Special

 

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit

Happy Birthday to Your Majesty Queen Sirikit, the Caring Mother of the Thai Nation, on the occasion of your Seventy-third birthday, 12 August 2005. The festivities appropriately also coincide with the nation-wide celebration of Mothers Day.

 Prologue

This short piece is presented as a token of loyalty, affection and respect for our beloved Queen Sirikit. It is not intended to be a definitive account of the Queen’s incredibly-dedicated life; rather, it merely selects out some salient points of Her Majesty’s benevolence.

Her Majesty the Queen works to give livelihood to the Thai people.
(Photo courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household)

The writer has used a rather eclectic approach to tribute to the Queen, particularly text from the Chai Pattana Foundation Journal (August 2000), various reports from magazines and newspapers, including the Bangkok Post, The Nation, Chiangmai Mail and the Pattaya Mail and, of course, Palace sources.

The King and the Queen of Thailand - along with members of the Royal family - have been a tremendous influence on the Thai society, bringing a relatively backward, almost medieval country out of its instability and insecurity into what has become a fully-recognized member of the family of nations, taking a lead role in many ASEAN, Asian and world affairs.

For example, Supachai Panitchpakdi is director-general of the World Trade Organization and the Thai deputy prime minister, Surikiart Sathirathai is a possible candidate for the top UN post of secretary general, after Koffi Anan retires at the end of 2006.

Thus, Thailand takes its place proudly in the world’s fora and it is the King and Queen who have been the guiding lights behind the Kingdom’s evolution.

Peter Cummins
12 August 2005

Sirikit: From lean years to Queen

(Photo courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household)

Born on 12 August 1932, daughter of the Thai Ambassador to France, Mom Chao Nakhatmongol and his consort Mom Luang Bua Sanitwongse, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kittiyakara was destiny’s child.

Following the end of WW II in 1945, the young Sirikit followed her father’s ambassadorial posting first to the Court of St. James and then Paris. The beautiful Sirikit, whose name means “beauty and honour”, continued her education, studying language and music, aspiring to become a concert pianist.

But, lest one think that the future Queen was ‘pampered’ as a child, although the daughter of an upper-class family, she often walked to school or rode the tram and, with the advent of World War II, the young girl’s movements and freedoms were quite restricted.

“When I was young, I lived a frugal life in Bangkok’s Theves area,” the Queen recalled recently, “growing up in the general hardship imposed by the Second World War.”

“I used to feel sorry that my Mum was not able to afford beautiful clothes for me. I inherited my clothes from my brothers, while Mum sewed the student uniforms for my sister and I,” said the Queen.

“My father, the future ambassador to St. James and Paris, used to have to run to catch a tram. But he taught us adamantly, that poverty was not something to be ashamed of. It was evil and corruption that were disgusting and shameful.”

In 1948, Sirikit met her husband-to-be and the future King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Paris, while both were studying in Europe; Bhumibol in Lausanne and Sirikit in Paris.

On July 19, 1949, the young couple announced their engagement at the Windsor Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland and returned to Thailand for their marriage on 28 April 1950. The new King and Queen of Thailand were married by HM Queen Sawang Vadhana, the paternal grandmother of His Majesty, at the Sra Pathum Palace in Bangkok, on 28 April 1950.

Thus, their Majesties have just celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary, and the nation enjoys Her Majesty’s 73rd birthday, knowing that in her tiny hands, back those decades ago, Sirikit was destined to up-raise the Thai people and improve life for each and every one of the some 60 million people who would become her subjects.

When the young prince was crowned King Rama IX on 5 May 1950, the new King’s first official proclamation was to instate his bride of just one week to become Queen Somdej Phranang Chao.

Thus, the King of Thailand’s everlasting heritage to the Thai people was to commit them to the care of a beautiful and loving Queen who has spent every day of these ensuing 55 years looking to the welfare and well-being of the Thai people.

Known for more than a half-century as the “Mother of all the Thais”, Queen Sirikit’s birthday appropriately coincides with Mothers Day.

The Peoples’ Welfare Is Paramount

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.

(Photo courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household)

Earlier this year, in fact, Her Majesty’s concern for her people over-flowed as she was struck by the violence tearing apart the southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.

So acute was the pain the Queen felt that she was compelled to speak out, for the second time in six months. Queen Sirikit made a rare nationally-televised appeal urging an end to the unrest in Thailand’s mainly Muslim south, after a deadly airport bomb attack earlier this month.

“I have been thinking of this for the last few days, after the bombing at the Hat Yai international airport, that I cannot sit idly by, because the incident is quite serious,” the Queen said. “It will affect the tourism industry and the economy could collapse,” she said.

The 72-year-old queen made the remarks during a heartfelt and deeply patriotic speech to some 1,200 village defence volunteers and scouts at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. The village defence volunteer and scout system was created during the Cold War as an anti-communist measure, but continues to this day.

The 40-minute address was taped and broadcast on every Thai television station during prime time.

She made a similar appeal in November, after spending two months in the southern provinces along the Malaysian border, where a separatist insurgency has claimed more than 650 lives since January 2004. Her Majesty spoke of the senseless killing of ordinary people, including Buddhist monks. She described those responsible for these crimes as totally alien to her and quite unlike the past separatists who had never resorted to indiscriminate murder.

Like her last address, the speech avoided any criticism of the government’s handling of the unrest, while urging ordinary Thais to unite against violence.

“I do not incite you to arm and mount retaliatory killings ... but I plead to you all not to remain idle because this situation is very dangerous to our country,” she said.

Queen Sirikit said the April 3 bombings in the southern commercial centre of Hat Yai - targeting an airport, a hotel and a department store - showed the extent of the threat posed by the southern unrest.

“We have experienced a tsunami, which is a very serious national calamity, but the bombs all over the south are more dangerous to our economy and Thailand because it severely affects the livelihood of the people,” she said.

Nearly 5,400 people died when the December 26 tsunami struck six southern provinces in Thailand.

So personal has been Her Majesty’s concern, that just recently, she granted an audience to a four-year-old boy, Patchaporn Charernsilp who had been seriously injured in the Hat Yai airport attack. Furthermore, she came to the assistance of a bereaved family from Narathiwat who had lost their bread-winner in the violence, at the same time the Queen requested the Fourth Army to do its utmost to protect the people in the south from the violence and unrest endemic to the region.

Thus, today, the whole Kingdom of Thailand rejoices and celebrates the birthday of the 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.

Ongoing Celebrations

Since her 71st birthday in 2003, in fact, the Thai people have been celebrating the birthday of the Beloved Queen. One of the early manifestations was three years ago, shortly after Her Majesty’s 70th birthday, when a splendid gala, featuring a Thai silk fashion show - appropriately called “Queen of Silk” - was held in Her Majesty’s honour at Government House.

11 November 2001 - Her Majesty the Queen conversing with the local populace who came to greet Her Majesty during a visit to the SUPPORT Foundation of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand, Sok Som Kob and Klong Chareon Villages, Si Chomphu District, Khon Kaen Province.
(Photo courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household)

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, awarded by the National Research Council of Thailand.

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 decades.”

These awards coincided with the staging of the 19th Congress of the International Sericultural Commission - the first time Thailand has ever had the occasion to host 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 Thai.

But the mudmee Thai silk that the Queen has promoted had a much earlier exposure. On their official state visit to Australia in August 1962, the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported: “Queen Sirikit last night made a dazzling first appearance in Thai national dress. Hundreds of people gasped in admiration when Queen Sirikit arrived to attend a state dinner at the Australia Hotel. Women in the crowd were mesmerized at the sight of the Queen’s ankle-length slim-fitting gown of orchid pink Thai silk!”

There is almost an endless list of awards, celebrations and dedications to Her Majesty, ranging from a nation-wide tree-planting of one million trees to mark each year of the Queen’s life, to concerts, fashion parades, to a world record sky-diving performance. There is a Queen’s cookbook, the opening of a “Butterfly Garden” and, certainly not the least, two highly-prestigious awards from the United States acknowledging the Queen’s role in preserving Thai crafts and her humanitarian assistance to the Thai people, refugees and wildlife.

It is not possible to single out the huge number of accolades and dedications made to the Queen. Only to categorize them, without any particular order of priority. Herewith are some of them:

The 2004 Aid to Artisans Award: for the preservation of Thai crafts, presented at a gala dinner in New York on 2 February, 2004;

The Marshall Legacy Institute’s Annual International Award 2003, for the Queen’s work in helping improve the lives of people and protecting wildlife. Upon the presentation of this award in Washington, D.C. on 4 February 2004, the director of the Institute, which is dedicated to the removal of landmines, pointed out that “Her Majesty had played an important role in promoting the welfare of Thais, with special emphasis on the poor and refugees.”

At the end of 2003, Her Majesty gave permission to print 500 copies of her recipes in a cookbook entitled “Kin Tam Mae” (“Eating as Her Majesty Does”) which stresses the benefits of good food which she prepares for her own family.

The Public Health Ministry said, “The book was a demonstration of Her Majesty’s kindness and it underscored the Public Health Ministry’s declaration of 2004 as ‘The Year for Safe Food’.”

A world record of 672 skydivers from 42 countries, early this year, leaped from six C-130 military transport planes, unfurling on their descent a gigantic Thai flag to honour the Queen.

The Queen’s Gallery, opened on Rajadamnoern Klang Avenue, opposite the Golden Temple in honour of Her Majesty’s 71st birthday in 2003, is Bangkok’s newest art centre and, as well as a collection of portraits of the Queen painted by HM the King, the art and museum displays pieces that have been contributed by galleries and private collectors worldwide.

There have been cultural performances, soloists and many musical tributes to the Queen, herself a skilled classic pianist.

More recently, in July this year, the Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer was officially opened by her daughter, HRH Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, President of the Thai Red Cross Society, at the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital which is run by the Red Cross Society.

The Support Foundation

Almost coinciding with Her Majesty’s 73rd birthday is the 29th 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 - even grandmothers - to teach presumably lost crafts to a ‘new generation’. 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 recently 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). It was a journey into a hall of beautiful, shimmering and intricately-designed silk, carefully laid out.

Many Projects to Raise Living Standards

Recently, 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”.

3 October 2001 - Her Majesty the Queen during a visit to the Pattani Central Mosque, Pattani Province.
(Photo courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household)

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 and Nature.

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 counselled the people, “To bond together in order to protect the forests which are sources of the watershed and natural food,” at the same time, “Encouraging them to use natural resources properly and efficiently, to achieve sustainable benefits.”

Her Majesty 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.”

The Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

Her Majesty has continually worked very hard, with dedication and determination, to improve the living standard and quality of life of the Thai people and the establishment of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is just one manifestation.

In 1996, Her Majesty presided over the unveiling ceremony of the sign of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, located at Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai Province.

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit
(Photo courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household)

The Queen issued a directive to establish the Garden as a Thai plant conservation centre, where botanical research and study could be undertaken in order to maintain the impressive biodiversity of Thai flora. This includes collection and propagation of Thai flora for conservation purposes, especially the indigenous species, the rare and endangered species, and such valuable species as Thai orchids, herbal plants and the country’s economic wood resources.

During each of her visits to the remote rural parts of the country, she observed the on-going problems with great concern, fully recognizing the value of the natural resources, as well as the environment and its rapid deterioration, especially the water resources.

The Queen graciously provided suggestions and initiated numerous beneficial projects for the Thai people, noting that SUPPORT and the many other projects have all created jobs and income for people, enabling them to become self-reliant and to enjoy a better quality of life. People are also encouraged to grow food and garden crops, to carry out a comprehensive cultivation of herbal plants, as well as to raise animals to provide as a food source, and other benefits.

Thai people are very fortunate to have a Queen who not only cares for the country’s valuable natural resources, but also for the people’s welfare. She has transformed barren land into a verdant pasture, with many colourful flowers and cool shade from growing trees.

Concomitantly the people have also gained benefits from the various types of medicinal herbs grown. All works have been undertaken with respect to the four fundamental needs of life, namely: food, clothing, shelter and medicine, which are basically derived from nature.

All these wonderful improvements are bestowed by the altruistic Queen of Thailand, who built the foundation for achieving sustainable benefits among the Thai people, at the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden.

The Demonstration Farm Project

In March, 1997, 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. At these project farms, experimental sheep and poultry farming are undertaken.

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 degradation.

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 their lives.”

In Ubon Ratchathani, close by the border of Laos, lies a natural forest called Dong Na Tham, a huge area covering some 55,000 rai (approx. 220,000 acres), targeting 16 villages and 1,800 families in three contiguous districts Khong Chiam, Si Chiang Mai and Pho Sai.

The hardships and poverty of the people were compounded by the fact that they could not earn enough by rice farming and were forced by circumstances to start illegal logging and smuggling of arms and drugs along the border. The environment and the ecology suffered, too, as just one outcome.

In one of her frequent visits to the people of Ubon Ratchatani, the Queen impressed upon them the dire need to “protect the forest and sustain life” through such occupations as sheep raising, with the wool thus produced, used as the raw material for farmers’ training courses on weaving.

Other livestock cultivation includes the raising of rabbits and boars which, together with fish farming, provide protein to the people.

The Queen has been singularly pleased with the progress and suggested that “these model farms should act as educational demonstration centres where people from other areas can come to see and learn, applying this new knowledge to their own lands.”

The Queen’s initiatives are based on His Majesty the King’s philosophy of a “sufficiency economy” which counsels reduction of the production costs of rice, field and garden crops; fish and frog raising in ponds lined with plastic sheets; cultivation of garden crops around the perimeter of ponds; and chicken raising, using termites drawn from the soil as feed.

Her Majesty’s projects in Ubon Ratchatani have led to a most positive change, both to the people’s lives and the surrounding environment.

Now there is enough food and the people in these projects have learned new skills and do not need to leave their own area to seek work. Furthermore, they refrain from animal hunting and forest encroachment and have been instilled with a feeling of land ownership, resulting in care for the country’s natural resources. Now, they are determined to safeguard such heritage for the benefit and welfare of future generations. This exemplifies remarkable progress.

Other Royal Development Projects

The Queen has made a number of incisive statements at various locations and times when visiting her Royal Development Projects.

Her Majesty the Queen inspecting handicraft products made by members of the Development Project under the Royal Initiation of Her Majesty the Queen, Ruam Thai Village, Muang Mae Hong Son District, Mae Hong Son Province.
(Photo courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household)

In Roi Et Province, at the end of 1999, the Queen 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...”

Starting a Royal Development Project near Pra Mountain in Nong Bua District, Nakhon Sawan Province - an area connecting five provinces - Her Majesty observed that, “Due to deforestation, water resources were diminishing. That is because the forest is one cause … one essence that brings rain.”

The Queen would not have expressed such concerns if the large amount of forest area in Thailand had not declined. At the end of last year, in fact, the remaining forest area in Thailand was only about 25% of the country’s total area.

Nakhon Sawan is one of the provinces where trees were massively destroyed, mainly in the area of Mae Wong National Park in the western part of the province. The remaining forest areas are about 7% of the province area and can be found in the mountain range called “Tuak Khao Pra Soong”, with the eastern part bordering Phetchaburi Province.

This mountain range contains the only remaining fertile forest in the province. However, due to human settlements around the area, coupled with the presence of beautiful granite formations which are in demand by the local builders, the area was intruded upon to reclaim land, to collect wild materials, and to fell trees for the timber. These activities are greatly exacerbated in the dry season, resulting in forest fires.

In relation to this, Pra Kroo Wa Pee Pa Tum, who serves as Lord Abbot of Nong Bua District, as well as being Monk Leader for Environmental Preservation, joined with the Natural Resource and Environment Preservation Club and the people of Nong Bua District to present a petition to Her Majesty to restore the forest and water sources to their original fertile conditions.

Thereupon, the Queen adopted the area and endorsed it as the site for a Royally-initiated project called the Environmental Preservation and Rehabitation of the Pra Mountain Range Project in Nong Bua District, Nakhon Sawan Province.

The project covers an area of 69,035 rai (27,614 acres) and is aimed at restoring the environment and natural surroundings to become a year-round water source for the people. This fulfils Her Majesty’s initiative to bring back life and forest to the land.

In an immediate response to this Royal initiative, the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board (RDRB) allocated a sum from the 1999 budget to the Royal Forest Department to rehabilitate the highland ecological system. With this budget, a watershed covering 2,000 rai (800 acres) and a buffer zone also covering 2,000 rai (800 acres), were chosen as the sites for reforestation.

In addition, the RDPB supported the Land Development Department by undertaking the planting of vetiver grass and the construction of soil embankments, to divert and store water.

For the lowland area, other government agencies were included to cooperate in the development of people’s quality of life and occupations in order to discourage the destruction of trees, and also to instil in them the sense of joint collaboration in forest preservation, so as to restore fertility to the forest in a sustainable and long-term manner.

Recently, project implementation has made progress, even though there exist some obstacles and the achievements are not concrete. Nevertheless, the condition of the environment in the area shows improvement and the farmers reap benefits from the forest which they helped to plant and now care for.

There is now sufficient water for cultivation and the people have a stable life for earning a living. No longer having to face famine, they become self-reliant and self-sufficient.

This basically describes the successful outcome of just this single project and enables it to the attain goals according to the wishes of Their Majesties the King and the Queen, to see their subjects achieve self-sufficiency, while making optimal use of the resources in the locality, thus reducing dependency on external sources.

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.

Epilogue

“I love being a Mother,” the young Queen said, addressing a group during a Royal Visit to the United States in October 1967. The Queen has been the “Mother to all Thais” for her lifetime.

All over the country, Her Majesty the Queen brings joy to Her people.
(Photo courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household)

On the eve of her 71st birthday in August, 2003, the Queen informed a big gathering of dignitaries at Chitralada Palace that, “His Majesty the King had been keeping a close watch on my public role - at times advising me on what I should or should not say.” Right now, “He is watching my performance on television. He said ‘enough of matters involving forestry and water’… and when I travel abroad, he follows my English speech closely,” the Queen added with a smile.

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.

A Most Happy 73rd Birthday Your Majesty, from all of us at the Chiangmai Mail.