The Cult of Guman Thong, the Golden Child

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Guman Thong (in Thai: กุมารทอง) means literally translated ‘Golden Child’ since ‘Guman’ means young boy and ‘thong’ is golden. It is a favourable and felicitous child spirit that is revered as a household deity in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. The Golden Child is also called phi noi which means ‘little spirit’.

Kuman Thong figures at a shrine in Ratchaburi Province (photo Xufanc wikimedia.org)

Kuman Thong figures at a shrine in Ratchaburi Province (photo: Xufanc wikimedia.org)

The Cult of Guman Thong

Guman Thong was first mentioned in ‘Khun Chang Khun Phaen’ (ขุนช้างขุนแผน) which is a Thai fairtale from the 18th century. In this story, Khun Phaen removes the stillborn foetus from his wife’s body in order to aquire a powerful, mesmerized spirit. This tale is a story of  love and pathos, humour and black magic, among three childhood friends.

Thai fairytale: Khun Chang Khun Phaen (photo bangkokpost.com)

Thai fairytale: Khun Chang Khun Phaen (photo: bangkokpost.com)

In this way, the cult came from a practice of necromancy and is connected to black magic which is called Saiyasat (ไสยศาสตร์) in Thai. Thus, the original procedure to get a Guman Thong was appaling and horrible since the dead foetus was surgically removed from the woman’s body. Mixed with special herbs, the small body was then roasted while chanting magical incantations until it turned ‘golden’. Later, when the body was dried, it was pained with the lacquer called ‘Ya Lak’ and covered with gold leaves.

Guman Thong effigies (photo: kumarnthong.com

Guman Thong effigies (photo: kumarnthong.com)

Thus, in order to make the Golden Child powerful, sorcery is needed and dark incantations are sung to work black magic inside. The function of the Guman Thong is to protect and warn its owner from harm and danger. What is more, the Golden Child is believed to have the ability to make its master invisible. Thus, the owner is also supposed to feed and care for the Golden Child. Phi noi has a taste for red and green soda and is thus pacified by these drinks. In this way, the Guman Thong is both a loyal spiritual assistant and a spooky adversary since he is the spirit of a stillborn baby.

A reproduction Guman Thong sold as a souvenir at the Buddhist temple at Ayutthaya, Thailand, wrapped in a cloth featuring Nang Kwak (photo Greg Field, wikimedia.org)

A reproduction of Guman Thong sold as a souvenir in a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand, wrapped in a cloth featuring Nang Kwak (photo: Greg Field, wikimedia.org)

Today, Guman Thong is traditionally made from wood. It is a figure of a small child with a topknot. It should be noted that some Guman figures are soaked in an oil called Nam Man Phrai. This is oil extracted from the chin of a dead child or a person who died a violent death. However, nowadays this practice is illegal. Here is a video of a traditional Golden Child amulet blessing.

Summing up, we may say that Guman Thong is there for worship and the owner is supposed to take care of the statue because otherwise its power dissapears. Traditionally though, the practice of obtaining a Golden Child is rather appaling and related to black magic.

Yours, Sirinya

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