When Raya and the Last Dragon premiered in 2021, it gave us Disney’s first South-East Asian princess, and joined a small minority of Western films centring South-East Asian people, culture and society. News of the film, therefore, drew a lot of excitement from SE Asian people (and those with SE Asian heritage) looking for representation in Western media. The film’s reception was more mixed however, with many feeling it just didn’t quite get things right.
In this episode, we’re joined by doctoral candidate, Piyawit Moonkham, to talk about Raya and SE Asian representation, specifically, that of the Naga, a semi-divine serpent found in Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain traditions. As the Naga was the inspiration for the eponymous Dragon, we focused our questions on that. Join us as Piyawit explains how Naga differ from Western and East Asian dragons, where the Naga myth came from and how it functions in SE Asian belief systems, and how Raya represented this important part of SE Asian culture.
Heterarchy - A power structure that exists outside or adjacent to established power structures within societies, or within organised groups, in which authority is distributed rather than centralized around one individual / group. ("Power" as broadly understood relating to status, influence or responsibilities)
Mythscape - The way in which people understand their surrounding landscape through myth.
Many thanks to Piyawit Moonkham for his time and expertise. Piyawit is a Ph.D. Candidate (ABD) in Archaeological Anthropology at Washington State University. His research focuses on human use of social space, built environment, and natural landscape through a diachronic investigation of spatial patterns of historical monuments, myths, and local folklores in Northern Thailand and Mainland Southeast Asia. His article “Ethnohistorical Archaeology and the Mythscape of the Naga in Chiang Saen Basin, Thailand” was published last year in Trans-Regional and -National Studies of South East Asia. You can find Piyawit on Twitter @JiwMoonkham
Update: Since recording with us, Piyawit has successfully defending his doctorate. Congratulations Dr. Moonkham!
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