The Legend of Nai Raeng – Thai Folktale
A long time ago, there was a couple who lived in a small village near Pattalung on the northeast shore of Songkhla Lake. They had been married for many years but remained childless. They loved children and so wanted one of their own. They prayed every day for God to grant their wish. Nothing happened. In desperation, they went along to the temple and asked the Abbot for his help.
“Take a small pebble from the edge of the lake,” said the Abbot who was a very wise man, “wrap it in white cloth, make your wish and put it under your pillow.” The couple followed the Abbot’s advice, religiously. They prayed very hard.
Finally, the wife became pregnant and the couple were so very happy. As the baby grew inside her she began to eat and eat and eat. “You must remember, dear husband, I am eating for two,” she explained. But even so, she was eating much more than the average person and for nine months she ate and ate and ate!
When she came to term, she gave birth to a big, healthy, baby boy. In fact, he was very big indeed; so big they named him Nai Raeng (raeng means strength or power). And he had a huge appetite just like his mother when she was carrying him! He ate one pan of boiled rice; ten bunches of bananas and drank milk all the time. He always seemed to be eating and his parents began to despair for they simply couldn’t afford to feed him. The situation became so serious that his parents began to wish the unthinkable: they began to wish he had never been born! He ate and ate and ate; and grew and grew and grew.
When Nai Raeng was about ten years old, his father asked him to cut down the biggest tree in the forest. “We need firewood for the winter,” his father explained, “see what you can do.” To his shame, his father secretly hoped his huge son would meet with a tragic accident. Instead Nai Raeng felled the tree safety, chopped it into suitably sized firewood and carried the bundles back to the cottage. Still he ate and ate and ate and the more hard work his father asked him to do simply increased his appetite.
One day a Chinese trading junk moored close to the village. “This is our chance,” thought the parent and persuaded the trader to sign Nai Raeng as a deckhand on the junk. “Look,” said the father, “he is a big strong boy. He will be able to do the work of ten men.” The trader agreed and took the boy aboard. The junk sailed away with Nai Raeng aboard.
It wasn’t long after the junk had put to sea, the trader realised his mistake: the boy was eating all the food and the crew began running out of supplies. “The boy simply has to go,” the trader confided to the boatswain. “Let’s challenge him to catch a dolphin,” suggested the bo’sun, “when he’s in the water, we can simply leave him.” And that’s exactly what happened. Just as soon as Nai Raeng dived into the sea, the junk hoisted sail and left.
Nai Raeng began to swim towards the shore; he could swim very well. As he began to wade ashore he spied an old, sunken, fishing boat. Using his enormous strength, he dragged the wreck ashore and set about repairing it. It wasn’t too difficult and after a few days he had a seaworthy craft and set sail for home. When he arrived, his parents were truly glad to see him and, regretting their earlier bad thoughts, agreed to take him back into the family home. Nai Raeng quickly found himself a good job and earned enough money to feed his considerable appetite and have spare cash to help his parents. Everyone was very happy.
As the years passed, Nai Raeng became older and wiser, and much respected in the community. So popular and well liked was he that he was asked to become Governor of the region: a great honour and one that Nai Raeng relished.
Some time into his tenure, Nai Raeng received news that there was to be a great festival in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat, a city in the very north of his fiefdom. This was to be an important occasion for some relics of the Lord Buddha himself were to be interred in the ancient pagoda. Every village, town and city in the South arranged to have money and gifts sent to the pagoda to pay respects. Nai Raeng, himself, personally loaded a boat with 900,000 Baht in gold and he and his entourage set sail up the coast to Nakhorn.
On the way north, a great storm blew in from the northeast. It raged and raged and Nai Raeng’s boat was pushed south and closer, and closer, to the shore. Suddenly a huge wave swept the fragile craft aground and smashed it against the rocks. It was badly damaged and needed some serious repairs. They would certainly miss the ceremony and the honour of paying respects to the remains. Nai Raeng was deeply saddened and ordered his men to carry the gold ashore and bury it somewhere safe. He then ordered his own death and instructed that his severed head be placed atop the treasure. Naturally, the Governor’s orders were obeyed to the letter and so ended the adventures of Nai Raeng.
Editor’s note: there are, indeed, relics of the Lord Buddha in Wat Phra Mahathat, Nakhorn Sri Thammarat and visitors to Songkhla may care to visit a small fishing village on the southern end of Chalatat Beach called Khao Seng, a corruption of gow saeng or 900,000! Also, there is a large boulder on a rocky outcrop; this is called Hua Nai Raeng (Nai Raeng’s head). Local legend has it that Nai Raeng’s spirit still guards his treasure. Perhaps there’s more than a grain of truth in folklore!…