Happy Birthday Your Majesty
August 12, 2003
by Peter Cummins
Photos courtesy of
The Bureau of the
The whole Kingdom of Thailand rejoices and celebrates the
birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, the “Mother of the Nation” and, by
extension, pays a tribute to Thai Motherhood, as Thailand also honours
“Mothers’ Day” at this time.
Shortly after Her Majesty’s 70th birthday last year, a
splendid gala featuring a Thai silk fashion show appropriately called
“Queen of Silk”, was held in Her Majesty’s honour at Government House.
The highlight of the spectacular evening was the conferring upon the Queen,
the Louis Pasteur Award, by the International Sericultural Commission and
the Brussels Eureka 2001, conferred by the National Research Council of
As an added honour, the Ministry of Agriculture and
Cooperatives commissioned a special musical tribute called “Mai Rak”
(Love of Silk), “in appreciation of Her Majesty’s role and activities in
Thai silk and developing it to a world standard over the past five
The awards coincided with the staging of the 19th
Congress of the International Sericultural Commission - the first time
Thailand has ever had the honour of holding this prestigious event. Thus it
was a fitting tribute to Her Majesty, witnessed by some 500 sericulture
experts from more than 23 countries who attended the Congress.
Of course, a familiar sight to the Thai people and,
certainly those at the Congress, is the Queen attired in Thai silk,
particularly Mudmee (known also as Ikat), Korat and Chiang Mai silks.
During her trips around the Kingdom and abroad, the Queen
invariably wears Thai silk, as do those of her staff who accompany her. As a
result of this exposure, the international community has learned to admire
the beauty of Thai silk and to appreciate a handicraft that is uniquely
In the beginning
On the fifth of May, 1950, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was
crowned King of Thailand and his first official proclamation was to elevate
his bride of just one week, the Thai Ambassador to London’s beautiful
daughter Sirikit - the name appropriately meaning
beauty and honour - to become Queen Somdej Phranang Chao.
The new King of Thailand, in turn, gave to the Thai
people a beautiful and loving Queen who has spent a lifetime contributing to
Early in their reign, when visiting remote areas, the
Royal Couple were disturbed by the plight of the rural people, the lack of
educational and medical facilities and, not the least, poor nutrition which
aggravated all other problems. The King determined to take positive action
to help the farmers, while Her Majesty focused on “the home”, seeking
ways to enable the women-folk to earn cash to help alleviate the grinding
and debilitating poverty.
As recently as last year, in fact, with the welfare of
the hilltribe people foremost in her mind, the Queen asked the Third Army to
drop its plans of moving them to lowlands, fearing “such re-location will
affect their way of life”.
The SUPPORT Foundation
Almost coinciding with Her Majesty’s 71st birthday next
week, is the 27th anniversary of the founding, on 21 July 1976, of the
Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques, popularly known by the
acronym SUPPORT. The foundation was established to place, on a more formal
basis, the activities started by the Queen, to initiate cottage industries
for village and farm women, without the necessity of leaving home.
From her own personal funds, Her Majesty supplied weaving
looms and materials to make fabrics, clothing and soft goods, as well as
providing equipment to produce other marketable items. Having lived in
Europe for many years, the Queen was conversant with the enormous diversity
of European arts and culture and thus recognized the variety of crafts and
styles distinctive to different regions of Thailand: hand-woven fabrics,
basket-ware and rattan products, utensils and a myriad other artefacts.
Her Majesty is justifiably well known for her clear
perception and this rose to remarkable heights with her outstanding vision
for making SUPPORT into a viable proposition. She brought back from
retirement former court artisans to teach presumably lost crafts to a ‘new
generation’ - even grandmothers. The Queen’s advice to the
‘retirees’ was that, “Before they urged the villagers to make
anything, they must be certain that the end-product is marketable - and not
made for charity alone which does not provide a real livelihood. SUPPORT is
designed to make the villagers self-reliant,” the Queen emphasized.
Particular stress was placed upon bringing
physically-handicapped people to work at SUPPORT projects, raising their
confidence and creating a satisfaction for each person who was, thus,
achieving a level of self-reliance by being able to earn an income - and not
having to rely on charity or handouts to survive.
Mudmee Silk is but one of the Queen’s legacies to the
Foundation. It was Her Majesty who ‘resurrected’ this almost-forgotten
weaving craft, indigenous to the northeast. Mudmee, meaning literally
‘tied threads’, is an intricate ‘tie and die’ process which produces
brilliant colours, each piece being unique and the pattern is the individual
imagination of the weaver - there are no blueprints to follow. Due to Her
Majesty’s guidance, as well as to her wearing of Mudmee at official
functions in Thailand and abroad, Mudmee silk is universally known as a
distinctive, exotic and outstandingly beautiful Thai artefact.
This writer had the good fortune to visit the Silk
Museum, adjacent to the Community College, Ban Kookard, in Khon Kaen
Province, when undertaking an educational assignment commissioned by the
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) last year. It was a journey into a
hall of beautiful, shimmering and intricate design, carefully laid out.
Many projects to raise living
Although probably best known for the SUPPORT project, the
Queen’s great determination to raise the living standards and improve the
quality of life for the Thai people has led to many other projects,
beneficial to the people and Nature equally. For example, there are the
Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, The Forest Loves Water and The Little House in
the Big Forest Projects.
During her ongoing visits - often with the King and other
members of the Royal Family - to the remotest and poorest areas of the
country, Her Majesty soon realized that it was preservation and wise use of
the natural resources and environmental protection which were the imperative
components in striking a balance between the welfare of human settlements
The Queen was most disturbed by the deterioration of
these vital elements, particularly the water resources, which she observed
on each visit, were either becoming depleted or badly degraded. The end
result was a further blow to the well-being and improved way of life for
even her least subjects.
The Queen encouraged the people, “To bond together in
order to protect the forests which are sources of the watershed and natural
food,” and at the same time, “Encouraging the people to use natural
resources properly and efficiently, to achieve sustainable benefits.” The
Queen also urged the people to become self-reliant and, “To grow food and
garden crops, to undertake a comprehensive cultivation of herbal plants and
raise animals as a food source.”
One outcome of this loving care for even the least of her
subjects has been the establishment in 1996 of the Queen Sirikit Botanic
Garden, located at the Mae Rim District in Chiang Mai Province. The Garden
was opened to serve as a Thai plant conservation centre where botanical
research and study is undertaken to maintain the vast biodiversity of Thai
flora. This includes collection and propagation of indigenous, rare and
endangered species of flora. Thai orchids, herbal plants and a vast array of
native woods are conserved here, as part of the Queen’s legacy to present
and future generations.
In 1997 and 1998, the Queen initiated a project to
establish three demonstration farms, two of which are in Chiang Mai Province
at Baan Khun Tae, Moo 5, Chom Thong District and at Baan Mae Tungting, Moo 5
Samoeng District. The third is located in Chiang Rai Province, at Baan Rom
Fah Thong, Moo 9, Viang Kaen District.
H.M. the Queen regularly visits these remote areas to see
at first-hand how the quality of life is improving for the farmers who now
have secure occupations, are husbanding different types of animals for food
and, equally-importantly, are now protecting the forest, wildlife and the
watershed - in fact, the environment as a whole - from any further
Just recently, in fact, the Queen “urged Thais to feel
more grateful for their blessed country - the golden lands that have
provided them with shelter and the abundant resources that have sustained
In Ubon Ratchathani, close by the border of Laos, lies a
natural forest called Dong Na Tham, a huge area covering some 50,000 rai
(approx. 80 m sq. metres). The hardships and poverty of the people in the
surrounding villages had caused the villagers to encroach on the natural
reserve, with disastrous results to the environment and ecology.
Based on His Majesty the King’s philosophy of a
“sufficiency economy”, the Queen initiated a number of alternatives to
the near-destitute farmers, with a most positive change, both to the
people’s lives and the surrounding environment.
The Queen recently pointed out that, “The forest is a
water resource for the people. Without forests, or if we keep destroying the
trees, though we gain more land, we will lose all water supply. The land ...
will become a desert. Forests should exist to preserve life and water and
maintain the rainfall which helps us to a better living...” These are just
some of Her Majesty’s initiatives which, over a lifetime of devotion and
dedication to Her people, have certainly improved the life of Her subjects.
This brief dedication could be summed up in Her
Majesty’s own words, emphasizing her humanity, goodwill and, not the
least, her humour. “Has HM the King encouraged you to concentrate on work
for the well-being of the people?” the Queen was once asked in an
interview. “He did not encourage me at all ... he ordered me to,” the
Queen replied. “I will look after the land and the farmers and you must
look after their families,” the King said.
Happy Birthday Your Majesty from us all at the Chiangmai