Friday, October 3, 2008

Phallic charms, buffalo amulets at heart of plans by new culture minister

One of the fun things about getting a new government in Thailand is hearing the wacky ideas from the new culture ministers.

For example, earlier this year, a scantily clad girl band was held up as cultural ambassadors.

Now, there's another new government, since embattled prime minister Samak Sundaravej was ordered to stand down by the Constitutional Court, which ruled he violated the law by being paid to appear on a television cooking show. And he now faces worse problems -- criminal defamation charges -- which is actually quite chilling.

So Somchai Wongsawat is Thailand's new premier. And I don't want to dwell on the fact that his wife is the sister of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- the guy who the People's Alliance for Democracy anti-government protesters are so angry with, that for more than a month they have occupied Government House and vowed they will stage round-the-clock rallies until Thaksin's "nominee" government is removed from power.

Anyway, let's get to the reason I have a picture of wooden phalli on this page.

It has to do with Somchai's new culture minister, Worawat Ua-apinyakul, and Worawat'sidea to promote his vision of Thai culture, which includes marketing phallus-shaped amulets and water buffalo figurines as trinkets for tourists.

Here's more from a Nation-Daily Xpress story on Tuesday:

They are cultural products," Worawat said.

He unveiled his bold idea in a talk about the Culture Ministry's 2009 policies.

"We can turn local amulets with phallus symbols and buffalo statuettes into key chains and sell them to tourists," Worawat insisted.

Known as Palad Khik, the phallus-shaped amulets are believed to magically protect their wearers, while the "Kwai Tanoo" buffalo statuettes are said to give their owners the power to harm others.

Worawat hoped that manufacturers would provide certificates of authenticity to show their wares were properly made.

"The back stories behind the amulets could inspire big-budget movies too," the new culture minister added.

It is already quite common to see phallic-shaped amulets worn on keychains around Thailand. They can often be spotted on the keyrings of motorcycle-taxi drivers, who use the power of the phallus amulets to protect them against Bangkok's sometimes nightmarish traffic jams.

I did not know those details about the buffalo statuettes. I would not want to use a buffalo amulet's power to intentionally harm others, however it might come in handy as a strong defense.

The story has since been picked up by Deutsche Presse-Agentur, where it'll be one of those "odd" filler stories from the Land of Smiles. Folks on the Thai Visa Forum are having a ball with this one. Thailand Crisis weighs in as well.

Worawat's idea has been criticized as boneheaded. Academic Srisak Wallipodom told the Bangkok Post (cache) that Worawat has "shown that he has no understanding of culture ... if the idea came to fruition, it would lead to a crisis of culture".

A follow-up story in yesterday's Daily Xpress (Page 2, print edition), has Worawat denying his "One Tambon One Phallus" scheme:

Culture Minister Worawat Ua-apinyakul denies he is planning to promote phallus and magical buffalo amulets as Otop (local-speciality) products.

“My idea has been misunderstood,” Worawat complained yesterday, “My point is to promote local tourism with cultural highlights.”

He explained that legends, beliefs and interesting histories could attract tourists.

“For example, locals could give tourists clear explanations of their belief in holy water or voodoo dolls,” Worawat added.

Oh Worawat, I think you dug yourself in deeper.

(Photo: The phallus cave, Raylay by Robin McMorran/Flickr; cross-published at AllVoices)

1 comment:

  1. "One tambon, one phallus" - ho ho! =]

    I hate to be patronising, but the nub of this bold new policy would seem to be to persuade people to do what they've already been doing for as long as anyone can remember. Selling tat to tourists - a brand new industry!! And movies based on amulets with mystical powers - there certainly haven't been any of those coming out of Thailand over the last few years ... :P

    I sometimes wonder whether Thailand is a country or just a big theme park ...


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