The Thai word “guman” derives from the Pāḷi word “kumāra“, which means “young boy” (whereas “kumārī” means “young girl”). The Thai word “thong” means “golden”, for the effigies were covered in gold leaf.
The origin of the making of Guman Thong effigies goes back to ancient animist traditions of Siam. According to several literary sources that have been passed on for many generations, the traditional method of making a Guman Thong effigy required the body from a baby who died whilst still in the mother’s womb. The dead baby body, then, had to be surgically removed from the mother’s dead body – a process which had to be performed in a cemetery. The ritual had to be performed at night and completed before dawn. Next, the dead body of the baby, as part of the ritual, had to be roasted in a fire until all fat and skin from the body burnt, leaving only a dry corpse. The maker of the effigy would then paint it with a kind of lacquer (Thai: ya lak) and cover it in gold leaf. In this way, then, the maker would adopt the stillborn baby as his own child.
In contemporary Thailand, the government prohibited the practice of making Guman Thong effigies since a long time ago, which, over time, lead to many adaptations of the tradition. The making of Guman Thong effigies no longer required the usage of dead baby bodies which had now been replaced by usage of other materials, such as clay from seven cemetery soils, special kinds of wood and metal. The spirit of a dead baby is then ritually invoked through recitation of specific formulas (mantras) which will cause the spirit of the dead baby to reside in the effigy.
Although the usage of different materials have changed the traditional method of making a Guman Thong effigy, the traditional method of worship has remained the same: the effigy should be taken care of like one’s own child, which means he should be offered food and drinks on a regular daily basis, and also he should be given rewards (through dedication/transfer of merit and material gifts like small toys, etc.) for his help and protection. Guman Thongs are known to be good helpers and protectors of his worshipper and his house, as well as taking care of his worshipper’s financial wealth.