The content in this page ("History in the making … up" by Harrison George) is not produced by Prachatai staff. Prachatai merely provides a platform, and the opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of Prachatai.

History in the making … up

For all its faults, Wikipedia has been a godsend to the Thai education system.  Think of the thousands and thousands of term papers and theses that have benefitted from a judicious cut-and-paste job, sometimes on a massive scale, sometimes even with proper attribution. 

In this way, Wikipedia has helped to secure a ready supply of suitably trained academics to serve the plagiarism-friendly educational institutions of the country.

But there are fears that Thai scholarship may be deprived of this invaluable resource and that the internet encyclopaedia may soon be blocked because of repeated blatant violations of the lèse majesté law.  This threat comes from the apparent willingness of the judiciary to see Article 112 as applying to all monarchs, dead or alive.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled that a glancing reference to a lack of personal freedom in the reign of King Rama IV (when slavery still existed) constituted ‘defaming, insulting or expressing ill will towards the king, queen, heir apparent or regent’, i.e. a crime with 3 to 15 as the statutory penalty.  And it didn’t matter that King Rama IV died in 1868, because by extension, this scurrilous comment negatively affected the current monarch.

Those who fondly conjectured that this was a transient fit of the vapours on the bench have had their hopes dashed by the latest prosecution of serial lèse majesté offender Sulak Srivaraksa for wondering aloud if the boy’s own heroics of King Naresuan (1555-1605) as narrated in hyperbolic school textbooks were completely factual. 

So, with the help of an eager Thai student who reads Prachatai to improve his English, I have taken it upon myself to ‘clean up’ the pages of Wikipedia so that Thai students can continue learning in their own distinctive way.  And we’re going to start with King Ekkathat.

Eager Thai student: Ah, the last King of Ayutthaya who braved personal danger to valiantly rouse his subjects to the defence of the capital, despite his, er, …

HG: Yes, I don’t think it would be very nice to specify exactly what he was supposed to have suffered from.  Shall we say ‘medical condition’? 

OK, that’s, er, very subtle. 

And not defamatory.  Everyone has a medical condition, after all.  But, valiant rousings notwithstanding, it was under his watch that Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese.  But perhaps the biggest difficulty is with the way he became King.

He wasn’t just crowned?

Well, after he snitched to his father, who was King, that his elder brother was having it off with one of the royal concubines, the King had his brother bludgeoned to death, removing one obstacle on his route to the throne.  There might be a few lèse majestés to get rid of there, the telling tales, the hanky-panky and the bludgeoning.

Erm, perhaps not.  The elder brother was Front Palace so certainly he may have been expected to become King but there was no ‘heir apparent’ as such in those days.

Ah, ‘heir presumptive’, good one.  So he’s not covered, so no problem.  Then the King skipped Ekkathat and made his younger brother heir.  Royal prerogative.  Nothing wrong with that.

So how did Ekkathat become King and not his brother?

When their father died, the brother did become King. But Ekkathat fomented a civil war, executed his half-brothers and forced his brother to abdicate.

Yes, well, a bit of sibling rivalry is quite normal.  It’s not really defamatory, is it?  Nowhere near as dangerous as claiming some Thais used to be slaves.

So you think we can get away with that?  OK, then there’s this story that he sneaked out of Ayutthaya under the Burmese siege, leaving the nobility to surrender and that was Ayutthaya’s lot.

Ah, yes, but that’s just what some foreigner said.  Foreigners are known to be incapable of understanding Thailand, so the story’s obviously not trustworthy.

So the foreigner may be guilty of posthumous lèse majesté but if Wikipedia couches this in the right way, I think we’re home and dry.

Except for his name.

His name?  Why?

Well the ‘ekka-’ means ‘one’ or ‘single’.

Yes?  And the ‘-that’?

That’s the root for things to do with vision.

Bugger.  This is not going to be easy.  Because it’s not just Thai kings we have to deal with, you know.  The law doesn’t say ‘the Thai King’, just ‘King’.  So we’ll have to do Richard the Third who was just exhumed from a car park.

The nasty one in Shakespeare?

Afraid so.  Then Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Caligula.

Who’s Caligula?

A Roman Emperor.  Off his rocker by all accounts.  Even had his horse made Consul.

Oh, that’s just like …

Comments like that are not at all helpful.


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

 

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