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Buffaloes have always played an
integral part in Thai culture and Thai society. The
Thai alphabet's fourth letter is said "KHO KHWAI"
(ค). In Thai alphabet
each consonant is associated to a word (chicken, egg, buffalo,
monk and so on...).
Buffaloes have been used since centuries by peasants in order to plough their rice fields.
Since decade 1960s mechanical ploughs have replaced the buffaloes.
Since a few years buffaloes are regaining favour as farmers look to old ways.
ควาย or "KHWAI" is the carabao or water buffalo.
There is concern over sharp fall in their numbers. The buffalo population has
declined from an estimated six million head in 1987 to 1.8 million
in 1999. Experts predict the buffalo could be extinct from Thailand
sooner or later.
Thailand's buffalo population dropped 26% from
1998 to 2008.
Buffaloes are disappearing from some village.
"PITHEE SU KWAN KWAI" (พิธีสู่ขวัญควาย) was
a ceremony to show gratitude to the buffaloes. It was observed for
centuries, but now it's being neglected because of the advent of tractors.
The annual Buffalo Racing Festival is held
in Chonburi province.
Some farmers say that a machine is good as it is fast, can plough deep,
doesn't need to rest. Buffaloes need to be watched after during rice growing season
as they may wander in other farmers paddy fields. Some farmers say that buffaloes manure
is good for nature (no need for artificial fertilizer), buffaloes don't need repairing
and oil, yield is better with buffalo.
Some farmers complain buffaloes are too slow. Tractor machines
never get tired. Tractors are called "Iron Buffalo" (ควายเหล็ก).
About 400 000 buffaloes are slaughtered
for meat each year. Most are females, many of them pregnant. The males
are kept for their strength and castrated to increase their size and value
as draft animals, which reduces the breeding stock still further.
The Carabao is the most famous pop group of
Thailand. Their symbol is buffalo horns.
In year 2001 the most famous animal
in Thailand was a buffalo. This buffalo had very long horns and
was a major player in Thai movie "BANG RAJAN" (บางระจัน).
This movie relates the fight of a Thai village during the Burmanese
invasion in year 1767.
The music in movie "BANG RAJAN" (บางระจัน)
is played by the Thai pop group Carabao. A few months after the film was shot,
the buffalo died. A big ceremony was organized for his funerals.
The Carabao leader asked for its horns.
Some monks have campaigned to help poor people in the northeastern rural areas
where they have established "buffalo banks". When a borrowed buffalo gives birth,
half of the young buffalo belongs to the farmer and the other half belongs to the buffalo bank.
The worst insult in Thai language is to be called
"Buffalo" as this animal is seen as stupid and stubborn.
In year 2008 the "Kasorn Kasiwit" (Buffalo Farming Science)
School was launched by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is a strong
supporter of efforts to preserve conventional paddy farming techniques. The school is teaching
both buffaloes and farmers to work in harmony using traditional ploughing techniques.
The growing use of farming machines had driven many farmers
into debt due to rising fuel costs, which accounts for up to 50% of farming costs.
For many city residents, the buffalo is a symbol of stupidity. But for millions of people who
work the land for a living, the strong animals have long been treasured as a farmers' best friend.
Buffaloes provide a better sustainable source of farm labor than tractors since they don't
require costly fuel.
The bird "NOK IENG" (นกเอี้ยง)
is always the buffalo's best friend as he sits on his back.
King Rama IX had launched the Ox-Buffalo Bank project. This project was set up to lend buffaloes.
When buffaloes breed, the farmer has to give back the babies to the bank in order to increase
the buffalo numbers.
The buffalo bank lends out animals to farmers who might not
otherwise use them.
To save the beast from extinction, Mr Boontha Chailert has opened a water
buffalo refuge in Ban Muang Pha village, 360 miles north of Bangkok.
Nowadays farmers are showing renewed interest in using water buffaloes to
plough their fields. Farmers return to traditional, cheaper, methods of farming.
Tractors are said to be too expensive to take care of.
A buffalo school has been opened in Bua Yai and animals can
learn various plowing tactics.
It usually takes four to six weeks for a full training including
threading a rope through the buffalo's nose to guide the animal,
plowing training, ability to make turns.