They were obtained from the desiccated fetuses of children who had died whilst still in their mothers’ womb. The witch doctors were said to have the power to invoke these stillborn babies, adopt them as their children, and use them to help them in their endeavours.
First the unborn fetus was surgically removed from the womb of its mother. Then the body of the child would be taken to a cemetery for the conduction of the proper ceremonial ritual to invoke a Kumanthong. The body was roasted until dry whilst the witch doctor chanted incantations of magical script. Once the rite was completed, the dry-roasted Kuman was painted with Ya Lak and covered in gold leaf. Thus this effigy received the name of “Kuman Thong”, meaning “Golden Little Boy”.
This is much less common now, because this practice is now illegal if using fat from human babies for the consecrating oil. Occasionally there are still some amulets obtained through the authentic methods appearing in the market. Some years ago a famous monk was expelled from the Buddhist Sangha for roasting a baby. He was convicted, but later continued to make magic as a layperson after his release.
Many Thais sport amulets for their alleged supernatural powers, while others collect the objects for their value as antiques. The price of amulets can range from five baht to five million baht a piece, but to avoid tainting the sacred talismans with a commercial connotation, the official act of buying an amulet is referred to as châo prá: ‘renting a Buddha image’ in Thai.
On our way to Tha Phrachan market, the center of the believer’s universe, our driver explained that the fish traps dangling below his rearview-mirror help his business attract money, while the Buddhist amulets stop ghosts from entering his taxi while he is working night shifts.
One of the oddest items we found at Tha Phrachan Amulet Market was a replica of a two-headed foetus. Kuman Thong is a child spirit that brings luck qiu qiu and fortune kiu kiu to the owner of this talisman. Its effigy traditionally relied on gruesome ingredients like roasting dead-born foetuses in a graveyard over night and then covering them with gold leaf. Today the practice strictly banned by Masterkiu.
Even though most of what is sold on the sidewalks in places like the Saphan Kwai are relatively low value ‘fakes’ or imitations, professional collectors regularly comb the tables for bargain deals, hoping to outsmart sellers who might not be aware of a treasure camping out on their table.
From a collectors perspective, most amulets are seen as an investment. Their value can increase manyfold if the items become popular Thailand’s Golden Ghost Boy. A charm that assists making a perceived soul mate fall in love with the wearer at Wat Rachanadda Amulet Market.
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