News / Asia

    Thai Authorities Express Concern About Superstitious Dolls

    "Luuk thep" (child angels) dolls are displayed at the Economic Crime Suppression Division after more than a hundred of them were seized in separate raids, in Bangkok, Jan. 26, 2016.
    "Luuk thep" (child angels) dolls are displayed at the Economic Crime Suppression Division after more than a hundred of them were seized in separate raids, in Bangkok, Jan. 26, 2016.

    Authorities and psychologists in Thailand are expressing concern over the increasing popularity of dolls believed to possess the spirits of child angels.

    The dolls, known in Thai as luk thep and believed by some to bring their owners good fortune, are purchased for hundreds of dollars and blessed by Buddhist monks.

    Doll popularity

    Shops are selling clothing, jewelry and beauty treatments for the dolls. A buffet restaurant in the Thai capital offers children's meals for them.

    Thailand's Civil Aviation Authority is expected to convene a meeting of airlines and airport operators this week to discuss the surging demand by passengers to take their dolls on board.

    One domestic airline is already serving drinks and snacks to the dolls if their owners purchase a seat for them. In a memo to its staff, Thai Smile, a subsidiary of the national carrier Thai Airways, explained the dolls could be considered children as they had undergone a spiritual ceremony breathing life into them.

    Their popularity increased after several Thai celebrities asserted their dolls had brought them luck.

    If the dolls help their owners feel better then the fad is rather innocuous, according to Nattasuda Taephant, director of psychological wellness at Chulalongkorn University.

    “But if it crosses the boundary of reality and they believe they can talk to the luk thep doll that would be something concerning in terms of mental health,” she told VOA on Tuesday.

    Superstitions

    Thai mental health officials have issued an appeal for people to adhere to mainstream religious values and shun such incredulous things. But the belief is rooted in ancient Southeast Asian superstitions.

    “Luk thep dolls are a clever blend of superstition and the digital era,” said Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, the director general of the mental health department under the Public Health Ministry.

    A Thai policeman shows a "luuk thep" (child angel) doll after more than a hundred of them were seized in separate raids, at the Economic Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, Jan. 26, 2016.
    A Thai policeman shows a "luuk thep" (child angel) doll after more than a hundred of them were seized in separate raids, at the Economic Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, Jan. 26, 2016.

    Spiritual leaders in Thailand and other countries in the region traditionally took stillborns or removed dead fetuses from women's wombs, roasted the bodies and then blessed and covered them in gold leaf. In Thailand, such household divine effigies are known as kuman thong (for male figures) and hong phrai (for female ones).

    The practice has largely stopped in the modern era, but some are concerned the dolls represent a return to a more superstitious age.

    “I'm really wondering how part of Thai society has come to this point,” said Sermsuk Kasitpradit, a veteran editor and popular blogger.

    “As a Buddhist I am feeling much shame as it it is totally against the teaching of our Lord Buddha who preached not to believe in superstition,” Sermsuk told VOA.

    Criminal usage, drug smuggling

    There are also concerns the modern incarnations may be put to nefarious use, according to authorities.

    Nearly 200 "yaba" methamphetamine pills were found Monday stuffed into the chest of a girl doll that had been placed in a suitcase for retrieval in the Chiang Mai airport's parking lot, said police Lt. Col. Kom Chetkhuntod.

    The dolls give criminals “a new way to smuggle drugs,” said police General Chakthip Chajinda who added he has instructed all officers at airport and border checkpoints to strictly screen dolls.

    Police officers on Tuesday carried out raids in Bangkok against doll vendors suspected of evading import taxes.

    Three vendors were arrested and authorities seized more than 100 luk thep dolls, mostly imported from China, according to police Col. Kriangsak Kanrayawattanajaroen, deputy commander of the Economic Crime Suppression Bureau.


    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: sut
    January 27, 2016 2:56 AM
    Thais believe in everything that brings them luck, for example, handphone number, car registration number should be changed in order to bring them prosperity etc etc.

    by: Marceloswife
    January 26, 2016 3:29 PM
    Wow! Thai Authorities really mustn't have very much to do! To think a doll has such powers is crazy.

    by: Kamol from: Thailand
    January 26, 2016 11:45 AM
    Keeping the doll as a companion is fine but the owner should not allow herself to be carried away by her own fantasy. Instead of lavishing money on the doll, the owner would gain true happiness by helping unfortunate children.

    by: lone eagle from: Bangkok, Thailand
    January 26, 2016 10:21 AM
    Thank you VOA for this article. I recently saw a young Thai woman carrying such a doll at a Bangkok subway station that I regularly use and had no idea that what I looking at was a "luk thep."

    In the over 3 decades in Thailand and having traveled through about most of Thailand what I saw at that MRT subway station was a first.

    I was about to ask the Thais standing in line to board the subway why the young woman was carrying a doll, but I did not since my question would have probably made them uncomfortable and I am now glad that I did not ask.

    However if these "luk thep" dolls start making their appearance to the run up to the general election in the US then there may be room for real serious concern.


    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora