Pat Shingleton:"A Cloth and a Lighthouse..."
A "panung" is a long cloth, worn about the hips in Thailand. Similar to our Ground Hog Day, this traditional ceremony determines the success of the rice season. Every year, in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the Crown Prince presides over the Royal Plowing Ceremony. The event is a combination of tradition and astrological weather predictions. A "Lord of the Festival" is appointed and chooses from three panungs of different lengths. The long panung means little rain, the shortest - plentiful rain and the medium-length - average rainfall. Following the selection, oxen plow a section of land where rice, beans, maize, hay, sesame, water and liquor are placed. Whatever the bulls choose to eat or drink represent what will be plentiful that year. Over the years, the animals have traditionally selected rice, grass and alcohol which translates to abundant crops, an abundance of vegetables, meat and water while the alcohol selection could mean extensive flooding. Also, this weekend marks the anniversary in 1789 when the First Congress federalized existing lighthouses. Built by the colonists, funds were appropriated for lighthouses, beacons and buoys. The lighthouse safely directed ships through episodes of fog and storms. Sound was also used to guide ships and in colonial times cannons fired from shore warned ships away from fog shrouded coastlines. A fog bell was first used in 1852 with a mechanical bell in 1869, a fog trumpet in 1872 and an air siren in 1887. Members of the Lighthouse Service maintained the lights, often performing their duties in extreme hardship. On August 7, 1939, the administration of the lighthouses was transferred to the Coast Guard.