FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 Kata Rocks
Login | Create Account Poll Currency Weather Facebook Youtube Search

The concept of ‘siwalai’ emerged as Western styles mingled with Thai

You may have come across the term siwalai in some way or other during your time in Thailand.

Sirinya Pakditawan

Sunday 28 January 2018, 02:41PM


Just think of the siwalai dress that I’ve dealt with in this column before in the context of traditional Thai dresses or the Siwalai Garden (Suan Siwalai) which is situated in the Grand Palace, Bangkok.

The Siamese notion of siwalai was first introduced in the reign of King Mongkut (1851-1868) and can be regarded as a modified version of the English word civilized.

Thus, the meaning of this term ranged from etiquette, to material progress, in the sense of new bureaucracy, infrastructure, electricity, judicial system as well as dress codes, grooming and appearance.

However, it is interesting to note that the Siamese quest for “civilization” was primarily a transcultural process in which Western practices and ideas were adapted, transferred and incorporated into the Siamese setting.

In other words, this led to a phenomenon where Western and Siamese aspects were mixed and combined together. For instance, this is shown in clothing: ladies of the court had assumed the hybridized fashion of combining Victorian lacy, high-collared blouses with traditional jongkraben pantaloons (wrapped trousers). Queen Saowapha (also written Saovabha) who was the chief consort of Chulalongkorn also wore this kind of mixed fashion.

For this reason, siwalai might be regarded as a technique that could provide Siam with equally civilized standards to the West. Nonetheless, in addition to its use as a display of civilized standards to the West, it also served as a local legitimisation for the symbolic powers of the Siamese elite. That is to say that there was a gap between a siwalai Westernised public domain and a private domain which remained Thai and local.

However, generally we may say that the quest for civilization served as a project for self-confirmation as well as of constructing occidentalised images of Siamese prestige. Thus, we may also claim that Siamese concept of siwalai was never intended to be an attempt to imitate all features of Western civilization.

It is more the case that distinctively Western features were adapted in order to create something new that was nevertheless completely Siamese. Hence, things and aspects labelled as civilized were considered as prestigious and authoritative.

QSI International School Phuket

Referring back to the example of fashion, over the years many Western styles of dress were adapted to fit in a new Siamese style considered as “civilized”. It is interesting to note that today, in an apparent rejection of this gradual Westernisation of Thai fashion, a group calling itself ‘Siamese Fashionista’ tries to encourage young Thais to dress in traditional clothes.

Finally, we may claim that siwalai was in fact a kind of elite mimetic resistance to the West and not an attempt of “farangisation” and Westernisation respectively.

To learn more about the interplay between Thai and Western culture read Rachel Harrison’s The Ambiguous Allure of the West – Traces of the Colonial in Thailand.

Yours,

                Sirinya.

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: sirinyas-thailand.de

 

 

Comment on this story

* Please login to comment. If you do not have an account please register below by simply entering a username, password and email address. You can still leave your comment below at the same time.

Comments Here:
Comments Left:
# Characters
Username:
Password:
E-mail:
Security:

Be the first to comment.

 

Phuket community
No special ‘temporary’ driver’s licences for tourists

DK, it still doesn't make your comment correct, lao khao dulls the mind, and the ability to thin...(Read More)


Phuket jet-ski, parasail operators threatened for operating in strong waves

Clever Phuket Marine office. Just warning after the weather ordeal is almost over, not BEFORE on 14...(Read More)


US withdraws from ‘cesspool’ UN rights body

Congratulations on the US action. Looking forward to Australia doing the same. I was bullied throug...(Read More)


Surapong gets two years for issuing Thaksin’s passport

It is funny to read all this shuffling. In a few years time, when democracy restored, Junta peopl...(Read More)


Phuket villa property market strong in mid-range, high-end takes a hit

Again Knight Frank is posting fake news. Anybody that is following agents sites can see the drop dow...(Read More)


Phuket condo market climbs after big hit

Nice try Knight Frank, but such fake news will not blind the eyes of people. For last 2 years you ca...(Read More)


3,000 people arrested for gambling on World Cup

What a nonsense. World wide there is legal football bidding/gambling . What is the fascination of th...(Read More)


Surapong gets two years for issuing Thaksin’s passport

That's the first time I've heard of someone being released on bail AFTER being convicted of...(Read More)


Surapong gets two years for issuing Thaksin’s passport

That's the first time I've ever heard of a "court for politicians". Is there diffe...(Read More)


No special ‘temporary’ driver’s licences for tourists

R2,it would be better to read an article well before responding to comments! The misinformation (yo...(Read More)