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Culture: Luk Kreung – a key ingredient in Thailand’s cultural melting pot

Many cultural theorists have explored the relationship between farang and Thai national identity or “Thainess”. They posit that since the 1950s and the beginning of the 21st century, foreign influences have played an increasing role in how modern Thai identity is made. The mixed-race children of Thai and foreigners or luk kreung, as they are know here, have become a popular symbol of how Thai and Western cultures interact in the modern world.


Sirinya Pakditawan

Saturday 24 September 2016, 02:00PM


These Thai-Western unions, and luk kreung, have been known since the Ayutthaya period. However, it is only in post-Vietnam War era that they have become a widespread social phenomenon and been woven into the cultural fabric of Thailand.

Prior to the later decades of the 20th century, interracial marriages were generally limited to small groups of people. These marriages were most often between people who were at the forefront of cultural contact, such as Christian and Chinese-Thai folk, who worked closely with Europeans.

Nevertheless, there were some rare cases of Thais marrying foreigners which occurred among royals or the elite. For instance, Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath (Prince of Bisnulok) married his Ukranian wife Ekaterina “Katya” Desnitskaya and the union produced their son Prince Chula Chakrabongse.

Another prominent example is the marriage between Prince Rangsit Prayurasakdi and the German lady Elisabeth Scharnberger. They had three children, two sons and a daughter called Princess Charulaksana Kalyani Rangsit.

In fact, there were a few Thai men of royal descent who married Western women at the beginning of the 20th century. For instance, there was Lady Ludmilla Ivanovna Barsukova from Russia who was married to General Mhomjao Thongtekhayu Thongyai. They had four children together and stayed in Hua Hin. Lady Ludmilla, who is probably of Russian royal lineage, lived in Thailand until she died in 1980 at the age of 90, her Thai name was Mhom Mali.

Among common folk, Thai-farang relationships started becoming more common in the 1960s when American GIs were stationed at the US military bases in upcountry Thailand. Some of these American soldiers formed relationships with Thai women most of whom came from poor rural areas. There was often a social stigma attached to these relationships and as a result luk kreung from the Vietnam War era were not regarded as desirable.

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Despite the often negative perceptions of luk krueng in the 1970s and 80s, it now seems that Thailand has re-invented them as representatives of a modern form of Thainess. For example, the movie The Siam Renaissance (2004) starring Thai-French actress Florence Faivre, deals with how modern Thai identity has been in some ways been subsumed by the influence of powerful Western culture.

The Thai fascination with luk kreung has only increased and it is now common to see them as characters in novels, movies and television series. A fascinating book which touches on this subject, The Ambiguous Allure of the West. Traces of the Colonial in Thailand (2010), charts the rise of luk krueng as television and advertising stars and suggests that they provide a way for Thais to reassess how they see “their cultural selves on the world stage”.

In this way, luk krueng are often presented as being more cosmopolitan, globalised and modern than their Thai contemporaries. This trend towards adopting Western culture is often described as originating in the late 19th century with the Siamese people’s rapid adoption of siwalai or “civilised” things.

The present popularity of Western-Thai luk kreung in soap operas, advertising and the media in general, makes it clear that they play an important role in the construction of the modern Thai national identity.

Sirinya Pakditawan is a ‘luk kreung’, or half-Thai, born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. She enjoys writing about Thailand, with a focus on culture, art, history, tradition and on the people, as well as a mix of topics concerning Thai popular culture, travelogues and articles about Thai food.

Sirinya’s aim is not only to entertain you but to provide you with information and facts about Thailand, its culture and history that may not be generally known, in particular to the Western world. She has a PhD in American Studies from the University of Hamburg.
To read the original story, and many more, be sure to check out Sirinya’s blog:  www.sirinyas thailand.de

 

 

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