Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Oral Presentation Session
Thailand’s most famous ghost, Nang Nak of Phra Khanong, is that of a woman who died in childbirth while her husband was at war. Upon his return, she pretended to be alive in order to stay with him for as long as she could, a deception that led her to murder anyone who sought to warn her husband. Nak’s story was the first aired on Thai radio and remains the subject of dozens of films, television dramas, and an opera, with genres ranging from slapstick to horror to melodrama and even a children’s cartoon. But the ghost has a lively spirit cult as well, one focused upon childbirth and avoiding military conscription. Nak’s shrine, now enveloped by Bangkok’s growing urban sprawl, is a large open-air structure, where an image of Nak sits in front of a television screen playing soap operas from early in the morning to late into the night. Fortune tellers and spirit mediums, especially of the goddessKali, gather in the alley behind the shrine, drawing parallels between the righteous anger of the two women. In short, I argue here that, with her shrine’s incorporation into the urban fabric of Bangkok, Nak changed from rural guardian spirit to fearful ghost to anti-military icon, and in so doing, articulates a powerful critique to military authoritarianism in ways that elide traditional politics.