Luk Kreung in History and Popular Culture

It has been a while since I’ve explored the influence of luk kreung (i.e. half-Thai people) in 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.

In a previous article I’ve also 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 1960 and 70s in Southeast Asia due to the Vietnam War. Consequently, in that time period more mixed race children were born.

Luk Kreung in History

Now I will take a look back at luk kreungs of another era and provide you a window into the past with some antique photos.

The Bunker Families (1865), wikimedia.org

The Bunker Families (1865), Siamese Twins Chang and Eng (wikimedia.org)

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 Siamese Twins were born 1811 and brought to the US in 1829 where they became known in freak shows. Later, the conjoined twins became American citizens and got married to the sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates Bunker. In total they had 21 children, one of them was Catherine Bunker. I’m not sure what became of the twins’ children but probably they made a living in the United States.

Catherine Bunker

Catherine Bunker, daughter of the Siamese Twins

Perhaps you also remember the family of Mhom Mali, a Russian lady, and General Mhomjao Thongtekhayu Thongyai? I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that there were a few Thai 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. Finally, he was also a Senator. Probably, there is no other half-Thai person to achieve this position in the Thai government. He died at the age of 85 in 1998.

Family of Mhom Mali and General Mhomjao Thongyai with their four children

Family of Mhom Mali and General Mhomjao Thongyai with their four luk kreung children

His sister M.R. Pakpring Thongyai, born in 1916 became famous too because she got married to Kukrit Pramoj.

Here is a pic of the younger versions of them...the lukkreung M.R. with the future PM Kukrit Pramoj of Thailand in their younger years

The luk kreung M.R. Pakpring Thongyai with the future PM Kukrit Pramoj of Thailand in their younger years

Kukrit Pramoj was the 13th Prime Minister of Thailand and he was also an actor. Thus, he even 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 2nd runner-up of Miss Thailand in 1953 and became Miss Universe 1954 in the pageant competition which took place in the US.

Amara Asavananda

Amara Asavananda

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. Some examples are Prisana (1955), Leb-krut (1957), Rak Rissaya (1958), In-sree Dang (1958), Hao Dong (1958), Toong Ruang Rong (1959), See Kings(1959), Chaleoy Suk (1959,) Sud Pradthana (1961).

Amara Asavananda, Miss Universe 1954

Amara Asavananda, 2nd runner-up of Miss Thailand in 1953

In 1966, she married Police Lieutenant General Ankoon Purananda and eventually she 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 who is called Kesarin Patamawa. Perhaps she is not as well known as Amara but she is probably Thai-French too. Here they are together in a picture.

Kesarin Patamawa and Amara Asavananda

Kesarin Patamawa and Amara Asavananda

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. There was one movie from 1962 called ‘กัลปังหา’ in Thai which made her famous.

Kesarin Patamawa

Kesarin Patamawa

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

Mechai Viravaidya, Mr. Condom

Mechai Viravaidya, Mr. Condom

Finally, I hope you’ve enjoyed these insights and that I could provide you a window into the past introducing you to some of the first luk kreung people in history and Thai popular culture and politics. Big thanks also to my Thai-American friend Steven Layne for this lead!