Cultural Insight

 |  June 26, 2009

Who am I? What am I? For a Thai person the position is clear. You can have Thai nationality, san chaat, but you may be of Chinese race, chua chaat. But anyone with three generations of Thai citizenship behind them, automatically becomes chua chat Thai. Presumably this applies not only to Chinese but also to Indians and farang. The Chinese have assimilated easily into Thai society as they look similar and their beliefs are compatible _ the situation in Malaysia and Indonesia is very different. Three recent Thai Prime Ministers have been ethnic Chinese.

An American becomes completely American as soon as he gains nationality, wherever he originally comes from and there are probably no countries that are not represented. It is believed that complete assimilation occurs by the forth generation.

The same applies to a citizen of The United Kingdom, or Great Britain, or should it be England? The British, of course, are a complete mixture, not only of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish, but further back of Danes, Normans, Hugenots, Celts, Angles and Saxons: today there are Indians, Pakistanis, Ugandans and even Thais. In the last hundred or so years the English have had Irish, Scottish and even Welsh Prime Ministers.

So, who or what is a Thai? The King in the seventeenth century spoke of his Thai and Mon subjects. As we know only too well there are millions of Malay Muslims in the south. Issaan bristles with Khmer and Lao. There are over six million ethnic Chinese and many, many more Thais with some Chinese blood.

And what is the position here in Lanna? Kam muang is generally the distinctive language which indicates a true Lannaan citizen; a language that, until some hundred years ago, was also written in its own script and is therefore a language, not a Thai dialect.

Read more about Lanna next month.