The best surviving examples of Northern Thai architecture which now serves as an ethnological museum, displaying artifacts associated with the rural way of life in traditional agricultural communities.

The Adventures of Tokto is a video presentation, telling how to construct a traditional Lanna house. Tokto is a lovely gecko which can be easily found in Thai houses. He is the main character of the story.

The part two will make you understand the significance of the ritual objects that you see in the first part.

The primary mission of the new Kamthieng House Museum is to showcase the traditional spirit and belief systems of the Lanna people, within the context of a 19th-century northern Thai house. The educational aim of the exhibits is to provide an exposition of the motivating beliefs and ideologies in the practice of the Lanna lifestyle, especially in terms of its relationship with nature and the environment. Elements of lifestyle, ritual, art and architecture are presented within the Lanna world-view, through objects, graphic illustrations, photographs, video and sound.

Ritual practice, as it permeated the daily life and imagination of the Lanna household, drew together Lanna culture’s many intimate relationships/dynamics with nature, family legacy and crafts. Natural forces, seen and unseen, were accorded respect, both as a way of honouring ancestral spirits and collective memory, and of mediating with the spirit world. Rituals invoked mother nature in various forms, as animistic of the primal energy of the environment, and as personifications of the agrarian lifecycle.

At heart was a profound understanding of the need for balanced relationships with nature, an ethos of sustainable inter-dependence of individual, community and environment. In particular, the Lanna world-view (implicit in old cosmological texts and oral traditions), expressed itself through well-defined beliefs and practices, most notably in a detailed personal code of conduct – a meticulous etiquette of interaction between people, spaces and spirits.

An historic house built in 1844 on the banks of the Ping River in Chiang Mai by Mae (“mother”) Saed, great granddaughter of the Prince of Chae, Kamthieng House brings together many elements of lifestyle and culture in a typical Lanna house of the period. Constructed and passed on through the women of a northern matriarchal lineage, the house is one of the oldest surviving examples of traditional northern Thai architecture.

Exhibits of primary crafts and rituals provide a glimpse of the taste and style of the merchant elite of late Lanna period, between the lifetimes of Mae Saed and her granddaughter, Mae Kamthieng – namesake of the house. Through its first hundred years, the house was pitched at a turning point in Lanna culture, with traditional lifestyle slowly giving way to the prestige of Western taste. But Kamthieng House was to remain a repository of the Lanna spirit, even as the late Professor Kraisri Nimmanhaeminda moved it to the Siam Society in 1962, to become a northern Thai ethnological museum.

The Kamthieng House Museum – as its name suggests – mixes museum-style displays with the context and ambience of an historic house. Visual drama, emphasised through lighting design and display styling, is coupled with a sense of place. Objects are grouped loosely to reflect central exhibition themes relevant to particular areas of the house, but not always directly related to the precise interior function of that area. Instead, objects are chosen for aesthetic impact and their ability to serve as windows into primary themes of Lanna culture.

The present redesign, begun in March 2001, returns the focus to life in and around a traditional Lanna house of the late 19th-century. Most important, aspects of Lanna ritual, belief, and lifestyle are reinterpreted in current museum idiom, to provide contemporary appeal to Thai and foreign visitors alike. At the instigation of M. Renaud Pierard, chief exhibition designer of several new museums in France, we decided to follow recent ethnological museum trends and incorporate traditional sound and visual portraits in the museum space itself.

The Kamthieng House research team spent considerable time researching Lanna musical and liturgical traditions, managing to track down the few living exponents of various surviving spirit traditions. Traditional chants, music and dance related to Lanna spirit beliefs can be seen and heard in 5 main areas of the house.

For instance, visitors hear “joi” and “pin-pia” courtship music as soon as they approach the verandah, at the beginning of the house tour. In the main living area, a discreet LCD monitor displays a short film sequence on the matrilineal heritage of the house, with old footage of traditional spirit dance. The soundscape alternates between courtship and spirit music, with occasional voice-overs of family history, in northern dialect.

In the kitchen, visitors can view a short film loop in which Mae Champa, a northern grandmother in period costume, cooks a meal of “kaeng khae kob” (northern frog curry) in the very kitchen visitors are standing in. Sounds of the cooking process are amplified in the space as well, giving visitors a sense of being there with Mae Champa.

Granary visitors are enveloped by ritual chants performed by “Pho-nan” Praphat, one of the few remaining northern ritual masters, calling the spirit of rice and buffalo.

And in the public education section of the museum, located on the ground floor, beneath the main house, student groups and general visitors can view a special 3D animation short film on Lanna village life and architecture. Through a series of events involving a 3D animation gecko, visitors (especially children) learn about aspects of the Lanna weir system, as well as traditional rituals and village spirit beliefs.

The animation culminates in a major segment showing how a traditional Lanna house is built. Designed by the animation studio, Imagimax, the feature will also be used to promote the museum at educational outreach events.

Naturally, these aspects of contemporary technology are merely discreet enhancements to the educational message. But we do believe it is necessary to use new media to speak to a new generation of museum-goers, especially in the case of the Thai audience, where all too often, the message of heritage and culture has been obscured by pedantry and old-fashioned exhibition presentation.

The new exhibits also include multimedia displays. Exhibits display systems have also been redesigned to accommodate the new script, all the while maintaining the integrity of the traditional architectural space.

In keeping with traditional Lanna house rituals, especially before major construction work, a ritual specialist was also engaged, to perform the relevant rites, as well as oversee the restoration of the house shrine.

HAMYON
Kamthieng House Museum's wood carving collection - 'Hamyon'. This intricate, carved wooden plaque above the bedroom door is considered a protective talisman for the family, dividing the private family space inside, from the public verandah space outside. Beyond this point, those who are 'tang-phi' (literally 'of a different spirit') meaning 'of a different clan', must ask permission of the ancestral spirits (phi pu-ya') to enter.The 'ham yon' is variously believed to represent the protective power of the ancestral spirits, or of the male head of household. The latter is based on a loose interpretation of the word 'ham', meaning 'testicles', and 'yon' the northern Thai derivative of the Sanskrit word 'yantra', for 'magic diagram or symbol'. But many northern scholars find this interpretation linguistically problematic.The proportion of the 'ham yon' is base on the foot of the main male householder, multiplied by 3 or 4, according to status. Usually installed with a new house, the 'ham yon' plaque is taken down and beaten ritually to remove its power, each time the main male householder changes. A new 'ham yon' is then commissioned and installed with the proper rites. These 'ham yon' are only a part of carved wood collection, which were purchased by the Siam Society from northern Thailand in 1965. The whole collection includes cover 200 items. All of them are over 200 years old.

Carved panel from a single piece of teak. It is an elaborate composition of cloud pattern and a bunch of vine with "Lai Kanok".

Carved wood with design of "vase of plenty" (puranaghata)

Perforated carved wood in could motif, framed in a rectangular shape.

Oblong panel with lateral chevron leaf bands. Two leafy volutes join in central leafy stem bract, all decorated by small stylized volutes.

The Motifs used in this carving piece is a bunch of vine with traditional Thai pattern called "Lai Kanok Kab" and "Lai Kan Khod",arised from the central flower.

Lintel forming simple spanrail arch. 3 layers of decorative edging --upper lotus border above Chinese keys band, which surmounts a band of superimposed layers of petals, fanning out from a central tablet flower. The principal design consists of a large central lotus flanked by 2 smaller lotus flower. Leaves arise in pairs from above each flower, the arch is edged with 2 similar large leaves, and small rosettes are scattered among the leaves. The combination of varied designs results in a heavy appearance.

Oblong panel with superior rosette band. Bow shaped arch with heart center divides panel into areas under arch and spanrail, ornamented with leafy vine.

Lintel with simple spanrail arch edged with plain band. Upper Chinese keys band. Scrolls of foliage in "Lai Kan Khod" and "Lai Kanok" arranged with geometric precision in area above double arch.

The educational message is conveyed through discreet enhancements, using short multimedia documentaries, which are continually screened on monitors installed unobtrusively throughout the Museum.
On the ground level, beneath the main building, an especially produced, 3D-animation short-film on Lan Na Thai village life is shown continually. Tokto, the 3D- animation gecko, guides viewers through a series of activities and events, including traditional ceremonies and rituals, house building5, and weir construction as part of the 700-year old farmer-managed irrigation system. The surrounding space is used to display a weir model, a functioning loom, various traps made from bamboo or rattan, and assorted utensils characteristic of the period when the house was lived in.

Upstairs, on approaching the verandah, courtship musical tunes, Choi and Pin Pia, welcome visitors. Inside, a LED-monitor displays a short-film sequence of the matrilineal lineage of house owners, with authentic footage of a traditional spirit dance. The alternating courtship and spirit music is blended with voice-overs of clan history, in the Northern Thai vernacular.

The first building was built in 1932 and used as the lecture hall, stage, and library. In 2002, The Association of Siamese Architects Under Royal Patronage gave a special award to the Siam Society for its excellence in the preservation of buildings, namely the auditorium, the Kamthieng and Saengaroon Houses in the compound of the Society. Nowadays, it is used as an auditorium for conferences, seminars, music and performances, and etc.

The Siam Society's collection of research manuscripts, books, rare books, photos, micro-film, tapes, videos, maps and traditional manuscripts on palm leaf, and other documents constitute the first non-privately owned library in Thailand.
The Siam Society library is noted for its outstanding rare books collection, most of which is related to Southeast Asia.

The Siam Society was founded in 1904 in cooperation with Thai and foreign scholars. The Society quickly became a learned society whose members included many of the most illustrious historians, archaeologists and epigraphers of that period.
The primary purpose of the society's library was to make this information available to its membership and the research community. The library also supports investigation and background information for its many activities: local and international study trips; lectures by noted experts and scholars; art and artifact exhibitions of international standard; classical and contemporary cultural and musical performances; seminars, and publications by the Siam Society including, two international recognized periodicals, the Journal of the Siam Society (JSS) and the Natural History Bulletin (NHB).
From its inception, the Siam Society's objective was to encourage research and information gathering on art, history, culture and natural sciences of Thailand and neighboring countries. In 1924, "Knowledge gives rise to friendship" was adopted as the Siam Society's motto to convey the message that the search for knowledge is the bridge to friendship between nations.

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The Siam Society Under Royal Patronage

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