Thailand Set to Recognize ‘Wai’ Greeting as Official National Symbol

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The "wai" gesture. (Photo: The Koh Samui Guide)

Thailand is set to officially recognize the iconic “wai” gesture—”nop” in Lao—as a fundamental part of its national identity, the Thai National Identity Committee announced on 11 January.

The “wai,” a traditional Buddhist greeting involving the pressing together of palms in a prayer-like gesture, has been a symbol of respect across Southeast Asian countries. Rooted in the ancient traditions of Southeast Asian kingdoms influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism from India, the gesture has evolved over time, becoming a distinctive part of Thai culture.

“I would like to thank all parties involved in pushing for the ‘wai’ as a national identity. I will bring the National Identity Committee resolution to the Cabinet for endorsement so that the ‘wai’ becomes a national identity,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsuthin said, as reported by The Nation Thailand.

The gesture is expected to gain the same level of recognition as Thailand’s national animal, the elephant, which was declared so by a previous Thai government in 1963.

Deputy Prime Minister Somsak also highlighted the international significance of adopting the “wai” as an official national identity, particularly in the context of the post-COVID-19 pandemic. As global communities shifted towards alternatives to handshakes to curb the spread of the virus, the “wai” emerged as a culturally rich and respectful substitute.

The announcement aligns with the recent UNESCO recognition of cultural heritage in the region. Laos secured a spot on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List for its traditional weaving of the Naga motif, a practice where women incorporate snake-like mythical beings onto traditional skirts, symbolizing protection and strength. In late 2023, Thailand’s Songkran Festival, known for vibrant water fights, family reunions, and traditional rituals, was also designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Thailand’s decision to officially declare the “wai” as part of its national identity marks another milestone in the country’s cultural legacy.