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

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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    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.


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