HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 1938, at the age of 23, Prayoon became a full-fledged cartoonist with a comic series in the likay style of Thai folk musical drama.
  • The mark of Prayoon’s stature is his refusal to be content with simply entertaining the public; rather, conveying an understanding that is more than verbal, he uses his drawings to educate in the most fundamental sense.
  • He takes an intense interest in municipal government and civic programs involving children and, since 1948, has also edited and served as company consultant for the weekly magazine Siam Samai.
  • The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes his “use of pictorial satire and humor for over three decades in unswerving defense of the public interest.”

 CITATION

The pen has often proven most potent in graphic portrayals. Especially is this true in less literate societies where the cartoon can carry an even more telling message. Mastery of this talent and its employment to illuminate public issues, however, is an art possessed only by a very few. Their technical skill must be complemented by a special receptivity to the often unvoiced yearnings of their fellow citizens.

PRAYOON demonstrated his talent early; as a schoolboy he could not resist sketching cartoons and comics. When misfortune impoverished the family, he was compelled to leave school and find employment as a mail clerk weighing parcels in a railway station. Although frustrated by the dull routine, this experience of physical drudgery broadened his insights when he later found an opportunity to illustrate stories and write heads on the newspaper Prachamit.

In 1938, at the age of 23, PRAYOON became a full-fledged cartoonist with a comic series in the likay style of Thai folk musical drama. His professional alter ego Suklek, a diminutive elfin character with a jaunty feather in his headband?whom he first popularized as Chantakorob, an epic hero, in time acquired a public personality.

The mark of PRAYOON’s stature is his refusal to be content with simply entertaining the public. Rather, conveying an understanding that is more than verbal, he uses his drawings to educate in the most fundamental sense. The issues that become his concern are those affecting every Thai. Seeking to improve the condition of his time, his subjects range from lampooning those who would employ office to further personal power and wealth to supporting the cause of the poor.

In order to retain his independence as a social and political critic, PRAYOON will not accept regular employment as a cartoonist. Instead, he sells his editorial cartoons and comic strips individually. Such major daily newspapers as Thai Rath, Siam Rath and the Bangkok Post, and Krung Thep a news magazine, are regular purchasers of these well-liked features the help build circulation. He takes an intense interest in municipal government and civic programs involving children and, since 1948, has also edited and served as company consultant for the weekly magazine Siam Samai. But time is always set aside for tending the orchids and rabbits he raise among the durian trees in his two-acre orchard where he finds both inspiration and relaxation.

As as independent thinker with humanitarian views, sometime leavened with delightful humor, PRAYOON has adhered to his code of an absolutely free conscience. Avoiding contact with those institutions and individuals he is persuaded do not serve the community good, he has offered Thais and others encouraging reaffirmation that a gifted pen can defend the cause of truth with decency, courage and artistic sensitivity.

In electing PRAYOON CHANYAVONGS to receive the 1971 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the Board of Trustees recognizes his use of pictorial satire and humor for over three decades in unswerving defense of the public interest.

 RESPONSE

I feel excited, grateful and honored by the Board of Trustees of the Magsaysay Foundation for selecting me as winner of the Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts Award.

I never dreamed that I would ever receive such high honor. I consider the Magsaysay Awards among the noblest awards in history. I am a simple and humble cartoonist who has been working at his craft for most of his life. I still consider myself a student who is forever learning and seeking to improve his art.

I always approach the subjects of my cartoons from an attitude of understanding and friendship and without any intent to create animosities. My main objective is to educate and to create understanding. I am against the idea of taking up arms for war. I hope that people all over the world will take up forks and spoons instead and sit down to dine and converse with each other. I feel that the high honor bestowed upon me is not a personal honor but an honor for the journalists of Thailand and also for the people of Thailand.

As for myself, I shall continue to work hard. Although the value of the money we received may change, the value of the Award will not change for me. I also shall not change; I shall remain the same old Prayoon, your Prayoon. Thank you.

 BIOGRAPHY

The use of editorial cartoons in the daily press in the West is a latter 19th century phenomenon since daily newspapers themselves emerged only slightly earlier. Political or editorial cartoons came later to Asia where there was less participatory democracy, less widespread literacy and therefore few newspapers. In Thailand the first cartoonist was the king himself, King Vajiravudh, also known as Rama VI, who ruled from 1910 to 1925. He had been educated at Oxford University in England where he became familiar with this art form. He drew caricatures of his courtiers for the court magazine Dusit Samit. Other early cartoonists were Thanya Uttakanon, “who drew strong, spicy cartoons,” and Sawat Chutarop who introduced the “comic strip,” or serial cartoon stories. The work of these and other Thai and foreign cartoonists of the 1920s and 1930s captured the fancy of PRAYOON CHANYAVONGS during his secondary school days; cartoon drawing that began then as an absorbing extracurricular activity became his zestful career and was to earn him repute as Thailand’s leading commentator in cartoons.

PRAYOON says, “I was born to a very simple family. . .I have no pedigree. I am a very simple man. My mother and father were simple people.” He also adds, “I have no skeletons in my cupboard.” His family name, CHANYAVONGS, is “about 70 years old” and was given by the amphoe (district) authorities during the reign of Rama VI when by royal decree all families had to have surnames. His parents met as boat-hawkers on the klongs of Bangkok, canals famous for their “floating markets;” his father, Prasong, peddled plu (the climbing pepper leaf wrapped around betel nut and widely chewed as a stimulant masticatory in South and Southeast Asia) and his mother, Riab, peddled fruits. The youngest of their four children, he was born on November 17, 1915 in Banglumpoo district near the popular, central Yod Market of Bangkok, where his parents had rented a chophouse for a grocery and fruit shop on the ground floor, and living quarters for the family upstairs. PRAYOON was not yet three years old when he began helping, selling fruit on the sidewalk in front of the shop. However, whenever he could get away he and a friend roamed and played in the market. He was four when he was picked up in the market one day by Kru (teacher) Niam, who took off PRAYOON’s trousers, put him in rags and made him beg. He vividly remembers the shame he felt when he was given a bowl of food by an old woman vendor, and Kru Niam’s admonition that he would grow up like a beggar if he did not begin to learn. From this teacher, who had been a court seer and lived at the nearby wat (temple), PRAYOON had his first schooling.

His father, meanwhile, changed his livelihood from greengrocer to the more profitable one of owner of first one, and finally four, officially approved opium dens in Banglumpoo and at three other locations. There were at the time some 100 opium dens in the city and the adjoining suburb of Thon Buri which purchased opium from the government monopoly and were subject to regular inspection and heavy tax. With his family’s new affluence PRAYOON, at the age of six was enrolled in the French section of the most prestigious school in Bangkok, Assumption College in Bangrak, where he completed grades one and two. Tuition was 87 (one baht, then known as tical, equaled 44 U.S. cents) per month, transportation by horse cart cost B30 per month, and food cost a similar amount.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)