Mahout


Definition of Mahout

From the elephant glossary Section: management


An old, experienced mahout from Kandy, Sri Lanka. Photo: © Dan Koehl, 33rd Annual Nawam Maha Perahera at Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo, 2012
An old, experienced mahout from Kandy, Sri Lanka. Photo: © Dan Koehl, 33rd Annual Nawam Maha Perahera at Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo, 2012
Ex Chief Mahout at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, Mr K.G. Sumunabanda
Ex Chief Mahout at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, Mr K.G. Sumunabanda
Elephant trainer Puy Jay Mau  Sabmak from Pi Man village in Surin, Thailand. Photo: Dan Koehl, Surin elephant festival, 2011
Elephant trainer Puy Jay Mau Sabmak from Pi Man village in Surin, Thailand. Photo: Dan Koehl, Surin elephant festival, 2011
Veteran mahout Mew Salangam (1926-2019) in Ban Ta Klang, Surin, Thailand. Photo: Dan Koehl, Surin, 2011
Veteran mahout Mew Salangam (1926-2019) in Ban Ta Klang, Surin, Thailand. Photo: Dan Koehl, Surin, 2011
Portrait of elephant king Y Thu Knul donated by the French colonialists.
Portrait of elephant king Y Thu Knul donated by the French colonialists.



Relevant Literature about Mahout



India and Sri Lanka


Mahout, or Mahoot, is normally regarded as an Indian word for an elephant rider, trainer or keeper, and has become an international term for Asian elephant keeper.

In fact, its not that easy, theres more terms for Mahouts in India; In many regions the Mahout is responsible for an elephant, and his assistant is called a Kawadi. If the Mahout is in charge of an entire camp or elephant village, his title is Jamedar.

In Kerala in southern India, a Mahout is called a Aanakaran in the Malayalam language (Aana, or Aane, means elephant in Malayalam).

The Mahouts in India also have a somewhat diversified background:
  • Temple Mahouts often belong to a caste of Mahouts where the profession was handed down through generations.
  • Mahouts working for Forest Department in Southern India, often belong to local tribes, who were educated by consulted Mahouts from Assam, during the time of British Empire. They may have worked elephants for 2-3 generations.
  • Mahouts working for a sawmill in Southern India, where mostly only a single elephant is kept and used as a loading tractor, may have a Mahout heritage, or may just be an employee at the sawmill, who took over the care of the elephant from an experienced Mahout.
  • Mahouts working for a Zoo in India, may have any possible background.

Hence, the heritage and culture of Mahouts is more complex, than most common descriptions, and those examples may reflect the origin for Mahouts in a number of South Asian countries as well.

If the Mahouts are older, they most often belong to Groups of people with longer experience. Lately, since the work as Mahout is not so well paid, the Mahouts children may choose another profession, and young Mahouts may as well have been working on a close-by Petrol Station, before they became a Mahout. Those younger Mahouts lack the Heritage, and knowledge from generations, and may more often have problems in their work.

Burma / Myanmar


In Burma a Mahouts is referred to as Oozie, and his assistant is called a peieik. If the Mahout is in charge of an entire camp or elephant village, his title is Singoung.

Records about Mahout from the Gajah Glossary at https://www.asesg.org/PDFfiles/Gajah/23-01-Glossary.pdf Singoung Burmese): (Gale 1974:159) Head elephant-man. Oozies and peieiks come under him.

M. Philip Kahl and Charles Santiapillai, Gajah Elephant Glossary, Gajah nr 23 (2004), Journal for Asian Elephant Specialist Group


Cambodia


In Cambodia an elephant keeper is called "Moor Damrai" or "anak theroksaa Damrai" in the Khmer language. But very few Mahouts in Cambodia belong to the Khmer people, most of them are from hill areas in Mondulkiri or Ratanakiri, and belong to any of the ethnical minorities in those areas, mostly Mnong. Most mahouts in Ratanakiri belong to the Brau people, who often bought their elephants from the Mnong.

Indonesia


In Indonesia a Mahout is called Pawang (Lair 1997:85).

Nepal


In Nepal a Pachuwa is the responsible Mahout for an elephant, and his assistant is a Mahout, while the camp chief is called Phanet. Most nepalese Mahouts today have origin from Chitwan region in South Nepal, where most captive elephants are kept.

Thailand


In Thailand the elephant driver is called Kao-Chang. The majority of Mahouts in Thailand are actually not Thai, most belong to the Kui people in Surin, or belong to Karen, also known as the Kayin, Kariang or Kawthoolese, are an ethnolinguistic group of Sino-Tibetan language–speaking peoples'>Karen people, with origin in Burma.

From Dan Koehls Blog Interview with veteran mahout Mew Salangam, in Ban Ta Klang, Surin, Thailand:

There are five ranks within the Kui mahout system:

The highest rank is labelled as gold color, and referred to as Ku Ba Yai. Theres is no more Ku Ba Yai living today.
The second rank is labelled as silver color, and referred to as Sadam. Mew Salangam is Sadam.
The third rank is labelled black color, and referred to as Sah Dien.
The forth rank is labelled as rope, and referred to as Cha.
The fifth rank is Mah.

Since no wild elephants are caught anymore by Surin Mahouts, its impossible for the younger mahouts in Surin today to reach the highest ranks.

Dan Koehl


Vietnam


Most of the Mahouts in Vietnam are from hill areas in Dak Lak, and belong to any of the ethnical minorities in those areas, mostly the Mnong people. Often the elephants in Dak Lak are owned by the women in the family, while they are cared for by the men. When the owner dies, her daughter will inherit the elephant.

The most famous Mahout in Vietnam was the elephant king Y Thu Knul, who founded the village Buon Don at the river Serepok, and captured and tamed 400-500 elephants. Ha gave a white elephant to the king of Siam and was given the title Khun Ju Nop (Khunjunob), meaning "elephant Hunting king".

Records about Mahout from William "Buckles" Woodcocks Blog at http://www.bucklesw.blogspot.com/ Sabu (full name Sabu Dastagir or Selar Shaik Sabu, depending upon your source) was born in the little town of Mysore, India in 1924. The son of an Indian mahout, he was discovered by documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty who was in India looking for someone to play the lead in an upcoming British film based on Kipling’s TOOMAI OF THE ELEPHANTS. (One source says that Sabu was cleaning out the stables of a wealthy Indian maharajah when he was first spotted by Flaherty.) Impressed by Sabu’s earnest looks, engaging naturalness and the ease with which he worked around elephants, Flaherty arranged for the 12-year old to be taken to England, where he was placed under an exclusive contract with British movie mogul Alexander Korda. Released in 1937 ELEPHANT BOY was a major hit and established Sabu as an up-and-coming young star. Eric Beheim at Buckles Blog


William "Buckles" Woodcocks

Internal relevant links on website www.elephant.se



Mahout mentioned in The Elephant Database
  • No country match the word Mahout in the database.

33 locations holdings in the elephant database match the word Mahout.

186 elephants in the elephant database match the word Mahout




Reference list Koehl, Dan, (2021). Mahout. Elephant Encyclopedia, available online retrieved 20 September 2021 at https://www.elephant.se/index.php?id=12. (archived at the Wayback machine)


Sources used for this article is among others:


Selected publications
  • J. Lou Barnes, Elephants at Work
  • Hùng Vũ, The Story of a Mahout and His War Elephant
  • Jean Vortkamp, For the Love of Elephants: Mahoutship and Elephant Conservation in Thailand

Links about Mahout

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External relevant links

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Categories glossary | management


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