Death in a Thai Buddhist Village
Almost every death hits a family hard, but an unexpected, sudden, violent death is even worse. Death after
suffering or very old age can be a welcome release both for the sufferer and the carerers.
Death in a Thai Buddhist Village
There is a difference between a death in a small village and a town or city -
a single death can have a huge affect on the community of a village, but few deaths affect everyone in a town.
I have never lived in a small village in the UK.
I live in a small, traditional village in Thailand and a death often affects 50% or more of the community.
Everyone here really does know and often work with everyone else. More than ninety percent of Thais are Buddhist,
so they believe in life after death and reincarnation.
You may think that death is not so important in Buddhist communities and perhaps it isn't as important as it is
in the West.
In the West, people feel sorry for the person who has died, but in the East people feel sorry for the people who
will suffer from the loss of the person who has gone on - like children for example. That is a very black and white
way of putting it, but I am sure you can see what I mean.
Death in our small village is quite common, because medical help is rather far away. People know that and accept
it as part of their fate. It is far better than it was just ten years ago, but moving house to improve the
situation is not an option for most families.
Recently a young married man of 35 or so with a young child and another on the way died. He had been spraying
his fields with insecticide all day and went home for his supper.
It wasn't quite ready, so he decided to have a cigarette in the garden. His wife came out to get him ten minutes
later and found him in convulsions. The autopsy concluded that he hadn't washed his hands before rolling and
smoking his cigarette..
The week before another man died in his fields doing the same job, but he was struck by lightening. People saw
it happen but could do nothing. The nearest medical help is 20-30 minutes away by car, longer by tractor.
Today my next door neighbour went shopping with a friend. They were on their way back - within 100 yards of home
- on a motorcycle when they were struck by a petrol tanker in a country lane. The motorcycle driver had half her
head taken off and was killed immediately, our neighbour, the pillion, died of similar injuries five hours
The problem for our neighbour was that she had to wait in the road for the police and ambulance to come before
she could be taken to hospital. She lost too much blood. in fact the ambulance arrived after a passer-by had
already taken her to hospital.
The whole of our small village is is shock and mourning. Every conversation is hushed. People are praying for
the two ladies, wishing them a speedy passage and a fine rebirth.
People wonder why the tanker had gone down that route - it was delivering locally but it had never gone that way
before. There were no fuel outlets on that road.
The funeral ceremony involved with a cremation lasts seven days in Thailand during which the body lies in state
in a refrigerated coffin at home and Buddhist monks from the local temple (called a Wat) come to the house every
evening to recite special religious scriptures.
If the family cannot afford the cremation, as in this case, the whole village community chips in to take over
the costs. According to the funeral rites of Thai religion, the final funeral ceremony takes place 100 days after
cremation, but this is usually a much happier affair.
by Owen Jones