Mo Lam Phuen
Mo Lam is the traditional art of singing folk songs and performing folk spectacles of the Northeastern people. The word “Mo Lam” has two meanings: (1) The skilled performer of the verses that were created in the northeastern dialect of the Thai language; (2) The traditional folk art of performing or singing of the northeastern people.
The origin of Mo Lam is obscure, owing to the lack of written record. It is estimated to originate from the prayers or invocations to the deities and spirits and to be associated with the old belief in Phi Fa (deities), Phi Thaen (deities) and Phi Banphaburut (the ancestors’ spirit). It might have originated from the custom of reading the traditional folk literature in the palm-leaf books and the Buddhist monks’ religious sermons, or it might have originated from the courtship ritual in various occasions.
Mo Lam is subdivided into two types: Mo Lam for entertainment, such as Mo Lam Phuen, Mo Lam Klon, Mo Lam Rueang, Mo Lam Phloen, each of which has different characteristics; and Mo Lam for rites, ceremonies and rituals, such as Mo Lam Phi Fa, which has two objectives–to heal the sick and to predict the weather.
Mo Lam Phuen is a narrative singing–singing about folk or religious stories. The verses are sung as a solo part mostly for a male singer and are accompanied by a khaen (a kind of reed mouth organ). The stories are taken from literature, for example, Karaket, Sinchai tales from the Jataka tales (tales from the Jataka or Buddhist Sacred Scriptures). The singer uses pha khao ma (a multi-purpose rectangular piece of cloth for men, used as loincloth, wraparound skirt, scarf, headscarf, sash or towel etc.) as a prop and costume in the portrayal of the different characters of the story, such as the hero, the heroine, the warrior etc.
Mo Lam Phuen serves the community’s way of life and has significant entertainment value to the community. It is the repository of stories, adages, wisdom and philosophy of the northeastern communities that have passed down through generations.
Today Mo Lam Phuen is disappearing from the northeastern region as fewer people carry on the tradition, which requires long period of training before the singer can memorise all the stories and skilfully interpret the roles of the characters in the stories to entertain and capture the audience’s attention.
A prominent Mo Lam Phuen singer today is National Artist Mo Lam Thong Mak Chanthalue.