The Curious Thai Traditions Regarding Placentas

25 February 2016
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The Curious Thai Traditions Regarding Placentas

Baby Placenta Tradition

When it comes to different cultures, traditions can be both surprising and fascinating in certain areas of the world.  What seems obvious in one country, might seem extremely odd in another. In Thailand traditions are an important part of the local culture.  One of the most interesting traditions in Thailand concerns what people do with the placenta after a woman gives birth.

In a country of strong customs rooted in Buddhism,  placenta rituals require some extra effort on the family’s part.  One of the most important factors in Buddhism is ensuring good luck and eliminating bad energy and is a key part of the daily lives of Thais.  After delivering a baby, the first thing that is done is to treat the placenta with salt for preservation purposes.  Then it is placed in a clay jar and buried.

This is where accurate adherence to tradition becomes a little more complicated.  Firstly, the direction in which the bottle should point when buried depends on the child's birth month: January, February and March should face south or southwest, April-June to the north, July-September to the north or northwest, and finally, October to December toward the south or north.

Placenta Thai traditionsFurthermore, there are botanical rules to be followed.  According to the child’s birth year, the clay jar holding the placenta should be buried near a tree of a certain variety.  The guide for this is the Chinese Zodiac, or the Asian Life Cycle.  For those not familiar, this zodiac relates the Chinese calendar to your animal cycle of 12 years. The Chinese Zodiac is thought to predict a person’s future as well as to determine their unique personality traits.  For example, lotus and jackfruit are the guardians of the tiger and the dog (births in years 3 and 11 of the Chinese cycle, respectively), while coconut trees protect the years of the rat, rabbit and dragon (1 and 4).  In order for this ritual to be completed successfully, both the positioning (as discussed above) and the burial site with the proper vegetation need to be followed closely.

There is, however, another ethnic group in Thailand that has a different belief. These people are the Hmong, who also occupy parts of China, Vietnam and Laos. In their language, placenta is translated as "coat". They believe that this is the first baby clothes and that after death, the soul returns to his homeland (where the placenta was buried) again wearing his “coat” to make his journey toward heaven of reincarnation.

According to the traditions of the Hmong, the baby’s placenta should be put in a place of honor, buried under the main pillar of the house.  This is a symbol of spiritual leadership and strength.  In this culture, the father is responsible for all family decisions and the house as a structure is symbolic of that. This type of family structure is called patrilineal.

From an outsider’s perspective, sometimes others’ beliefs seem strange.  All you have to do is realize we all have our spiritual traditions and superstitions, as well as good luck charms.  Consider how a four leaf clover is thought to be a symbol of good luck, and crossing the path of a black cat means something bad is going to happen.  There are many different traditions all around the world.   In America, many women eat or keep the placenta of their child.  What will you do with your placenta after welcoming your child into the world?

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