Floods that Washed away Homes and Lives Leave Behind Golden Gift
THAM THA MAUK, Thailand Severe floods that washed away homes, bridges and lives apparently have compensated hapless villagers in southern Thailand with a treasure -- gold.
Hundreds of fortune-seekers armed with shovels and pans are flocking to the stream of Tham Tha Mauk village in search of the precious metal, which surfaced from stream banks after the deluge.
"The spirit of Tha Mauk (Grandfather Mauk) has given us worshippers a treasure to compensate for what we lost in the flooding," said 60-year-old Sangad Chankhaew as he flashed a broad smile after a buyer gave him $30 in cash for a gold nugget the size of a rice grain. Sangad found the nugget 30 minutes after starting his day of panning for gold.
He was among about 50 gold diggers on the banks of the Tha Mauk stream, scooping sand and mud into wooden pans and hopefully swishing them around in the water one recent morning.
November's flooding -- the worst the area has seen in 40 years -- caused landslides and the collapse of the stream's banks, exposing an area for gold digging.
"The gold is more plentiful than in the past years," said Sanguan, Sangad's older brother who goes by only one name. He said his family has made about $2,000 since they began panning after the water receded.
Sanguan's house was lightly damaged by the floods, and a part of his pineapple plantation was washed away.
The flooding swept away houses, roads and bridges in Prachuab Khiri Khan province's Bangsaphan district, 180 miles south of Bangkok, where the stream is located. Six people were killed in flash floods in Bangsaphan in November.
Gold diggers have offered flowers, incense and sweets to Tha Mauk's small spirit house, which was erected near the stream. Local folklore says that the spirit of Tha Mauk owns the gold-rich forest of the area and that he occasionally gives to worshippers from his stores.
Some gold buyers see their purchases here as his sacred gifts.
"This gold is a present from the holy spirit, so I bought it to keep for prosperity in my life," said Pradit Sawangjit, 42, a pineapple plantation owner who bought the nugget from Sangad.
Many gold diggers had left jobs at pineapple and coconut plantations to look for gold.
Ruangsri Polkrut, 52, traveled more than 60 miles from Chumpon province to sit on a rock by the stream for more than six hours a day to search.
"I've earned about 5,000 baht ($120) from three days panning for gold. It's not big money but enough for the school fee of my daughter for next term," Ruangsri said.
Tham Tha Mauk used to be a gold mining village, but gold digging ended some 30 years ago when vast swathes of forest were converted into private pineapple plantations.
"This area used to be a national forest, but the rich people turned this land into their private pineapple plantations," Sanguan said. "But after the water washed way part of the plantation and the banks of stream, we had every right to look for gold again."
Source: Associated Press