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Melting pot: Luk kreung people in history and popular culture

Melting pot: Luk kreung people in history and popular culture

It’s been a while since I’ve explored the influence of luk kreung (i.e. half-Thai people) on popular cul­ture. Today it seems that a great number of part-Thai people are prominent in Thai popular cul­ture. However, this phenomenon is not new considering that the first luk kreung actors appeared in the 1940s to 1960s. This, nevertheless, is not widely known nowadays.

By Sirinya Pakditawan

Sunday 28 July 2019, 03:00PM

In a previous article I discussed the topic of interracial marriage prior to the later decades of the 20th century, mentioning that those relationships were mostly limited to small groups of people in cultural contact zones. Howev­er, interracial marriages became more common in the late 1960s and 1970s in Southeast Asia due to the Vietnam War. Consequently, in that time period more mixed-race children were born.

Luk kreung in history

I’d like to begin with a historical ex­ample from the 19th century. Of course, you’ve certainly heard of the famous Sia­mese twins Chang and Eng Bunker. The twins were born in 1811 and brought to the United States in 1829 where they became known in “freak shows”.

Later, the conjoined twins became American citizens and got married to sisters Sa­rah and Adelaide Yates. In total, they had 21 children. Their descendants now number more than 1,500, many of whom meet annually in North Carolina, where Chang and Eng settled.

Perhaps you also remember the family of Mhom Mali, a Russian lady, and General Mhomjao Thongtekhayu Thongyai? The General was one of a few men of royal heritage who got mar­ried to Western women in the early 20th century.

Mhom Mali and the Gen­eral settled in Hua Hin and had four children. Their oldest luk kreung son M.R. Chakthong Thongyai, born in 1913, became a prominent politician. He became the Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives. He was also a Sena­tor. There is likely no other half-Thai person to achieve this position in the Thai government. He died in 1998 at the age of 85.

His sister M.R. Pakpring Thong­yai, born in 1916, became famous too because she got married to Kukrit Pramoj, the 13th prime minister of Thailand who was also an actor. He acted alongside Marlon Brando in the American movie The Ugly American (1963). What is more, Pramoj is the author of the classic Thai novel Four Reigns (Si Paendin).

Luk kreung in early popular culture

I’d like to turn to the amazing Amara Asavananda, a Thai-French actress and beauty pageant girl from the 1950s. There is one picture in which I would have mistaken her for Elizabeth Taylor. She was the second runner-up of Miss Thailand in 1953 and became Miss Universe in 1954 which took place in the United States.

Born in 1937 to Luang Prajerd-aksonlak (Sombhoj Asavananda) and Madam Prajerd-aksonlak (Georgette Asavananda), Amara was a well-known actress in Thai movies from the 1950s.

In 1966, she married Police Lieu­tenant General Ankoon Purananda and eventually received less acting roles. Later in the 1970s, she still worked as an actress but only got sup­porting roles. She has two daughters, Apichaya and Anoma.

There is another luk kreung ac­tress from that era called Kesarin Patamawa. Perhaps she is not as well known as Amara but she is Thai-French too. Like Amara, Kesarin was one of the first luk kreung in Thai showbiz and pop culture in the 1950s. She was also an actress who was active in movies from 1958 to 1962.

Last but not least, there is also a luk kreung politician and Thailand’s leading philanthropist that I’d like to mention here: Mechai Viravaidya, born in 1941 of Thai-Scottish origin. In Thailand he is known as Mr Con­dom because he promoted not only condoms but also family planning and sexual-safety awareness in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1973 he founded a non-profit organisation called ‘Population and Community Development Associa­tion’. His main aim was to improve the living conditions of the rural poor. He also founded a restaurant chain called Cabbages and Condoms where custom­ers get a condom with the bill. With this project, he wanted to make condoms as common and accepted as cabbages.

I hope I’ve provided you with a window into the past, introducing you to some of the first luk kreung people in history, poli­tics and Thai popular culture. Thanks to my Thai-American friend Steven Layne for this lead.

Sirinya Pakditawan is a ‘luk kreung’, or half-Thai, born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. She enjoys writing about Thailand, with a focus is 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:


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Christy Sweet | 02 August 2019 - 10:36:48

Ah the good ol days when  women who weighed 135 lbs weren't considered fat.

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