We first discovered this work after it was submitted to the Visual Storytelling Awards 2014. Although it was not chosen as a finalist by the jury, the editors of LensCulture were impressed and decided to publish this feature article about it. Enjoy!

Thailand’s troubled Deep South, seldom visited by Westerners, formerly encompassed the Sultanate of Patani. Annexed around a century ago by Siam, its history has been deliberately buried, the vernacular Malay culture suppressed, and its language curbed. Today, the region is struggling due to Muslim insurgent attacks and repression by Thai armed forces.

Forgotten, a dilapidated wooden palace stands alone. Once home to a Malay ruler, the last of his dynasty, locals know little about it. They call it the “House of the Raja.” It is a place suffused with loss and solitude.

Intrigued by this borderland, I chanced upon this mysterious house that seemed more than just a building. The caretaker, a Muslim shaman who held rituals inside, invited me to stay. He initiated me into its hidden dimensions. As I built a bond of trust with the obscure inhabitants of the house, fragments of undocumented history gently emerged, revealing a long-hidden culture in which the real and the magical entwine, as well as the building’s ties to centuries-old struggles in this contested region.

“The House of the Raja,” my first book both as photographer and writer, is testament to this place which refuses to become lost to the past. It illuminates history’s whispered secrets, evoking a realm of hauntings, mystic powers, and fading memories.

Poignantly, only a few days after the book was launched, the house collapsed; like a moribund soul, despite its suffering, it had held on just long enough to allow its testimony to be imprinted and shared with the world.

—Xavier Comas