Collective Rituals as Meaningful Expressions of the Relationships between People, Water and Forest: A Case Study from Northern Thailand
School of Natural Sciences
There has been a global trend for religions to respond to environmental agendas, using rituals and ceremonies, with many studies showing that traditions and beliefs have established the importance of places as ‘sacred’. This concept lends itself very well to the ideals and beliefs found in a conservation movement. This article aims to investigate this connection to show how it helps build a meaningful relationship between people, water and place. It focuses on a case study in Pang Jum Pee Village, Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, where a need for change was recognised, from village economies centred on deforestation, to ones with more emphasis on conservation ethics. In the process, a community committee initiated two rituals of Buat Pa and Seub Cha Ta Rum Num. The results indicated that the spiritual and sociocultural meaning hidden in those rituals helped embed conservation in a construction of sense of place. A spiritual belief interplaying with the doctrine of Buddhism influenced the attitude and behaviour of villagers towards the ecological services provided by forests and water, services which supported their livelihood. At the same time, those rituals as social events could reproduce a social unity or sense of community for Pang Jum Pee villagers since the ceremonies required cooperation, by constructing a collective commitment to forests and water as common property. The study also identified the role of reciprocity in ritual performance in connecting a social network of conservation among neighbouring villages and external agencies.