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The enchanting hilltribes and the death of Thai fauna and flora

May 3, 2010

When I first came to Chiang Mai, I was thrilled by the multitude of peoples and languages. Northern Thais, Central Thais, Esan, Lao, Burmese, Thai Yai, Karen, Hmong, Lisu, Chinese, Spanish, Australian and even some Swedes. This whirlpool of peoples has resulted in a cultural mix, where you can get almost any food you want, listen to almost any music and share the traditions and religious beliefs of so many different cultures. Most short-term visitors, like myself in the beginning, tend to treat the hilltribe peoples as rare plants, believing they have unique wisdom and that anything they do is right. Originally I was also impressed by the knowledge about plants in the rice-growing Thai communities. That knowledge is vaster than any Swedish senior high school student’s. In the past I innocently thought it would be so interesting if ONE country on the planet would create its own path, preserving an independent farmer’s community and their knowledge, and not follow in the footsteps of the West, where the farmers were transformed to industrial workers.

Now, after a few years of experience, I have changed my mind!

After seeing the ignorance and cruelty towards wildlife, and the severe impact of putting every piece of land on fire, and keeping filthy street dogs and cats that eliminate anything that moves, I do believe that the Thai wildlife, and many of its plants, will be exterminated soon. Many hilltribers and rice-farmers will do anything for money unless it demands regular work or collides with their superstition. Forgiving westerners may think that it is due to poverty, but that is not true, because there is no unemployment here. Anyone who wants a job gets it in town, immediately. In fact, there is a lack of workers. The problem is that many hilltribers and Thai farmers like to roam about and shoot tiny birds and lizards, put land on fire, chop down a gigantic tree for fire wood or (in the past when they were available) shoot a tiger to get money for the bones, aimed at the superstitious Chinese medicine market. Such hilltribers and farmers are not forced to do this of necessity, they like it, it is their tradition, it is easy life! This behaviour was fine when there was no overpopulation, but now there are too many people, and if we do not stop this behaviour, the last bird, the last lizard and the last tree will soon be gone, and then the lazy people will have to look for another occupation anyhow. It is too bad to lose biodiversity, i.e. the original marvellous creation, due to stupidity and ignorance.

So, what is the cure? Indeed the Thai government move hilltribers out of national parks using force, which upsets some westerners who treat the hilltribers like pandas, not like fellow people. For instance, the Lao Hmong have transformed a huge area in the Thai Nan province into an eroded desert, only one mountain resists the destruction thanks to its national park status, but you will find dogs, cows and loggers there too. This forest (Doi Chompo Po Ka) is a real “Avatar-forest”, with ancient trees only found there, extinct elsewhere. Go there before this forest is gone, too!

Tax and education is the best cure in the long-run! The Thai government has increased the tax rates on land, forcing small scale farmers to leave their farms. The children of the hilltribes and the farmers get education, making them demand more mind-challenging jobs. This path is exactly the same as in the West, where the tax on land transformed the farmers to industrial workers. Fourty years ago the wolf, the sea eagle, the bear, the lynx, the beaver and the otter were almost extinct in Sweden. Thanks to an educated population, and a transformation of the population from 40% farmers to 4%, the wildlife is back. Educated people who move back to the countryside, use the land in a much more holistic and careful way, than what their grandparents did. They were solely consumers, unaware of anything outside their village, and their biggest dream was a new car, while their grandchildren sell their car to get a land. Thailand is where Sweden was 40-50 years ago, but Thailand is on the right path.

The gardeners’ obligation is to preserve the farmer’s knowledge, a cultural heritage. When a Thai farmer makes some money, he sells his buffaloes and trash his old wooden tools, builds a concrete house with a violet roof and plants South American trees in the yard. If somebody reminds him of his rural path, he feels embarrassed.

Eric Danell

Thai farmers have a fascinating rural knowledge, but their illegal hunting with illegal guns, their love for illegal fires and their filthy pets exterminate the wildlife and the Thai flora. Gardeners can preserve their rural knowledge before it disappears.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Brooks permalink
    May 11, 2010 10:52 AM

    Dear Eric,

    Thanks for saying what no one else dare say about the destruction caused by the hilltribes. I have lived in Chiang Mai for 8 years and have lived in the mountains for some of that time and seen the almost total lack of respect for nature. My wife is Thai and we too have committed to giving back to nature something of what others have taken away. We have 8 rai of land up in Samong and we bought it because of the location and because it was begging to be looked after. It had been stripped of all its trees and was looking unloved with the exception of a few dozen orange trees. We have decided to re-plant it with trees as we want to build a home there over the next couple of years. Once again well done for speaking out in defense of the northern Thai fauna and flora. Steve

    • May 12, 2010 9:14 AM

      Dear Steve,

      Thank you so much for your efforts in restoring what others have destroyed. Indeed the hilltribe cultures are very interesting, but humanity has reached the end of the world, there is no space for slash and burn anymore. An inevitable transformation of hilltribe culture will take place, either with fragments of nature left or with no nature left. You are building one ark in your section of the planet, and many organisms will depend on good people like you until we have overcome the overpopulation problem.

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