Replacing Yellow With Black: Mourning the Death of the Thai King 

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Yellow Flags to Honor King in Thailand, 2006

Memories from Southeast Asia a decade ago flashed through my mind when we paused during my  church’s service on Sunday to mourn the death of the king of Thailand.Unfortunately, all I really remembered about the Thai monarchy, though, was that everyone wore yellow shirts on Monday.

“To respect the king,” I was told.
The other thing about the king I could recall was conversations with my expat teammates when they returned from watching a movie at the theaters.
“Everyone stands to honor the king while they play his song and a short video about him,” they reported.”Thai people love their king.”
Had I studied political science or slightly more mature I might have paid more attention and asked questions while in Thailand about this beloved figure. Instead, I was preoccupied with bungee jumping, rafting down rivers, sampling street food and riding scooters or motorcycles.
Learning of his death a decade later, however, I realize that our globe is losing someone special. Although I don’t feel equipped to write a proper tribute, I wanted to acknowledge the legacy of this leader. A little research from a variety of sources lead me to believe that King Bhumibol Adulyadej was indeed a community entrepreneur. In his 70 year reign, King Bhumibol worked hard for the well-being of his subjects, showing care for poor and ethnic minorities. He helped develop farming practices as alternatives to growing opium. He also initiated a variety of other agricultural development projects such as irrigation, drought and flood alleviation and crop substitution. And he was a peacemaker both internationally and within his country [photos of his life including pictures with Queen Elizabeth and President Dwight Eisenhower can be seen here].

Some reflections from Thai people, passed on to me via a friend from Thailand:

  • He was King of our country, but became a commoner to have a relationship with us
  • He chose to dwell among us. He had residences in many provinces, and he chose to not keep to himself in his palace in Bangkok
  • He was the ‘hope’ of the country
  • ‘Father of the Nation’ – Father’s day is celebrated on December 5th, the king’s birthday
  • His Majesty was our ‘soul’
  • He cared for the welfare of his people
  • He put the people’s needs before his own
  • He was a ‘peace’ maker when their was division within the politics

Honoring the king isn’t something we do in the United States. Monarchy has never been part of our DNA. However, monarchy is ingrained in the history of Thailand and goes back 700 years! Reflecting on this makes me realize how ancient cultures are more connected to their story than the I am with my lens as a citizen of a the United States, a nation and political system that began within only one third of that time in history. It is little wonder then that the people of Thailand will be in mourning for their king for an entire year, wearing black, lowering their flag to half-mask and showing only coverage of their king on television for a season. As Will Ripley, author of the CNN coverage, How Thais are mourning the death of their King, put it:

“the nearly universal adoration Thais feel for their late king is undeniably palpable — and unparalleled in the modern world.”