Chai Nat Farmers Fight Drought With Cat Doll

Farmers in Chainat use a Japanese doll in a traditional rain-summoning ceremony, 5 July 2015.

CHAI NAT — Farmers in central Thailand resorted to substituting a live cat with a Japanese doll in a traditional rain-summoning ceremony yesterday, amid a drought crisis that is choking many parts of the country.

Ratri Homhuan, a local leader in Suea Hok subdistrict, led the ceremony, which normally involves farmers carrying a live cat in a small wooden cage.

The tradition is rooted in a Thai folk belief that cats are magical creatures who can communicate with spirits and gods.

However, farmers in Suea Hok subdistrict chose to use a stuffed toy of a Japanese comic kitten called “Chi” instead of a real cat to avoid accusations of animal cruelty, Ratri said.

“The governor has told us that if we use a real cat, it may be considered animal cruelty and a violation of the Animal Welfare Act,” Ratri told Khaosod, referring to the animal protection law that was passed last year and is the first legislation of its kind in Thailand.

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The Japanese doll named “Chi” used in the rain-summoning ceremony in Chai Nat province, 5 July 2015.

Another group of farmers in Wang Luang subdistrict of Phrae province also made headlines last week for using the famous Japanese robot-cat character “Doraemon” in their rain-summoning procession.

Forty out of Thailand’s 77 provinces, mostly rice-farming country north and northeast of Bangkok, have been stricken with drought for the past few weeks. Thai authorities have enacted a number of emergency measures to ease the crisis, including releasing artificial rain, distributing free water in villages, and opening reservoirs to farmlands in some areas.

Chatchai Promlert, director of Disaster Prevention and Relief Department, said heavy rain over the weekend brought some relief to 27 provinces, bringing the number of severely-afflicted provinces to 13 by Monday.

While Thailand’s Animal Welfare Act has been hailed as an important step forward for protecting wildlife and domestic animals in the Kingdom, the legislation has also been criticized for its lack of specificity.

Last week, five men in Buriram province were questioned by police after they posted photos of themselves preparing and eating cat, which they said they found dead on the side of the road. Police said they were investigating whether the men had violated the animal cruelty law, which stipulates in vague terms that only animals which are “raised to be eaten” can be slaughtered for that purpose.

Violating the law carries up to two years in prison.