Thailand has quite a few ethnic minorities. One of these groups are the Mons which have their own distinct culture, clothing and language. They originally came from Southern Burma where they were once rulers of their own kingdom. Due to persecution and wars, they have fled their homeland and can be found in neighbouring countries such as Thailand. It is estimated that 30 provinces around Thailand have Mon communities. Many of them seem to be in the Phra Phradaeng District of Samut Prakan, Pak Kret district in Nonthaburi and Samut Sakhon Province.
The Mon people have integrated into Thai society so much that you don’t really notice them much these days. However, this week, the Mons of Samut Prakan have a number of cultural activities. The first big one in Phra Pradaeng was on 13th April. This was the Swan and Centipede Parade Festival. I was over there this afternoon and it was really good to see so many Mons wearing their traditional clothes. A rare sight these days. The next big event for them is Songkran on 16-18 April which they always celebrate the first weekend after the rest of the country.
The parade through Phra Pradaeng yesterday reminds the Mon people of their homeland. According to legend, Buddha once went to Burma where he saw two swans swimming next to an island. He named this land Hongsawadee. Over the years the island expanded and eventually the Mon people settled there. The word “hongsa” means swan. The Buddha also predicted that Buddhism would prosper here.The Centipede Flag represents that Buddha’s teaching. The claws of the centipede show that the Mon people will never be afraid of their enemies.
The event this afternoon started at Wat Khan Lat in Phra Pradaeng. Mr. Surachai Kanasa, Governor of Samut Prakan, was there for the opening ceremony. In attendance were hundreds of Mon people representing a number of local temples. Each of them carried an image of the “swan” as well as the centipede flag which was hoisted up the flag pole at the end of the parade. I had never been to this parade before so I didn’t really know what to expect. It was certainly an experience.
The large parade set off from Wat Khan Lat shortly after 4 p.m. It first went along the waterfront before turning right at Phra Pradaeng District Offfice and then up as far as Wat Klang where it did a u-turn and then back to the start. I found out later that the length was nearly 4 kms (2.21 miles) which was quite tiring in the hot sun. However, my main concern at the time was getting drenched with water as it was the first day of Songkran. But, I needn’t have worried, as most Phra Pradaeng people don’t play waterfights until this weekend.
One thing I didn’t realize at the time was that the people representing each of the temples broke away from the parade on the return trip in order to go back to their respective temples. I was walking at the lead of the parade and only noticed this once we got back to Wat Khan Lat. What happened next, was that everyone then parade around the main chapel at the temple three times in a clockwise direction. Taking the lead was the image of the swan as well as the long centipede flag. This was then hoisted up the flagpole as the monks chanted and fireworks went off.
The next big Mon event is this Sunday with the parade and the releasing of fish and birds. This one will be VERY wet but really worth going to experience.