The structural principle represented on a microcosmic scale by the home and the village can be seen extended to full complexity in the organization of the nation at large. Once more the factor of superior age, status or achievement prevails over all else as a criterion for respect. This respect for His Majesty the King is evident in the photographs of him hung in schools and offices or in a motion picture theatre when, to the accompaniment of the Royal Anthem, the King’s picture is projected on the screen. Respect is shown to teachers by their students, managers by their employees, the Prime Minister by the bureaucracy and the King by everyone.
At its highest pitch, this powerful sense of loyalty and love felt to the family by its members crystallises at the political level as a fierce sense of nationalism and cultural identity. Thais regard each other quite literally as kin, and a political speaker will often begin his oration by addressing his listeners as “pi nong Thai ti rak” – “My beloved Thai sisters and brothers”. The concept of rak chaat, “love of country”, is strongly felt by all of Thailand’s people including its critics and dissenters.
At the head of the Thai national family is the King. One of the traditional names for the monarch, in fact, is “Paw Muang”, or “Father of the Nation”. There is probably no Western equivalent for the respect Thai people feel for their King. Many villagers who have received gifts from the hands of the King regard this as the singular event of their lives.
It is mutual cooperation for the good of all which characterizes a stable household. Operating on a national scale, the family concept has produced the social cohesiveness, solidarity and responsiveness to others’ needs which historically have accounted for the That ability to hold firm at the centre when the basic foundations were being battered, to survive and prosper when the odds against doing so seemed insurmountable. Modernization has had little effect in loosening these fundamental bonds of common purpose.
Thai village life as we know it today is the end product of millenia of tradition. A close look at life in one of the country’s thousands of rural hamlets will reveal much about why the Thai people think and act as they do. Although regional variations exist in house styles and crop cultivation, the village lifestyle remains basically in harmony with nature and revolves around well-defined climatic, religious and farming seasons.
Outwardly, the average Thai village is a simple collection of wooden houses on stilts and a Buddhist temple or wat. The setting may vary – a dusty track, a palm-fringed canal bank or a cool grove surrounded by a sea of fresh green rice fields – but in essence Thai villages are consistently similar. Each is a self-contained, delicately-balanced social unit which, after many centuries of evolution and refinement, still survives in its basic form.