Thursday, 9 February 2012

Thai Ghosts and Spirits Nang Naak

There is no Thai who does not know Mae Naak. While mentioning her can make young children run and scream hysterically in the "Nang Naak game", mothers invoke Mae Naak's name to quiet their crying infants; otherwise, the ghost might break their necks and eat their heads with chilly sauce. The gothic tale of Mae Naak Phra Khanong has been filmed more than twenty times; moreover, every one of them is a box-office hit. Thai youths grow up watching her ghostly tale on television.

Whether Nang Naak was a real person or just a fabrication is still as mysterious as the myth itself. There is no historical evidence of her existence. However, most Thais tend to believe her story is genuine, or at least some parts are. Popular legend tells that she was born in the Phra Khanong area of Bangkok about a hundred and thirty years ago during the later period of King Rama IV (1851 - 1868) and died of childbirth complications some eighteen years later in the early part of King Rama V's regime (1868 - 1910). Others assume that she lived during the reign of King Rama III (1841 - 1851). Some believers even date her presence back to more than two hundred years ago in mid-eighteen century Ayutthaya.

Likewise, the detailed background of Nang Naak also varies from one tale to another, from being an ordinary farm girl to the daughter of the village chief. Nonetheless, her doomed fate and horrible deed stay the same. It begins as a love story. A teenage girl named Naak falls deeply in love with a handsome young man, Nai Maak. Some sources state that the couple are childhood lovers who grow up together, while another version take on the more tragic flavor of "Romeo and Juliet" in which their romance is opposed by Nang Naak's wealthy and powerful father, for Maak is of poorer and lower origin. No matter how harsh or smooth the situation is, they eventually manage to be together. Shortly after they get married, Nai Maak is conscripted for military service, involuntarily leaving his pregnant bride behind with tear and fear. The dutiful wife waits for her lover's return
, but that day never comes in her lifetime. Haplessly, Nang Naak dies during labor along with her unborn child. Although they are buried instantly according to local tradition, her strong spirit refuses to perish. When Nai Maak comes back from the war, the ghost of Nang Naak disguises herself and her "infant son" as humans. Their uncanny reunion is sweet but brief. Despite her arduous effort to blind Nai Maak to reality, Nang Naak cannot prevent him from learning the truth of her death. The revelation itself provides one of the most memorable scenes in the story when Maak sees his wife grotesquely stretching her arm through the floorboard of their elevated house to pick up a fallen lime, or a knife in another version, on the ground.

The supernatural romance then transforms into a macabre horror. The terrified husband runs away, and the scary ghost follows. There are many gory accounts of how Nang Naak chases, harasses, and even kills whoever comes between Maak and her. In order to get rid of the gruesome spirit, the villagers resort to all the possible religious means including exorcist and voodoo shaman, which soon prove to be futile. Another rendition states that Maak remarries after the death of Nang Naak. The jealous ghost is enraged, and she terrorizes the new couple along with the miserable community. In all versions, Maak finally takes refugee in the Mahabute temple. Defying the monks, Nang Naak persists and pursues. At last, a gifted young novice from far away comes to the village and rests her tormented soul. Certain versions claim it is the venerated Somdej Phra Puttajan from Thonburi who seizes the fierce spirit, whereas some editions combine the two together as the heroes. In all cases, the Buddhist representative imprisons Nang Naak in a ceramic pot and drops it in the river. In some of the renditions, the skull of Nang Naak is made into a belt buckle by the monk, which passes into the possession of the Prince of Chumporn and then disappears. Maak nevertheless, becomes a monk in some versions, and in others, he begins a new family and lives happily ever after. Yet this otherworldly saga of love and revenge does not end there. Numerous stories about Mae Naak's reappearances are widely and frequently spread, from Bangkok to Pattani, casting her in many roles from being a guiding angel to an enraged ghost.

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