The Thai Facination with Golliwog’s

Golliwog at Chatuchak Market

A Golliwog is a character from English literature written in the late 19th century by the author Florence Kate Upton. The Golliwog was based on a black faced minstrel doll she had found in an attic as a child. The character in the books was a rag doll and eventually the Golliwog caught on as a children’s toy. The dolls were very popular in Great Britain and also in America up until the 1960’s or so. They were seen as completely appropriate to give to a child, just as appropriate as giving a child a teddy bear.

Golliwog spotted in PattayaOf course over time the Golliwog took on negative stereotypes and the word itself became derogatory slang towards black people. Just like the book  Little Black Sambo took on new meanings in American culture and changed the way we see racism today. There are still those that argue both sides off the coin as both of these were literary works that really had nothing to do with racism but became racist icons by the use of the words Sambo and Golliwog.

In the politically correct world of the 21st century you would be hard pressed to find Golliwog’s or Little Black Sambo books easily in America or Britain but if you are headed to Thailand you’ll find plenty of Golliwog’s.

Lifesize GolliwogThe Thai’s seem to have a facination devoid of racial beliefs with these dolls. You’ll see them in miniature form dangling from cell phones or in larger form being dragged around and loved by their miniature owners. Sometimes you can even find them as big as a man so you can have your picture taken with them. And you can almost always find them in A Thai garden if you look long enough.

Golliwogs in shop windowI’ve heard all manner of reaction to the Golliwogs found in Thailand from absolute disgust to sincere indifference. There is no doubt that these dolls will always raise a reaction from the western tourists as we have all been subjected to political correctness now for well over two decades. What I find odd is the reaction towards Thai’s. The Thai’s don’t see them as racial idols and they certainly don’t use the term Golliwog in a racially derogatory manner.  I’m sure the more pure among us may think that it is insensitive of the Thai’s because this is the 21st century and everyone should be sensitive of racism.

Garden Golliwog'sBeing that there are no black people in Thailand except for the visitors I don’t see how it could be a racial thing but that is just my opinion. There are other examples such as the old Darkie toothpaste which used a caricature of a man in black face in their advertising, or the the Black Man mops. Truthfully I don’t see either as racially motivated either. Darkie did eventually change the name to Darlie and got rid of the black faced advertising though.

Another market GolliwogOddly enough there is very real racism that goes on in Thailand which is Thai against Thai. This racism is color based and stems from some Thai’s being very light skinned and some being very dark skinned which borderlines being black. Although that racism exists I have never heard either side utter a bad word against an actual black person as a matter of fact most Thai’s I’ve heard refer to a black person as chocolate  and I have yet to meet a Thai that doesn’t love chocolate.

I guess the real question here is do we as politically correct westerners have the right to force our opinions and beliefs on Thai society because of our righteous indignation when the Thai’s themselves have never tied racism to these things. Or is it upsetting to most western tourists not because of the perceived racism but because the perceived guilt that has been programed into us over the last few decades?

What do you think?

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10 Responses to The Thai Facination with Golliwog’s
  1. Mike
    July 19, 2009 | 11:54 pm

    Talen an interesting piece. Personally I am not from the PC brigade but I do abore prejudice and discrimination based on skin colour that is practiced in many countries including Thailand. Mind you if it wasn’t practiced here (Thai on Thai)the local cosmetics industry would fold overnight and there would be few adverts on Thai TV!

    Finally just one small point regarding the Thai attitude to black people. I am sure many of your black countrymen who have tried to get a teaching job here in LOS might not agree with you about Thais not being racist to “black men” from overseas since I have read several accounts on teaching English boards about this problem.
    Mike´s last blog ..Katheoy, Kathoeys or Third Gender -What Happened to the Iron Ladies? My ComLuv Profile

  2. Talen
    July 20, 2009 | 1:59 am

    Mike, You couldn’t be more right about the makeup industry.

    I’ve heard many things in regards to English teachers in Thailand. Everything I’ve heard and read suggests that they prefer white native English speakers and give every one else a hard time except for female Filipino English teachers.

    I could be very wrong but it seems the English teaching profession in Thailand is very guarded and even the white teachers seem to have a prejudice against them at times.

    I only know what I’ve seen and heard from Thai’s regarding people of color and it’s always been positive towards western black people but very negative against some other cultures. There is always the chance that I’ve gotten it wrong and have only seen what Thai’s have wanted me to see.

  3. expatudon08
    July 20, 2009 | 3:58 am

    ah Golliwog.s jam jars jumper.s for goalposts those where the days
    the good old Golliwog another symbol hijacked buy the left wing loonies
    when the Germans hijacked the Indian swastika symbol
    we banned it from some countries and public places
    but to this day you can find it all over India
    and at one particular place in new deli there are hundreds

  4. Catherine
    July 20, 2009 | 10:26 am

    The black figures, especially the ones in your photo second from the bottom, are an ancient negroid people called the Sekai, Mani, or Original people.

    If you look at the Mon people in Thailand, you will see similar facial features.

    If you really want to blow your mind, take a serious look at the Cambodian Buddhas…

    It goes on further, much further. I did intend to write a post on WLT, but as it is a controversial theory, I did not feel confident writing about the subject.

    The Thais of today use the black figures for good luck. They are often put in places of worship just like other items (I have photos here).

    I spent several days throwing research into one file, so if anyone wants a copy, I’ll send it via email.
    Catherine´s last blog ..Learn Thai on the Paknam Web Network My ComLuv Profile

    • Talen
      July 20, 2009 | 2:50 pm

      Excellent Catherine…will definitely teach me to make certain statements without proper research.

      I had never heard of the Mani before and would love to see what you gathered.

  5. Catherine
    July 20, 2009 | 10:37 am

    Hmmm… my post didn’t go through so I’ll see if this one does…

    The black people depicted in the photos (especially the second from the bottom) are called by many names.

    Ngoh Pah, Mani, Sekai, and the ‘Original People’. They are the Black people of Thailand, so yes, they are negroid.

    Hopefully Talen can dig out my previous comment…
    Catherine´s last blog ..Learn Thai on the Paknam Web Network My ComLuv Profile

  6. Martyn
    July 20, 2009 | 3:58 pm

    Love the photos and they remind me of a holiday a couple of years back. Wilai’s mother had her hair permed and it came out as a black ball of tight curls and the whole family couldn’t help but laugh everytime they saw mama. Fair play to Wi’s mother because she took it all in her stride but myself and Wilai for days after referred to mama as ‘golliwog.’

    Excuse the pun but on a darker note I have seen some Pattaya bar girls shout rude obscenities at black males who have passed by their bars. The girls probably didn’t see it as racism but to a westerner it certainly was. I love the top photo, if the smile was a grimace then it would look just like Wilai’s mother.
    Martyn´s last blog ..Thailands Flights – 10 Ways to Beat the Long Haul My ComLuv Profile

  7. Catherine
    July 20, 2009 | 10:59 pm

    Talen, I only came across a hint of the subject after living here full-time for several years, so with you coming for only months at a time every year, it is totally understandable.

    When I first saw the black figures, I had the same mindset you did. I thought they were copying the negroids of North America as they were so similar to the gollywogs that are now… illegal (?). Certainly they are not considered ‘politically correct’.

    A wee rant…

    I left the west before all this ‘politically correct’ cacca came into being. It started first in the US. Then, about ten years after, it took over the UK too.

    And it has not make a lick of differnce in anyones way of thinking, either. Those who hold hate towards others will always hate.

    I am not a prejudice person. Those that are lazy, ignorant, sloppy, etc… are found in all nationalities. So if I am prejudice at all, you could say it is against those lacking redeeming qualities.

    And this is partly because I was not raised in a prejudice household. My father lost two strips because he kicked a guy out of his car in 30° below weather when the guy made derogatory comments against a black colleague.

    ‘I’d like to grab me a gun and shoot a Xxx every day. It’d be just like huntin rabbits’.

    My father’s act was deemed ‘endangering a life’. I thought he was taking a needed, moral stand, so I applauded him for it.

    But I don’t go for all this tip-toeing around. Actions such as taking Aunt Jemima off the syrup bottles have me shaking my head with the silliness of it all.

    Mini rant over…

    And that’s why the Thai version had me smiling as well as little bit of eyebrow raising. And of course, I wanted to know more :-)

    If you ask some Thais about the black figures, they will say that they don’t know, or that the figures are for good luck. If you are very lucky, you will be told that the figures are the ‘Original People’ of Thailand.

    Without the name ‘Original People’, you will not have much to go on.

    On a side note… I realise that not eveyone enjoys the ThaiVisa forum, but if you have questions such as this, it is a total goldmine of information. With what you can find there, you can branch out to find more. But getting the right keywords is an important start.
    Catherine´s last blog ..Learn Thai on the Paknam Web Network My ComLuv Profile

  8. Catherine
    July 20, 2009 | 11:10 pm

    Correction: Please change ‘ignorant’ to ’stupid’…

    I’m often ignorant… but I hope I’m not stupid… too often anyway… hah!

    (This comes from commenting after only getting 3 hours of sleep last night and an average of 4 hours all week)

    I really should not have detailed the lack of qualities at all.

    What I was trying to say is that I feel people should taken at face value, not as a race or nationality.

    And I realise that it is difficult sometimes because there are elements that you can pin on a percentage and be ballpark correct.

    Like… Engineers being tidy, compared to Geologists who are not… :-D

    Ok, I’m going to take a nap now…
    Catherine´s last blog ..Learn Thai on the Paknam Web Network My ComLuv Profile

  9. Stacey
    January 22, 2010 | 7:17 pm

    thanks for posting this piece of history. it’s incredibly racist and funny thing is a lot of my black friends would love to have these toys. i recently visited the mint toy museum in singapore and came across the golliwog toys. i’d like to use your post as a reference to my travel post. thanks!

    check it out:
    Stacey´s last blog ..The Open Caged Monkey Forest of Ubud in Bali Indonesia My ComLuv Profile

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