02/05/2024, 11.51
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From Hamas hostage in Gaza to Buddhist monk

The 26-year-old Thai Natthaporn Onkeaw was among those kidnapped on 7 October. During his detention he had vowed to become a Buddhist monk if he managed to get out alive. In the country, being ordained as a monk - even temporarily - is increasingly a traditional rite of passage for young people.

Ban Nongsang (AsiaNews/Agencies) - From hostage in the Gaza tunnels to Buddhist monk in Thailand. This is the path taken in just a few weeks by 26-year-old Natthaporn Onkeaw, one of the farm workers kidnapped in the kibbutzim around the Strip in the raids carried out by Hamas on 7 October that sparked teh ongoing war.

Freed along with other of his compatriots in the brief November truce, the young man - the French Catholic daily La Croix reported yesterday in an article - after returning home now lives in a monastery.

From Gaza, while he was held hostage by Hamas militiamen, he said he begged Buddha every day to get him out of that hell alive. There,' he added, 'he made an oath to himself: if he managed to save himself, he would become a monk. On 15 January, Natthaporn was ordained a monk in Ban Nongsang, Nakhon Pathom province.

As in the traditional ordination ceremony, his head and eyebrows were shaved and then, dressed all in white, he paraded with his family through the streets of his village in north-east Thailand.


With its 40,000 temples, 90% of Thailand's population is Buddhist, loyal to the Theravada branch. According to the Supreme Council of the Sangha, the Buddhist community numbers between 200,000 and 300,000 monks with an increasing number of 'temporary novices' aged 12 to 20. 

Entering monastic life on a temporary basis is in fact increasingly a rite of passage for many young Thais. 'A good portion of Thai men become monks at some point in their young lives,' Thomas Borchert, professor of religion at the University of Thailand, explained to La Croix.

The reasons are varied: to honour someone's memory, to obtain forgiveness, and above all, in a society where religious beliefs are anchored in customs and traditions, to accumulate merit, a practice that consists of performing beneficial deeds in order to endow oneself with 'good karma' (a reflection of our past deeds)'.

Originally, these ordinations lasted for three lunar months, from July to October, the withdrawal period of the rainy season. "Some went even beyond this simple 'Buddhist Lent', extending it for several years," adds the anthropologist, pointing out that today being ordained for a short period is a very common experience.

Especially for poorer families, becoming a monk guarantees access to education and takes away a mouth to feed at home.

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