Family name: Debyasuvarn  (née Kunjara)

First name:  Boonlua , titled M.L. ( female)

Born: 13 December 1911, (but an annual event celebrating her Day has always been held in January)

Died: 7 June 1982

Was born and lived in the time of World Wars and during successive social and cultural changes and transformations.

          M.L.Boonlua was born in 1911, to a family of a royal lineage of King Rama II, in the later period of the absolute monarchy, and 4 years before the First World War began.

          One year before M.L.Boonlua’s birth, King Chulaongkorn (Rama V)’s long and modernized reign ended with his death in 1910, to be followed by three short but eventful reigns.

          Though she lived in 4 reigns, she served almost throughout her career as a civil servant of the governments in the reign of the present king, H.M. Bhumibhol Adulayadej, during the period which is one of the richest and most complex in termsof historical, political and social developments.

          M.L.Boonlua’s lifetime was the time when Thailand, as a nation, was struggling for her survival, sovereignty, and democracy, as well as the time of rapid educational expansion, economic and political development, and increasingly complex socio-cultural challenges, including many calamities that occurred inside and outside the country.

          Her father, Chao Phya Deweswongwiwatana, (M.R. Larn Kunjara), had a very strong and lifelong influence on her, as remembered by M.L.Boonlua in her book, “Tale of the royal elephant: Plai Mongkol” (4th edition, 1912, Kow Na Printing House), a tale based on her family’s record and oral history.  Her father had occupied some very important and most trusted positions in King Chulalongkorn’s government long before she was born, but he had suffered a stroke and had retired from active service, though remaining a loyal and trusted courtier.

          Chao Phya Deweswongwiwatana, was born and educated in the strictly traditional Thai and Buddhist system in the reign of king Rama IV.  He was an expert in horsemanship and elephantry, statescraft, and royal customs.  He also inherited from the family of Rama II’s lineage an expertise in literature, music and drama, and also Buddhist scholarship.  Presented by his father, Pra Ong Chao Singhanat, to be a royal page at the court of King Chulalongkorn at age 16, he was gradually promoted to be in charge of several important positions, such as: the Royal Cavalry and the Royal Elephant Corps (Krom Ma and Krom Chang); the Royal preceptor and teacher of the first Crown Prince, Prince Vachiroonnahit, until the prince’s untimely death.  During the time when King Chulalongkorn welcomed many western dignitaries to Bangkok, Chao Phya Dewes was asked to be personally in charge of the   Palace and City Cleanliness, Agriculture, as well as Cultural Entertainment, including  music , dance and drama, masked drama and puppetry Krom Mahorasop, Krom Khon, Krom Hoon Luang, Krom Rum Kome, Krom Peepat).

          Like men of status in Thailand in those days, M.L.Boonlua’s father had many wives and many children who belonged to different generations of his huge and complex household.

          M.L.Boonlua herself described in her autobiography: “ Kwam Sumret lae Kwam Lom Laew” (“Success and Failure”),1971, that  her family was “..extraordinarily big…” with her father having  “…about 40 wives from the very first one to the last, as counted by some of his children after his death…  Most of the wives were members of his music and drama troupes but served him at different times.,.. Only 4 or 5  lived inthe house at the same time”

          According to M.L.Boonlua, the education of all of his children, not only modern education, but also the moral and artistic training and upbringing of all of his children, was a major concern to her father who considered himself ”already behind the time”  Therefore he invested generously on his sons’ and daughters’ modern education sending them to Catholic or missionary schools so that they would be proficient in at least one foreign language and be knowledgeable in the western arts and sciences. The moral and cultural dimensions of education, on the other hand, were strictly and richly inculcated at home where he led his children in the chanting of Buddhist scripts and prayers 3 times a week and where cultural creativity and observation of old traditions were parts of living in his house.

          M.L.Boonlua, a daughter born to Mom Nual, was her father’s 32nd and the last child.  He was then already 59 years old and ailing.

          When she was 4 years old, her mother died, but not before she had taught her to read rather fluently in the Thai language. Since her mother’s death, her father gave her an especially close attention and care, taking her with him almost everywhere he went, including to the temples where he nightly discussed the Buddha’s teaching with learned monks until late, and thus exposing her to his later days’ work, experiences and wisdom.

          When she was 14 years old, her father also passed away and she was thrust to be under the care of her father’s first son, her own half brother, who had been strictly educated and groomed as heir of the family.

          In 70 years, she lived through the reigns of Kings and under countless governments, witnessing the first coup d’etat that changed the country from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, and many more coups to come, and through a series of calamities, and social, cultural and political upheavals, changes and developments, that took place at unprecedented paces, both in Thailand and in the world.

Background in religious tolerance and intercultural understanding

          She was able to read Thai classical literature rather fluently when she started formal schooling at the age of 6.  And though raised in the family steeped in the traditionally Thai cultural and Buddhist background , she was sent to a Catholic convent primary school in Bangkok, and then to another convent in Penang, now part of Malaysia,  for her secondary education. Therefore, she not only learnt  English at a very tender age, but was also exposed to situations leading to her adopting an attitude of inter- religious tolerance and intercultural understanding, a factor which significantly influenced her perception and outlook throughout her life.

          She returned to Bangkok in 1928 after obtaining the Cambridge Honours Certificate in Penang.  However, in order to be eligible for the university entrance at the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University, she had to enroll at the Saint Mary’s S.P.G School in Bangkok and to take secondary school certificate examination administered once a year by the Ministry of Education in Thailand.

          At Chulalongkorn University, she studied Thai Language and Thai literature, the subjects which had been inherently of significant values in her family.  She also furthered her study of foreign languages, particularly English and French, paying special attention to English literature as this had been her favourite subject since her convent days.  She mentioned in her autobiography that her foreign teachers at Chula were Mr. Arthur Braine-Hartnell, an Englishman, and other American and French instructors.