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Luuk Thep Dolls- A Thai Phenomen

May 29, 2016

 

As a frequent visitor to Thailand over the last twenty-five years with 17 conferences held in Bangkok, Pattaya and Chiang Mai, and with friends and colleagues living in this beautiful and friendly country, I was interested to note a recent obsession with so called Angel Dolls or Child Angels. Thai adults have embraced their purchase after a local celebrity reportedly praised the doll for its ability to bring good luck. (2) Many Thais look up to celebrities and follow whatever trend is started by their favourite stars. This is particularly true of the luuk thep craze – it took off after several celebrities claimed that their luuk thep dolls were behind their success and wealth. (6)

 

 

Owning a "luuk thep" (sometimes also spelt as look thep or luk thep) became a ‘must have’ in 2015when Thanatchapan "DJ Pukko" Booranachewawilai (Radio station 94 EFM) said that he had set out to buy a kuman thong, but went home with a child angel instead. "A fortune-teller introduced me to the 'luuk thep' and I thought it was adorable," said Pukko. He is always accompanied by the doll named Nong Wansai. "I'd bought the doll new clothes and right away there was a message on my phone reinstating a job that had been cancelled. Then I prayed to Nong Wansai to get me a bigger job, and a friend called to say a director wanted me to star in his movie! I told Nong Wansai that if I got a call about the job right away, I'd buy her a gold necklace. And, unbelievably, I got the call!" (5) A Child's Angel doll costs between 2,000 baht to 20,000 baht ($55 to $550), or even up to USD850. (2) The dolls have purpose-made clothing, are ordered separate meals at restaurants and in many cases seen as a member of the family. (5)

 

 

Thailand, which is predominantly Buddhist, has been modernising rapidly over the past two or three decades. But many people remain highly superstitious, their Buddhist beliefs co-existing with notions of animism, astrology and "black magic". The plastic dolls, about the size of a real baby, are called "luuk thep", or child angel. Devotees pay local Buddhist monks to conduct a ritual to invite benevolent spirits to possess them, hoping they will bring good luck and blessings (3). Some owners expect the “luuk thep” to receive an angel spirit, such as the spirits of a dead child. They are also seen to protect their owners from harm. (1)

 

The "Luuk Thep" superstition is believed to have been derived from the ancient Kuman Thong practice. Followers of this practice worship dead foetuses, in hopes that the spirits of the dead children will make their wishes come true. (1) The Kuman Thong baby amulets that have lingered since the Ayutthaya Period (1351 to 1767) were normally kept as a household divinity. In sharp contrast, the child angels are being cuddled in public, pampered in restaurants, given beauty treatments and booked regular passenger seats on commercial flights. (5)


"Luuk Thep" owners care for their dolls like they would a child — that means feeding and talking to the doll. In Thai society it has become a norm to see people treating these dolls like infants. Some Thai eateries are now catering to this trend by serving children’s meals to "luuk thep" dolls. (1) "I raise them as though they're my own children and I'm not shy about taking them everywhere. Anyone who'd feel ashamed about doing that just shouldn't adopt one” says Siraporn, who paid 3,600 baht for each of her dolls, both of which have the marks of a monk's blessing. She has not noticed anything supernatural, but does feel a close bond to them. " I feed them real food and sweets and milk. At night I clean them with a cloth, dress them in pyjamas and pray with them before tucking them into bed. I don't think this is blind faith. If you look after them with love and goodwill, the child angels will bring you good fortune. " (5)

 

 

With the desire for owners to take their “luuk thep” on holiday, Thai air companies were challenged with how to treat the dolls. Thai Airways' low-cost’ carrier, Thai Smile, announced that "Luuk Thep" owners are able to purchase seats for their doll. This will entitle the doll to all flight services that children receive, such as a booked seat (enabling the child angel to gaze upon heaven), children’s meals and reminders to fasten their seat belt. (1) "Bangkok Airways doesn't do anything special for the baby doll - we treat it as a doll," says Arisra Sangrit, a senior media-relations manager for the airline. "As long as the doll makes it through the security check and doesn't break any civil-aviation rules, the airline has no problem accommodating the dolls.". (5) Recently however, Thailand's aviation authorities and airline representatives agreed that the hugely popular 'angel dolls' would be technically classified as luggage and therefore would need to be placed under seats or in overhead compartments. (2) The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand said it would stop airlines selling tickets for dolls over concern they could be used to smuggle drugs. (3)

 

Is the Thai’s desire to own and treat “lukk thep” as children a problem for their society? Despite the growing mania for the angel dolls, Dr Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, director-general of the government's Mental Health Department, says the obsession is not a mental illness. It is purely a matter of personal belief. However, he believes that Thais should be more circumspect about their tendencies to both believe in the supernatural and to follow popular trends. (5)


Other prominent Thais have stated that an economic downturn means that many Thais are concerned about their financial wellbeing, and are taking precautions to ensure good luck. (3) As a pessimistic mood has enveloped the country, many people are feeling overwhelmed. The Thais have turned to their tried and trusted superstitions – “luuk thep” being one of them – that offer hope in small, simple doses. (6) Is the fad fading? The discovery of abandoned dolls at one temple may suggest so. (4) We can only wait to see. I look forward to hearing what you think of the Luuk Thep or Angel Dolls!

 


1. Tan, A., People in Thailand are treating these creepy life-size dolls like real children”, 26th January 2016. http://mashable.com/2016/01/26/thailand-look-thep-dolls/#TgA4choFIiqF
2. Thailand's 'Luk Thep' doll fad causes mixed reactions amongst local businesses, 28TH January 2016, www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-28/thailand's-'luk...dolls.../7120766
3. Thailand’s Angel Dolls, 28th January 2016
https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/thailands-child-angels
4) Is Thailand's 'child angel' doll fad fading? , 11 February 2016. www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35540790 5, Why child angel dolls are much more than just cute companions…., 28th January 2016. http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/why-child-angel-dolls-are-much-more-than-just-cute-companions-in-thailand. 6. Suselo, F., Inside the World of Luuk Thep: Psychoanalysis the Thai Mind, 2nd February 2016, http://whatsonsukhumvit.com/inside-the-world-of-luuk-thep-psychoanalysis-of-the-thai-mind/

 

 

 

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