If you have spent any time in Thailand then the pose in the picture above will be one you have seen plenty of times before. For many many months I had a slight obsession to try and solve what exactly the Thai two finger salute actually meant. Then one day when reading around the blogosphere I came across a comment that seemed to offer a logical explanation to the mystery that had been bugging me.
In the United Kingdom we show the back of our hand when performing a much more aggressive version of the two finger salute, the Thai rendition is reversed, with the open palm showing, but my research shows their origin and intention were very much one but not so nowadays.
Hand signs mean different things depending on where you travel in the world and displaying your open outstretched hand towards someone in Greece with the palm facing towards them, and all five digits splayed out, is considered a very big insult. In Greek medieval times criminals were paraded through the streets on a donkey with the convict sat facing the animals rear with their hands tied behind their backs and faces smothered in cinder. The cinder was collected and applied onto the face with an open palmed splayed hand. This gestured insult is known as the moutza.
Performing the two fingered V sign or salute can be interpreted differently by which part of the hand is facing the recipient and getting it wrong can lead to an embarrassing situation. The sign when showed with an open palm is recognised throughout the world as a sign of peace or victory, but it’s important to remember to have the back of your hand facing you. In 1992 when George Bush Snr was on tour in Australia he gave an intended V peace sign to protesting farmers and you’ve guessed it, Mr Bush signalled with his hand the wrong way round. Whoops.
When Burmese forces invaded Siam (Thailand) in 1767 the Burmese army captured the Siam capital of Ayutthaya and in the same year General Taksin who later became King rallied the country’s forces together and defeated the invaders at the Battle of Pho Sam Ton Camp. Now we get to the two finger salute.
Whenever Burmese forces captured Siamese soldiers they cut off their index and middle fingers to stop them from being able to draw their bows, disabling any archers or future ones. During the battles between the two warring countries the Siamese soldiers would often raise their index and middle fingers to the Burmese in a gesture to say that they still had the capability to draw their bows and therefore the ability to kill them. I think that these days the Thai two finger salute is used as a photoghraphic posing tease as if to say ‘ I dare you, snap me like this.’
The apparent origin of the British two finger ‘salute’ dates back even further to the 15th century and the Battle of Agincourt. The French army who were confident of victory over the English had made it known that any prisoners taken would have their longbow fingers removed. After the English triumphed in the battle back in 1415 the English soldiers raised their two bow fingers in ridicule at the French. Nowadays the British two finger ‘salute’ is an extremely rude way of telling someone to go away.
Staying on the theme of the history behind the origin of the English armies use of the ‘salute’ I found an interesting entry on a Canadian forum. The person posting on the forum makes claim that the English longbows used at the time of the Battle of Agincourt were made from the Yew Tree and the drawing of the long bow was known as ‘plucking the yew’ or ‘pluck yew’. The soldiers were said at the end of their victorious battle to have raised their two fingers and taunted the defeated French with those very words. Due to its uneasiness of natural speech the first two letters were later replaced with F.
So do you agree with the theory on the Thai two finger salute that I have researched or do you think ‘pluck yew’ and have an explanation of your own. To help you make your mind up and remind you just how often those raised fingers have appeared in your own photographs here’s a few more pictures below.
© 2009 – 2012, Martyn. All rights reserved.