It’s always puzzled me. I mean, look at it this way. Suppose somebody said to you, “Hey! What should we do while we’re in Paris? Shall we go to The Louvre and see some art treasures? Or would you rather go and see a rock which looks like a badly deformed penis instead?” Well, surely no contest. And there are two quite alarming aspects to this proposition anyway, assuming you apply it to the famous landmarks on Samui. First of all, what possible reason might there be for anyone over the age of 13 years to want to go out of their way to see a rock that’s shaped like a penis?
The other aspect touches upon the darker side of Man’s nature. The sort of thing that FBI profilers spend years being trained for, and then sneakily slip into psychological tests alongside inkblots that look like two fish and a violin. Because, you see, the Grandfather Rock looks nothing at all like a penis. Some kind of wobbly mushroom that’s been trimmed to a point; perhaps. Put a photo of it in front of a psychopathic serial rapist and ask him what he sees. If he says ‘penis’, that’s it. Conclusive proof of a warped imagination, and being abnormally disturbed. And yet every year, thousands of tourists haul themselves and their camera-phones off the road, down a narrow track and towards the sea, to take photos of it.
I suppose it’s just conceivable that being alongside the more-or-less believable cleft in the rock that’s grandma’s gigantic vagina might give the rocky up-cropping some sort of credibility. Although the same question again: why would anyone want to go and look at a pensioner’s petrified private parts? Not to mention the fact that it’s located further down the rocks and you’ve got to slide your way down to be able to see it. And if you think that’s vagina-like, then why not save yourself the trouble and stay at home taking photos of crumpled towels, or close-ups of piles of laundry or knotty pine tables instead? The world is filled with things that have nooks, crannies and cracks in them. It could become a full-time hobby.
But if the truth is told, and given the choice, all those thousands of geological genitalia gawkers probably wouldn’t bother – very few are in a hormonal frenzy of adolescent tension, after all. But the fact is that in the first place Samui hasn’t got much in the way of a history: nobody knows anything about it. There are few written records of any kind – even the temples and monks kept no documentation of events. Also, there are very few local legends. But there is the story of these two rocks. And so it’s come about that, in just about every ‘round the island’ organised tour, the ‘Hin Ta’ (grandfather rock) and ‘Hin Yai’ (grandmother rock) rocks have been included as something that everyone needs to see.
It seems strange about Samui’s lack of history. To a Westerner it’s almost impossible to imagine. All around Europe there are hundreds of tiny remote islands, yet all have a history going back thousands of years, telling of visits by this voyager or that holy man, describing the inhabitants and their lives and recording the lie of the land, local monuments or historical ruins. There are even records from the 16th and 17th century of Dutch and French explorers who came into the Gulf of Thailand and described and sketched the island of Samui – notably the French diplomat and adventurer, Simon de la Loubère, who in 1693, was the first person to map Thailand and who named our island ‘Pulo Cornam’. But none of the Thai people themselves ever did this, or even kept any kind of historical records (other than those of royal kingdoms and glorious battles). It’s believed that Samui was inhabited as far back as 1,500 years ago. How could this be, without a trace of any kind of records? It’s easier to believe in stone penises!
The answer is that Thailand’s never been conquered or colonised. Whereas Europe has many times, by many conquerors, the most significant of these being The Romans. They brought with them their systems of law, government, engineering and education. Monks and other clerics learned to write a unified language, and saw it as part of their secular function to document and record the life around them. In Thailand this never happened. When Simon de la Loubère was making notes about, and mapping, Samui, there was nobody on the island (and very few in all of Thailand) who could read or write. Certainly the monks learned their religious responses and conventions. But it was an oral tradition, learned by rote and passed down to each new generation by word of mouth. And that’s exactly the way in which the legend of the Grandmother and Grandfather Rocks came down through the generations and is still told today.
“Many years ago there lived an elderly couple, Hin Ta Kreng (Grandfather Kreng) and Hin Yai Riem (Grandmother Riem). They had in their care their only grandchild, a delightful young man and an orphan. When he came of age they looked far and wide for an equally steadfast wife for him. Eventually they finally found one on Samui island and made all the arrangements with her family. This done, they set off from the coast of Nakhon Sri Thammarat to sail to Koh Samui. Alas! They were wrecked off the coast of the island in a sudden storm and perished beneath the waves.”
Curiously, no mention is made of what became of their grandson. (Surely there ought to be another rock penis?). However, as proof of their commitment and love, they still remain, turned to stone for all time. Or, more accurately and for some insane reason, just their genitals do! A strange story indeed. I wonder what the tale was originally, before being passed on by word of mouth over all those years? Maybe something more sinister? Perhaps there’s more to these dismembered petrified genitals than meets the eye!
Rob De Wet