Kuman Thong dolls for sale in Chiang Mai
If you know anything about Thai people, you’ll know that they are seriously afraid of ghosts. That’s why it might be surprising to know that millions of Thais willingly invite a ghost to stay at their home or business. Of course this isn’t such a scary ghost like the distraught Mae Nak or the grotesque Phi Krasue—rather we’re talking about a cute little boy ghost called Kuman Thong. The name “Kuman Thong” means “golden boy,” and as you can guess, Thai people give the little child spook a place on their shrines in the belief that he’ll help them out in money matters.
But his help comes at a price. If you chose to bring Kuman into your home, you’ve accepted a responsibility to take care of him. If a neglected child can throw a temper tantrum—how much more so when that child is a ghost? Like many things spiritual in Thailand, Kuman Thong seems to be a mix of truth and superstition. But after getting stuck living with him for a year, I believe in him enough to not want anything to do with him again.
History of Kuman Thong
A real Kuman Thong is not one of the smiling plastic statues that you see on so many shrines around Thailand. The original and true Kuman Thong is something entirely more sinister and taboo—the art of black magic at its darkest. To make Kuman Thong, one first has to surgically remove a stillborn fetus from its mother’s womb. A ceremony must then be performed by someone well-trained in the ancient secrets of Thai animist necromancy. In a cemetery, at night, the dead baby is dry-roasted over a fire while the necromancer chants the necessary mantras and secret incantations that will bind the spirit of the stillborn child to it. Once dried, the corpse is covered in lacquer and gold foil, which is the original reason for the name Kuman Thong.
In the most authentic version of the ceremony, a substance called Nam-man phrai is also applied to the corpse. The method of collecting Nam-man phrai is quite spooky in itself. It involves burning a candle under the chin of the corpse of a woman who died while pregnant, and collecting the oil that comes out of the skin. It is said to be powerful stuff and is used in all sorts of folk magic such as crafting love charms, though genuine Nam-man phrai is illegal.
The origin of making Kuman Thong seems to be found in the folk legend Khun Chang Khun Phaen, which is based on the life of a soldier in the Ayutthaya era. In the story, Khun Phaen makes the first Kuman Thong from the fetus of his dead wife’s unborn child.
Nowadays, genuine Kuman Thong have been mostly replaced by symbolic statues that depict a young boy in traditional Ayutthaya era attire. Kuman has his hair done up in a little topknot and will often be holding a small sack of gold.
How to Keep Kuman Thong
Taking a Kuman Thong home and setting up a little shrine for him is a little bit like adopting a new child. It is thought that Kuman can grant favors for his master, but only if he’s happy and even then there can be unintended side-effects.
Taking care of Kuman involves giving him something to eat and drink every day. He has a sweet-tooth—as most little boys do—and so candy, cookies, or other snacks are considered good food offerings. For drinks, he likes Nam-daeng exclusively. Nam-daeng means “red water” and is a kind of sweetened beverage made with bright red artificial coloring and flavoring from the sala fruit (Salacca wallichiana). In place of traditional Nam-daeng, Red Fanta is acceptable.
All gods and spirits in Thailand seem to enjoy this sweet red beverage, which I’m guessing has become a substitute in Buddhist times for animist blood offerings of the distant past.
Since Kuman is a child, it’s also very common for people to offer toys for him to play with. Just like a real child, Kuman needs attention. You have to acknowledge his presence, talk to him sometime, etc. and then he’ll be nice and help you out. Otherwise, he might play tricks on you. People who keep Kuman at home are often reported to have strange things happen such as hearing phantom sounds of a child’s laughter or the sound of little footsteps running around as if a child were playing. Other typical poltergeist activity can occur such as doors seemingly opening or closing on their own and other objects moving around.
You can’t just simply get rid of a Kuman Thong once you’ve already had it—that would be asking for trouble. Instead, you are supposed to take an unwanted Kuman to a temple, where some type of ritual can be done to release you from the burden of caring for the ghost.
Dark Side of the Kuman Craze
The vast majority of Kuman Thong that you see are plastic or wooden statues. Various small metal amulets that invoke the power of Kuman Thong are also quite popular. But the dark side of Kuman’s popularity is that there still exists a black market for the original type of Kuman made from a stillborn or aborted fetus. In May 2012, a Taiwanese-born British citizen was arrested in Bangkok with six gold covered baby human corpses in his luggage. He had purchased them in Thailand and intended to resell them in Taiwan for a profit.
In 2010, Wat Phai Ngoen in Bangkok was the scene of a gristly discovery when 348 aborted fetuses were found on the premises. The temple was helping to dispose of the bodies from illegal abortion clinics, and it is thought that some may have been sold to practitioners of black magic.
Living with a Ghost Boy for a Year
Would you get spooked out with this guy in your living room?
I first learned about Kuman Thong when I rented a house for a year that he was already living in. My landlady—a 50-something year-old Thai-Chinese woman—was very into any spiritual practice that was supposed to bring wealth or good luck. She had previously lived in the house with her family and had kept the shrine intact. It contained a couple Buddha images, one of the Hindu god Shiva, and three statues of Kuman Thong. The largest of the Kuman statues looked positively ancient and totally creeped me out.
I would often have weird dreams while living in that house and never really felt alone. A few times I was woken up in the middle of the night by loud noises which sounded like objects getting moved around. I later found out that there was a rat getting into the house, and I think the noise came from it fighting with another animal (possibly a snake?) up in the attic. So if the strange noises were coming from Kuman, the rat, or just an overactive imagination—I guess I may never be sure. The only thing I was certain of is that I resented the landlady for leaving Kuman at the house and sticking me with the task of giving him cookies and red water each day.
During the year that I lived with Kuman, he certainly didn’t give me any help with finances—nor did the landlady when it was time for my security deposit to be returned.
So I was pretty glad to be rid of him and wouldn’t choose to seek out his help in the future.