Thailand’s Famous Siamese Twins
To be born a twin is a rare occurrence, carrying a 1 in 80 chance for fraternal twins and an even rarer 1 in 250 chance for identical twins. However, to be born conjoined as Siamese twins is an extremely uncommon phenomenon, occurring just once in every 200,000 live births worldwide. Thailand, previously known as Siam, takes a particular interest in such rare cases of conjoined twins. The term “Siamese twins” originated from the real-life story of the famous Bunker brothers, Chang and Eng (1811-1874), who were born in Thailand.
Chang and Eng were not just extraordinary due to the singularity of their birth but were also renowned for their striking ability to adapt and find success given their unique condition. Born on May 11th, 1811 in the province of Samutsongkram (located on the eastern coast of present-day Thailand), they were connected at the chest by a small band of cartilage that joined their livers. Despite their physical limitations imposed by their connection point, they led incredibly full lives.
Discovered by Robert Hunter, a British merchant, and Abel Coffin, an American sea captain, at the age of seventeen, Chang and Eng were brought to the United States two years later for exhibition. Their ticket sales alone contributed significantly to their net worth, which they later invested wisely in land acquisitions and farming practices after retiring from public life in America.
Regarded as highly intelligent and keen businessmen by those fortunate enough to cross paths with them, Chang and Eng shocked many Westerners with their ‘normalcy.’ They not only spoke fluent English but also had impeccable manners and a sophisticated upbringing shaped by their royal ancestry (the twins belonged to a noble lineage known as Bandits).
In another turn of astonishing events filled with love and marriage proposals upon meeting the Yates sisters – the sons of a respected local planter named David Yates – Chang and Eng again defied all odds by marrying both women on a double-wedding ceremony held in 1843. Consequently, the twins became fathers to 21 children between them (10 for Chang and 11 for Eng).
However, controversy erupted when the marriage was considered void and subsequently bigamous under North Carolina law, throwing their lives into further turmoil and creating further obstacles in the realm of love. This, unfortunately, highlighted several further complications resulting from their unique case and led to heightened public scrutiny.
Throughout their lives, Chang and Eng faced unbearable prejudice from “freak show” exhibits to derision from crowds. People gawked and sneered as they struggled to fit into North Carolinian society, despite the twins’ best efforts to live simple lives as farmers after the embattlements surrounding their marriage.
Despite these trials and tribulations, the Bunker twins built strong connections with many individuals throughout their lives who recognized them for what they were – profoundly ordinary men capable of extraordinary accomplishments.
On January 17th, 1874, almost 63 years since their birth in Thailand, Chang passed away in his sleep. His brother Eng died just three hours later. Their incredible story has left its mark on science through medical investigations into conjoined twins; now referred to as siamese twins after them, but perhaps more significantly, a time-defining tale that shockingly unveils human nature’s capacity for cruelty yet reaffirms one’s faith in empathy and understanding.
Today – we are reminded of the famous Thai-born Siamese twins and remember not only their story of perseverance but also the undeniable importance of human compassion regardless of any differences we may have.