The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Thai tattoos, WoWasis book review: ‘Thai Magic Tattoos: the Art and Influence of Sak Yant’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 13•14

ThaiMagicTattoosThree books on Thai sak yant tattoos have recently been published, but Thai Magic Tattoos: the Art and Influence of Sak Yant (2013, ISBN-13: 978-616-7339-21-4) by Isabel Azevedo Drouyer is the finest among them, due in no small part through the photographs of René Drouyer. Two other books, written by veteran authors Joe Cummings and Tom Vater, have good texts, but the photos are more than occasionally blurred, and for a book on tattoos, you really do want to see detail. For that, you’ll want this book instead.

The Drouyet book is large format, with outstanding black and white and color photographs of tattoos, artists (called ajarn, or masters), and lots of skin. The text is complete, beginning with a history of tattooing, focusing on the Pacific. It discusses well-known Thai sak yant tattoo masters Ajarn Anek, Ajarn Kob, Ajarn Lek Sitthapha, Ajarn Neng On Nut, Ajarn Noo Kanpai, Ajarn Oh, Ajarn Toi, and Ajarn Tui, and describes the experience of going to the noted temple Wat Thungsetti near Bangkok, where many go to be tattooed by monks. There is also a chapter on the Wai Khru ritual, held each year as a tribute to sak yant masters.

The descriptions of what the tattoos represent is fascinating focusing on animism, Buddhism, sacred protection, and success. Page 86 is exceptionally interesting, showing the back of a man with fourteen distinctive tattoos, text arrows to each, and then a description of the meaning of the tattoo. A chapter on the process investigates the pain involved in getting a tattoo and the philosophy behind bearing it. Drouyet balances the spiritual with the profane, and devotes several pages to the placebo effect as a confidence builder.

ThailandPromoBannerPerhaps most importantly, anyone who has spent time in Thailand, like we here at WoWasis have, and has gotten to know her people has noticed these tattoos, much of the time in intimate settings. Perhaps the most common is the gao yot, nine rising arrows usually found immediately under the neck. The knowledge contained in this book will allow visitors and expats alike to begin a conversation on the tattoo of a Thai friend, thereby gaining additional insight as to the bearer’s personal philosophy as embodied in ink.

As stated earlier, there are several current books onteh art of Thai sak yant tattooing, but this is the one to get. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

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