Ancient 'angel's pipe'

John Spies

Mae Hong Son, Thailand

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Artist's Description

Clay pipes like these are found in northern Thailand, Burma and Laos. The Shan people in northwest Thailand find them in the fields after they have cleared the forest cover. The Shan call them ‘sung gyarn’ pipes. Sung gyarn is an angel that comes down to earth, usually around the time of the Shan new year in April riding different animals and smoking a pipe. The angel is a prophet that can predict the weather or rice harvest. If it rides a horse or elephant then the future will be good, but if it rides a tiger then there will be problems in the society or diasters might occur. Sometimes the angel, dressed like a prince, drops its pipe. Parents who want to keep their children out of their hair tell them to look for pipes under thorn bushes or in a toilet. Pipes are usually found in places where rice grows well. An alternative explaination for the existence of these finely made pipes is that they were used from around 700-500 years ago by Lua and other groups of Mon-Khmer speaking people who lived in the region well before the Thai speakers arrived. They smoked tobacco and hung the pipes around their neck with a piece of string through the small hole. They were probably made at kilns in northern Thailand or Laos. Most of the Lua disappeared from the Thai mountains 500 years ago, but their old village sites and graveyards are everywhere. I have found several pipes while walking in the hills. This one was given to me by the head of the Shan State Army in 1984.

Artwork Comments

  • sdtourison
  • John Spies
  • shadowlea
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