By Bunmi Adigun @Bunmi_Adigun
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Known as 'mo chang' or 'mo pa kam’ - which translates as "elephant specialist” - these men captured wild elephants to domesticate, using lassos made from buffalo skin.
The powerful images were taken in the elephant village of Ban Taklang, in Surin in the northeast of Thailand, where the locals are known for their close bond with elephants, often sharing their house with the majestic creatures.
Before the practice was outlawed in 1957, these 'elephant whisperers’ would go deep into the jungle using their lassos to bring down the animal and take them back to be domesticated by the rest of the villagers.
On returning to the village the leather rope was then tied round the neck of the elephant and the giant animal was tied to a tree for three days.
After days of the elephant pulling at the lasso the mo chang would replace it with a rope intertwined with thorns, this made it easier to control until it gave the rider its full obedience.
IT worker Nuttawut Jaroenchai, 32, took the images while travelling around Surin - a native of Thailand, he was shocked to see how close the Suai people were with their pet elephants.
He said: "I think it's wonderful that people can communicate with the elephants and live together as a family.”
Before going out to capture the elephants, the mo chang would perform an offering ceremony to their ancestors, although this ceremony is now performed for visitors to the village.
Elephants used by the Suai people are descended from the wild elephants captured in the jungle border between Thailand and Cambodia.
Nuttawut said: ”They have a relationship with elephants in the past that has continued until now, elephants are very special to them.”
For centuries the Suai had used the domesticated elephants to work the land, similar to how horses were used in Europe up to the early twentieth century.
However, with the onset of tourism to Thailand they have adapted the use of elephants by showcasing their close bond with the four ton animals by having them perform tricks and allowing tourists to see first hand how revered elephants are in their culture.
“Tourism has changed the lifestyle of the Suai people a little, they still live with the elephants but not for hard work,” Nuttawut added.
“In Thailand’s history people have always had a close relationship with elephants but Suai people have the closest relationship.”
Although the men have put their elephant catching days behind them, they’re still highly respected in their community and are an important link to the past for the Suai people.
He said: “Now there are only four people who are mo chang, so I took their photos as a historical record.”
Nuttawut documented the lives of the Suai over two days as they used the elephants to do everyday activities like picking fruit.