This story is Part 2 of The Elephant Man. For Part 1, please click here.
Interaction between man and pachyderm is via specific commands and actions, developed over centuries and many generations of Thai mahouts and their elephants.
Asian elephants in Northern Thailand are controlled by a number of physical commands and around 70 verbal commands, made up of a mixture of pure Thai and Northern Thai language and certain words and sounds which have evolved over generations as an unwritten language between mahouts and their elephants – Elephant Language.
Anantara Elephant Camp Director of Elephants, John Roberts, and his team of experienced mahouts begin their training program by stressing that tourist trainee mahouts should deliver their instructions in a loud, commanding voice, not all that easy to begin with when you are looking up at a creature at least twice your height, with the bulk and weight of a small bus.
Then, of course, there are those round, heavy feet that are bigger than the circumference of a family-size pizza and capable of crushing a human skull like an egg, and the long, muscular trunk which can literally squeeze the life out of a person. An elephant’s trunk contains about 100,000 muscles.
But under the calm tutelage of John and the Thai mahouts, their trainees make gentle progress, with the cooperation of these regally calm, cumbersome creatures, which seem to approach the task with tireless patience and dignity.
Every morning, the steamy, green jungle clearing in which the elephant camp sits echoes with the sounds of the waking work day, including:
Yaa – Stop whatever it is you are doing (very useful command)
Song Soong – Lift leg high (to let you get on)
Hab Soong – Lift leg high (to get off)
Pai – Go forwards (nudge behind both ears)
How – Stop (squeeze knees together)
Baen – Turn (nudge behind opposite ear)
Sock – Walk backwards (rock and kick your feet backwards)
Map Lung – Sit down (tap the back)
Tak Lung – Lower head (put your feet over the head)
Look – Stand up
Pae – Follow me
Goy – Slow down (very useful command)
Non Lung – Lie down
Non Dee – Lie down fully
Dum Lung – Submerge head in water (not recommended while sitting on elephant’s neck)
Bong – Drink
Bon Soong – Spray or raise trunk (not recommended unless you want to get wet)
The following instructions might be handy if you are using an elephant to help landscape your garden:
Chub Saw – Pull chain
Yok – Push log with trunk
Toe – Push log with foot
Ka Toe – Push log with back of foot
Yok Phear – Kick log sideways
Mahout Noi feeding his elephant Beau © Vincent Ross
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