Soothing the Mekong Spirit when the Dam Generates Electric Power

original content by The Mekong Butterfly

You could access the original via https://themekongbutterfly.com/2019/11/23/soothing-the-mekong-spirit-when-the-dam-generates-electric-power/

For the Southeastern and Chinese people, the existence of spirit is the existence of life. Without spirit, there is no life. The spirit is therefore the source of their power of life.

The above statement came from the noteworthy writing of Sujit Wongthes, an important Southeast Asia historian and archaeologist of Thailand, proposing that spirit or ‘khwan’ (in Thai) is a unique characteristic of the Southeast Asian people which is different from the understanding of the Western people or even Buddhism.

Sujit Wongthes pointed out that the nature of spirit is actually shapeless; invisible and intangible, it sparsely resides in the body of humans and animals or even things and places. The spirit or ‘khwan’ has been existing in the Southeast Asian society for at least over 3,000 years up until now. We are able to find traces of spirit in several important both propitious and unpropitious rituals. We could see a welcome or blessing ceremony when starting new things and morally encouraging someone or a group of people before facing an unexpected event or after they encountered many terrible things.

The Mekong Spirit-calling ceremony was jointly held on 29 October 2019 by more than a hundred of villagers from 7 provinces along the Mekong River on a Mekong ferry at Ban Kok Pai permanent border crossing checkpoint, Pak Chom district, Loei province. The same day was marked as the Commercial Operation Date (COD) of the 1285-megawatt Xayaburi Hydropower (Thai) Dam in Laos now blocking the Mekong mainstream in order to approximately send 1220 MW of electricity to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). It was also the same day that several newspapers were covered by the advertisement promoting the success of Thai dam builders.

It was the first day that water from the Mekong dam was converted into electricity for Thai people, also the first day that Thai investors could make profits from power generating as well as shares selling of which the price has been skyrocketed after being advertised in every possible way by the project developer.

The Xayaburi Hydropower Dam is one of the disasters that Mekong people have to face. There were previously more than 9 completed dams on the upper mainstream Mekong River which stored water to generate power in many stages and consecutively worsened the Mekong River situation. The problems faced by Mekong people are unusual and unseasonal river tide; bank erosion; loss of many agricultural areas and products along the Mekong River as well as more difficulty in finding fishes in terms of both numbers and species. Some kinds of fish cannot be caught or found as easily as before.

Such disaster was aggravated especially when the Xayaburi Dam on the lower Mekong mainstream started testing its water storage at the end of March causing an explicit result during the rainy season particularly in July as the Mekong abnormally decreased lower than in the dry season. What is worse is that some parts of the river have dried up to the lowest level in 50 years. Many Mekong people said that they have never seen this situation since they were born.

This is a crisis that Mekong people are witnessing.

The Mekong Spirit spread out over different parts of the river was again pulled out by the upper mainstream Mekong dams. It is certainly not only the spirit of the Mekong River, but also the spirit of Mekong people which was disappeared since the Mekong Spirit is the source of life for Mekong people. Their ways of life and living; economic, social as well as cultural foundations and costs have inevitably been attached to the Mekong River since their ancestors.

It is therefore not surprising if the spirit of Mekong people has been vanished and needed to be recalled on the day that the dam generated power in order to maintain their power of life in facing and fighting against many upcoming disasters. Considering the Mekong Basin Development Plan, there will be at least 4 dams to be built on the lower Mekong mainstream. Some are approved while others are under the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), namely Don Sahong Dam; Pak Bang Dam; Pak Lay Dam and Luang Prabang Dam.

How many times do they have to organize the Mekong Spirit-calling ceremony knowing that the Mekong Spirit is gradually ripped up? It is sure that the spirit of Mekong people which used to be combined with their river is now also scattered, regardless of those already taken along the river branches.

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