Buddhism is the cornerstone of the Thai community. Images of Buddha are sacred and treated with great respect. Buddhist monks trained in Thailand arrived in New Zealand in the late 1990s. Living a life free of material possession, they are exemplars for their community; they also serve as teachers, counsellors and even business advisers. Members of the community often have monks bless their homes at housewarming parties.
Too cold for comfort
In April 2003, Christchurch Thai people celebrated the Song Kran Festival, the most important event of the year – in the Thai celestial calendar it signifies the end of one year and the start of another. April in Thailand is hot and humid, and people throw water at one another and onto the ground to show respect for the earth. New Zealand Thais dispensed with this ritual as the weather was too chilly for wet skin.
In May 2000 the South Island Thai community celebrated the opening of their temple, Wat Buddha Samakhee in Christchurch, after years of fundraising. During the late 1990s the Christchurch Thai community held Kathina ceremonies, in which special yellow robes are offered to monks. The Miss Noppamas beauty contest also featured at the Loy Krathong Festival, helping raise funds for the purchase of the temple.
In 2002 a Buddhist temple opened in Karori to serve Wellington’s 500-strong Thai community. Before this they had worshipped at a temple in Stokes Valley.
Groups such as the Mahamakut Thai Buddhist Trust in Auckland and Thai Buddhist Trust in Christchurch enable Thais to continue to practise Buddhism, and provide a place for social gatherings.