White Elephant

White Elephant Stall

The Story of the


White elephants have historically been considered sacred in Thailand (formerly Siam). All white elephants were therefore the property of the King of Siam.

Since they were sacred, white elephants were not allowed to do any work. They had to be well-cared for, and they re-quired a tremendous amount of resources to maintain. All white elephants were given great honour by the people.

If the King of Siam was well pleased with one of his courtiers, he would give him a white elephant, along with money, land and servants to take care of it.

However, if the King was displeased with one of his courtiers, he would still give him a white elephant, but with no land or money to help take care of it. The courtier would then be required to care for the sacred white elephant out of his own resources. Since the elephant was sacred, the unfortunate courtier could not even put it to work in order to help earn money for its care. Because of the large amount of money required to care for the elephant, the courtier would soon be financially ruined and dishonoured.

That is how the phrase "white elephant" came to mean "an unwanted gift."

Today, white elephants are still considered sacred in Thailand, and they still belong to the King of Thailand, who is also revered by the Thai people. However, the King of Thailand no longer gives the white elephants to people in order to show disfavour!

White Elephant

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