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The "Postmodernization" of a Mythical Event: Naga Fireballs on the Mekong River

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Fireballs, allegedly shot from the Mekong River in northwestern Thailand by a mythical serpent known as Naga, recently became the focus of a major festival that attracts many (mainly domestic) tourist pilgrims. The popularity of the phenomenon engendered public controversy over the alleged origins of the fireballs. According to the master narrative, the fireballs are launched by the serpent in order to greet the return of Lord Buddha from heaven at the end of Buddhist Lent. There are two alternative accounts: that the balls are a natural phenomenon, or that they are man made. These accounts represent a threat to belief in the supernatural origins of the fireballs, as well as to vested economic interests in the phenomenon. This article shows how a postmodern approach, which denies an exclusive modernist scientific explanation for the fireballs and permits a multiplicity of truths, could help reduce the tensions produced by the controversy. The fire ball phenomenon raises questions for the anthropology of tourism concerning the "authenticity" of allegedly supernatural phenomena.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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  • Tourism, Culture & Communication is international in its scope and will place no restrictions upon the range of cultural identities covered, other than the need to relate to tourism and hospitality. The Journal seeks to provide interdisciplinary perspectives in areas of interest that may branch away from traditionally recognized national and indigenous cultures, for example, cultural attitudes toward the management of tourists with disabilities, gender aspects of tourism, sport tourism, or age-specific tourism.
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