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The Bunnag Family: Thai People of Persian Decent

It is a fact that in the period of the Ayutthaya  Kingdom, i.e. the early 17th century, Persian people migrated to Thailand. They were mainly traders and merchants. These people of Persian decent were referred to as ‘Khaek Ma-ngon’ (แขกมะหง่น) or ‘Shia Muslim’ which is ‘Khaek Chaosen’ (แขกเจ้าเซน) in Thai. Over the centuries, most of the Khaek Ma-ngon converted to Buddhism and were integrated into Thailand’s society.

Consort Samlee Bunnag [Rama 4] with her daughters around 1880, (photo credit: teakdoor.com)

Consort Samlee Bunnag [Rama IV] with her daughters around 1880, (photo: teakdoor.com)

The Bunnag family

Some of the Thai families of Iranian decent have been very influential in Thai public life. In this context, the Bunnag (บุนนาคfamily is most well-known and established up until today. Their ancestor is Shaykh Ahmad Qomi who came as a merchant to Ayutthaya in 1602 and stayed in Thailand for 26 years.

Yarinda Bunnag (photo bk.asia-city.com)

Contemporary actress, singer & architect Yarinda Bunnag (b. 1980). She was in the movie The Red Eagle starring alongside Ananda Everingham (photo: bk.asia-city.com)

The Bunnag family was acknowledged as a Siamese Royal Family in the early Rattanakosin period. They were most powerful in the 19th century. The first patriarch of the Bunnag, Akka Mahasena, was a close friend and confidant of Rama I who married five of Bunnag’s daughters as royal consorts. Thus, the Bunnag also influenced the succession in the Chakri dynasty. However, in the late 19th century the Bunnag’s power was restricted by King Rama V (Chulalongkorn).

Bunnag sisters and children sharing a meal on the veranda of the king’s residence at Dusit Palace. (image courtesy of the National Archive of Thailand, quod.lib.umich.edu)

The Bunnag family, sisters and children sharing a meal on the veranda of the king’s residence at Dusit Palace. (Image courtesy of the National Archive of Thailand, quod.lib.umich.edu)

The Bunnag daughters were royal consorts for centuries. Even during the time of King Chulalongkorn’s reign, the Bunnag sisters were concubines at the Royal Court. In this context, you may remember my article about Dara Rasami who was a Princess of Chiang Mai at the Siamese Court.

The Bunnag sisters, royal consorts, notice that they all wear a short hairstyle*

The Bunnag sisters, royal consorts at the time of King Chulalongkorn (Image courtesy of the National Archive of Thailand, quod.lib.umich.edu)

Dis Bunnag (Prayurawongse,1788–1855 ) was a son of Akka Mahasena. He was an important political figure and played a decisive role in the ascension of King Mongkut (Rama IV).

Prayurawongse, Dis Bunnag (photo credit: Watprayoon, wikimedia.org)

Prayurawongse, Dis Bunnag (photo: Watprayoon, wikimedia.org)

He became the kingdom-wide regent under King Monkut being granted the title of Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Prayurawongse. One of his sons, Chuang Bunnag, became the regent for King Chulalongkorn.

Sri Suriyawongse, Chuang Bunnag (photo credit: wikimedia.org)

Sri Suriyawongse, Chuang Bunnag (photo: wikimedia.org)

Finally, we may say that the Bunnag family has been very influential in Thailand’s history. There are in fact some other Thai families of Persian decent which trace their ancestry back to Shaykh Ahmad. These are for instance the Ahmadchula families.

Yours, Sirinya




John Thomson: Pictures of Old Siam

“His [Thomson’s] photographic style can be perceived from the beauty of his works. Back then when all he had was natural light, he still managed to get the beautiful photographs”

(Paisarn Piemmettawat, the exhibition’s organizer’s assistant)

John Thomson: the crown prince of Siam (Rama V)

John Thomson photography: the crown prince of Siam (Rama V)

John Thomson Photography

Recently I’ve come across an interesting article in the Bangkok Post. It is about a photo exhibition of the Scot J. Thomson, born in 1837, who was one of the first photographers in the Far East.

young Siamese prince

A young Siamese prince

The National Gallery on Chao Fah Road in Bangkok now shows 60 of Thomson’s black and white photos of old Siam. These photos were taken in 1865 – 1866. The exhibition is called “Siam Through The Lens Of John Thomson”. It started on 10. January and runs until 28. February 2015. You have free entry to this exhibition.

Siamese nobleman Racha Chaya

Siamese nobleman Racha Chaya

The photographer arrived in Bangkok on 28. September 1865. Thus, the exhibition marks the 150th year since his arrival in Siam.

Siamese Buddhist bonze.

Portrait of a Siamese monk, 1865

While staying in Siam after living and travelling some other places in Asia like Ceylon and Malaysia, Thomson took photos of the King of Siam, members of the royal court but also of ordinary people. Hence, he also documented village life.

L0055805 Siamese boatman, Siam [Thailand].

A Siamese boatman with his oar.

 

siamese teenager with topknot

A Siamese youth with traditional topknot

What is special about Thomson is that he was the first (Western) photographer to be allowed into the Grand Palace and to take photos of King Mongkut, Rama IV. The King was very much impressed with his skill of taking photos.

800px-Thomson_King_Mongkut_of_Siam-762x1000

King Mongkut, Rama IV, in European attire, 1865

 

L0055542 The 1st King of Siam, King Mongkut, in state robes, Bangkok

King Monkut in traditional Thai attire and regalia of royalty, 1865

Hence, there is a very special picture of a procession taken in front of Wat Pho because the situation was that the King called everyone to stay still so that Thomson could take photos of this event. In fact, this is a rare picture of a historical moment that displays the greatness of Thai tradition.

king of siam and procession

The king and his procession in front of Wat Pho

What is more, Thomson also took photos of the city of Bangkok and Ayutthaya.

the chao phraya river as seen from the main spire of Wat Arun

The Chaophraya river viewed from Wat Arun

thomson_1

The pictures in this post are all taken from the Wellcome Library, London. They also have more photos of Thomson’s travel to other parts of East Asia.

Well, the exhibition is over but there is now a new book called ‘Siam Through the Lens of John Thomson’ published by River Books. If you are interested in history, old Siam and John Thomson’s photography, I strongly recommend you check out this work 🙂

Yours, Sirinya