Mahout Movie Night (ele-media reviews)
My failure to regulate the number of television aerials in the Anantara elephant camp points, as much as anything, to the fact that we are a 21st Century Elephant Camp (we have just got wireless internet into camp but it doesn't quite work yet!).
However, we do try also to preserve the sense of history in this most ancient of trades (well the first and second professions are well known but mahouting can't have been far behind - possibly following one and avoiding the other, a juxtaposition in this world where PR is our life blood, modern mahouts must now chase the other and avoid the one... anyway, I digress...) and with that in mind, Jason, GM of the Four Seasons, held a mahout movie night covering the several ages of 20th century elephanting in his house the other night.
Tonnes of food from our favourite local folks in the village and a bathtub full of beer and ice, a few VIP guests and all the mahouts...
First Movie - Chang - silent movie
Filmed in the 1920's by the same people who eventually went on to produce the original King Kong, the movie tells the story of a young villager in Siam, his family and his pets, who leave the safety of the village to literally hack out a new life for themselves in th forest - the commentary is very much of its time, a time when the jungles were mysterious, vast and needing to be 'tamed', they obviously shot a tiger and a leopard whilst filming - painting both as villains - and opened to standing ovations in the Theatres of New York.
I had forgotten all of this for the scenes of wild capture of the 'villainous' elephant herd and the great scene when they avenge themselves by destroying the village - all obviously wild elephants and truly vast herds at that.
Khun Lord and Khun Pom had a discussion and reckon it must have been filmed in the North somewhere as the mahout equipment is all of local style and not from Surin.
Second Movie - Khun Lien Chang - Thai with English Subtitles
A movie that everyone had seen before apart from us farangs, taken in the late seventies and early eighties, telling the tale of the mafia clearance of the - no longer endless - forests of those days and the battles and friendship between one honest Forest ranger and a mahout and elephant driven to illegal work by the disappearance of legal forestry and debt to the mafia forester.
There's a love story thrown in there and quite a lot of melodrama but it seems basically an anti-mafia propaganda movie to try and awaken a knowledge in the populace of their disappearing natural heritage - in the beginning the forest ranger is seen briefing college students, around a camp fire, how much forest had been cleared to that time and worrying that rhinos may be extirpated from Thailand if they were not careful.
Though the call fell on deaf ears and the heroic elephant (with a girl's name they tell me) overacts just a tad at times it is a great movie as a marker in time - and notable for the mahout's drunken throwing up from his elephant whilst slipping from perfect Thai into Laos/Surin dialect, the drunken marijuana laced whisky binge from the Grandpa mahout and the beaten up old Land Rover.
Times have changed indeed, rhinos are gone but for a very few in the deep South, as is marijuana replaced with heroin and crystal meth, the logging is stopped but for the debating and the eles all face the problems just beginning to be recognised in the movie - no work, no food - as the Grandpa says, a mahout can't eat elephant dung.
Book Review - Just Elephants - William Baze - OOP
This was a rare book that I had got hold of, written after the second world war by a gentleman who was advisor to the court of Indo-China - the Emperor Bao Dai wrote the Preface - in what seems to be an attempt to attract huntsmen to his empire.
Very interesting as the only written chronicle I had seen on the Vietnamese elephant scene, with graphic, slightly self aggrandising; scenes of wild elephant capture and lovely scenes of natural harmony, reminiscent of the great English elephant books on the Raj, ending with "and I took out my Remington .345 and earned myself some lovely ivories".
He ends with a wild elephant hunting scene, written in the 1950's, in which the villagers are terrorised by the wild elephants and welcome the hunters to their village as a chance for some respite from their nightly battles - scenes almost identical to the below piece from Indonesia that fell from the newswire last week - and an invitation for all to join him in Indo-China's 'inexhaustible' jungles.
Times may have changed, but every time I read condemnation of local villagers for saving their fields and persecuting their wild elephants, or even of ivory collecting huntsmen in the middle of last century I remember the 1920's New York audience applauding the death of the tiger or the taming of the wild elephant herd.
It is all a matter of timing and circumstance.
Villagers take 'joy' in driving off elephants (Indonesia)