pachi Morchang” (instalment of Morchang), “Berg Prai” (Open up the forest), “pasa” (exorcise evil spirit) and “Yong” (punishment). The ceremony also performed was the “la pah” (forest leaving) when the caravan started to pull back from the forest.  

               In preparation of tools, equipment and provision for elephant round up, the Morchang and the mahout together will stack “plueak Kradone” on the back of each elephant with a piece of cowhide supporting underneath. The “Thone” is then installed on top of it and fastened firmly to the elephant back with “Sai Pakone” rope. The cooking utensils (pots and pans, forks and spoons, ladles, etc.), rice grains and dried food and also the finely chopped preserved fish, ground dried chilly and salt in the containers made from dried bamboo stem segments and the betel nuts and leaves and dried Mahaad wood will be arranged and put into three cowhide bags to load on the back of the elephant. All the tools to be used for catching and holding of wild elephants-Pakam rope, Mai KanJam, Tarm, Sai yong, Salok, Kratasong, Bungprik, Aatungka and Ponthung (as shown in pic.2) -wre also carried on the back of the elephant. The family members of the men also took part in preparing enough amount of tobacco for them to use during the trip.

         Before the starting off of the elephant round up, an important ritual rite call “Pasa” would be performed. This rite was believed to help purify the Morchamgs who took part in the highly dangerous activities in the forest. It also help all members involved in the operation realize the importance of the rules, regulations and prohibitions and to observe them strictly. It was believed that breaking of the rules, regulations and prohibitions would bring about evils and cause failure to the team. It would cause the elephant to migrate to other forest areas deeper into the jungle. Pasa rite or the rite for confession of sinful acts would be performed in the presence of all members joining that trip. The ritual would begin by the Big Guru calling for assemble of all Morchangs and asked each of them openly whether they had committed any sinful acts. Those who confessed to have committed would have to provide a cup of rice grain, five flowers, one pair of candles and money the amount of which corresponding to the wrong doing committed. (12 baths for stealing, 40 baths for robbing, 60 baths for taking life and also 60 baths for wrongly engagement of the wife of other people.) Sometimes, the head part of the pork was also required for the ritual performance. With all those prepared, the Big Guru would ask the Morchangs who committed the sinful acts to make confession of the sin to the spirits, angels and all holy existences in the area and asked them to help ridding off the sin. The Morchangs would then ask for apology from the mother of the land in repetition for three times following by the Big Guru praying, also in three repetitions, for the sun to shed away the impurity from the Morchangs. Then the candles and joss sticks would be put off to mark the end of the Pasa ritual performance.The caravan often choose to start the trip at 6 through 8 hours in the morning of Thursday or Friday. The horns (Sanangael) would be sounded by the Big Guru at the exact time set for the departure of the caravan to give the signal for the caravan to start moving. The sound of the horn which would be heard within 4-5 kilometers distance also acknowledged the participating families in the communities of the dangerous and months’ long journey in which their family members were taking parts. It was the journey that no one could be sure of the result but the fact that it was the adventurous journey the families behind had to wait with patience, live strictly to the rules and pray for their success.

               The followings are the practices to be strictly observed and practiced by the family of Morchang during the time they go out to round up wild elephants. 1) One must live a strictly pure and clean life in all circumstances. 2) Using of fashionable dress is prohibited. 3) No shirt is allowed. 4) No affairs with woman. 5) No body contact with female. 6) Going back home is not allowed after the Pakam rite prior to the presence of the wife at the site. 7) The use of white cloth or pakama (bathing cloth) as head gear is prohibited. 8) It is required to respect the Big Guru and to speak the Pakam spirit language. 9) No lie and no secret among the group members. 10) Going to bed after the Big Guru is required and praying to show respect to Nan Pakam is a must. 12) Not to walk over the obstructing tree trunks. 13) Not to whistle or blow leaves to create musical tones. 14) Not to eat python, tigers of all kinds, red ants, bee hives and eggs. No over-eating is allowed. 15) In the case of incidental dead of the young off spring clinging to the elephant attempted to catch, touching and eating of the dead elephant is prohibited.

               By the analysis of the map and interviewing of people, it is found that the routing of wild elephant round up practice traces over Surin province in the districts of Panom Dong Rak, Karb Cherng and Bua Ched and Sisaket province in the districts of Khukhan, Khunharn, Pusing and Kantaralak. At present a large number of wild elephants are still found roaming freely among the national parks and wildlife reserve areas established in the provinces. They are Huay Sala-Huay Samran reserve in Surin, Panom Dong Rak reserve and Pra Viharn National park in Sisaket; Yoddome reserve, PhuJong-Nayoy in Boontrik and Najaluay districts of Ubol province. These areas are mountainous and located along the Thai-Kampuchea border with watersheds that shed water to feed the river Moon in Thailand and the world’s largest fresh water lake known as Tone Laesaab in Kampuchea. It makes a perfect home for elephants that keeps the young Guis clinging to the wild elephant round up practice from young till old aged.


               The local wisdom of domestic elephants in Phanom Dongrek cultural ecology includes the intellectual practices in rounding up of wild elephants known as “Pone Chang”. Rules and regulations including prohibitions were established for both the family and those in the caravan to follow when the rounding up activity is undergoing. The performance of Pasa rite and ridding off evils from participating members, not to use the languages other than the Pakam spirit language, worshipping of the Pakam shrine believed to be the place where ancestors and God of forests are staying are among the important practices required. As the wild elephant round up practice ceased to function in B.E. 2504 ; from then on, Morchangs have become important local wisdom to disseminate and transfer the knowledge, skills and the way of practices of the people of the elephant raising community found to be the ecological culture of the Phanom Dong Rek inherited long time ago to the next generation to come.




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