Buffaloes have always played an integral part in Thai culture and Thai society. The Thai alphabet’s fourth letter is said: “KHO KHWAI” (ค). In the Thai alphabet, each consonant is associated with a word (chicken, egg, buffalo, monk and so on…).
Buffaloes have been used since centuries by peasants in order to plow their rice fields. Since decade 1960s mechanical plows have replaced the buffaloes. Since a few years, buffaloes are regaining favor as farmers look to old ways.
ควาย or “KHWAI” is the carabao or water buffalo.
Thailand’s buffalo population dropped 26% from 1998 to 2008. Buffaloes are disappearing from some village.
“PITHEE SU KWAN KWAI” (พิธีสู่ขวัญควาย) was a ceremony to show gratitude to the Buffaloes. It was observed for centuries, but now it’s being neglected because of the advent of tractors.
The annual Buffalo Racing Festival is held in Chonburi province.
Some farmers say that a machine is good as it is fast, can plow deep, doesn’t need to rest. Buffaloes need to be watched after during rice-growing season as they may wander in other farmers paddy fields. Some farmers say that buffaloes manure is good for nature (no need for artificial fertilizer), buffaloes don’t need repairing and oil, the yield is better with buffalo.
Some farmers complain buffaloes are too slow. Tractor machines never get tired. Tractors are called “Iron Buffalo” (ควายเหล็ก).
About 400 000 buffaloes are slaughtered for meat each year. Most are females, many of them pregnant. The males are kept for their strength and castrated to increase their size and value as draft animals, which reduces the breeding stock still further.
The Carabao is the most famous pop group in Thailand. Their symbol is buffalo horns.
In the year 2001, the most famous animal in Thailand was a buffalo. This buffalo had very long horns and was a major player in the Thai movie “BANG RAJAN” (บางระจัน). This movie relates the fight of a Thai village during the Burmese invasion in the year 1767.
The music in movie “BANG RAJAN” (บางระจัน) is played by the Thai pop group Carabao. A few months after the film was shot, the buffalo died. A big ceremony was organized for his funerals. The Carabao leader asked for its horns.
Some monks have campaigned to help poor people in the northeastern rural areas where they have established “buffalo banks”. When a borrowed buffalo gives birth, half of the young buffalo belongs to the farmer and the other half belongs to the Buffalo bank.
The worst insult in the Thai language is to be called “Buffalo” as this animal is seen as stupid and stubborn.
In year 2008 the “Kasorn Kasiwit” (Buffalo Farming Science) School was launched by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is a strong supporter of efforts to preserve conventional paddy farming techniques. The school is teaching both buffaloes and farmers to work in harmony using traditional plowing techniques.
The growing use of farming machines had driven many farmers into debt due to rising fuel costs, which accounts for up to 50% of farming costs. For many city residents, the buffalo is a symbol of stupidity. But for millions of people who work the land for a living, the strong animals have long been treasured as a farmers’ best friend.
Buffaloes provide a better sustainable source of farm labor than tractors since they don’t require costly fuel.
The bird “NOK IENG” (นกเอี้ยง) is always the Buffalo’s best friend as he sits on his back.
King Rama IX had launched the Ox-Buffalo Bank project. This project was set up to lend buffaloes. When buffaloes breed, the farmer has to give back the babies to the bank in order to increase the buffalo numbers.
The Buffalo bank lends out animals to farmers who might not otherwise use them.
To save the beast from extinction, Mr. Boontha Chailert has opened a water buffalo refuge in Ban Muang Pha village, 360 miles north of Bangkok. Nowadays farmers are showing renewed interest in using water buffaloes to plow their fields. Farmers return to traditional, cheaper, methods of farming. Tractors are said to be too expensive to take care of.
A Buffalo school has been opened in Bua Yai and animals can learn various plowing tactics.