The Peoples of the World Foundation

Education for and about Indigenous Peoples

Op-Ed July, 2017: Lord Buckethead
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

It is ironic that the country most responsible for spreading colonial rule, the United Kingdom, is the same country whose form of parliamentary democracy is now the most widespread. It is even more ironic, then, that the United Kingdom should be unique in the extent to which its citizens satirize their country's political process.

This month's photo was taken in a country that has never been successfully colonized, Thailand. This young boy is a man by now. Even so, unless he has joined the military, it is unlikely he will take part in any political process any time soon. A constitutional monarchy for most of the Twentieth Century, Thailand has been under military rule for the past three years.

His peers would, perhaps, nickname him 'Mr. Buckethead,' but certainly not 'Lord Buckethead.' That is the 'title' of a UK citizen who did take part in the political process last month when, for the third time, he contested election to that country's parliament. He was, of course, a joke candidate running in the British tradition of political satire. Like this boy, he wears a bucket over his head. I can explain this in the case of the boy: he had been working on the west bank of the Mekong River and needed a moment of respite from the baking sun. In the case of Lord Buckethead, if you don't already understand the satire, I can't explain it in a way that you will.

When the UK was a monarchy proper, Lord Buckethead might have been hung for treason following such satirical antics. Serious treason offenses there still carry up to life in prison. In that respect the two countries are similar: Thailand has a history of, in the opinion of many, harsh sentences for disrespect toward the monarchy.

Despite economic blips, Thailand has been, economically, a model developing country for the past sixty years. Now, as it tries to transition to "Thailand 4.0," the official, political line is the promise of a more socially inclusive society. This boy, now man, being one of the majority Tai peoples will be a part of that inclusive society. Yet the minority peoples of the north of Thailand, despite being indigenous to the area, have never really been included in Thai society.

It is, perhaps, not ironic that the UK leads the world in political satire. Its electorate has always been able to discern when a political candidate or system is a joke. Not so in many other parts of the world. If "Thailand 4.0" is ever achieved, I suspect the country's indigenous people in the north will be as capable of recognizing and understanding political jokes as the British are.

Thailand is one of the locations in our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: Southeast Asia.

The Peoples of the World Foundation is a non-profit organization registered in the United States under Internal Revenue Service code 501(c)(3).

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