Monday, April 4, 2011

Home-coming Ceremony: Elephants Return to the Village

Over the past few weeks seven elephants have returned to the village to enjoy a few months of hard earned rest. The elephants are traditionally brought back to the village to forage in their natural habitat during the hot season. This allows them time to socialise with other elephants, mate and forage on a wider variety of plants. The elephants work in tourist camps either trekking (giving tourists elephant rides on large, heavy benches) or performing tricks such as playing football or dancing.

The villagers performed a welcoming ceremony for the elephants which they have done for possibly hundreds of years. The Karen people have a long, proud history of working with elephants and would often consider their elephant to be a member of the family.

The ceremony is one way in which the villagers give thanks to the elephants. First, a village pig is slaughtered and a soup is made using the pig’s head. The elephants are offered a small piece of the flesh with some rice. This is an offering of the pig’s spirit to the elephant’s spirit. A small bundle of fresh leaves with three candles and a rupee coin is placed on the elephants head. Jasmine flowers floating in rice wine is poured on the elephant as a blessing and white string is placed around the elephant’s ears. The villagers first bless the string over some rice asking the spirits to protect the elephant, wishing them a long and healthy life.

The villagers then eat together, eating the pig’s head soup. There is a strict order to who eats the soup. Volunteers felt privileged to be offered to take part in the ceremony and enjoyed a delicious meal after the other villagers had eaten.