Likay... Dramatic Performance of Thai Life
Story by Khaisri
Pictures by Nivet Jiralertpongchi


Likay dress, the dancers wear colorful blouses accessories and white socks
    Likay, the darkness of night is dispelled by the central stage light. This is when the attention of the audience is drawn to the stage with the melodic tunes now filling the air soon the prologue will follow. This is the part children like best since the prologue known among Thai people as "awk khaek" features a performer in Indian-style costume. His role is to give the synopsis of the storyline with his Indin-tinted accent causing a jovial reaction from the audience.
    Why "ask kheak"?
    Obviously, it is there to entertain audience. But it is said that "ask kheak" is also an essential ingredient in the origin of dramatic performances called "lilay." The original "dee-gare song" is believed to be cited by the Chao Sen sect, a Moslem group that came to ancient Siam during Ayutthaya Period. Having enjoyed the protection of the Thai monarchs, this group of people, in their gratitude always performed their "dee-gare" citation as a goodwill gesture to the Thai monarchs on different auspicious occasions.
    As the beautiful tunes of "deegare" causet the attention of the Thai people, it came to pass that the Thai aristocrats began to incorporate it in the ceremony at any auspicious occasion. The Thai public which became increasingly familiar with the citation eventually put words to the tunes. Thus was born "likay bundhon.


    The hero, the heroine and her close aide
    The Thai orchestra was gradually introduced to "likay bundhon" and in the process made it more conventional through the three movements based on proper musical arrangements. The primary movement is followed by the secondary movement which accompanies the performers the performance and concludes with the final movement. The process repeats itself until the very end. However, the secondary movement or "luke bhot" makes the most significant part of the performance and is the most popular among the Thai audience. This is especially true during the reign of two monarchs-King Rama IV and King Rama V. As likay became increasingly popular many more likay troupes were set up. But curiously, they were known as "wik" or the distortion of the word "week" namely performance on a weekly basis.
    In the meantime, the popular "likay luke bhot" saw more development with the addition of more lavish costumes instead of the common way of dressing. The performance too takes much longer. With the new format, the performance was again changed to "likay tsong khreung," representing a new variation of dramatic performance.
    The new format calls for a headdress called "bhatchuret-yod." The Dancers wear colorful blouses accessories and white sock.
    It is that the popularity of likay did not stem from the melody or the dancing. The audience, it seems, is interested in three elements of the performances including the costumes, the humer and the quick pace of the performance. Ofcourse, in attempting to please the audience and their own coffers, most likays cater to popular taste which also expianins their lasting popularity.


    One of the actors in "likay khlong yao"

    The main character is a prince who travels in disguise with his close aide in search of the woman of his dream. He eventually finds her but is confronted with a self-indulgent rival, another royal blood from a different state, who also shares the passion for the princess. A duel between the two rivals thus follow but the prince charming, albeit his victory, still has to win the heart of his sweetheart. Like any good fairy-tale story, it has a happy ending.
    The main character is a prince who travels in disguise with his close aide in search of the woman of his dream. He eventually finds her but is confronted with a self-indulgent rival, another royal blood from a different state, who also shares the passion for the princess. A duel between the two rivals thus follow but the prince charming, albeit his victory, still has to win the heart of his sweetheart. Like any good fairy-tale story, it has a happy ending.
    Most likays follow this same plot. However, there are plots featuring good and evil or shatakas. Thanksto the quick pace and uncomplicated plot, the audience normally finds it easy to understand. The performers on the other hand enjoy some influence to a certain degree. For instance, members of the audience are in the custom of presenting garlands or money garlands to their favourite players. Known as Paw-Yok or Mae Yok, these people are generally instrumental in keeping this art from alive until today.
    Besides the popular likay lukebhot which is adopted by people in the Central Plains of the country. Likay has spread to other parts of the country. The North boasts "likay lanna" or "likay payab," the performance of which is similar to the central likay except for the difference in regional dialect it uses to suit the audience.
    In the ortheast, likay is mixed with the local Moh Lam and a new variation of likay, likay e-sarn, was born. To the locals, however, it is known as "moh lam reung." Another feature which distinguishes northeastern likay from other regional likays rests in the use of the long drum in the performance. This particular feature gives the performance another name, "likay khlong yao".
    Although likay khlong yao and Central Plain Likay share many things in common. The former becomes distinguishable through its musical instruments, accompanying tunes, songs and the dancing style. Today, the "Saw Muang E-Sarn Troupe" of Kalasin province is the only likay khlong yao troup still performing.
    Likay pah or likay ram mana is performed in the south in the provinces along the coast of the Andaman Sea. Like likay of the northeast, likay pah also uses local dialect in its lyrics and dialogues. The format is kept to the minimal; only 3 major performers are involved. Khaek Daeng is responsible for the awk khaek part with the second leading performer, yayee playing the role of the Indian wife, and the indispensable comicalaide. The southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, are familiar with "likay hulu." The main feature which differs it from other likays is the Malay dialect used in the accompaniment of indigenous musical tunes normally found in the Mana Dance.



    Likay pah or lokay ram mana


    The hero, the addition of more lavish costumes instead of the common way of dressing


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    Information : Tourism Authority of Thailand, Tel. (02) 694-1222, E-mail : tat@cs.ait.ac.th
    : Tourist Service Center (TAT and Tourist Police), Tel. 1155
    : Kinnaree Magazine, Thai Airways International, June 1995, P. 54-59.