Black is back as Thais mourn revered king
ON his birthday Thais wore yellow. When he got sick they put on pink, and now that King Bhumibol Adulyadej has passed, Bangkok’s streets have turned monochrome in a extraordinary display of collective grief.
The venerated monarch died at the age of 88 on October 13, plunging the nation into mourning and leaving a politically divided people bereft of a rare unifying figure.
Thailand is a country that leans heavily on symbols and people have long expressed devotion to the king through clothing, with many in Bangkok sporting yellow every Monday, the day he was born.
But since his passing most in the distraught nation have for the first time honoured the late king in black, with tens of thousands pouring onto the streets in unprecedented displays of sombre devotion.
All government staff have been ordered to forgo colours for an entire year and many private businesses are asking employees to don black for at least a month.
That has sent shoppers rushing to snaffle up black garments from street vendors and luxury malls who swiftly replaced their stocks – and even their mannequins – with mourning attire.
At a streetside stall at Pratunam, a bustling wholesale market in Bangkok’s commercial heart, Somporn Sriwichai is raking in more money than she has in weeks selling T-shirts and polos for between 150, and250 Thai baht (US $4-7).
“All of us in Thailand are very sad and I don’t want to be selling black clothing,” said the 45-yearold, who normally sells children’s dresses.
“But I have very little money and now I have something I can really sell,” she said, adding she shifted 100 items on October 14 alone.
The sudden demand for black has sparked fears of a national shortage, with the government saying it will work with manufacturers to ensure supply as well as crackdown on opportunist price-gougers.
“We want the world to know our feelings,” Somporn said, explaining that “by wearing the same colour shirts and being united we can express our grief all day.”
For the past decade Thailand has been torn apart rivalling camps known by their opposing colours: a populist “Red Shirt” movement and their foes –royalist elite-backed “Yellow Shirt” group.
The colour-coded political tribes have staged repeated rounds of mass protests over the past decade, often bringing Bangkok to a standstill and sometimes spilling into violence.
Though Bhumibol had in the past drawn upon his moral authority to avert political crises, the monarch remained mostly silent during the twilight of his reign as the colour wars rocked the kingdom.
Critics say the army’s tight grip on expression has only temporarily buried the nation’s strife, leaving open the possibility of a new flaring of the country’s fiery political divides. –
After the death of King Bhumibol, Thais must wear black for 30 days of mourning.