Thai Nationalist Youth Groups: The Wild Tigers Corps


Figure 1.--.

King Rama VI in May 1911,created the Wild Tiger Corps (Sua Pa). It was a nationwide, paramilitary corps. The purpose of the Wild Tigers was four-fold. It was intended to give all Thai exempted from service in the regular armed forces, notably all middle and high level civil servants, an opportunity to receive military training. Second, the Corps was expected to promote unity in the society by bringing men from diverse backgrounds together in one organisation. Third, the Sua Pa, like the British Volunteer Force that the King had observed at first hand in Britain and after which he had modeled the Wild Tigers, would help maintain law and order in the countryside and provide reserve troops in the event of war. Finally, in keeping with its namesake, the Sua Pa Maew Morn of the army of King Naresuan (1590-1605), the Corps would provide advance scouts for the regular army, seeking out the enemy, pinpointing his whereabouts and reporting on his activities. The King made a special point of emphasising that the Wild Tiger Corps was meant to assist, and not replace, the regular armed forces.

The King also created in 1911 a junior division of the Wild Tigers called the Luk Sua or Tiger Cubs. This organisation was based on Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts movement and grew into Thai Scouting. Thailand was only the third country in the world to form a national unit. The purpose of the Tiger Cubs was given in its official regulations:

Children in school can receive moral and physical training in order for them to gain knowledge of the ways of the Wild Tigers. When they grow up they will already know the duties of a Thai citizen and will behave in such a manner that will benefit their nation. Training will encourage them to think properly and will have to begin at an early age. Our children are analogous to a sapling which can be bent into any shape. When such a tree grows old the only way to bend it is by applying heat and even then one runs the risk of breaking it.

The rules and regulations of the Tiger Corps were similar to those of the Wild Tigers. The King was the Supreme Commander who headed a committee of four men which supervised each unit. Local contingents first had to secure the permission of this committee before initiating any new procedures. The Chief Inspector and his staff toured the country to make sure that Bangkok's directives were being followed. The Chief Inspector, with the consent of the King, appointed all local commanders. The first group to be formed was located at the recently opened Royal Pages School. At first, the King was under the impression that this unit was prospering. He wrote, "All boys are clamoring to be admitted; but I am putting the brakes on a bit here, because I do not want it to get out of hand and thus defeat its own objective. I have the greatest hope in the boy scouts who are later to form the backbone of our nation."

Soon, his optimism was shattered. In February, 1912 when the Royal Pages School's unit arrived at Sanam Chan Palace to participate in the planned Wild Tigers maneuvers, the King was dismayed by the small turnout. Questioning the commander, he was told that many mothers and fathers, whose permission was necessary to join, had refused, fearing it was only a devious method to draft their children into the army. Such parental anxieties were not new to the King. Several years earlier, parents had behaved the same way when they were told to send their children to the first public schools. As the former Inspector-General of the Army, the King had gained first-hand experience with how hard most people would try to avoid the draft. Accordingly, he acted fast to dispel these false notions about the Luk Sua. A company of actors was formed to tour the countryside to perform the King's play, Hua Chai Nak Rop (The Heart of a Fighter).

The plot concerns a father who refused to allow his son to join the movement. At the conclusion of the play, the father finally realises the benefits of the Tiger Cub when they save his life by repelling the foreign enemy. At the same time, the King commanded the Ministry of Education and the Luk Sua to co-ordinate their activities at the local level so that parents could easily appreciate the educational benefits of the Tiger Cubs. In the years to come, the Tiger Cubs managed to surmount these difficulties to become a firmly established organisation.






Christopher Wagner

histclo@lycosmail.com



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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: January 15, 2000