Ancient Past, Modern Ceremony: Thailand's Royal Barge Procession in Historical Context

Matthew Phillips

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The royal barge procession is one of Thailand’s most historic cultural events. For centuries, foreign visitors have written about the processionals with a sense of awe. There has also been remarkable consistency in their descriptions, suggesting that many aspects of the ceremony have remained unchanged. Yet, while serving as historic relics of an ancient Thai past, the barges also function as icons of the modern Thai nation. Today they appear on tourist literature and other promotional materials, and the processionals are regularly used to mark important national moments. This chapter explores how the barge procession came to represent both the deep Thai past and the modern Thai nation. With a specific focus on the early Cold War, during a period where power was being openly contested amongst Thailand’s elite, the chapter identifies how the materiality of the barges presented both challenges and opportunities. Certainly, as historic artefacts, the barges promised to secure narratives of authenticity and political legitimacy. Yet, as this chapter will illustrate, for the barge procession to be of genuine value to the Thai state, it would first have to be reconciled with the contemporary forces that were determining the course of Thai nation building; namely, the integration of Thailand into a world order based in the United States, and the reorganisation of Thai society around new class arrangements.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHow the Past was Used
Subtitle of host publicationHistorical cultures, c. 750-2000
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages29
VolumeProceedings of the British Academy
ISBN (Print)978-0-19-726612-0
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2017


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