In Thai Highschool curriculum, Thai literature was taught based on a text book series namely “Wannakadee Wijak”

(วรรณคดีวิจักษ์) or translated into English as “Literary Appreciation”. Classical poems and literature were the main contents of the text books. One of the literature being studied was poems by Sunthornphu.

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Sunthornphu, one of the most well-known Thai royal poet of Rattanakosin period, began during the reign of King Rama II. He resign and became a monk after the king’s death, and returned to court after twenty years in the reign of King Rama IV, as a royal scribe.

^Bibiographical timeline of Sunthornphu
(Courtesy of the collective)

His literature tales and poems tend to reflect much of the way of life back then, or even his personalities. One of the most famous poems from him is “Phra Aphai Mani”, a journey of the two princes who had been banished from the court.

“Phra Aphai Mani” is a 48,700-line epic poem,(1) written in the form of “Klon 8” (กลอนแปด), or a form of Thai octameter poem. Sunthronphu began writing as he was in prison, in 1822 and finished 22 years later. The poems were written during the period of western colonisation of Southeast Asian, as reflected in the story, comprising of European characters and sceneries of foreign lands. According to some critics Phra Aphai Mani is thought to be an anti-colonialist tale, in a form of fantasy adventure.(2)

“Phra Aphai Manee” Reading Session

Eight Episode of Phra Aphai Mani were studied during the session:

Episode I : Phra Aphai Mani and Sisuwan in Search of Knowledge

Episode II : The Sea-Ogress Abducts Phra Aphai
Episode IX : Phra Aphai Mani Flees the Sea-Ogress
Episode X : Phra Aphai Mani wins over the Mermaid
Episode XI : Suwannamali  On the Sea Voyage
Episode XII : Phra Aphai Mani Meets Suwannamali
Episode XIII : Phra Aphai Mani boards Suwannamali’s Ship
Episode XIV: Phra Aphai Mani is Shipwrecked


“Phra Aphai Mani” is a fantasy adventure tale about the two princes “Phra Aphai Mani, the older brother and “Srisuwan”, the younger. They set out on a journey searching for sages or masters in their subject of interest. Phra Aphai Mani studied the arts of music, or more specifically “the magic flute”, having the power to over come violence, bringing peace whenever the flute is played.

His brother, Srisuwan learned martial arts, and became an expert in the use of arms.

When the two were graduated from their studies, they went back to their city. Their father was very disappointed by the fact that the two did not study administrative subjects, preparing for them to inherit the throne, but studied arts instead. They both got banished without even having an opportunity to show their skills to their king father. This was the start of this fantasy tale.

One day Phra Aphai Mani was performed his magic flute to the three Brahmins and his brother, the tunes were so captivating that the audience fell asleep. The sweet sound of the flute, reached the ears of a sea ogress. She had been very attracted by music’s charm but was even more surprised to see a handsome male playing the music. She was deeply in love at an instant, without control. The ogress decided to abduct the handsome Phra Aphai Mani to her underwater cave.

The prince woke up again and found himself in a cave with a beautiful woman (an ogress in disguise). But he know right away that the woman laying next to him is no human, for that she had no lights in her eyes.

He called her “Hussy!” And inhumane.

The prince was scared of death that the beast would get him killed.

He made an agreement with the sea ogress that, he would become her mate, in return that she won’t gobble him up.

The Ogress gave birth to a half-human boy, Sinsamut.

He was raised in the cave and was taught the art of flute from his father, Phra Aphai Mani.

One day, while Phra Aphai Mani was asleep, his curious eight-year-old child with the power of a giant, moved a huge stone slab, and got the cave entrance opened. He went out as a fascinated child onto the beach and found a merfolk. He dragged him back to the cave to show his father of this strange creature, with curiosity.

The creature begged them to spare his life. Knowing that Phra Aphai has been abducted too, the menfolk offered to help them escape the cave, fleeing the sea ogress. They made the deal, the menfolk was set free.

The ogress came back home, not knowing that the stone slab had been moved, brought back food and supplies to her husband and child. That night she had the strangest fatal dream, that she was brutally beaten and her eyes were plugged out. She told this to her husband in the morning, and this gave Phra Aphai Mani a chance to perform his trick on him, giving his way to escaping.

He told her that, according to the texts date back, whoever has such dreams is bound to be dead. In oder to escape the hands of death, she should go alone, to the mountain’s foot deep in the forest depth, without consuming any food or drinks for three nights and day. So, she did.

Phra Phai Mani then, with Sinsamut were now free to flee. With the help of the merfolk with his wife and mermaid daughter, Phra Phai Mani and his son set their way to the “Bizarre Crystal Island” (เกาะแก้วพิศดาร).

Unfortunately, they on their way as they almost reach the island; they were caught by the ogress, just in time that she was finished with her three days of fasting. The merfolk and his wife were gobbled up, eaten by the sea ogress. The daughter mermaid helped Phra Aphai Mani and Sinsamut through the rest of their way to the island, where a hermit warded the ogress away.

Phra Aphai Mani courted the mermaid and had a son named “Sud Sakhon”.

Reflection and Discussion

There were some issues worth discussing after reading the poems:

- The journey of the two princes and how they were banished by their king father reflects perception towards artistic careers at the time. It seems as if the studying arts was not considered something useful back then, and that “Phra Aphai Mani”, did not gain acceptance from his family.

This also mirrors how studying arts was not so encouraged by families or even the society in Thai culture.


  • What did “Phra Aphai Mani” fear of, that he did not play his flute to make his way out of the cave?

Why did he not escape the cave himself when he has the skills of the magic flute? Why did he waste his 8 years there in the cave? Why didn’t he play his flute to kill the ogress? Is there a hidden agenda in this act?

Is it possible that we relate this to us that we are not able to fully express our true selves and works for the fear of something untouchable? Is this fear also suppressing us?


  • Despite the fact that the ogress was a giant, as huge as an elephant, she was so afraid of her fatal dream. Does this imply that the ogress also had feelings like we all do, fragile and afraid of death? According to some parts of the poems, many decisions were made according to the guidance of dreams, why was this so? Are we somehow influenced by the invisible power?


  • On the other hand, if someone as beautiful as the young mermaid, was the one who captured Phra Aphai Mani at the first place, would this changed the storyline? Would Phra Aphai be madly in love with her, that she was so young and full of beauty?

Experimentation Phrase

At the end of the week we experimented with various forms representation and the keyword of scaling and fear.

This is represented in the form of shadow and screen of projection.

Keywords : digital/analog shadow

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