Archive for April, 2008

Han Chinese

April 22, 2008

It would be a mistake to just use Chinese as almost all the ethnic groups in Thailand have migrated from or through China sometime in the past. The more recent large scale Chinese migration into Thailand has been the Han ethnic group. This group forms about 92% of China’s population and 19% of the world’s population. The Hans have many sub-groups and do not all have a common language.

The massive influx of Hans is relatively new, coming in the 19th. and 20th. centuries. They probably formed about 10% – 12% of the Thai population at one time. Unlike in many neighbouring countries the Chinese married and assimilated easily into Thai culture although one still sees the Chinese heritage in the majority of successful businessmen here.

Many Thai Chinese were out in the streets for the Olympic flame’s run through Bangkok waving Chinese flags but I doubt many have much in common with those that still live in China, but I could be wrong.


A Starting Point

April 17, 2008

It’s good before we get into too many ethnic groups to find a common point of origin for these groups. The DNA experts could do this with an Eve living about 140,000 years ago in East Africa. Once we drop the more recent groups like the farang we can then look to male DNA ancestor living about 35,000 years ago in central Asia. The Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup O (M175) from this point is in 80-90% of men in Southeast and East Asia.

As we move forward from here we need to look at the Neolithic period in China and possibly what was happening on the island of Taiwan. What we do know the various groups had in common is a history of migration. In fact it begins to look similar to the tribal movements in Western Europe.

Bamars of Burma

April 15, 2008

Like the previous post I’m including an ethnic group whose members living in Thailand are recent refugees from the Burmese military. The Bamars are the majority ethnic group in Burma estimated at 68% of the population. They migrated to Burma from Yunnan in China and speak a Sino-Tibetan language. According to Wikipedia they arrived in Burma 1200-1500 years ago displacing or absorbing the existing Mon and Pyu groups.

Because of the repressive military regime in Burma Thailand now has the second biggest Burmese population in the world, almost all made up of refugees. The recent death of 54 refugees in a sealed cargo container being trucked to Phuket, (read the BBC story here), highlights the problem.

I have to admit my ignorance again as up until recently I had thought the Burmese were of a West Asian origin. Below is a picture of a Bamar girl from Wikipedia.

 Bamar Girl

Kayan story from the London Times

April 10, 2008

I caught this in a link to a London Times article. I have known about the exploitation of the long-necked Paduang women for the tourist trade for a while. I knew them as Karenni tribe that fled very recently to Thailand from Burma and its army. What I didn’t know was the other name of Kayan which as far as I know has nothing to do with a group with the same in Borneo.

Kayan Woman

The Karenni, of which the Paduang are a sub-group, are also known as Red Karen. They do use a Karen language although the various groups in this language group are not mutually intelligible. There origins are thought to be in the Tibet region. Karen language group speakers are a sizable minority in Burma, thought to be about one seventh of the total population.

DNA does complicate it a bit

April 8, 2008

DNA research does tend to spoil some theories on ethnic origins. If DNA mapping had been known in the 1930s it would have really spoiled Hitler’s day when he was told we all have a maternal great-great-…-grandmother who was an African. What it also spoils is the theory that the Negrito people of SE Asia are closely related to the African Pygmies as they look so very similar.

We do know the two small related Negrito populations in peninsula SE Asia, the Mani in Thailand and the Semang, (also called Sakai), in Malaysia, have been there a long time. They were there before the Malays and obviously the Tais. I think it’s a good guess that they are the descendants of the original settlers or at least a very early group migrating along the coastline of Asia. Malays call them the original people and who are we to argue. I would love to know how similar their DNA is to the Australian aborigines.

Below is a picture from Wikipedia of an Ati girl. The Ati are a Negrito group from the Philippines.

Ati girl from the Philippines

Farangs in Thailand

April 3, 2008

Westerners in Thailand are usually called farangs. Because Thailand was never colonized the mixture of Western nationalities is quite broad. The most famous farang in the Ayutthaya period was a Greek. Today some of the Bangkok trading companies can chase their origins to Swedish or Danish founders.

 Also during this period the two great trading nationalities were the Portuguese and the Dutch. Later it would be the British and the French. The Dutch built a trading post at the mouth of the Chao Phraya river on the west bank of what is now Samut Prakan. Close to where the Phra Samut Chedi is now was the Dutch Town.

 There are no remains or ruins now. The river has changed its course numerous times and the Dutch Town was probably not much more than trading post behind a wood stockade, not much different to the US Cavalry outposts in the Wild West.


April 1, 2008

Driving through the central plains of Thailand this weekend took me through some of the towns associated with the ancient kingdom of Dvaravati. Wikipedia Dvaravati entry tells us we are looking at a kingdom or possibly a collection of city states dating from 6th. to the 11th. Centuries straddling the Chao Phraya river basin. It’s likely that the Gulf of Thailand’s shores were much farther north than they are today due to the gradual silting up of the river’s estuary.

Map of Dvaravati

Not much is known of the people but it is a good guess to say they were or were related to the Mons. The Mons had reached Chao Phraya river basin prior to the Christian era and no other large town settlements have been found from before this. The Dvaravati civilization was very much influenced by Indian culture and also the Buddhist religion.