A carved standing ivory figure of Kuman Thong
18th century, Thailand or Burma
Height: 18.5 cm, 7 1/4 inches
The naked chubby child is carved from a single piece of solid ivory. He stands fore square looking ahead on a simple wooden base. His legs are straight and placed slightly apart, both arms are pointing down with long extended fingers, the overall effect creating a silhouette similar to standing Jain figures. The head is adorned with a topknot; the boy’s round face with arched brows and almond shaped eyes, flat nose, thick full lips held in a half smile, and elongated earlobes, all finely outlined with incised lines.
This boy is called Kuman Thong (Thailand‘s golden ghost boy) whom people place in their shrines in the belief that he can bring money and good fortune to them. Kuman Thong is rooted in the act of black magic and taboo, the creation of which requires the removal of a stillborn foetus which is dry-roasted over a fire while the necromancer chants the mantras that will bind the spirit of the stillborn child to the body. Once dried, the corpse is covered in lacquer and gold foil, which gives the name of ‘Kuman Thong’. Nowadays, Kuman Thongs have been mostly replaced by symbolic statues that depict a young naked boy who is dressed up by the devotee.
Tardy Les Ivories Part II 1977, page 204. The ivory is illustrated from the collection of Hugh Moss with two other similar examples that are in the National Museum of Bangkok.