Luk Kreung and the Construction of Thainess
Cultural studies have explored the relationship between farang and Thai national identities or Thainess. These studies put forward that since the 1950s and the beginning of the 21st century, foreign influences have intensified to intimate levels of cultural and physical hybridization. Thus, in the form of Thai-farang or luk kreung, foreign otherness seems to have become an object of cultural intimacy in Thailand.
Luk kreung & Thainess
We may say that as a post-Vietnam War era phenomenon, cultural intimacy between Thai and farang have increased, hence exceeding the forms of cultural contact in previous generations. Thus, interracial marriages have become a widespread social phenomenon since then, although these kind of unions, and hence luk kreung people, have been known since the Ayutthaya period.
In earlier times, i.e. prior to the later decades of the 20th century, interracial marriages were generally limited to small groups of people. These were persons who were in the main cultural contact zones (e.g. Christians, Chinese) and who worked closely with Europeans.
Nevertheless, there were some rare cases in which Thai and European unions occurred among royals or the elite. For instance, think of Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath (Prince of Bisnulok) and his Ukranian wife Ekaterina ‘Katya’ Desnitskaya and their half-Thai son Prince Chula Chakrabongse.
Another prominent example is the racially mixed 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.
Thai-farang relationships first became a common social practice since the 1960s when American GIs were stationed at the US military bases in upcountry Thailand. Hence, some of them formed relationships to Thai women who mostly stemmed from the countryside. As a consequence, a remarkable numer of half-Thai people were born who also became a prominent topic in novels, movies and TV series during the 1960s and 70s.
The most significant novels dealing with Thai attitudes to luk kreung were Sifa’s ‘Khao nork na’ (1976, Wild Rice or literally translated ‘Rice Outside the Paddy Field’) and Botan’s ‘Phuying khon nan cheu Bunrort’ (‘That Woman’s Name Is Bunrort’) which was published in 1981. You might recall my previous article about ‘Luk kreung and Concepts of Mixed Race in Thailand’, then you know that the luk kreung from the Vietnam War era were not regarded as desirable.
However, this perception has changed since the 1980s. Generally, it seems that Thailand has discovered Thai-farang as representatives of a modern form of Thainess. For example, the movie ‘The Siam Renaissance’, starring Thai-French actress Florence Faivre, deals with this subject. The movie reveals how the concept of the powerful West is stripped of its foreignness in order to become part of modern Thai identity.
What is more, cultural anthropologist Jan R. Weisman argues that the luk kreung boom reveals the Thai fascination with half-Thai people, a phenomenon related to issues of modernity, sexuality and race. In this way, Thai-farang is presented as being cosmopolitan, thus being able to act on a global stage. Hence, the general popularity of Eurasian luk kreung have also strengthened the allure of farang in popular culture that manifested first in the late 19th century with the Siamese strive for ‘siwalai‘ or ‘civilized’ things.
Summing up, we may claim that the present popular cult of the European-Thai luk kreung shows that they are very important in constructing a modern Thai identity which is also referred to as Thainess.
(Reference: Rachel V. Harrison & Peter Jackson eds. The Ambiguous Allure of the West. Traces of the Colonial in Thailand, 2010)