Elephant Bath
June 29, 2014 1:29 PM   Subscribe

A mahout is the person charged with looking after an elephant, a relationship that lasts for the duration of both their lives. As part of his responsibilities, the mahout regularly bathes the elephant in his charge, massaging its thick hide with the husks of coconuts.
posted by growabrain (19 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting - it was truly beautiful. I love the trunk-lolling..

Unfortunately from the looks of their interaction, the elephant has reason to fear the hand of the mahout. I hate that the thought of it has to spoil an otherwise magical and tear-inducing ritual observance.
posted by bird internet at 1:51 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

The serious/severe attitudes on both sides mask how this is an act of love.
I mean, elephants clearly manage life with no baths in the wild. But bathing seems to be a beautiful and loving ritual with domestic elephants
posted by mumimor at 1:53 PM on June 29, 2014

This is a wonderful close-up view of the elephant's skin. It always surprises me that they have so much hair. When I saw the chain on the foot, although I knew it would be there, I was reminded of Carol Buckley and the story of the elephant
posted by Anitanola at 1:55 PM on June 29, 2014

At the very end, as they were walking back along the path, the elephant kind of glances at the mahout sidelong and inclines his head as if he wants to say something, but then realizes it would be superfluous so doesn't bother.
posted by xigxag at 2:15 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

the twinkly music doesn't quite conceal the chain on the leg, the rope around his/her neck, or the open wound on the back of the elephant's leg at the 3:15 mark. also, scroll down and read the comments of other concerned viewers. it would be helpful if this video contained more context and information.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 2:25 PM on June 29, 2014 [16 favorites]

Unfortunately from the looks of their interaction, the elephant has reason to fear the hand of the mahout

Very much so - especially the moment at 2:06. The mahout makes as if to slap the elephant in the face and the elephant noticeably and quickly cringes.

There's a lot of nice camerawork here, and the music is lilting and lovely - but I cannot say I see anything that necessarily points to a relationship between these men and this creature as benevolent.

Not all mahouts are the same, and perhaps many treat their elephants with respect and tender regard. I want to believe this.

But knowing what tools they use to ply their trade, makes me doubt that. Indeed, in the area where this video was shot (Kerala), mahout cruelty against elephants is a well-known phenomenon.
posted by jammy at 2:28 PM on June 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm glad I was not alone in feeling uncomfortable watching this video, and that was before the wound was pointed out. It was indeed beautiful to see the elephant, and I can believe there is a strong bond between man and elephant, but I think it's safe to say that it is not necessary a mutually beneficial relationship. Mostly I wondered why the bath, as it not as an elephant in the wild would do. I am not sure if it is because of the living conditions (subject to more parasites perhaps) or due to our perceptions of how an elephant should look. Though, maybe I am too cynical, perhaps the keepers have found over the years that the elephants really enjoy a good rub-down, which doesn't excuse other concerns, but makes the music a little less...odd.
posted by dawg-proud at 2:48 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

In her blog, Carol Buckley describes the conditions in which she finds safari and other working Asian elephants as well as her efforts to improve their welfare, to educate those who work with them, and to bring attention to neglect and mistreatment of these magnificent animals she has devoted her life to.
posted by Anitanola at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's hard to imagine that a filmmaker could be so naive as to spend any amount of time with working elephants and come away from that experience believing the relationship is a benevolent one. So much so, that I start to wonder about the motivations behind this film.
posted by danny the boy at 3:43 PM on June 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

I am now glad that I just copied the text below the video without editorializing, and that it factually states "A mahout is the person charged with looking after an elephant, a relationship that lasts for the duration of both their lives. As part of his responsibilities, the mahout regularly bathes the elephant in his charge" etc. without getting into the animal abuse element.
posted by growabrain at 3:58 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

growabrain - I am behind the spirit in which this was posted 100%. The idea of mutual aid in human and animal relationships is something I am invested in and know to exist. I have no problem imagining a kind mahout and their elephant having a fine old time down at the river.

Like I said earlier, I want to believe that there are mahouts who are truly in spiritual sync with their elephants (i.e., kind and compassionate). I really do want to believe it is a true thing and feel that it must be.

There's a reason beyond size and strength that these creatures are thought of as magnificent.
posted by jammy at 4:59 PM on June 29, 2014

A mahout is the person charged with looking after an elephant, a relationship that lasts for the duration of both their lives

Gonna bet that it isn't often true for animal or human.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:14 PM on June 29, 2014

so tired of hearing about mahouts
posted by Infernarl at 8:34 PM on June 29, 2014

Hate zoos, hate circuses, hate animals in chains.
posted by chaz at 10:23 PM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

my wife and I saw up close the interaction of mahouts and elephants when we visited a (carefully vetted by her) elephant sanctuary in Thailand. we were told we had arrived one week after a large contingent from Google, who were so inspired by the compassionate treatment of the elephants that they had made a substantial investment in the enterprise. our reactions mirrored in many ways the hot/cold reactions thusfar in this thread.

this place described itself as a sanctuary for retired and emancipated work elephants. the (mostly white) staff employed Burmese refugee mahouts for the elephants. I think there was an elephant or two that had a lifetime mahout, but most of them were ad hoc relationships. the staff were clearly compassionate to the plight of work elephants in that region, and took great care to warn visitors that the relationship between the mahout and the elephant may be more than initially meets the eye.

a lot of the symbols of strife that you see in this video--the mahouts' tools of the trade, the chain around the feet, the apparent emotional state of the elephants--are actually quite complicated. granted, given that the elephants we witnessed were retired work elephants, they may have just gotten used to a particular type of treatment. due to their (in many cases) advanced age, it may have been judged to be more prudent to give them a more compassionate version of what they were trained by throughout their lives. their "employment" history (or slavery, let's be honest) may have also affected their temperament to a large degree. regardless, the elephants we saw were almost uniformly very moody and compulsive. as far as the chains, in this particular part of Thailand, the area around the sanctuary was frequented both with tourists and poachers, and the chains were a means of keeping them in a designated area overnight so that they wouldn't wander into trouble or mischief.

that said, yeah, the mahouts were damn rough with the elephants to my North American eyes. yanking them around by the tether, solid strikes with a baton (though nothing particularly rough on the head). and yes, they did the bathing ritual (the elephants were very robotic during this). the bath seemed like a decent thing to do to me (regardless of any photo-op potential) because of the extreme heat during the day.

but throughout the visit, it never really got to the point of seeming like a power trip to me or power-related aggression. the mahouts were clearly completely tuned in to everything about the elephants. as far as I could tell their entire day was centered around helping them get exercise, get fed, get bathed, and get to bedtime. for every gesture toward the elephant that seemed a bit too stern, there was an equally compassionate attentiveness.

in the end, I think this vocation is simply quite a bit older than the moral rubric that people nowadays can subject it to. on the other hand, perhaps the least reassuring aspect of the sanctuary was that there was a young orphaned elephant among the elders, and it was being interacted with in very much the same way as the others.
posted by oog at 10:25 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I read these comments before clicking on the link, and thus didn't click at all, and I'm eternally grateful for that. I just can't handle animals in chains (or zoos or circuses, as chaz noted above), regardless of the complexity or history or cultural context.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 2:54 AM on June 30, 2014

I'd like to watch it and make up my own mind but it just wont play for me. Any other link? (or is the internet trying to tell me something?)
posted by evil_esto at 3:05 AM on June 30, 2014

It won't play for me either.
Any other link, please?
posted by kryptos at 6:34 AM on June 30, 2014

Oh, It is playable this morning.
you might want to try again, evil_esto,
posted by kryptos at 3:50 PM on June 30, 2014

« Older No Need to Choose: History from Above, History...   |   Bounce Below Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments