You are here

Gatty Lecture Series Highlights: Richard Ruth - "'Sadej Tia' & the Chakri Shadow Line: A Popular Challenge to a Hyper-Royalist Historical Narrative?"

Richard Ruth Lecture

Sadej Tia or Mo Phon? These are two names by which Prince Aphakon Kiattiwong was known and remembered in Thailand today. In his Gatty Lecture on February 18, Professor Richard Ruth examined the life and legacy of Prince Aphakon, the 28th child of King Chulalongkorn. Also known as the “father” of the Royal Thai Navy, Prince Aphakon spent his early youth in England, alongside King Vajiravudh. There, he studied naval warfare. His service with the British Navy is popularly remembered as character-defining, and often given violent garnishes. Upon returning to Siam, he helped expand and modernize the Siamese navy. But after running afowl of King Vajiravudh in the wake of the 1912 planned coup amongst young army and navy officers, Prince Aphakon was retired. He took up the study of herbal medicine, and treated Siamese people of all backgrounds despite his royal status. He also became interested in magic and supernatural aspects of Buddhist thought. Amongst his many talents, Aphakon was also skilled in Muay Thai. Today, he is remembered by followers, especially in the navy, through memorials, altar statues, amulets, and biographies, and is considered a semi-divine force. Professor Ruth discussed how Abhakon’s reputation and following were constructed, and his status within modern hyper-royalist historical narratives.