Of drought, and cats, and rain gods

Of drought, and cats, and rain gods

Black Siamese cats are in high demand these days. No, not for dining tables in China, but for <i>hae nang maew</i>, a ritual to ask the deity for rain, as much of the country suffers under the worst drought in memory.

Besides the black cats (maew see sawat), four other items are required for the ritual - a bamboo or rattan basket with a cover, five pairs of candles, five paired flowers, and a wooden pole to carry the basket containing one or more cats.

In some areas it is preferred that the cats are female, and pregnant.

But why cats, which normally do not like water? Legend says the cats represent dryness, and during the hae nang maew ritual the cats in the basket are splashed with water whenever the procession stops in front of a house.

As a consequence, the cats are soaked -- and that means dryness has been driven away. That is the age-old belief in Thailand. People in other countries have their own rituals to ask their deities for rain. Not only cats, sometimes Shiva lingams are used in the ritual.

A villager collects muddy water from pools in a dried out watercourse in Suphan Buri. (Bangkok Post photo)

In Suphan Buri on Thursday, former Chart Thai MP Praphat Pothasuthon chaired a hae nang maew ceremony to pray for rain to save the rice crops withering in the parched fields. It was reported that after the ritual there was a drizzle of rain and the farmers who took part were in high spirits, believing that the rain deity had heard their plea.

Nobody seems to bother now whether it is science or superstition, so long as it gives some hope as the extended dry season shows no sign of ending and raw water reserves behind the major dams fall to the lowest levels in five decades.

Artificial rain-making has been stepped up, but has not be successful due to the low humidity in the air. The government has ordered the digging of more than 1,000 surface and artesian wells in the affected rural areas as an immediate measure to ease the water shortage, while hoping the delayed seasonal rains will finally come and fall where most needed, near reservoirs, over farmland, in watersheds but, hopefully, not Bangkok.

Drought and the water shortage pose a real challenge for the interim government. Finance Minister Sommai Phasi said Thailand’s GDP growth will contract by 0.5% to 3% if the drought is prolonged. The real consequences could become evident if there are no rains in the next 30 days or so.

The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority has warned that tap water in Bangkok and nearby provinces may  become a little salty due to the intrusion of sea water into the stretch of the Chao Phraya river that supplies the pumps.

But Bangkokians are still luckier than their rural compatriots, many of whom may have no water for home use at all, let alone slightly salty water. So we, the lucky ones, should be more careful in our use of this precious commodity. Use it more sparingly and don't be wasteful with it. Otherwise, who knows, we may well face water rationing.

If the drought is prolonged, then we will see an influx of people in the farm sector into Bangkok and other cities looking for odd jobs, to eke out a living. Another headache for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to add to the other misfortunes such as the civil aviation safety red flag issued by by the ICAO, although fortunately it is reported we have been spared a ban on flying to the European Union, which would have had a huge impact on our seafood exports.

The worst is yet to come if the Lord does not grant us the rains we desperately need now. I wonder, do the politicians still want to return to power and face the uphill task of bringing the country through this difficult time?

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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