Fire Hair Shaving and Khwan Ceremony, Thailand [Still Image]
The text and photographs above describe a traditional Thai birth ritual that celebrates the child's reaching the milestone of one month old, at which time its survival seems more assured than at birth, and it becomes a full-fledged member of the family. Before the infant is one month old, according to tradition, it may have belonged merely to spirits. At this time, a Buddhist monk cuts the infant's hair. "Fire hair" refers to the hair with which the child was born and that grows until the end of its mother's postpartum period of lying in, or lying near the fire as Phya Anuman described the custom. The photograph shows the monk cutting or shaving the hair. The hair is placed on a small raft made of banana leaf and set afloat. The second part of the ceremony involves tying unspun cotton threads around the child's wrists and ankles.
This ceremony of the "khwan," the soul or life spirit, is a prominent object of ritual, and the text describing the custom is from Phya Anuman Rajadhon's (1888-1969) Customs Connected with Birth and the Rearing of Children (1948). The author is a prolific and well regarded literary figure and university professor. Although he did not receive formal academic training in anthropology, his writings have constituted a major source for anthropologists and others on customs from Siam, the traditional name for Thailand. The photographs are from the baby photo album on a website by Thailand's most prominent teenage blogger, Panrit "Gor" Daoruang, who began an online diary at the age of twelve, and chronicled his own life and aspects of Thai culture and contemporary life, and teaching both English and Thai language through stories, quizzes and audio files. The site attracted the attention of the Office of the National Culture Commission for its value in promoting Thailand's image to a worldwide audience.
Photographs: Panrit "Gor" Daoruang at Thailand Life, http://www.thailandlife.com/my-thai-childhood/index.php (accessed November 1, 2009). Text: Phya Anuman Rajadhon, Customs Connected with Birth and the Rearing of Children in Anuman Rajadhon, Life and Ritual in Old Siam; Three Studies of Thai Life and Customs, trans. William J. Gedney (New Haven: HRAF Press, 1961), 171–5. Annotated by Susan Douglass.
Primary Source Text
"When a child reaches the age of one month and one day (probably people wish to make sure that it is a full month, and so they add another day), it is past danger from illnesses which are understood to be inflicted by spirits. They arrange a big fire-hair-shaving and khwan ceremony. Sometimes they also name the child at this time; this is a matter of receiving the new born child into the register of membership in the family.
In shaving the fire-hair they must make an offering for the spirit of the place according to custom. When they shave the hair they leave a clump at the top of the head, saying that it protects the top of the head which is still thin. The hair that is shaved off is placed in a banana-leaf container with a Caladium or lotus leaf laid in the bottom; sometimes flowers are mixed in. . . . Then it is taken and floated on the water at low water. . . The person who takes it and floats it must say,'‘We ask for a life of coolness and happiness like the sacred Ganges,' or something else of this sort. . . . Our floating the hair on the water is probably derived from. . . Indian custom. . . Then the relatives preform [sic] a ceremony of tying the khwan cotton thread around the child's wrists and ankles, and give a blessing according to custom; or if things are done well there are also gifts for the child. What has been described is the ceremony which ordinary people may perform. In the case of wealthy or prominent people the ceremony may be as large as their resources, ability and birth permit. That is, they must have an astrologer name the auspicious day for the khwan ceremony; there must be Brahman and astrologer's ceremonial things (the astrologer goes and speaks in a low tone beside the eye level shrine on which offerings are laid, there are various offerings; there must be a baaj sii [offering]; there is a person to perform the khwan ceremony, called the child's purchasing mother [midwife]; there is encircling with candles; and there are monks to give Buddhist chants in this ceremony. Sometimes the pot containing the afterbirth which has been saved is also entered in this ceremony, together with the silver and gold coconuts for planting when the afterbirth is buried. What has been described briefly is not always performed exactly like this. There are sometimes additions or deletions. It is rather a matter which depends on one's teacher.
. . . When the khwan and shaving-the-fire-hair ceremony is finished, they perform a ceremony of placing the child in the cradle. They are to procure a white gourd…a medicine-pounding mortar and pestle, and a tom-cat. They must tidy up the cat first. Besides these things there are small cloth bags, one filled with paddy, one with pulse, one with sesame, and one with cottonseed. . . These things are laid in the cradle. If the child to enter the cradle is a boy, there are to be a notebook and pencil. If it is a girl, there are to be a thread and needle laid in the cradle also. . . Besides this there may also be a baaj sii [offering] in a dish and encircling with candles. When the objects named above have been placed in the cradle they begin at once to swing it. . . When they have swung it three times they take the cat out of the cradle and carry the child in the arms and put it in the cradle in place of the cat. They swing it three times in the same way, pronouncing a blessing upon the child according to custom, as they swing it. Thus the ceremony is finished. If the child is also to be named at this time, some teachers write the child's name on a paper and lay it in the cradle also."
How to Cite This Source
"Fire Hair Shaving and Khwan Ceremony, Thailand [Still Image]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #365, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/365 (accessed December 9, 2013).