Singing for Peace, Ellen Swain
What can someone do to gain the attention of others? Sing. Better yet, get a whole group of people to sing and that will attract even more attention. But for the ultimate attention-grabbing tactic, try to collect a group of singers who are all young children.
Na Nong Bong, a community in Loei province of northeast Thailand, have done just this; and they certainly have gained attention. On a unit trip to the community and a nearby village, called U’Moong, experiencing the same issues as Na Nong Bong, the students of the CIEE Khon Kaen Globalization and Development program, were able to witness the practice behind the singing and the impact that the singing had on others.
Na Nong Bong is in a battle against gold mines being build in and around their community. The people of the village have experienced social and health impacts, such as confirmed cyanide poisoning. Their struggle with the mining company has been ongoing for the past nine years but they continue to fight back, upping the intensity and power of their tactics.
One of the most interesting methods they have utilized is protest songs. The lyrics are written by a female citizen of Na Nong Bong who is also the director of the singing groups. All of the lyrics are anti-mine, talking about the effects of the mines on the people and how the mining company does not seem to care about the people. The lyrics are then set to the rhythm of catchy tunes, played on guitars by young university students from by Loei province and Khon Kaen, a nearby province in Northeast Thailand.
But the most fascinating aspect of the singing method is that the singers are all young children of the village. We were able to watch the children perform on our homestay visit, as some of the people of Na Nong Bong and many of the children travelled to U’Moong to perform for us and the U’Moong villagers. I would estimate that the average child in the singing group is around 9 years old, with a wide range between the youngest and the oldest. All of the children dress in green shirts to show that they are neither Red Shirts or Yellow Shirts, two common political groups in Thailand; the green signifies that this is a separate issue.
After settling into their assigned positions, approximately thirty children sang for a large group of people in U’Moong. The straight rows and columns of the performers shows that this is an established and organized form of protest. Although I cannot speak Thai and therefore was unable to understand the lyrics, the CIEE translators told us students that the lyrics involve protesting statements towards the mining companies and call for people to join the movement. It was so captivating and powerful to watch the children passionately sing these songs.
One of the reasons I believe this method is so powerful is that it touches people’s emotional sides. It makes witnesses realize that these children are suffering the consequences from the greedy mining companies, who are only looking to gain a profit. Also, with the clever lyrics and simple melodies, watchers can easily sing along to join the movement.
After watching the children rehearse their singing, many of us headed down to a local town center to watch the children sing and march. They took their assigned formations and began marching down the narrow streets, past shops and shoppers. Adults and CIEE students handed out pamphlets as people moved closer to investigate the marching crowd. It was a powerful and exciting event in which to be a participant.
Hopefully other movements, such as U’Moong, can learn from Na Nong Bong’s inspiring and effective methods. It is a unique way to capture the attention of others, and allows community members of all age ranges to engage in the battle with the mining company. I will remember the sight of those children marching through the town forever.