- Embracing all things Thai, she has become a force for cultural preservation. At her initiative, dying handicraft skills are once again being passed from master to apprentice, shadow plays rejuvenated, sacred temples restored, and classical works of music recorded for posterity.
- As an inveterate world traveler, she generates esteem for her country abroad. The books she writes about her travels become bestsellers, and the proceeds from them she donates to needy children.
- Through a foundation she started, many of Bangkok’s orphans and unwanted children receive attention and find new homes, while hundreds of refugee children are cared for by the Thai Red Cross, which, with her mother, she leads. Also, through her efforts, deaf and blind children throughout Thailand now have special schools, and thousands of pupils in remote border areas receive nutritious lunches and learn self-reliance by growing their vegetables.
- The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation board of trustees recognizes “her making her royal office an instrument of enlightened endeavor for Thailand, and her sparkling embodiment of the best that is Thai.”
Not so long ago, to be royal was to be power itself, and grace, and virtue. But no more. Although a regal aura yet clings to kingly names, of Asia’s mighty dynasties few survive to reign or rule. And for most that do, respect and admiration are no longer automatic. They must be earned.
In this spirit, HER ROYAL HIGHNESS PRINCESS MAHA CHAKRI SIRINDHORN lives out her role as a member of Thailand’s royal family. Born thirty-six years ago, she is a princess descended of many royal kings. Her Chakri ancestors saved Thailand for the Thais and built a modern state. Later they relinquished absolute power to pave the way for rule by law. Since 1946 her father, King Bhumibol, has been his country’s constant beacon, providing certainty that even though governments come and go, Thailand will endure. These days PRINCESS SIRINDHORN is often at his side. Father and daughter are good company. They share a preference for simplicity and a limitless interest in the welfare of Thai citizens. “On and on,” she once wrote in a poem, “I follow the quick steps of my Father.”
Even so, PRINCESS SIRINDHORN has a presence all her own.
Embracing all things Thai, she has become a force for cultural preservation. At her initiative, dying handicraft skills are once again being passed from master to apprentice, shadow plays rejuvenated, sacred temples restored, and classical works of music recorded for posterity. She herself plays several Thai instruments, preferring the ranaad-ek, a solo wooden xylophone till now played almost exclusively by men. By singing and performing in public with Thais of all walks of life—unthinkable for royal women of the past—she has helped spur an unprecedented revival of traditional music.
Educated from grade one through her doctorate entirely in Thailand, PRINCESS SIRINDHORN has interests ranging from classical Asian languages to modern educational techniques and theories. In 1984 she mastered remote sensing technology—a tool for studying Thailand’s beleaguered environment—and today she teaches history at the Royal Military Academy. As an inveterate world traveler, she generates esteem for her country abroad. The books she writes about her travels become best-sellers, and the proceeds from them she donates to needy children.
Of all things Thai, PRINCESS SIRINDHORN most of all embraces Thai children. Through a foundation she started, many of Bangkok’s orphans and unwanted children receive attention and find new homes, while hundreds of refugee children are cared for by the Thai Red Cross, which, with her mother, she leads. Also, through her efforts, deaf and blind children throughout Thailand now have special schools, and thousands of pupils in remote border areas receive nutritious lunches and learn self-reliance by growing their vegetables. Generous with her own purse, PRINCESS SIRINDHORN inspires generosity in others. Her projects are well funded and well managed. Moreover, to Thailand’s children she is not a distant benefactor. She takes stock of their progress personally, visiting them everywhere she goes and bringing them cheer.
Cheer is perhaps PRINCESS SIRINDHORN’s most pervasive gift to all the Thais. They are cheered by her modesty, for she speaks softly and spurns ostentatious make-up and clothing. They are cheered by her seriousness, for she turns away from idle celebrity to devote herself to service. Not least they are cheered by her cheerfulness. In the smiling PRINCESS SIRINDHORN, Thais find an image of what they themselves aspire to be: a people moored happily to their traditions, yet treading confidently in the modern world.
In electing H. R. H. PRINCESS MAHA CHAKRI SIRINDHORN to receive the 1991 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes her making her royal office an instrument of enlightened endeavor for Thailand, and her sparkling embodiment of the best that is Thai.
I am deeply gratified by the honor that the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation has bestowed upon me. This award is known to me because it bears the name of the illustrious late president of the Philippines, who was concerned about the well-being of his countrymen and worked with courage all his life toward his goal of bettering their condition. Since 1958 the award has been given to people and organi-zations in Asia that render service to mankind in many ways.
It is the duty, and also the highest aspiration, of a Thai to take part in any work aiming at the development and prosperity of our beloved country, Thailand, and to help our less fortunate compatriots have a better life. As Thailand progresses toward the twenty-first century, the role of the monarchy still retains many traditional aspects. The one that I find very important is that the king and queen are considered as parents of the people: Their Majesties must take good care of all their children. My siblings and I have been brought up on this principle as part of our dual role of Thai citizen and member of the royal family.
My parents paid a state visit here in 1963. Since that time I have learned much about your beautiful and interesting country, and about the close ties and cooperation between the Philippines and Thailand in the political, economic, technical, and cultural fields. The kind invita-tion of your government enables me to come to see and learn more. My visit to various places and meeting distinguished people during this trip are, for me, valuable experiences that help widen my worldview. The Award of the RMAF assures me that I am on the right track. This generous gesture gives me willpower to improve the efficiency of my work. Please accept my heartfelt thanks.
As for the cash component of the Magsaysay Award I have just received, I would like to offer it as a token of admiration to the Philip-pine government for its efforts to help its people recover from the devastating effects of the recent volcanic eruption as well as other natural calamities. It is a good chance for me to associate myself, my relatives, and my friends from Thailand with the monumental responsibilities you are now shouldering.
Again I would like to express my sincere thanks to Her Excellency the President, the Philippine government, and the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for the hospitality you have extended me during my first visit to this friendly country which is also a close partner of ours in ASEAN. Mabuhay and Maraming Salamat!
Ambara Villa in Bangkok, where PRINCESS MAHA CHAKRI SIRINDHORN was born on 2 April 1955, was built by her great-grandfather, King Chulalongkorn, at a time when royal power in Thailand was still absolute. Chulalongkorn’s reign (1868-1910) marked the high point of the Chakri Dynasty, the royal line that has reigned since 1782 in Thailand (called Siam before 1939). Chulalongkorn’s father, Mongkut, had deftly dealt with the European powers sweeping across Asia in the mid-nineteenth century and managed to keep his kingdom intact. Chulalongkorn then launched a program of “self-strengthening,” during which he restructured much of the government along Western lines and thus laid the basis for modern Thailand. His reforms helped guarantee the survival of the country, even as nearby Burma succumbed to conquest by Britain, while Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam succumbed to the French. Indeed, no other state in Southeast Asia survived the onslaught. The bequest of SIRINDHORN’s royal ancestors to Thailand is, therefore, unique.
The emergence of a small Western-educated professional class in Thailand was an intended consequence of Chulalongkorn’s modernization; it was from this class that a movement to end absolute monarchy emerged. In 1932 King Prajadhipok, half brother of SIRINDHORN’s grandfather, bowed peacefully to a coup that brought constitutionalism to Thailand. Henceforth, Chakri monarchs would yield to politicians and military men in the day-to-day matters of government. The precise role that kings would play as constitutional monarchs was not carefully scripted, however. Relations were strained and for several years the royal family itself, and many royal relatives, resided outside Thailand, preferring life (and education) in England, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States to life at home. In 1935 the throne passed to Ananda Mahidol, who was a ten-year-old schoolboy in Switzerland at the time. He remained there throughout World War II and returned to Thailand only in late 1945. His death by a gunshot wound to the head in 1946—a probable murder that still remains shrouded in mystery—brought the dynasty to its lowest ebb and his younger brother to the throne. Thus, Bhumibol Adulyadej, SIRINDHORN’s father, became king of Thailand.
Bhumibol might easily have passed his life in idle travel and other pleasures, lending his residual aura to the occasional state function. Instead, he has labored to restore the monarchy as a central institution of Thai national life. He has done so, not by attempting to regain political power from the country’s domineering military men and politicians, but by promoting the monarchy as a symbol of Thai unity and by associating himself and his family with the ideal image of kingship that is deeply rooted in Thai Buddhism. Without any secular power to speak of, Bhumibol has reinvented the Thai monarchy as a moral force. This has meant reinterpreting the work of kingship as doing good. Bhumibol’s workaday life is, therefore, one of fervent attention to improving the lives of his subjects.
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